Promo Tip: LibraryThing Giveaways

Readers can be a skittish bunch, bolting for cover at the first distant rumble of the author promo wagon.

I don’t blame them. Nothing spoils a good conversation like a salesman with a megaphone.

What usually happens is this. Readers find a nice site where they can congregate and have good conversations about books. A writer discovers the site and thinks he has struck gold.

Word of this rich seam of “customers” spreads like wildfire, and writers descend en masse hauling wagonloads of blurbs, excerpts, taglines, hyperlinks, ALL CAPS, and, yes, megaphones.

If the website has good moderators, they will nip this in the bud, and corral the writers into a little pen where they can all shout at each other, and not bother the readers.

Sometimes writers bitch and moan about this, but it’s not like they are banned from the rest of the site, they’re just not allowed to bring the megaphone with them. Sounds fair to me.

Besides, have you seen the sites without these rules? Not too many great conversations about books going on because the readers have bolted.

Some sites, like Kindle Boards, have the balance just right. They have a sub-forum for writers to talk shop. And they have a separate section for promo threads. That way readers who want to talk about books aren’t interrupted by salesmen or authors discussing promo strategies, and the writers discussing business aren’t being sold to either.

Writers can venture out to the larger site and engage readers, but promo is strictly banned, and even an oblique reference to your books can be frowned upon. Writers may display their wares in their signature, but that’s it. Again, seems fair to me.

All of the above is a somewhat convoluted introduction to a promo tip. However, the warnings are necessary, as the site in question – LibraryThing – is populated by readers who are (rightly) fiercely protective of their space.

They don’t take kindly to writers who barge in and start promoting. They will be dispensed with quickly, as I have seen first-hand. As I have said before, the golden rule of social networking is: Don’t Be A D*ck.

LibraryThing is full of great conversations about books with groups talking about every little sub-genre, every aspect of books and reading, and lots of other stuff too. It’s a site for readers. Writers are more than welcome, but only if they remember that.

In short, don’t promote your book. In fact, don’t even mention your book unless directly asked about it. You aren’t even allowed a text signature mentioning your books or your blog. You must enter with your “reader” hat on.

As such, it’s a great place to talk about books.

But there are promo opportunities too. They have a section of the site called Member Giveaways – which are an informal way for members to give away copies of books to other members.

Authors can use this to give away copies of their books in the hopes of getting a review. You upload the cover of your book, add the blurb, as well as a line saying something like “reviews are not compulsory but would be greatly appreciated”.

You can’t put conditions on the giveaway (i.e. a sign up to a newsletter or make reviews compulsory), it must be “no strings”.

You must indicate how many books you are giving away, and what the time limit is for members to sign up (one week is the minimum).

Once the allotted period is up, you will be emailed a list of the “winners”, and it’s then up to you to send out the copy of the book, the Smashwords coupon, or to gift it through Amazon. You should only use the members’ emails for this purpose, and you mustn’t add them to any mailing lists or anything like that.

There are a number of pros and cons to LibraryThing giveaways, and I will run through what I did first before sharing them. I strongly urge you not to run off to the site and post your giveaway before considering the following, or it could blow up in your face.

In any event, to get the best results, you should engage with the site first. It’s reasonably intuitive, and if you are familiar with Shelfari or Goodreads, you will pick it up straight away.

You can add books to your personal library, as well as rate and review them, and see members with similar interests. You can upload a photo, you can make friends, you can write on other people’s walls, and you can join groups.

I recommend exploring the site first and building up your library before you consider doing a giveaway – you will get a much better response.

In fact, I have sold books simply through engaging with readers and talking about my favorite books. I think if they know who you are, or at least know that you aren’t a drive-by member, it will work out better for you.

After I had done all that, I looked at what other writers were doing for their giveaways. Some writers went for a small number – like 20 or 30 – and these were vastly oversubscribed with almost 200 people requesting a copy. I guess this strategy is to generate interest and hope that those who don’t win a copy will purchase one.

Other writers went big, giving away 100, 200, or even 300 copies. The strategy here seems to be to get as many eyeballs on your work as possible in the hopes of generating word-of-mouth and a good number of reviews.

I had heard from other writers that not all “winners” end up reading the book, and most won’t review – a rate of 10% is considered very good.

In my business plan, my single short stories aren’t intended to be money makers – they are intended to be advertisements for me as a writer, and hopefully an intro into my longer (and more lucrative) work. As such, I decided to go big, and listed 200 copies of each of my two stories, and set the time limit for 2 weeks.

I can’t remember the exact numbers, but I believe If You Go Into The Woods had around 180 people subscribe for a copy, and Transfection had around 120.

Funnily enough, that ratio reflects my overall sales figures – my first release has been 50% more popular. Equally interesting was some accidental “split testing” I did with the blurbs.

In both cases, I just copied the blurb from the Amazon description, with some minor tweaks. At the time, the blurb for If You Go Into The Woods was much stronger, and contained four juicy review quotes from book bloggers.

Midway through the 2 weeks allotted for the giveaway, I got a flurry of blog reviews for Transfection and updated both my product description on Amazon and the blurb for the giveaway.

Instantly, both the sales numbers for Transfection and the number of people requesting the giveaway rose to the levels of If You Go Into The Woods. That showed me the power of a good blurb, how much weight a review quote can add, and how even a minor change to your description can make it a lot more enticing.

When the two weeks was up, I received a list of the “winners”, and sent them all a group email (keep their address private by using the BCC field) with a Smashwords coupon attached, and instructions on how and where to download the book. Just make sure the coupon is time-limited. I set mine at a month.

(If you don’t list with Smashwords, you should. The coupons alone are reason enough. For more information on those, see this post.)

I also included a line saying that reviews were by no means compulsory, but as a new author, they are crucial in getting the word out, and they would be greatly appreciated, even if it’s only a line or two saying why they enjoyed or didn’t enjoy the book.

I think that addition is crucial. Most readers are shy about reviewing, but once you explain you don’t expect a thesis, and it can be as informal as they like, they can respond to that. In fact, I know some writers who add a note to that effect in the back of all their books, and have had great results. I will be doing the same.

I got a surge of downloads on Smashwords straight away – even though it was a holiday weekend, maybe 80 or 90 on each book over the first couple of days – and quite a few thank you emails (make sure to reply to them). Several readers mentioned that it would be a while before they reviewed – I told them to take their time.

A couple of days ago, I sent a follow-up email (which will be the last time I contact them), thanking everyone for the reviews, letting them know I would be participating in future reviews as I had found the experience to be very positive, and also offering to assist anyone who had trouble downloading.

A couple did, so I just gifted the book through Amazon. And I also saw another spike of downloads of both books, and another flurry of reviews.

In fact, I got a lot of reviews out of this, and it’s only two weeks since I sent out the books. Don’t necessarily expect a similar response. I think that, as mine were short stories, they may have skipped the reading queue. I’ve heard writers with novels can take a lot longer.

Either way, I can share the results. After 2 weeks, I have had around 210 downloads across both titles, out of around 300 coupons sent out.

Out of those 210, I received about 15 reviews on Amazon.com, 3 on the UK site, 10 on Smashwords, 29 on LibraryThing, and a few on Goodreads.

The pros of doing this are obvious: you got a lot of people reading your work that wouldn’t otherwise, and you can get a decent number of reviews out of it, if you do it right.

One bizarre ancillary benefit is that Smashwords count the free coupon download as a “sale” for their bestseller charts (although not, unfortunately, for royalties). As such, my two shorts were #2 and #3 in the overall short story charts for a few days, and top of the genre lists for all lengths. This itself resulted in a few sales.

There is only one major con, aside from the time involved. LibraryThing reviewers are a lot harsher than your average Amazon reviewer. 3 stars on LibraryThing is a good review. On Amazon, that’s almost considered a negative review.

Another thing to consider is that you will probably hit a lot of readers outside your target audience that are just grabbing the book because it piqued their curiosity and because it’s free. I had a couple of reviewers who didn’t even like short stories, or even the subject matter.

My stories seemed to get, on average, a star less than they would on Amazon. Luckily, I had built up a buffer of good reviews on Amazon for both stories. As such, my average on Amazon stayed above four stars. However, the average for Transfection on Smashwords is down to 3 stars.

On the other hand, there is nothing like a few 2 star and 3 star reviews to lend credibility to the rest of your 4 and 5 star reviews.

Keep all of this in mind. I recommend not participating in a giveaway until you have collected enough good reviews so that your average doesn’t drop too low – maybe 10 or so.

In the meantime, you can join the site, apply for Author status, and start having some great conversations about books. (Other than your own.)

***

I hope you all have a great weekend. I will be holed up with my editor’s suggestions for Let’s Get Digital: How To (And Why You Should) Self-Publish, and wrestling with the formatting. I’m aiming to upload on Sunday, so it should be live on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Once it goes live, I will make the PDF available as a free download, here.

If you want to be the first to hear about this or any future releases, please sign up to my newsletter. I only send out an email when I have a new release, or other big news, which usually means an email every month or two.

I also need some volunteers to review Let’s Get Digital. I have around 20 advance PDF copies eleven copies left, and I will be mailing these out over the weekend.

If you would like to get your hands on a copy of Let’s Get Digital two or three days ahead of anyone else, all I ask in return is that you read it as quickly as possible, and review it either on release day or soon after.

EDIT: I mean an Amazon review. Any blog or other review would be a bonus, but not expected at all.

If you are interested, leave a note in the comments, or send an email to david dot gaughran at gmail dot com.

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is an Irish writer, living in London, the author of "Mercenary" and "A Storm Hits Valparaiso" as well as "Let's Get Digital" and "Let's Get Visible."
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46 Responses to Promo Tip: LibraryThing Giveaways

  1. Michelle Muto says:

    Great advice, David. Thanks for taking the time to write this post.

  2. If you still need reviewers, I’m in. Your blogs are always packed with information and advice so I have a good feeling about your book! I have two websites, one book and writing related, and regularly write for two others, so would hopefully reach plenty of prospective readers.

  3. Once again, a great blog post filled with good advice. Katrina

  4. Craig says:

    I don’t have a writing blog, and don’t generally tend to review books (I think my Amazon account shows two reviews at the moment), but I have been reading self-publishing information as fast as I can find it, and I’m currently working on a couple of short things I hope to publish soon.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying I’d love to read the book asap, and will give you a release-day review if you send me a copy, but if you’d rather focus on people with more ‘reach’ then that’s cool and I’ll still buy it when it’s released!

    • Don’t worry about reach. This is more about having some Amazon reviews for launch day – I should have been clearer, I’ll go back and amend the post. Any blog review would be a bonus, but not expected.

      I have you down on the list. I hope to send out Sat/Sun depending on when I get through the edits and the PDF conversion.

      15 left, everyone else!

  5. alexadena says:

    Good stuff, David!

    My experience — we had books posted at the same time — was very similar to yours. I would say 75 percent of the people who signed up have responded to my email asking what format they wanted. (Smashwords is much easier, but emails can help you build reader relationships, I believe. BUT it is much more time-consuming!)

    Your observations about reviews are dead-on. This is a tough bunch — most of them are not causal readers. They’ll read two or three books a week and 3 stars is nothing to feel bad about. Yes, you will get reviews from people who have zero reading comprehension skills — these people don’t understand metaphors. But you’ll also get favorable reviews and these people are usually willing to repost them on Amazon if you ask nicely.

    It’s been a great experience for me so far and I plan on using Library Thing in the future.

    • Hey!

      I saw your book! Glad to hear it went well for you too.

      There is something I should have made clear in the post, and I’m glad you brought it up. While I got some great reviews, they were, on average, harsher. But, for the most part they were very thoughtful. Even the two and three star reviews clearly stated the reasons they didn’t like the book. I think that actually might help. Readers can see exactly what kind of book it is.

      I remember when I got my first two star review in the UK – in fact, it was my first UK review of any kind. It was two stars. I worried it would kill sales. The review said something like “only people who like REALLY weird stories will like this”. Sales jumped! The reviewer identified my target market for me!

      Dave

      • alexadena says:

        Sadly, I can’t say my one-star review was that thoughtful. But it has been balanced out by some nice ones so all is good. But you’re right — someone will say there that they LOVED your book and give it 4 stars. And that’s totally fine. When I was a film critic, in a past career, there were a lot of films I really enjoyed but only a select few ever got 5 stars from me.

      • And we should have a little perspective. Any time anyone reads your work and enjoys it is an amazing thing. I think we all forget that sometimes when we focus on the numbers so much. And if someone reads it and enjoys it and takes time out of their busy day to go to Amazon and write a four star review, that’s really really cool.

        Life is a beautiful thing sometimes.

      • A film critic? That’s cool. I have a very genteel view of that profession which may or may not be no reflection of the reality.

  6. Chaz Young says:

    As usual David, you have great advice! I am really well established on Goodreads and Library Thing seems to be redundant, but perhaps I should be establishing myself there. I am gathering information like squirrels gather nuts, so that when my next book comes out, I will be ready.

    After I read you book, I plan to post reviews on Amazon and such.

  7. alexadena says:

    Being a film critic is a blast but it’s a LOT more work that people think it is. But being able to let people know about great, underappreciated films? That was the best part of the gig.

  8. laurenwaters says:

    What a fantastic post David! Thanks so much for passing this information along! I think I’m one of those who doubts my reviewing abilities but your advice has been so beneficial that I would love to help you out in any way I can. If you would like to add me to review Let’s Get Digital I’d be happy to quickly give feedback–and benefit from getting to read it first :)

  9. Okay, this one is going down in the marketing plan. Good advice, good article and well put together with all the pros and cons. It sounds like a very good idea just to join in order to find out how people respond to different kinds of books.

  10. Good post. We had books on at the same time, David, glad to hear it well for you as well. My last blog post was about my experience, and I’ve found that Librarything has the best giveaway program. Some of the sites, as you mentioned, as not friendly to indie authors–they don’t even seem to want free books by indies–but on LT requests often out number the copies being given away. I think part of the popularity is that there are books by traditionally published authors who are best sellers, rather than just indies trying to sell to each other.

  11. David, I will be happy to review a copy. Send it to hgrant717 (at) gmail.com. You have a lively, informative website that I browse almost every day with my morning coffee.

  12. Meg North says:

    Hi David, thank you for following me on Twitter. Your WordPress site is really interesting, with lots of good advice about the digital world of publishing. What part of Ireland are you from? We just got back from a fantastic trip in June. It was such a gorgeous country. I, too, am in the self publishing boat, but I have physical copies of my book in a number of Maine store locations and two signings scheduled this summer. It’s been a road! I thought your thoughts on going to a reader-only site were thought-provoking. I’m having good luck on Goodreads so far, meeting some readers who have read my book, too! I’m not doing any promotions or giveaways, but your advice was sound and I’d like to try it at some point.

    • I’m from Dublin – born, bred, and buttered.

      I haven’t done print versions of anything yet. Maybe with this next one, but e-book will go out first. Goodreads is, for sure, a good place to meet readers too. I’ve been nosing around there a little, but I know some writers have had great success with that site – I think I haven’t found the right group yet. The last one I was in imploded because of some spat or other about moderators, and I haven’t really been back – any recommendations would be welcome.

      Goodreads only allow giveaways of print books – but they are very popular. They’ve been planning to allow e-books for a while, but it hasn’t happened yet. I will certainly partake in a giveaway there once that changes.

  13. Joseph Robert Lewis says:

    SHHHH! Don’t tell anyone about LibraryThing. It’s my personal secret weapon for generating reviews! No one must know about it!

    • My lips are sealed!

      I don’t think you need to worry too much about it being swamped. A lot of my guys said it was the first time they had won anything – so it’s far from saturated. On top of that, there will be a lot of people switching to e-books over the next six months.

  14. C.J. Archer says:

    Another excellent post, David, thank you. I haven’t done a LibraryThing giveaway yet but this is all good information to store away for when I do.

  15. Hi, David. You consistently write great posts, but this one is made of exceptionally good stuff. I think all beginning indie writers need to read this. I think sometimes the informality of the net (i.e., we’re all sitting around in our jam-jams and curlers while networking — well, maybe not all of us…) makes some of us forget good manners. Most folks would consider it rude to crash a book club meeting of folks they barely know and start passing out business cards and snagging up the last of the cookies. A good reminder that the cyber version of that is hardly appreciated either. ;)

    Anyway, thank you for all the hard work you do. And if you’ve got any review copies left, I’d love to do a review for you on my blog. I could probably get it done within a week or so. Hope this finds you well. ~ Angela

    • Sheesh. Was getting ready to close the open window on this and re-read the bottom bit and realized you’re asking for a two- to three-day turnaround with a review on Amazon. Just wanted to clarify that that would be no problem. Will still do a review on the blog as well. Sorry for the confusion. I usually pay better attention. Need sleep. ;)

  16. Excellent post as usual. I think this is my favourite so far:) All fingers crossed that ‘Let’s Get Digital’ will break download/sales records! I will definitely buy a copy and review it. Maybe not just after release (I’m useless with speedi-ness of that sort, unfortunately), but as soon as I can. Cheers, and off I go to LibraryThing!

  17. Morphidae says:

    As a LibraryThing reader, I wanted to thank you for such a thoughtful post. We readers really do appreciate authors who enter gently into LT. For instance, we have an author of a fantasy series that has become a welcome part of our community and people now specifically order his books.

    • Hey, thank you!

      I thought for a while before writing that. I didn’t want a load of writers to just barge in and start promoting, because I love that the site is free of that, and I certainly didn’t want to be the instigator of bad behavior! Now, I don’t think my regular readers are that boorish, but sometimes posts like this bring in a lot of one-time readers from outside, and I was afraid that they might just see “promo opportunity” and dash off and do it all wrong.

      I haven’t spent much time on LT over the last 2 weeks (I’ve been preparing for a release), but I should have my life back on Tuesday or so, and I can’t wait to get back to some serious reading, and nosing around the site again.

      Dave

    • I’ve just (several days after first reading this) come back and bookmarked it so I can use it on LT to help authors see the way LT _should_ be approached.

  18. Hi David

    I love reading your blogs, they are always educating me. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience.

    Best, Revital

  19. nownewstrue says:

    Nice! I have not gotten into Library Thing, but a couple of authors have mentioned it and wanted a review.

    Also I did the same thing on Goodreads for eBooks because they only sponsor paper book giveaways.

    http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/50149.eBook_Giveaways

    Writers post any kind of giveaway/contest as long as they are giving away their book. Smashwords works great. Readers enjoy and are encouraged to leave a review. So far the response has been great. Anyone is welcome to join.

  20. Tony Slater says:

    Great stuff again mate – Library Thing, eh? Another one I’ve never heard of, and a good one it sounds like. Not that I feel like I’ve got time to establish a presence on a new site – dunno how you do it, flitting around all these places, maintaining a finger in every pie whilst still finding time to write and edit!
    I won’t take a review copy of ‘Digital’ as there’s no way I’ll be able to do it justice in the next few days – I’m getting married on Thursday and I’ve got half of Australia descending on me between then and now. But I’ll grab it as soon as it’s out, and review as soon as I can. That way it’ll count towards your rankings too. Are yo trying to organize people to buy it on a specific day?

    • Married eh? I won’t even ask what you have planned for the honeymoon. No doubt you are crossing Mongolia on a yak or some such.

      I’m not trying to organize people to buy on a specific day, but I am trying to organize people to review on launch day – a slight twist.

      Best of luck Thursday!

  21. Brad Magnarella says:

    This is the first post of yours I’ve read, David. Very thoughtful and informative. Thanks for sharing your experience and results — and thanks too for mentioning that authors invite reviews in the backs of their books. Never thought of that for some reason (slaps forehead).

    If you’ve any copies left of Let’s Get Digital, I’d be happy to read and review.

    Best,
    Brad

  22. gail doughty says:

    An excellent article, Dave, from a reader’s standpoint. I’ve reviewed some things on Librarything and find it both enjoyable and challenging.

    I noticed you mention that reviews on LT use fewer stars than is typical on Amazon. That’s certainly true; what you don’t mention is that the less-casual readers on LT often find Amazon ratings unreliable at best. A three-star rating on LT won’t turn people away from a book that has an interesting subject or format. But I appreciate your pointing out how important Amazon reviews can be to the success of any book. That will alter my behavior somewhat…I’ll try to put my reviews of modern work over there as well.

  23. Summer Grey says:

    David, your posts are so helpful and informative. Thanks for all your hard work. It’s very much appreciated. :)

  24. David, does a member giveaway run any risks of Amazon setting your price to zero?

    • Hi Andrew,

      In short, no. First, your work is not “on sale” for the price of zero. Second, Amazon only price match with sites they consider competitors: Sony, Apple, and Barnes & Noble being the main ones. They don’t even price match with Smashwords. Now, I’m sure the legal eagles will say is something in their ToCs where they could drop your price to zero under this or any other eventuality, but I have never heard it happening in practice. I’ve done three big giveaways now, and I know lots of people who have done lots more than that – with no such result.

      If they were to institute that rule, then virtually every book would drop to zero as most authors/publishers have done a giveaway for some sort or another. Amazon wants to make money. They make more, obviously, by charging for your book. They only drop the prices when a serious competitor is cheaper.

      Dave

  25. Vicki Lesage says:

    Thanks for the tips! It’s funny – I’m already a subscriber to your email list but found this article via a Google search. Maybe I should just come to your site first each time I have a book publishing question! Anyway, thanks for the detailed info about how to go a giveaway on LibraryThing. I’m off to engage a bit on there first and really check it out before diving into a giveaway!

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