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.