Do Giveaways Work?

by Michelle Gagnon

Figment.com has just announced a contest to celebrate the release of my YA debut DON’T TURN AROUND. In keeping with the theme of the book, they’re asking for a story about teen rebels with a cause, in 1,200 words or less. The winner will receive a 13 inch MacBook Pro (a computer that features prominently in the storyline, since it’s sort of a “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for teens”), and a signed copy of the book.

I’m really excited about this (especially since, for a refreshing change, this time I won’t be the one paying for the grand prize!) However, I wonder…do giveaways really lead to more copies sold?

For my second book, BONEYARD, I held a Kindle contest. Anyone who signed up for my newsletter got their name thrown into the hat (mind you, this was for the Kindle 1, which as a brand spanking new device retailed for $450).
That was, to date, my bestselling novel.
But I was hesitant about repeating that particular contest-after all, signing up for my newsletter didn’t necessarily translate to purchasing the book; and many might simply unsubscribe as soon as the contest ended. (For the record, I didn’t experience an unusually high dip in subscribers in the aftermath). Plus, it was a lot of money to spend without a quantifiable return.

So for my third thriller, THE GATEKEEPER, I decided to take it up a notch. I offered a MacBook (paid for out of my own advance) to anyone who could answer two easy questions about the book.
I received a decent number of entries; certainly not as many as with the previous contest, but a respectable amount. To enter, a reader needed to provide the names of two specific characters, in response to a fairly simple question for anyone who had read the book.

But some people literally sent a full roster of every character in every single one of my novels. One woman emailed me directly twenty times over the course of a day, listing two characters at a time (a few of whom weren’t even from any of my books), asking repeatedly, “These two names? What about these two?”
When I gently pointed out that randomly throwing names at me wasn’t really keeping in the spirit of the contest, she got huffy and fired off a nasty email about how spoiled authors were, and how this was the only way she could get a new computer. Plus, she wasn’t a big reader in general, and found it unfair that she be asked to read something in order to enter a giveaway.

*Sigh. The entire experience ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth (not to mention a dent in my wallet). So for my fourth book, I skipped contests entirely.

I had no idea that Figment was going to be running this contest until it posted; I love the idea behind it, though. Especially since Figment serves as a virtual writing community. And I’m terribly flattered that they’re offering such an amazing, generous prize.

But will it translate into sales? Hard to say. I know the old 50% marketing adage (half of what you do will work, but chances are you’ll never know which half). But it’s a source of perpetual frustration for every author–where do you concentrate your marketing time and money, especially now that there’s such a huge array of options? Hemingway never had to deal with Twitter (although I suspect he would have been fantastic at it, with his knack for sparse prose).

So what do you think? Has a giveaway ever persuaded you to purchase a novel you never would have picked up otherwise?


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11 thoughts on “Do Giveaways Work?

  1. No.

    I once won a signed book in a giveaway, but it was a book that I would have purchased if I hadn’t won it.

    Another time an author sent me a signed book merely for a comment I left on her blog, although she had not announced any sort of giveaway. Although I own other books by her I probably wouldn’t have purchased this particular one as it was an anthology she had edited. But, hey, a free book is a good thing, and I was grateful for it.

    I would think giving away electronics would attract entrants who would never buy at all. You know, like the rude woman you described.

    Are the capchas designed to be completely unintelligible?

  2. I’m with you- capchas drive me nuts. I always have to cycle through a few before I can figure out what they’re supposed to be. And I worry that you’re right about attracting people who have no interest in the book, but we’ll see!

  3. I have not been persuaded by any giveaways to buy a book, but I’m a writer. I don’t enter them. However, I do offer them. I’ve done the contest through Fresh Fiction for $100 and gained over 1000 people for my mailing lists. Not a whole lot of them have unsubscribed.

    I am running several contests now as this is my release month but my prizes are modest: backlist titles, a tee shirt with my book covers, knicknacks. People want anything for free. For the bigger prizes, I join group ventures like online scavenger hunts. It’s great if your publisher runs a contest for you. Does it affect sales? Probably not. But it may raise name recognition and gain exposure for your work which is a goal of promotion.

  4. First giveaway I ever did, a new Kindle 3 in 2010, earned me about $1500 that I could trace directly to that promo because people had to send proof of purchase to be entered. Since then though, I’ve been giving away a new Kindle each year based not on purchases but on Amazon reviews (not any particular type of review, just a review…so a 1-star could potentially win). I can’t say how much my other giveaways have given me in sales because I also give my books away for a day or two each month and get about 10k copies of it downloaded when its free each month, thats roughly 10x the number of cash sales. I also do a paperback and audiobook giveaway via International Thriller Writer’s The Big Thrill, Never Ending Book Giveaway that do tend to get some little boost, at least in acknowledgement of my work.

    Doing it that way has not made me rich, but is has gained 77 reviews on one of my books, and purchases stay steady.

    Personally I have not purchased many things driven by the idea of a giveaway, because I have been unsuccessful in anything related to luck or chance or drawings. But a book having a giveaway, may well draw my attention to at least check it out.

    And I think that’s were I benefit most from these giveaways as an author. Just drawing people’s attention to check it out and pass the word that the book exists. Since initially e-publishing in 2010 sales have crept up consistently, especially as I put more books out. maybe the giveaways helped, maybe not.

  5. interesting post, Michelle. I’ve never done it to any significant extent other than book giveaway. But am considering doing it via my FB author page. But as you note, it’s not easy when it comes out of your own pocket!

  6. I did a giveaway for one of my earlier books and it was sort of a mess. Don’t know that it helped sell books – it was for an Amazon gift card – and the person who won never got the gift card email until I followed up with her a few months later and she had totally forgotten about the whole thing.

  7. I can’t tell you from the standpoint of being an author DOING a give-away, but I can tell you the writer’s loop I’m on advertises LOTS of giveaways on weekends (when writers are free to post marketing related emails promoting their work). I don’t care what they’re offering as a giveaway, if the book doesn’t already interest me on its own, I’m not going to visit their blog and enter for a chance to win. It’s a time thing. I simply don’t have time to check out every author’s blog or other contest.

    Okay, now maybe if they were offering to build me a house I’d make the time… 😎

  8. Hrm…now you may be on to something there BK. I’ve got a bunch of large cardboard boxes that my kids used to make a pretty decent fort. If stacked right…put a blanket over it and voila! Provided you live in a dry, wind free environment.

  9. I think the answer to the question is inside all of us. What would make you buy a particular book?

    A software company whose product I use, is giving users the opportunity to preregister for their newest product. They will get their copy before general release. I signed up.

    Thinking about that, how about sending an offer to preregister to your email list along with a free short story or chapter 1? And the opportunity to get an early release.

    Haven’t tried it yet. Just saying.

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