The Goodreads Experiment Part 2: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

Posted: January 7, 2012 in In my opinion..., Shameless self-promotion
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Three months ago I posted about my Goodreads giveaway experiment.  At the end of the post, I declared the experiment a success.

Now, with further data to hand, I’m qualifying that declaration.

Yes, 873 people entered the draw to receive one of two free copies of Ghosts Can Bleed (I had originally said 881 people, but rechecking the Goodreads stats, 8 of those people have disappeared).  But what of the people who won?

One recipient had this to say:
I couldnt finish this book so I dont think it is fair to rate it. It was the first short story book of this type, science fiction/horror,that I have read and it just didnt appeal to me. The stories were good enough but not riveting and exciting enough for me to want to keep reading.

(I copy-and-pasted this from Goodreads – all errors of grammar and punctuation are the reviewer’s own).

On Facebook, I often see writers, particularly indie writers, drawing more attention to their unfavourable reviews than they do to their positive ones.  Often they launch into a counter-attack on the reviewer, even going so far as to enlist the aid of friends and colleagues to persecute the offender (“Do me a favour and click “No” on “Did you find this review helpful?”  And while you’re at it, do the same on every other review they’ve ever written.  Kthxbai”).

My personal approach is the complete opposite – when receiving a bad review, say nothing, pretend it doesn’t exist, and hope that it will soon get buried under the weight of all your other overwhelmingly positive reviews.  I only draw attention to this one to highlight a potential flaw in the Goodreads giveaway scheme; I was given to understand that the winner would be drawn from a pool of entrants with a particular interest in and familiarity with the stated genre.  Turns out, Goodreads’ definition of genre is so broad, it’s virtually useless.  To give a collection of speculative fiction short stories and poetry to someone who has never read any and expect a balanced and informed review in return is unrealistic.

As for the reviewer, I can only speculate on what was going through her head when she clicked on “Enter to win”.  My guess is it was something along the lines of, “Not my usual choice of reading material, but I’ll give it a go.  After all, it’s not costing ME anything…”

And the other recipient?  The book was sent out in early October 2011, shortly after the draw closed.  And there has been no review yet.  Perhaps the book got lost in the post.  Perhaps something terrible befell the recipient before she had a chance to read it.  Or perhaps she just thought, “Oh cool, free book,” and didn’t bother to fulfil her end of the bargain.

From the other side of the Goodreads giveaway experience, I have entered the draw for many books on Goodreads, and been successful in winning one.  “Successful” is a relative term in this case; it was a collection of four novellas about werewolves, which would have been right up my alley had I actually received the book (I’ve been waiting for nearly three months).  I reported to Goodreads that I hadn’t received it, because I don’t want to be labelled a Bad Reviewer, and that’s as far as it’s got.  And I’m not about to go nagging the publisher for something that they were giving away, because that, in my opinion, is Bad Form (round about now you’ll be getting the entirely accurate impression that I have a lot of strongly-held opinions about what constitutes Bad Form…).

Maybe it's because their warehouse looks like this?

So what am I trying to say here?  I’m not saying “Boycott the Goodreads giveaway programme”, because you can’t base a judgement on one person’s experience.  For all I know, the majority of Goodreads giveaway participants on both sides of the fence are delighted with the results.  I’m interested to get feedback from other writers who have used Goodreads giveaways to promote their titles, and from other readers who have won books via the programme.  In the meantime, I still advocate the Goodreads giveaway as a tool in the emerging writer’s self-promotion toolbox, with one cautioning rider; hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

  1. jaye says:

    To Danielle and Tracie. What a great idea! Confirming that a winner really wants to read your book. I wish I had thought of that before spending a lot of money on sending out a slew of books of which I received only one horrific – must I call it a review? This person favors YA. Why ever would she want to read an almost erotic contemporary romance? I wonder how long it’s going to take me to get back my sea legs almost destroyed by a sarcastic, scathing post.

    • That just plain sucks, Jaye. Allow me to do two things that I hope might help to alleviate the pain –

      1. Refer you to this link.
      It’s a catalogue of scathing one star reviews for classic novels, which just goes to show that the world is full of people with more opinions than taste. You can consider yourself in good company.

      2. Invite you to post a link to your novel here. Goodreads, Amazon, whatever takes your fancy. Let’s see if we can get some love shown for it to redress the balance.

      • jaye says:

        Hi Tracie

        Thank you for the reply and the link. I’m revising and redoing the cover. I’d love to post a link as soon as it’s ready.
        Thank you again !!

  2. jaye says:

    Hello. I love you for this article. I’m too numb to even cry after my horrible review recently posted on Goodreads. I share your feelings as to why goodreads doesn’t do a better match-up of genre – and why some readers sign up for a genre they don’t like! If they win, it deprives someone who may have liked the book of a chance to read it for free. I’m not complaining about a negative book review, ( I do expect my fair share) but what I received was a book bashing of no value to me because it did not critique or point out examples that may have been helpful to me during a revision process. It just trashed the book.

  3. Sorry to hear the Goodreads experiment didn’t work out. Seems like the “I don’t really want it, but it’s free” attitude might be at play (at least for a subset of the entrants), which really defeats the purpose for author. Too bad. Have you considered a give-away-for-a-review to a more targeted audience, e.g., through your webpage?

    • Well, I’m considering it now! 😉 To be honest, vistor numbers on my blog are quite small at the moment, so I’d be preaching to the converted. Ironically, this post has prompted a spike in blog traffic and followers, so maybe now IS the time to offer giveaways on my blog.

  4. Goodreads is great for a world-wide book club, but as for author giveaways, my experience is that it is not optimal, not so much for the reviews of the winners, but for added exposure. From the one giveaway campaign I ran, several hundred entered (supposedly they were unique but I have my doubts). I gave away three or four print copies and was hoping to see a spike in sales … but didn’t. In fact, I doubt any of those several hundred ended up purchasing. They ‘Liked’ or classified as ‘To Read’ but few actual sales that I saw. Live and learn. Maybe it was just me.

    • That was my experience as well. As with most promotional efforts, it’s devilishly difficult to measure results and to link sales spikes to any one method of promotion. I keep hearing from Kindle indie writers in particular that there seems to be no rhyme or reason to their sales. I think we discount Goodreads at our peril, but it is equally perilous to depend on it as our primary promotional tool.

  5. debsanswers says:

    I would send email about the one you didn’t receive. In fact I have done that, it was just a mistake and all the winners (I think there was 15 or 20 on that one) only received the book because I reported the error.

    I’ve won several books. Some descriptions were not very clear who the audience should be, mostly non-fiction titles, but I was disappointed that REAMDE wasn’t science fiction.

    I think goodreads should clearly display all the tags entered by the lister on the giveaway.

    Reviews are not the only goal of giveaways. Many people will see the book only because of the giveaway. Some genres do benefit from giveaways more than others. There are some tricks to maximizing the exposure provided by goodreads giveaways.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Debs. I did let Goodreads know that I hadn’t received the book, but whether that filters back to the publisher, I don’t know. Some useful feedback there for Goodreads, too – I wonder if anyone has suggested to them that they display tags on the giveaways?
      If you (or anyone else) can recommend a good post on how to maximise the exposure provided by Goodreads giveaways, I’d love to read it. I have to admit to blundering about blindly a lot of the time in the quest for effective self-promotion.

  6. Danielle Blanchard says:

    I meant to finish up by saying being an indie writer is tricky, and what I do might be considered bad form but if it is between buying and posting a book a person has no interest in or using that money to buy something for my children, what would most self-respecting parents do?

    • I don’t think that’s bad form at all, Danielle. In fact, it sounds quite sensible to me – reconfirm with the winner that he or she really does still want the book before sending it out blindly. I suspect that most people who enter those draws just go down the list and click “Enter to Win” on everything, regardless of whether they’re genuinely interested in reading it or not.

  7. Danielle Blanchard says:

    Tracie, people don’t read what kind of book is being given away. Unfortunately, I ran two contests on Goodreads for Death Wish. The first I had no idea existed as I thought I cancelled it after The Seven Veils kept showing up as the book I was giving away. Nevermind I put something completely different in the description. To make a long story short, I contacted the five winners afterwards. Three knew about the description and wanted a copy of Death Wish, one didn’t answer back and the fifth basically told me it wasn’t what she was looking for so she wasn’t interested.

    The second giveaway has been very similar. Of the five winners, three responded to my contact, the other two I never heard from (and this is with the proper paperback in the description).

    Moral of the story, I have to buy the books for the giveaway (yes, I purchase them at wholesale prices but I am also a divorced mother of two, one who is still in diapers/nappies so money is always tight) & I have to pay for postage (at roughly $6 per address, not cheap either). I always contact the winners to make sure they want the product. If I do not hear back from them, I don’t send the book, simple as that. Yeah

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