This is my first-ever giveaway and it all started as a means to give away a Facebook friend's books. Just to make it worthwhile, I messaged a few author-type FB friends and asked them for their books as well. I just wanted to make the whole thing "worth while," you know? So I wouldn't spend time spinning my wheels for just 2 or 3 books. I thought, Let's get 30 books for the 30,000 Hits.
In about 24 hours, I had about 24 books and thought I'd make that goald I'd set. Then Seven Realms Publishing donated their entire 2012 catalog of new releases and kicked us up over the goal mark. Then the list burgeoned out of control, without pause, for several more days. Clearly I'd set my goals too low. It barely took another 3 days to approach the 100 book title mark and after 6 days, I had over 100 titles on the list. Everyone involved was amazed. Excited. Retweeting like crazy!
I should've been happy and excited myself but something was niggling in the back of my mind: What have I done wrong? Click through the jump break if you really haven't figured it out already and I'll tell you what was wrong with my "success."
Are Giveaways for Authors?
The answer, of course, is I'd forgotten to solicit readers. I'd been soliciting authors to donate but had neglected that a giveaway is an activity that is or should be reader-centered. While I had about 500 entries at about the time the 100th title was added to the list, closer examination behind the widget showed that they were all completed by approximately 30 or so individual users. So I had about 3 book titles per user--and many of the titles on the list were offering multiple copies. In fact, a quick little calculation tells me I have over 400 books to give away (418 plus several titles that are "unlimited" meaning anyone can win a copy who wants one!)
It's immediately clear from this, I have a problem. The ratio of book:reader is totally upsidedown! As I write this, the number of unique users is up to about 45 but still, with 418 books to give away, that means each user could potentially win 9 or 10 books! That's not all that bad but it's not what we had intended when we started out--or I hadn't anyway.
I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out how this beast got away from me. I'm pretty sure I know where I went astray, so here are some of my lessons learned.
1) Plan Ahead
This is one of the few things I did exactly right from the start. That is, I started early enough--two and a half weeks ahead of my end date--that I could take the time to observe the process and adjust it if it weren't working. Even better, when I realized where I'd forgotten to advertise the giveaway, I had time to push a little publicity in that direction.
A lot of people in the Indie Publishing industry are reactionary. That is, something happens and they react to it. There's not a lot of long-range planning going on and I think that's a serious mistake. I'm a planner by nature and always have been, so for me, it's kind of natural to plan ahead.
In Digital Publishing, however, it's critically important to know what's coming down the road so you can properly publicize before it arrives. Digital Publishing centers around social media sites where publicity is definitely King. If you want to "go viral," you can't just cross your fingers and hope it happens. You have to plan ahead, so you can stir up the buzz, as they say, get the energy level up by the time the winners are announced. You have to make the excitement happen. Nothing boring ever went viral.
My lesson learned here? I forgot to hype up readers from the start and waited until I was 8-10 days in before I realized I had "too many" books and "not enough" readers. Next time, start with the readers, then get the books (though that mountain is a lot steeper to climb).
2) Keep the Momentum Going
The flip side of planning ahead and giving yourself plenty of time in advance to promote is that you have to promote non-stop for what feels like a long time. That's okay. There are tools to help you. Personally, I use Hootsuite to pre-schedule auto-tweets and posts to my Facebook Fan Page. I have my blog syndicated via Networked Blogs to automagically feed blog posts through to the Facebook Fan Page and Twitterstream, too (they are all "daisy-chained" so that posting to the blog eventually propagates to all 3 sites). I even have my Goodreads blog suck in the RSS feed from my Blogger, though I confess, Goodreads is soooo slow that it sometimes takes 2-3 days before a blog post shows up there. Often I get duplicates on Goodreads because I want everything posted "today" not next week.
The other reason it's okay to "have to" promote for a couple of weeks is that you'll want to modify your promotional approach as the end date draws near. The focus at first is on what the prizes are. The focus at the end is on getting your entries in before it's too late. The latter is a promotion based on urgency; the former is a promotion based on need or desire. I've actually let my twitterstream, which was so flooded with hundreds of retweets a day even *I* couldn't take it all in, go completely quiet. Why? I want the contrast. I'm letting my followers "breathe" for a moment. Just a few hours. Since about midnight this morning. Later this afternoon, I'll have the auto-tweets start up again ^_^
The lesson learned here? Know your own power (LOL) I had no idea I'd get so many retweets but if you aren't sure you have that kind of power (all I did was ask!) then be sure you make it worthwhile to be retweeted. Your giveaway cannot succeed without "shares" on Facebook and retweets on Twitter. Even posting to Goodreads and other reader sites only gleaned me a few new entries. It's been the Twitter and Facebook publicity generating reader entries.
3) Be Inclusive, Not Exclusive
This is a good lesson, generally, for the Indie Publisher, but an especially relevant lesson for the person running a giveaway. I opened up the giveaway to everyone--every book, every genre, no restrictions or exclusions--and *bam* I had more books donated than I knew what to do with! Make your giveaway open and available to everyone, not "just for these special people," and you might see the same "runaway train" success. You might also attract a new readership if you have "something for everyone" instead of "just for my special fans" kind of offerings. I haven't changed the content of my Webbiegrrl-branded blog. I'm all about marketing and the Digital Publishing professional's business, but our business is books and readers, isn't it?
The inclusiveness I deliberately put out there is part of my branding strategy as Webbiegrrl Writer but it wasn't just to promote my Webbiegrrl brand that I took that stance. The exlusivity approach drives people away, from potential prize donations to potential entrants/winners--and you never know who might happen upon your giveaway. It's conceiveable your little party will get featured, forex, by someone who's out scouring the web for source material to write an article on how bloggers run giveaways. Your little blog could get featured.
Then there's the downside. If you're an author, anytime you "exclude" anyone in any situation, you are interacting with the public by behaving in a negative manner. Your contacts will remember your negative behavior more than they will your generosity and positive behavior. It's that line Julia Roberts delivered in Pretty Woman in action (Why is always easier to remember the bad stuff?)
Have you ever noticed how a trust betrayed or hurt feelings take a lot longer--and more effort--to heal and repair than do those warm, fuzzy good feelings? Don't destroy your Author Brand's reputation with one careless exclusionary remark. You never know who might observe or be made aware of your negative behavior so try not to "exclude" anyone for any reason. Even if it's just a blogger asking you for a donation for their giveaway, be polite, professional and positive even if you have to decline. You can say something like "I'm not able to donate at this time but that's so flattering that you asked me--thank you! I'd still like to help. Can I retweet you?"
As an author, you're a public figure. Your role as such is to present to the public your Author Brand. Unless your Author Brand is deliberately being promoted as "Bully" or other "Mean Girl" type of persona for some marketing reason, don't allow yourself to get sucked into the clique mentality. No one is "not good enough" to associate with--or no one should be! Don't allow yourself to lose sight of the Power of the Collective, as I like to call it. We are not Borg, but we are a community in a much smaller world than you might care to realize. Word gets around without your ever knowing it!
I didn't learn the negative lesson (Whew!) but I sure did learn from the positive Karma of running this giveaway!
4) Your Word is Sacred
There's a song by Depeche Mode titled "Sacred" and the lyrics always felt to me like they were specifically composed for an author:
To put it in words
To write it down
That is walking
On hallowed ground
Our books are sacred to us, as they come out of our souls. Treat your Author Brand with the same reverence you do your books. An Author's word, our integrity, is truly sacred. If your integrity cannot be trusted in a reality-based situation, then why would a reader spend hard-earned cash to read your fiction? Right in line with not being mean or bullying is being sure you deliver on your word. As an Indie Author, you are your Author Brand. Make sure your brand has integrity.
I've actually found, during the course of this giveaway, that some of the people I thought knew me are surprised to discover I'm good for my word. I thought I'd made my branding clear enough that integrity was paramount, but obviously I hadn't incorporated that into my branding "voice" enough. Lesson learned. Word! :)
Well, I think it's pretty clear what's next: the Ginormous Giveaway this weekend! Let's see if I can manage to pull this off...somehow. I hope to see you there!