Perhaps the best way to promote your book on Goodreads is to host a book giveaway.
In a giveaway, readers enter a contest for the right to receive a free copy of your book. Goodreads randomly selects a winner from the entrants, and you then mail a copy of your paperback (ebooks don’t qualify for giveaways) to the winner. A special page is set up on Goodreads in which readers can browse all of the books in giveaways, and also you can notify all of your friends about the contest.
The idea of the giveaway is to get Goodreads users to mark your book as a “to-read.” This marking then is sent out to all of those users’ friends as “notifications.” So if 10 people mark your book as “to read” and they each have 100 friends, then at least the title of your book and a link to its Goodreads page has reached 1000 people. The cost to you is very little – the price of a paperback (which you probably purchased at a reduced cost via CreateSpace) and shipping, or about $10. That’s a penny per person reached…and you probably will have far more people mark your book as “to read” and each them on average probably have more than 100 friends.
Do giveaways translate into sales, though? After all, if readers have a chance to obtain your book for free, why would they ever bother to buy it?
The answer is yes, you will receive more sales in the long run. Some people who didn’t win your book will purchase it after the giveaway is over. More importantly, you got readers to look at your title and hopefully other books you’ve written, which will lead to sales.
I’ve found that I need to reach about 1000 people about a title to make a single sale of my hiking guidebooks. Of course, this average differs for each author and genre and changes significantly based on the season (about 500 reaches nets a sale for me in spring, early autumn, and before Christmas but 1500-2000 reaches are needed in January when no one is hiking and paying their holiday bills).
Based on my personal experiments with Goodreads giveaways during the past five years, as well as anecdotal evidence from other authors who’ve done the same with other genres, I recommend a few guidelines for running an optimal giveaway:
• One copy is good enough to give away – Giving away two or three or even ten copies doesn’t significantly increase the number of people who will mark your book as “to read,” but it will raise your postage costs.
• Pen a compelling blurb – The giveaway description should not be a copy of the book’s synopsis (which is available at the book’s landing page) but a pitch for why readers should want your book, written as if it were a review. Listing awards and if the title has topped a bestsellers list definitely help on previously released books.
• Increase “to reads” by offering a bonus – Readers are more likely to want a book if there’s something setting it apart from all other copies. Two “bonuses” particularly are effective: tell readers you will give away an “autographed copy” or announce that it’s an “advance readers’ copy.”
• End the giveaway on a date when few others are doing so – If other authors end their giveaway on Friday, go for Thursday. This will help you move to the top of that Goodreads browsing page for giveaways by decreasing the amount of competition.
• Extend your giveaway to beyond your home country – If you live in the United States, opening up the contest to readers in other countries (Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia in particular) greatly expands your reach. If your book is sold on Amazon.com in those countries, then you can purchase it from that site and send it from the printing plant in country as a gift to the winner to keep your costs down.
• Run short giveaways – Two or three days is long enough. That’s because with a two to three-day giveaway, Goodreads will put you high on two popular lists, specifically those for “new giveaways” and “giveaways ending soon” at the same time, which usually nets more “to reads.”
• Connect with those who’ve marked your book as a “to read” – These are potential buyers of your books because they’re interested in your genre or topic. Invite them to be your friend; it’s like adding another email to your marketing list. Interact with them on boards and with reviews of books you’ve both like or have reviewed.
• Send the book to the winner immediately – When winners wait weeks to receive their book, they get cranky. Some will take it out on you by giving you a one-star review and noting that you never received the book. Abide by this simple rule: When the winner is announced, mail the book within 24 hours.
Addendum: In late 2017, Goodreads began charging for giveaways. This article was written and originally published about a year before then. While the same tips still apply for running giveaways, you’ll need to weigh the cost of running one against the buzz that it generates. In my personal experience, if you have a solid author’s platform with plenty of followers, an extensive email list, and other books already published, the giveaway can be worth the expense. If you’re a new author starting out, though, the giveaway’s return on investment usually isn’t worth it, as there are many other free ways to generate a following that results in book sales.