THE BLOG
07/30/2010 04:42 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Do Author Giveaways Work?

A few months ago, when I started my Facebook campaign to make deserving books bestsellers ("I bet we can make these books bestsellers" -- current selections are Jessica Z. and Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens -- both excellent in my opinion), I solicited advice from several well known figures in the blogosphere about how to generate awareness for the group and, hopefully, sales of the books it was promoting. The consistent message I got back (along with -- "don't attempt this, it will never work") was to do giveaways, the bigger the better.

This advice coincided with what I had noticed among the authors I was following on Twitter and Facebook -- there sure were a lot of giveaways out there. In fact, I'm almost sure that if you were diligent enough, you'd never have to buy another book again.

This got me wondering whether giveaways work, which of course leads to a second question -- what does "work" mean in this context? I wasn't quite sure, so I dipped my toes into the giveaway pool and offered to giveaway a book when the group reached a certain number of people. This type of giveaway did work -- the group received the followers I was asking for. But I wasn't just looking for followers. The whole point of the group is to generate sales, not just followers. So how do you generate sales?

While I was thinking about that, I saw an interesting chain reaction on Facebook. It all started when Allison Winn Scotch decided to do a "Buy One, Get One Free" giveaway to coincide with the release of her latest book, The One That I Want. That's right, Allison was giving a free copy of one of her backlist if you purchased her new book and sent in a proof of purchase. Why would an author do this? Allison explained that it was an idea that came to her one Sunday that she decided to go with. Book marketing these days is a "brave new world" and authors sometimes just have to try things. She feels that it definitely generated some awareness for the book, and some sales too, though there are a few things she would do differently next time (such as not starting the campaign on a Sunday, when fewer people are online).

Next up for her was something a little more fun: a cross-promotional giveaway with other authors. Allison contacted several writer friends and asked them to donate a book to the cause (this time, getting people to like her Facebook fan page), which they readily agreed to do. In the end, 28 women authors banded together, and Allison got 800 new Facebook fans.

Julie Buxbaum (After You), was one of the participants in Allison's giveaway. Part of her motivation for doing so was the fun of promoting someone else's work and getting to meet other authors. Julie has found that giving away other authors' books on her blog keeps her readers coming back. She does fun giveaways such as asking fans to send in a picture of her book in Target, since she lives in Target free England.

Julie was also lucky enough to be on the receiving end of some giveaway generosity by a big name in the business: Jennifer Weiner. On the day Julie's book was released in paperback, Jennifer Weiner ran a contest: if you bought a copy of Julie's book, you would be entered to win an advance copy of Jennifer Weiner's latest book. Julie was, obviously, extremely happy and grateful for this kind of support.

Another one of Allison's giveaway participants, Leah Stewart (Husband and Wife) enjoyed participating in the giveaway so much that she modeled her own giveaway after Allison's, eventually ending up with 48 different authors. This giveaway showed the generosity of authors towards one another -- each author gave 10 copies of their books to the effort, which resulted in four book clubs winning 12 months' of books. While Leah, like all of us, isn't sure what "works," she enjoyed the "feeling of community" that doing these giveaways generated. Self-promotion can be very tiring, Leah agreed, in a way that talking about other's books simply isn't. In the end, over 1200 people participated in the giveaway.

Which brings me back to my own giveaway experiment. After putzing around with giving away a book here and there, I decided to go big. I would give away an iPad. OK, not that big. I would give away a Kindle (the giveaway ends August 15th). And so far, it has worked. Kind of. Depending on what "works" means. Stay tuned.