My Experience with Amazon Giveaways

Amazon makes it very easy to setup a giveaway for any product (so far as I know). You go to that product’s page, scroll down, and you’ll see a link to “Setup a Giveaway.” Follow the simple instructions, pay for the item and, after a short time, your giveaway will be active. Amazon does not market it for you, but they provide a link that you can use to market it yourself. There are even social links whereby they automatically insert the link and the hashtag #AmazonGiveaway.

As an author, I’m always interested in finding new ways to market and this looked pretty good. They allow you to do a giveaway for your Kindle book, as well as your print book. I tried both.

The first giveaway I did for the Kindle version of “A Beast in Venice.” I had the price set at $3.99, and I wanted to give away five copies. I had to pay 5 x 3.99, or $19.95. On the upside, you still get your commission for the sale, so I only ended up paying 30% of that (net). The lesson there is to set your book to 99 cents before the giveaway. I set it for one in every 25 people to win. (In other words, I still didn’t what the hell I was doing), and required them to follow me on Amazon in order to enter.

As an aside, the real goal of marketing for an author, outside of selling books, is to get followers interested in your type of book, and preferably on a mailing list. You want to be able to contact these people at will.

Amazon allows you to require the entrants to follow you on Amazon (a list over which you have no control and don’t even know who’s on it), follow you on Twitter (which is better), watch videos, or do nothing else (more about this one later). I decided for my first one I would go with Amazon followers, as Amazon will email them when you make a new release. Not an ideal situation, but better than nothing.

I Tweeted the thing with their hashtag, and within a few hours all the books were gone, giveaway over. Ok, I thought, I got 111 new followers on Twitter who are interested in my book. Wrong.

Amazon gives a list of the winners. I checked them out. The only place I had done any marketing was on Twitter, so these people must have Twitter accounts. All five of them were either “goose eggs,” or had a picture with no profile. That is, they are spammy accounts that enter Amazon giveaways in order to get the thing and sell it, or return it for a credit. As to Kindle books, I understand they can trade it in for something else, or for credit.

So, for my $6.00, I figure I got nothing. Maybe some of the followers were good followers who will not unfollow me, and who may consider buying my new books. But I doubt it.

The next giveaway was the Kindle version of “Self-Portrait of a Dying Man.” On this one, I set the price at 99 cents before the giveaway, and I wanted to give away ten copies. I still had not figured out what was going on, and I thought I could get me a thousand followers. (Yes, I’m slow). 

I set the giveaway to 1 in 100 and required them to follow me on Twitter. At least I’d be able to see all entrants, whereas in the version where they follow you on Amazon, you only know who won. I Tweeted the link with #AmazonGiveaway (duh). Right off the bat I got about 300 followers and 3 winners. Guess what? They were all shit. No real people actually interested in my book.

At this point I finally realized what was happening. People (bots) automatically look for the hashtag and enter the giveaway. There are websites where they list the active giveaways, what it is, and what it’s worth.

I set up another giveaway of two copies of the print version of “A Beast in Venice.” This time I would require people to sign up for my mailing list before they could enter. That’s where the “do nothing else” comes in. One of the options when you set up a giveaway is not to require the entrants to do anything additional. That way you can set up whatever conditions you want, and then give them the link.

The form to sign up (through Mail Chimp) has reCaptcha. The entrant must click a box that they are human. Result: no takers.

The bottom line is that no one wants to be on a mailing list, even if they get a chance to win a bona fide print book. 

I tried something else with my giveaway for the Kindle version of “Self-Portrait of a Dying Man.” All they have to do is enter a password (which I give them) to click through to the link. No takers.

The bottom line is that Amazon giveaways are useless for authors.

There has sprung up an industry around these giveaways that make it impossible for an author to accomplish what they really need to accomplish, which is to build a mailing list of people interested in the kind of books you write.

What if you gave away a Kindle, instead? Even if you were able to keep the bots out of it, you have a list of people who want to have a free Kindle, not a list of potential readers.

What would be a good strategy to use this method to gain real, meaningful followers, or to build your mailing list? Give away copies of books by well-known authors in your genre?

What do you think?

I’m thinking I may try that, but I am of the mind that the best thing to do is to give books away on Goodreads. At least you know that the people there are interested in books, and they’re not likely to be scamming on a book in a genre they don’t read. If they are, and they are doing it to sell on ebay, they will find out what every author already knows: it’s easier to write a book than it is to sell one.