The Anatomy of a Successful Ebook Giveaway

By Carolyn McCray, Author

In theory, ebook giveaways sound so beguilingly simple, don’t they? Give people free books, they will love your work and create gobs of word of mouth sales. This is one of those theories that turns out to be nothing more than an urban myth: Build it and readers will come.

With the exception of a handful of writers who have created a large sales platform off of free giveaways, the vast majority of ebook giveaways fail to create anywhere near the amount of buzz or secondary sales that the writer had hoped.

Why?  Because the giveaway did not have a solid set of goals and a strategic plan for after the book was given away. Sure, they had a sense of wanting to generate some name recognition, however their planning stopped there.  This has been the death keel to many a giveaway.

Instead of vague hopes, dreams, and wishes, we should concentrate on four measurable goals for any free ebook giveaway:

  • Generating sales of your backlist.
  • Compiling an email list to be used in future campaigns
  • Obtaining reviews to be used in your other marketing efforts
  • Creating good will within the reviewer community

For each and every ebook give away, you should set some very specific goals for what you wish to accomplish. Is the focus of this marketing campaign to increase sales?  Or is your main priority collecting email addresses, etc? Or a combination of the four? It is difficult to measure success and make vital changes to your marketing strategy if you do not know what you turn out you expected and how well you fared.

How exactly do you go about this?

Pre-planning Stage

1. Study the blog stops on your tour (or your own website statistics if hosting it yourself).  How many books do they normally give away per stop?  How many do they anticipate giving away for your promotion?

2. How are the winners notified?  You, as the author, always want to do the notification.  Work this out ahead of time.

3. How are you and the blog stop going to work together?  How much pre-event publicity do they do?  How much on the day of?

4. Do you have any promotional partners that can contribute extra support during your tour?  If not, you might want to get some!

Let’s say based on the research you did above you calculate that you will be giving away 100 ebooks on a blog tour which encompasses 6 blog stops.

Setting Goals

How many backlist copies do you hope to sell? A good rule of thumb is a 10:1 ratio.  For every ten books you give away you would like to get 1 sale of a backlist title. More than that? Great! Share your secret for the rest of us.  Less than that, you will want o take a look at your after-giveaway protocols.

How many emails do you hope to add to your newsletter list? Usually you want to convert 75% of all emails collected into long-term newsletter recipients.

How many reviews do you hope to get from the give away? A good ratio to shoot for is about 20:1.  So for every 20 books you give away, you get 1 review back.

How many blog tour hosts do you wish to convert to long-term reviewers? Ideally you would want this to be a 1:1 ratio, however personal taste, work load, etc can affect this so I tell everyone to shoot for a 50% retention rate.

You can now calculate your concrete set of goals for this imaginary give away:

1. 10 Backlist Sales

2. 75 new, unique email addresses added to your newsletter registry

3. 5 Reviews of your free ebook

4. 3 Long term reviewer contacts

Fantastic! Um, great… but how do we achieve them? Ah, that’s for the next article!

Comment below to let me know if this article was helpful to you in planning your next ebook giveaway and any questions you may have regarding the information.  Also feel free to share your successful and not-quite-so-successful ebook giveaways.

I subscribe to the comments, and will try to answer any questions within a few hours of posting.  Feel free to leave your page link, blog link, or links to any giveaways and I will hop over and give a mini-critique of what I see with a few pointers on how to improve your overall goals.

Carolyn McCray is a social media and sales consultant to writers and publishing houses alike.   Her own controversial thriller, “30 Pieces of Silver” hit the #1 spot on the Amazon “Men’s Adventure” list, (beating out the likes of Clive Cussler).  Carolyn is also the founder of the Indie Book Collective, an organization dedicated to helping writers utilize social media to sell their books.

18 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Successful Ebook Giveaway

  1. Stephanie Chandler

    Great stuff here! I’ve done a variety of promotions with ebooks. When one of my books came out, I offered the ebook version from a previous title as a bonus for anyone who bought a copy during a two-week period. I also required that they register to get their copy so I was able to collect contact info–worked great!

    I also recently discovered a cool tool called Pay with a Tweet. This allows you to give away a digital product in exchange for a Tweet or post to Facebook. Social media buzz is hugely important and should be tracked as well. This tool is fantastic!

    Looking forward to part 2 of this article!

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Great ideas yourself.

      Any way that you can track and gather contact info is essential to the success of any give away. Even though digital books may be ‘free’ to give away, you should assign a price to each copy and just as if you had spent that money, look to get it back either in advertising (social media buzz) or in back list book sales.

      But, there I go, giving away some of part 2 🙂

  2. Kelli

    Fantastic post, Carolyn. I’m trying to absorb as much information as I can since I will be publishing my first novel in a couple months. I was wondering how I should go about my giveaway and what I could expect as far as reviews and sales. Thank you for breaking this down and for sharing your knowledge on this matter. You have great advice and I’m learning a lot by reading your post. Looking forward to your next post. Kudos

    1. Carolyn McCray

      You are very welcome, Kelli.

      I know that when I first started out, I had NO idea what I was doing and wished I knew what I know now! You know, before I gave away those 1,000 copies of a title and only got 2 reviews back! LOL 🙂

  3. Rod Younger

    Hi Carolyn,

    very useful article with some great ideas/pointers. I’m in the process of setting up an online indie book store which will also have an ebook publishing arm – mainly for out of print titles so looking for ideas on how to promote the “new” books we intend to publish in conjunction with the authors (have some very interesting titles under consideration!)

    1. Carolyn McCray


      eBook Give Aways can be used by anyone, huge name brand houses down to the indie author.

      As long as you have a solid strategy, and monitor results so that you can keep improving your conversion from free to royalty, you are in great shape!

      Plus, there is more in the follow up article, however gaining reviewers trust is worth its weight in gold 🙂

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Thank you for the kind words!!!

      Yes, a ‘blog stop’ is usually a single blog reviewer or even fan that is dedicating the day to you. It can either be a review, guest post from you, or a simple give-away.

      Most of the time, you have a blog stop a day, going from blog reviewer to blog reviewer. At Blog Tour de Force (and our new Blog Tour de Troops which will be a charitable event giving away free eBooks to troops and their families) we do the opposite.

      We have all of our reviewers go live the same day to create more of a carnival atmosphere.

      But no matter how you do it, the same tenant apply from the above article 🙂

  4. Matt Lutsky

    Great article, but I’m not sure if I agree with the downside of giving away too many eBooks, especially for unknown or low key releases.

    Considering that most, if not all, of the recipients of the give away wouldn’t have bought the book anyway, and the only cost of giving away an eBook is potentially losing that sale, wouldn’t give away more books be a way to bet on the quality? We’ve learned from the failings of the music studios, and the huge personal success of some musicians who have embraced the pay what you want model, that if consumers like what you put out they will support you.

    Your four goals are hugely important and well selected, but I think building a fanbase is just as key.

    1. Carolyn McCray

      The problem is there are only a few examples of success with the model that you present. The foundation of your theory is that free eBook recipients will a) read your book, b) talk about your book, and c) buy future offerings from the author.

      Unfortunately in the real world, seldom do those 3 things happen, especially if you do not set goals and manage the experience after the give away.

      Trust me, I would give away gads of eBooks if it truly did build a fan base.

      As I mentioned elsewhere, in a research study of what a large scale free eBook give away could yield, in December I gave away 1,000 copies of Plain Jane (my Patterson-style thriller with a dash of Hannibal) and got 2, count ’em 2, reviews back. This is the same book that is selling hundreds per month on Amazon (with no external marketing).

      I term any method that counts on an undefined, nebulous hope of sales to be the lottery model. Yes, some people in the right place and the right time have pulled that golden ticket out of the chocolate bar. However, it so seldom pans out for the masses. i.e. for every author that has built a successful career off of free give aways there are thousands if not hundreds of thousands of other authors that have failed using this model.

      I would say have more faith in your product. Be willing to spend money to market your book. It is how the houses break unknown authors so it follows that is what we need to do too.

      Now, of course, there is a time and place for eBook give aways (especially if they are well managed and have tangible results), but expecting them to culminate in 6 figure sales any time soon just doesn’t seem to be realistic in the marketplace.

    1. Carolyn McCray

      I am so glad I could help!
      You might want to look into the Indie Book Collective (twitter is best @indiebookIBC) lots of tips and we have numerous programs for indie authors 🙂

  5. Evelyn Lafont

    I’m interested to find out what the supporting statistics/ historical numbers were that made you come up with this number:

    “How many backlist copies do you hope to sell? A good rule of thumb is a 10:1 ratio.\

    Is that based on your own results in the past or a broader pool of data?

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Yes, Evelyn it is based on both my own experience and that of the entire Indie Book Collective. We do give away/blog tours frequently and that is about the average give away to backlist sales across the board.

      I usually sit more in the 5:1 ratio, but the force is strong with me 🙂 On average though 10:1 is a pretty realistic number 🙂

  6. Victoria

    This was extremely helpful. I only wish I had thought about doing a *strategic* giveaway long before now. I’ve done them in the past with only vague goals of name recognition, as you say. Now I’m getting ready to host my own from my site. Thanks!

  7. Ellen Greenfield

    Great post — gave me lots to think about. My novel, Come From Nowhere, has been selling reasonably well since April, mainly based on readings and book clubs, but I have yet to make good use of social media. I have so much to learn! Still, I was thinking of a November giveaway (giving thanks for the response to my work) I’m trying to get schooled in how to make this successful. One thing I don’t really have a handle on is how to get properly in touch with the book blogging world. Seems so daunting. Any tips? Or ideas of where to turn for help?

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Thanks for the comment.
      In regards to the blogging world. reach out as a reader first. Go find blogs that review your type of book. Follow the blog. Comment on the reviews, then reach out to the blogger is the best way to go 🙂

  8. Ryan Notch

    Carolyn, I noticed on your ebook description pages (of course I had to study the source!) you use formatting like Bold lettering. How do you do this, given there are no formatting options in the description box in Amazon?



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