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Goodreads is Anti-Indie-Author — Sex For Money, Post #22

Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance. All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ. To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.


It was announced this week that Goodreads will now charge authors or publishers who want to run a giveaway on the Goodreads platform.

I’ve long been an advocate of Goodreads giveaways, as I’ve seen that they can boost book purchases for a reasonably small investment. How it would work is you’d set up a giveaway on the Goodreads site, let it run for a few weeks or a month, and then you send out the copy of your print book to the winner. In a successful giveaway, a number of people who entered to win would have also added your book to their “to read” list on Goodreads. This strategy rarely led to an immediate bump in sales, but rather led to a healthy level of ongoing sales, as those who marked your book as “to read” would eventually go out and buy it.

Giveaways on Goodreads were a good way to spread the word about your book for a relatively small cost — just the cost of the book and postage.

Now, though, Goodreads is charging for authors or publishers who want to run a giveaway on their website. For a mere *cough* $119 USD, you can have the priviledge of giving away copies of your book to people on Goodreads. If you’ve got money to burn, you can pay *cough* $599 USD to also have the priviledge of “exclusive placement” on the Goodreads giveaway page.

Who the fuck has that kind of money laying around? Other than the big five publishers, of course.

There are some beneficial changes coming when this new pricing scheme is implemented. Now, the person who enters to win won’t be given the option of adding the book to their “to read” list — Goodreads will automatically go ahead and do it for them. (As a reader, I know that if I enter to win a book, it doesn’t imply I’m captivated enough to go out and buy it, so I’m not a fan of this automatic feature.) As well, if someone has your book on their “to read” list already, they will be notified if there is a giveaway for your book. That’s good, I guess, but the purpose of running a giveaway is to get more people to add it to their “to read” list, not necessarily to give it away to people who have already bought or are about to buy your book.

So, what’s going on here?

According to Goodreads, the new features (which are mediocre at best) are being implemented in the new giveaway system in response to requests from authors and publishers. They’re not clear exactly what authors and publishers have been requesting, but I highly doubt they were asking to pay through the nose for a feature that used to be free.

What I suspect is that the “Big 5” publishers are angry (yet again) that their books are being swamped by the glut of indie published books. Book selling can be a low-profit business, so these Big 5 publishers need every advantage they can get over the small publishers and indie authors — and what better advantage than to squeeze them out of the Goodreads giveaway system? Somehow, the Big 5 successfully made this pitch to Goodreads.

Really, though, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Goodreads is also looking for a way to capitalize on their platform. Goodreads makes money on advertisers on their site and they may even make money on referral links if you click the “buy” buttons on book pages. In the modern world of internet businesses, they’re not squeezing every dime out of their users like they’re “supposed” to. So, why not take one of their biggest and most popular features — the giveaways — and charge a fuckton of money for it?

I also suspect that they dislike the glut of erotica in their giveaways and are hoping to squeeze some of us out. I know that I’ll never post a giveaway again as long as they’re charging for it — and neither will my publishing company. If anything, this has the stench of an attack against erotica (read more about the booksellers’ war against erotica in my earlier post).

So — prohibitive cost aside — let’s look at what this wonderful new giveaway system on Goodreads brings to authors, publishers, and readers.

The help section reveals a couple more nasty details about the new giveaway system:

  • Giveaways can only be made available for US residents. For publishers and authors outside of North America, postage to send to the US can be prohibitive. In the past, I’m sure most of these individuals or companies made their giveaways available to their own country and nearby countries — so this clause only raises the price for foreign publishers and authors. As a Canadian, I object to not being able to make giveaways available in my own country. Also, now all non-US Goodreads users are banned from entering giveaways until this policy changes.
  • You can do giveaways for ebooks (yay!), but they must be ebooks that are available on Amazon. This is telling. While Amazon has owned Goodreads for a few years, they had promised to let it run independently as it always had. Apparently, that’s not good enough anymore and Amazon is bringing Goodreads under the Amazon umbrella. (In fact, you pay for your Goodreads giveaway with your Amazon account.) You can certainly expect more changes further down the line that make this beneficial to Amazon-exclusive authors and difficult/costly for widely-published authors.

Goodreads’s/Amazon’s claim for the price is that it reflects the marketing value that is provided by running a giveaway. In my opinion as an author, that is pure and simple bullshit.

While I have long advocated Goodreads giveaways as an effective marketing tool, that ends as of yesterday. There is no value in listing a giveaway on Goodreads.

The effectiveness of giveaways on Goodreads have dwindled over the years. I still remember my first one that I listed four or five years ago — I had hundreds of people enter to win and hundreds of people add my book to their “to read” list. For my last few giveaways, I had hundreds of people enter to win, but only dozens add it to their “to read” list. Readers on Goodreads are in it for the free books — which is totally fine, I’m not lambasting that — but if your aim is to sell books, the effectiveness of a giveaway on Goodreads has dwindled.

As well, as part of a giveaway, winners are requested by Goodreads to post a review. In my experience, this happens less and less frequently. Years ago, if I sent out three books, I got three reviews from winners. Nowadays, if I send out three books, I might get one review from a winner. (Part of Goodreads’s new system is that they will remind winners to post a review — I doubt that’ll change the follow-through rate.)

I also suspect that Goodreads/Amazon is slowly pushing authors who want to do giveaways over to Amazon itself. I have not investigated giveaways on Amazon (so some of my assumptions here may be wrong), though I know giveaways on Amazon are a thing now, it’s something you can do. If the prices are cheaper than on Goodreads, or if they’re even free, then that is part of the grand design — they’re planning to integrate Goodreads and Amazon into (eventually) one thing, and they’re starting by shunting all the indies over. I wouldn’t put this past Amazon — the writing is on the wall for Createspace with the introduction of KDP Print. I’m holding off on transitioning to KDP Print until they offer the same level of service that Createspace does or until they force me over. The writing has been on the wall for Goodreads for quite some time now.

So, back to giveaways. what’s next? What is an author or publisher to do?

You could run giveaways using Rafflecopter, but unless you’ve got a wide network already, you’ll end up with few entrants. The benefit of the old Goodreads system (before it began to lose effectiveness) was that new readers could discover you, which won’t happen with a Rafflecopter giveaway marketed to people who already are fans of your work.

You could use Instafreebie to give away a free book to whoever clicks a link. This could be effective for series starters (provided you have the sequels out already), but from what I’ve seen, I think the Instafreebie thing came and went already — they were a craze for a while and now fewer authors and readers are using it.

What we need is an indie-friendly giveaway site. Not like Instafreebie where you give away hundreds or thousands of free copies of ebooks, but a site like the old Goodreads giveaway system. And to make it extra-effective for marketing, after someone enters a giveaway, the system should have a pop-up asking the entrant to sign up for the author’s newsletter. That would be effective promotion — the #1 avenue for marketing is your author newsletter, and if the giveaway system would integrate with MailChimp and auto-add people (with consent) to your mailing list, then that would be awesome.

(If you’re a computer programmer and like that idea, I claim no copyright on it — steal my idea and make it happen!)

For now, though, goodbye, Goodreads. I wish I could say it was nice knowing you.

Edited to add: Also, the fact that the post on Goodreads announcing this change has been closed to comments shows that Goodreads knows they’re doing the wrong thing — but they don’t want to hear about it.

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Writers and Self-Doubt — Sex For Money Post #15

Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance.  All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ.  It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there.  To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.


 

I have a general rule about negative emotions — I don’t share them publicly. As an author, I don’t feel it’s right for me to burden my followers on Twitter with depressive emotions or negative self-image. Twitter isn’t a counselling forum and, quite frankly, while I may sometimes feel those things, I would share them with friends. And while I might form relationships with people on Twitter, that doesn’t make them the kind of friend I would share my innermost feelings with.

I’ve seen a few authors send out a series of public tweets in the midst of a depression and it just doesn’t sit well with me. As an author, we are presenting professional platforms for people to connect with us. We are not reaching out to random strangers for help. If this was done on a personal Twitter account, then that would be more appropriate because it’s not a public persona that is potentially attracting thousands of followers.

But today, I’m going to break that rule.

Sort of.

I’m not in the midst of negative emotions right now — but I was last night. Now that I have distanced myself from what was going through my head last night, now that I’m back to my normal self and have my normal perspective back, I thought it would be good to share what was going on here on the blog. After all, a lot of you are writers, and this had to do with writing.

I’ve never been one of those mega erotica authors who rakes in six figures each month. For the most part, I was making coffee money. Slowly, it inched up so that it was a few fast food meals per month. Then all of a sudden in December 2015, my sales doubled, landing me in the triple digits for the first time ever. I was elated.

Then January 2016 came along and, holy fuck, I doubled what I made in December! And so far, right now in February, I’m on track to land between these two numbers. I’ll probably end up close to January’s sales, but not quite there.

So, all in all, things are going very well for me as a writer. Add on top of that, I’m planning to start a small publisher by the end of the year — I’m excited about it and it’s looking like it’ll actually become a reality and I’m so excited.

Yet, last night, I was crippled with self-doubt. I hid in bed, in the dark, for almost two hours.

I haven’t actually written much of anything since December. I think, somehow, the sudden increase in sales had me wondering if it was all some sort of fluke, and that my writing sales would come crashing down around me. Even though that doesn’t seem to be the case, it was still what was going through my head.

And then I began to wonder, well, fuck, who am I to publish other people’s books? I’m a self-published author with only three years of experience — what gives me the right to call myself a publisher? And then it circled around to my day job — I love the people I work with, but there are some background issues going on that are making my job somewhat unlikeable. And with today’s job market, it’s almost impossible to find a new job.

This led me into a downward spiral that landed me in bed in the dark. I questioned everything about who I am as a writer, as an entrepreneur with my upcoming publishing company, who I am in my day job, and more — and this only led to questioning who I am as a person.

I have no doubt that this is an identity crisis faced by many authors in the course of their careers.

That’s why I wanted to talk about it today. That’s why I broke my rule about negative emotions on my platform.

If you’re an author who is feeling that crippling self-doubt, please know that you are not alone. Others have been there before and others are there right now.

So how do we dig ourselves out of this? How do we get back on track?

The first thing is to remember that who you are as an author has no impact on who you are as a person. Those are entirely separate things. Your self-worth and self-identity should not be wrapped up in your writing successes and failures.

The second thing is to recognize your strengths and successes. Was it a one star review that brought this on? Well, then focus on the five star review you got the other day. Every reader’s opinion is different and you will always get one star reviews. Look at any mega-bestselling book and you’ll find a slew of one star reviews.

Tied into this, if you’re working on a project, is the “two stars and a wish” activity. It’s easy to see everything that’s wrong with a project, and I’ve been crippled by that before and I’ve seen it stall other writers that I admire and respect. There’s an educational self-assessment activity called “two stars and a wish”. If you’re working on a project, identify two things that you did well, and one thing that needs more work. (Notice — you don’t identify one thing you did wrong, you identify one thing that you can improve on.) This might be enough to change your perspective on your project.

The third is to make a to-do list to get yourself back on track. First, write out absolutely everything that you need to get done. Then take a new sheet of paper and draw four quadrants — “priority: must do right away,” “priority: must do soon,” “important: want to get done,” and “important but not urgent.” Once you have this, take a new sheet of paper and write an accomplishable to-do list that consists mostly of “do right away” items and a few “must do soon” items. Somewhere on that paper, write an additional list of a few other random things you need to get done — so if you need a distraction, you can do one of those things. (That’s why I’m writing this post right now!)

The fourth is to do some self-care. This might involve delicious tea, a shower or bath, cuddling up and watching a movie — anything that gets you feeling like your old self.

Those four steps should hopefully let you shed the self-doubt that’s hobbling your writing and progress. The important thing, though, is to never make decisions when you are in a depression like that. It would have been too easy to decide that I wanted to remove all my books from Amazon and say I’m done with writing, I’m done with trying to achieve this dream. Now that I’m on the other side of that dark mindset, I can see it for what it is. And, really, if an author doesn’t sometimes experience this, then they might not be taking writing as seriously as you or I. We want to make this dream come true, and to do that requires investing a lot of time and energy into it — and while doing that makes the dream all the more achievable, it also makes the road all the more rockier.

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