They say it’s better to learn to walk before you run.
When it comes to getting involved in an Instafreebie giveaway, I decided to hop in a race car before I could crawl. What that means is, rather than simply contribute a novel or short story to a giveaway hosted by another author and let someone else run the show while I promoted it, I developed and hosted my own giveaway. I had done research, read blog posts by authors who had been successful on Instafreebie, and reviewed all the great tips and suggestions that Instafreebie itself gives authors on its website. Still, it’s one thing to read about doing something, and another to actually do it.
I learned a lot.
Before I get into the top 5 things I learned from hosting the giveaway though, it might be worth introducing Instafreebie to authors who haven’t used it before or who have no idea what it is.
Instafreebie is a service that distributes daily e-newsletters to thousands of readers who subscribed to receive announcements about free book giveaways. Within each email are several clickable graphics that link readers to giveaway web pages where groups of authors have jointly agreed to post the covers of their books for the purposes of giving away copies to interested readers. Understandably, each giveaway campaign has a specific theme. It can be based on recognizable genres–mine was about literary fiction (see the graphic below)–or it could be about any other idea such as stories that take place in a particular state or stories about families. I currently have a short story in a, well, a short story giveaway.
If a reader reviewing a particular giveaway web page wants to claim a free copy of any one or more participating books, they click on the desired cover image and are routed to another page–hosted by Instafreebie and managed by that book’s author–where a short blurb about the book appears along with the cover again. A short form invites the reader to leave their name and email address.
Once the reader fills out the form, the contact information goes to the author (typically via an email delivery service such as Mailchimp) and a digital copy of the book is sent to the reader’s inbox in their preferred format–EPUB, MOBI or PDF. (Since each author hosts his/her own Instafreebie page, they need to make digital copies of their books available in the above-mentioned formats before the giveaway actually begins).
A free version of Instafreebie is available to authors who want to participate in giveaway campaigns. But a free account won’t require readers to sign up to the author’s email list to receive a copy of their book which means, in most cases, that most readers will elect NOT to sign up. They’ll just take the free book and go. The paid version of Instafreebie is $20/month and Instafreebie wisely offers authors a free trial month, so authors can figure out how the service works and whether they feel it is worth continuing.
In my opinion, the paid service is more than worth it. During the two weeks or so that the literary fiction giveaway ran, I received around 130 email subscribers. I have heard a lot of authors claiming to receive even more than that. And the short story giveaway that I’m currently participating in (here’s the link) has netted me about 30 subscribers. I expect the short story giveaway won’t net as many subscribers because more authors (85, in fact) are participating, thereby giving readers more choices.
My literary fiction giveaway only hosted 11 authors including myself, so the chances of any interested reader clicking on my book rather than that of other authors were significantly higher.
So there you have it. I hope that adequately describes an Instafreebie giveaway. If you have any remaining questions, though, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here, now, are the top 5 things I learned from hosting my own giveaway.
1. It’s definitely worth it. Any writer committed to building an author’s career without spending money has a tough road ahead. That doesn’t mean spending money whenever and however. But Instafreebie has more than proven its worth. At $20/month, the potential to generate significant numbers of reader subscribers is a good investment. The customer service is also friendly and top-rate; it’s mostly run by a bunch of enthusiastic professionals who know their stuff. Instafreebie also offers a discussion board, which is shockingly not more active. But if you pose a question, as I did several times when I first started experimenting with Instafreebie, you’ll typically get a helpful response from their staff within a few days.
2. You need to be actively involved in promoting the giveaway and not all authors will participate. I mentioned above that Instafreebie runs the giveaway in their e-newsletter. That’s actually not guaranteed and but can help that possibility along by reaching out to let them before the giveaway kicks off what you’re up to. That’s what I did and then ran the promotion. But the extent to which Instafreebie promotes the giveaway on their own during the entire course of the giveaway to their readers–I hosted mine for two weeks–depends a lot on how much promotion YOU and the participating authors do.
When you promote the giveaway, it essentially sends readers the chance to visit Instafreebie’s website since that’s where readers download books. Instafreebie likes that. So if you want Instafreebie to help you, you must first help them. That means promoting and linking to the giveaway page–a page on my website–via tweets and Facebook posts that use the Instafreebie handle and hashtag. Also, send promotional emails to your mailing list.
One thing that may surprise you, though, if you should happen to ever host your own giveaway, is that not all participating authors will help with the promotion. It can get annoying to see on Twitter that several authors are working hard to tweet out links to the giveaway page and retweeting your messages, as well. And that’s while a few other authors who should be helping out are doing virtually nothing at all. There are often good reasons. One author in the giveaway emailed me a few times apologetically, to let me know there was an illness in her household, which limited the amount of time she could spend promoting the giveaway. I didn’t think any less of her as a result. We all have life happening to us and around us, and these things will happen. It was to her credit that she let me know.
But there were two other authors who filled out the Google Form expressing their interest in participating. I included them on all the preliminary emails leading up the giveaway and then when we launched…I got nothing from them. No promotional efforts on their end that I could see, which means they might simply have been piggybacking on the rest of of efforts. And that leads me to Point #3.
3. One unexpected benefit of an Instafreebie giveaway is that it has the potential to introduce you to other authors for future partnerships. A lot of indie authors are out there looking to make their way in the world of online sales. Some of them may be like those authors mentioned in Part 2, who won’t really pull their weight when they should. You’ll always run into those. But other times, as you’re networking on social media, you may run across other authors who are just as dedicated to what they are doing (and to the giveaway) as you are. After the Instafreebie giveaway wrapped up, I reached out personally to three authors who had participated, to say I had enjoyed working with them and would like to stay in touch in the future. I said I would be happy to promote any upcoming releases they had to my readers with the unspoken hope they might, in turn, support my promotional efforts at the right time too. One author replied with an “Aw” statement, like she thought I had gone all touchy-feely, and all. I had not. Participating in an Instafreebie giveaway is a great way to build a launch team for the next time you have a book coming out. There’s nothing touchy-feely about that.
4. Be prepared but expect to screw something up anyway. No matter how much advance reading you do about a topic, you’re going to miss something, or overlook something or do something silly. And of course that’s what happened with my Instafreebie giveaway. I did all the reading but missed a few items.
First of all, I completely underestimated how difficult it would be to get the book covers to render in a well-laid out format on my website. I tried gallery displays, accidentally brought down my WordPress for two days while a new plug-in mixed rather poorly with an existing one and tried all manner of trying to manipulate WordPress to do what I wanted before I finally tried TablePress, which isn’t the easiest plug-in to use but did the job.
Next, I made the silly mistake of creating a URL that included the number of books involved in the promotion. Then one author had to drop out, and another author appeared suddenly who wanted to participate, so I kept having to change the permalink before finally deciding–this is ridiculous!–to take out the number from the permalink altogether. I could have saved myself some angst if I’d kept things simple from the get go.
But perhaps the biggest mistake that I made was that I didn’t invest as much creativity as I could have in a giveaway graphic. You saw it above–it’s dark, it’s simple, it doesn’t pop out and scream excitement. When I finally got Instafreebie’s e-newsletter with the giveaway graphic, it was instantly clear how much time the hosts of the other giveaways had spent putting their graphics together. Mine was pretty simple, by comparison. I promised when I saw that, that the next time I would take the time to create a graphic with a lot of pop. For all that, though, like I mentioned, I was pleased with the number of reader subscribers I received, which I think demonstrates the power of Instafreebie.
5. Get ready to invest in some serious email marketing skills. Before I ran the Instafreebie giveaway, I didn’t have much of an email list. Compared to some authors, I still don’t. But if you stick 300 people in a room and walk in, you’re going to say: wow, that’s a lot of people. Well, that number of people is now on my email list so while I’m planning to get involved in another giveaway, I am also ramping up my email marketing strategy. I am committed to sending one email a week, and I am scheduling the content of each ahead of time. So now, every time I send out a Mailchimp campaign, I anxiously await the reports with the number of opens, click-throughs and, dare I say it, the occasional unsubscribe.
Like most other aspects of building an online author’s platform, one element ties to others. Running an Instafreebie giveaway, for example, is intended to build your list of subscribers, which it will do if you put in your time. But it also can be frustrating due to lack of participation and unexpected set-up challenges. It can also lead to new opportunities such as author partnerships and the pressure (good pressure, I would say) to improve your email marketing skills.
My first Instafreebie giveaway did not end in disaster. It could have been better but I am pleased with the results. I know I’ll do a better job next time and I’ll keep pulling readers into my email list, which gives me the chance to show them what I got.
If you haven’t tried Instafreebie, you really should. Have I mentioned it yet? It’s worth it.