Demystifying Amazon Giveaways

The real one bounces

The real one bounces

Amazon got into the “giveaway” business about a year ago, and they have been tweaking and tuning and changing them ever since. As a result, any research you do on whether they are a good promotional tool is going to turn up a lot of outdated information. If it isn’t Spring 2016 as you read this, then consider this post outdated too. Go look for a better source.

One of the recent changes was allowing you to give away Kindle books. That seemed like an interesting new approach to raising awareness. If you follow this blog, you know awareness is the only problem you have as an author promoting your books. But there are so many questions! So for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sciencing the fuck out of these giveaways, to try to get some answers.

How an Amazon Giveaway Works

You start on your book page, and go down to the bottom, and then choose to create a giveaway. You will be buying the book that Amazon will be giving away. But you get your royalty. So, for example, if your book is $2.99 and you are in KDP Select, you’re going to get $2.04 back, so the actual cost of the giveaway is only going to be $0.95. It’s going to cost you that even if nobody wins, because they don’t refund Kindle books (unlike physical prizes). If nobody wins you can either get a gift code for the book, or you can run another giveaway.

Amazon has three different ways to run the giveaway. But only one of them is useful. There is one where you pick odds and it randomly decides whether each entrant wins based on those odds. This is not good, because even with odds of 1:1000, there is a 9.5% chance there will be a winner after only 100 entries. (1-(1-0.001)100) What you want to use is the one that awards the book to the nth entrant. That lets you control with certainty how many eyeballs there are before someone wins.

There are two strategies you can use to maximize the number of people who enter to win a book. I’ll call these endless giveaway and maximum excitement.

The Endless Giveaway

In this strategy, you set the giveaway duration to 1 day (which really means two days), and the odds to 1:500. You will get 100-150 entries before it’s over, so nobody wins. Let’s say you get 100. Then you take that book and use it in a new giveaway at no charge. Again, about 100 will enter and 59% of those people were also in the first, so you’re up to about 141 total eyes. Now you run it again. I’ll spare you the math, but you’re going to get 17 new eyeballs for a total of 158. Each time you’ll get fewer brand new people. You can keep doing this forever. Nobody is ever going to win that book. Eventually you will stop reaching new people. Everyone who enters giveaways will have entered yours.

Maximum Excitement

In this strategy, you still set the giveaway duration to 1 day, but you set the odds to 1:200 or better. I tested this, and 1:200 is a magic threshold. At 1:250 or worse, and you will get about 100-150 entries over the course of two days. But at 1:200 or better, you will get all 200 entries within a couple of hours. You will give away the book. This is probably the better strategy because it’s more honest, and because you’ll reach those 200 people with a hell of a lot less effort than running winner-less giveaways day after day with the same book.

Note that in one case, Amazon screwed up and didn’t award the book to entrant #200, and the giveaway just kept on going with no winner. If something like that happens to you, just let the timer run out, and then use that book in a new identical giveaway.

Now Set Up Everything Else

You have the option of making the entrant follow you on Twitter, or on Amazon, or watch a video, or you can just let anyone enter. So what should you choose? Have them follow you on Amazon. I’ll explain below.

You assign the giveaway a title, and type a message the people entering will see when they get to your giveaway page. They won’t read this message, because there is a bouncing box on the page that they are supposed to click on. So it doesn’t really matter what you say in the welcome message. But you have to write something, so put in something enticing about your book, like this:

Entropy is a whole different take on the romantic novel. It’s a smart and sexy look at an online affair. 4.6 Stars! Watch for the sequel Duality, coming on April 20, 2016!

You then need to upload a picture. Use the cover of your book. The one you used when you did the KDP setup.

Next comes the winner message. This doesn’t really matter, because at most one person is going to see it. Give them the address of your mailing list, or your Twitter handle, or something like that.

And now the loser message. This is the most important thing. Almost everyone who enters your giveaway is going to see this message. This is the one chance you have to convert that person from an entrant to a buyer. What should you say? Hang in there—after we get all these mechanical details out of the way, I’ll go through some different options.

Amazon will then approve your giveaway (in about 5 minutes during business hours, in a couple hours otherwise). And then you’ll get a link. Go to Twitter and tweet a message including the hashtag #AmazonGiveaway and that link. Don’t attach a picture. I tested it, and having a picture did not improve participation. The link will cause your tweet to include a nice Twitter Card, including your cover. And actually, this tweet doesn’t matter because almost nobody is going to see it except a robot. But you have to do the tweet to get the party started.

Your followers already know you wrote a book. So this exercise is not for them. You are trying to build awareness with a new audience, so the sole purpose of that tweet was for a robot to see it. The hashtag is critical: if you don’t include it, then the robot won’t see it. What robot? The one that drives a site called giveawaylisting.com. A few seconds after you do your tweet, your giveaway will show up on that site.

Then if you’re lucky a mommy-blogger on Facebook will see it, and do a status update about your giveaway. She’s like a curator, deciding what giveaways are worth entering. A few seconds later, between 50 and 100 women, aged 20-60, often mothers of young children, will enter your giveaway. And then over the remainder of your giveaway, you will get the rest of your entrants, pretty much all in that same demographic. You should only consider doing a giveaway if that’s your target demographic. These people will come from other Facebook pages like that first one, or from the listing site. Only 4.8% of entrants will start by clicking your link on Twitter.

So Many Questions!

There are so many variables, leading to so many questions about these giveaways. Since they are cheap, I ran a lot of giveaways over the past few weeks, playing with different variables, to find answers to my questions. Here are the questions I had, and my best guesses as to the answers.

What is the point of running an Amazon giveaway?

Your objective is to build awareness of your book, and hopefully convert a few entrants. If you sell a single book, you’ve more than paid for the giveaway. And even if you don’t, that’s a few hundred more people who have seen your book, and your name. This is what is called brand marketing—making people aware of you as a brand, and increasing the likelihood they will buy eventually. You should only do it if you have multiple books. If you only have one book on the market, you aren’t a brand yet.

When should I run it?

2pm Eastern on a weekday. I tried all sorts of different times, and trust me—that’s the best one.

Should I require a Twitter follow to enter?

Absolutely not. The people who enter your giveaway will do so using spam accounts that they only use for entering giveaways. They will never see your tweets because they don’t use these accounts. Requiring a Twitter follow probably reduces participation a little, but it was not by a significant amount.

Should I require an Amazon follow to enter?

Absolutely. Requiring that entrants follow you as an author does not lower participation at all, compared to running it with no follow requirement. Amazon says it will send a message to your followers when you release your next book, and sometimes they will even ask you to compose a message yourself that they will send to your followers on your behalf. (I’ve read; this hasn’t happened for me yet.) Oddly, there is no way to find out how many Amazon followers you have.

It’s also likely that if someone is following you, then your stuff will show up more often in Amazon’s recommendations to that person. I don’t have evidence of that, but it seems like something Amazon would do. And the more someone sees your cover, the more likely they are to eventually buy your book. (I assume. I don’t know that for sure either.)

What odds should I use?

Making winning a long-shot does not lower participation once you exceed that magic 1:200 threshold. So if  you are using the endless giveaway strategy, you can use 1:500 and be absolutely sure nobody will win. If you want a winner fast I found that 1:200 and 1:150 were equally enticing, so go with 1:200 to maximize eyeballs.

Who enters these giveaways?

I ran a giveaway in which I required a Twitter follow to enter. I discovered that almost everyone uses spammy accounts that have nothing but contest entry tweets. And based on the names and the few that had bios, I can tell you for certain that men do not enter giveaways. Only women. And most of those women had “mom” in their handle. Several mentioned in their bios that they are disabled. I DMd a few, and that’s where I learned that many of them get the links from Facebook mommy blogger / giveaway curators. A few also go to that giveaway listing site directly. There might be other robot-driven giveaway sites, but I didn’t find them.

What should I say in the loser message?

When I realized that pretty much everybody sees the “lose” message, I hoped that I could craft something that would convert some portion of those people to buyers. I couldn’t. I converted maybe one person. I tried a sales pitch. I tried being funny. I tried being mysterious. Nothing worked. So while I still think that what you put in here is really important, I don’t have a definitive answer of what that should be. (If you have a great idea, put it in the comments, and I’ll try it!)

On the lose page, right below your message, there is a link to your book, and below that there is a button to deliver a sample of your book to their Kindle. I tried encouraging people to do each of those, and neither ended up converting to a sale. However, my gut says that if you could get them to download a sample, that’s your best bet. Every time they look at the stuff on their device, your sample will be looking back at them. And of course if they eventually read your sample, they’ll buy your book, because you’re awesome!

Here is one of the messages I used:

You didn’t win, but you can still get something free! See the button that says “Download Free Sample”? Click that! In a few minutes you can start reading a sexy novel that I bet you’ll love.

I have no idea whether it worked, because Amazon won’t tell me how many samples have been downloaded. But my advice is to do something like that.

Let me just take a moment to rant about how horrible Amazon is at giving you insight into whether your marketing works. Among the things you should be able to find out, but cannot:

  • How many followers you have
  • How many sample downloads you have
  • How many people looked at your book’s page
  • The sources of people visiting your book’s page
  • Correlations between that source and conversion (actually buying it)
  • Correlations between reading a sample and conversion

It is in Amazon’s best interest to let authors/publishers know this stuff. Okay, rant over.

Should I put a link in the lose message?

It just so happened that while I was running these Amazon giveaway experiments, I was also running a giveaway on GoodReads. So I set up a bit.ly link to the GR giveaway and tested this lose message:

You didn’t win the e-book, but maybe you can win the print edition! Copy this into your browser’s address bar: bit.ly/gr-gift

I figured if people were willing to go to the trouble of following a Twitter account to enter, they would probably go to the trouble of copy/pasting a link (links are not “live” in the loser message unless they link to Amazon itself, unfortunately). The cool thing about bit.ly is that it tells you how many people clicked the link. One person. A single person copied that link. So don’t bother with links in your lose message.

Should I run multiple giveaways?

I wondered whether I was just getting the same people over and over. So I ran two identical giveaways (same day of the week, same odds, same start time, etc.) but associated my Amazon account with my “Sir” character account for one, and my “Kitten” character account for the other, and in each I required a Twitter follow. I found that there was a 59% overlap between the two giveaways. That is, three-fifths of the people entering the second one, had entered the first.

That means 40% of the people on the second giveaway were new. So running multiples will pick up a lot of new eyeballs each time. And since this is primarily a branding exercise (since I wasn’t able to get conversions to actual sales), having some of the people see the same book over and over probably isn’t so bad.

Wrapping up

So to summarize, I think running an Amazon giveaway for your e-book is a good idea. It gets a lot of brand new eyeballs on your cover, title, and name for almost no money.

Questions? Ask them in the comments below. I might know the answer, or perhaps I can run some more tests to find them for you.

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28 thoughts on “Demystifying Amazon Giveaways

    • UK authors can run a giveaway on the US site for paperback editions of their books but not for Kindle editions. I know, as I ran one and didn’t get a single sale or review as a result! If I’d read this post of Ana’s at the time, I would have opted for the 1 day odds 1:200, rather than the lucky number option as, unfortunately for me, somebody struck lucky in less than a day.

      • Just to be clear for people reading: The one that makes sure you get X entries before someone wins is what Amazon calls “Lucky Number.” I can’t see Amazon giveaways being justified if you have to cough up the price of a paperback. When you get give away a Kindle edition and it only costs you $1 after you get your royalty back, it’s a reasonable deal. But if you are going be $10 out of pocket, you would be much better off spending that money on Twitter Ads.

      • I certainly won’t be doing another Amazon giveaway for a paperback copy. It was just an experiment, because, as a UK citizen, I don’t have the right to run a giveaway for the Kindle edition of my novel due to some law or other (I think to do with electronic delivery, but am not sure). If you can enlighten me about the reasons, alfageeek, I’d be thrilled. At the moment, it just seems unfair and rather frustrating.

      • The way Amazon giveaways work is you buy the product, then you give it away. But because Amazon considers your account “UK”, it will not allow you to buy a Kindle book in the US store. (This is the same reason it is SO IMPORTANT to always share the link to your book using a mybook.to link, so that people clicking it end up in the right store; otherwise they just get “unavailable” and it won’t say why.) You could buy the book in the UK store, but then you can’t give it away in the US store. There’s an easy way around this. Just have someone in the US run the giveaway on your behalf. I just checked and I can make them follow you in order to enter, even though I’m the one “hosting” it. I’d be happy to do that for you. DM me over on twitter @alfageeek and we can work out the details.

      • Thanks for the info and for your kind offer to host a giveaway. I might take you up on it at some stage soon, but have just got sidetracked by your enthusiasm for twitter ads, so will probably try those first. My novel sales are in a bit of a slump just now, so I need to kick start them again. I’m signed up with @IAN_AuthorPromo, which is really good value for money as they work tirelessly to tweet and retweet on your behalf. This hasn’t yet resulted in extra sales for me, but I think you’ve probably hit the nail on the head that I should use a mybook.to link. So far on twitter, I’ve alternated between my UK and US Amazon links in tweets. On my blog, I direct people from the sidebar to a page where I have all the links to different countries listed, which is all a little long-winded. I did look into the Amazon affiliate programme but there was some reason I decided against it at the time, although I now can’t remember what that reason was!

      • As my Twitter Ad campaigns have continued, I keep finding new conclusions. I’m hesitant to do my next update about them, because I keep finding new things that partially invalidate previous conclusions. For example, I though that $0.99 sales didn’t impact conversion rates, but now I realize that’s a UK-only phenomena. US loves a sale. UK doesn’t care. Definitely run separate campaigns for US+CA vs UK. The behavior of the those two markets is different in so many ways, it’s impossible to optimize for both at the same time. I’ve given up on other countries, except Australia. And AU may yet prove to be impenetrable as well. Right now UK is accounting for the vast majority of my sales.

        And yes, mybook.to is a godsend! Any author who isn’t using mybook.to is losing sales. I guarantee it.

  1. Reblogged this on AnaSpoke.com and commented:
    Of all the marketing tools, Amazon giveaway is one I have not yet tried. One of the reasons for it was that at the time I last checked, you had to give away a physical copy, and I doubted that the ROI would be worth it.

    Turns out that you can now give away a Kindle book – and not only that, you will get the royalties back! Read on for the step by step details…I know I will be trying it as soon as my current Free Days are over.

  2. I did exactly what you told me to do, and got exactly the result you told me I’d get. (In a spectacularly accurate representation of sanity.) 1 book out of 200 went in a couple of hours.
    Not one of the 199 contestants went out and bought the book. Not a single one.
    This caused me to think that this crowd of 199 could not possibly be in it for the book.
    What would you do if you wanted a book and did not win it? You’d buy the darn book. I know that’s what I’d do.
    It is possible that for some of the 199 there was a choice between my book and having dinner that night. But I just don’t think every single one of them was faced with this dilemma.
    Which caused me to stop and think that if it’s not about the Book, it must be about the Game. There has to be some plan there, but that’s how far I got. You are a better man here, so maybe you figure it out. A vague thought:
    Smashwords has an option for the customer to “set your own price.” I’ve tried it once. I set suggested retail price at my ususal 9.99, and let them name their price. One guy ripped me off, one guy paid 10, and two guys paid 5 each. Is that a possible Game here? What if the lose message for the Amazon giveaway goes something like this:
    “You did not win, but follow this link to Smashwords, and set your own price.”?
    I have not tried it yet. I am still quietly crying in the corner of my office, and mumbling “199 …. not a single one…. of 199….”

    • They will not follow the link. I gave a link to another giveaway and only one person used it. No idea why not.

      I think of it this way: you bought 200 followers on Amazon for a buck. And maybe having Amazon followers is good. Maybe it isn’t. But it definitely isn’t bad, right?

  3. This was very helpful. Thank you. I’ve done a couple Amazon giveaways, but I’m always looking for ways to tweak it. Love your suggestion of adding a comment about downloading the free sample. Great idea. I just set up another giveaway, so I’ll see how it goes. And thank you for the blog follow!

  4. Hadn’t read this post before. Thanks for all the scientific tips – even though it’s almost a year later, I think most of this is still pretty accurate. Decided to go ahead and run an ebook giveaway as it was indeed 2pm on a weekday (for me at least). I’ve run them many times before giving away paperbacks (mine are only $5.99 so it’s not that big a price to pay). Remember that doing these giveaways also boosts your rank – another plus to the whole thing (this would depend on how many books you give away, of course). This time I did the ebook – for the first time. The only difference and possible downside is, as I’ve been told, that people aren’t quite as eager to get free ebooks as they are paperbacks so sometimes the ebook giveaways take quite a while to all be given away in comparison to the paperbacks. But maybe they’re wrong – we’ll see. Or maybe it varies by type of book.
    I’ve also always used the Twitter Followers request for my giveaway rather than the Amazon Follow. (Tried the Amazon Follow this time. Thanks for the tip!) But I have to say, I end up with about 2500 new Twitter followers last time and have not lost any sizeable number of them and it’s been a month or more since that last giveaway. Most of them were indeed moms/women, with real Twitter profiles (I checked quite a few). So it may depend on other factors as to whether you get fake/giveaway/freeloader twitter accounts only. Since mine is a children’s chapter book, the market might a little different than adult giveaway enthusiasts.
    Probably should’ve been using the Amazon Follow all along for these. The other good thing I can tell you, however, is, when I do the paperback giveaway, that due to my book’s availability on Prime, I always get a large shipping refund once the paperback books actually ship out. The paperback giveaways always end up costing me only half of what they tell me it’s going to cost, ( get a confirmation that it will cost me $60; then I get a refund a week or two later for $30, every time.) Maybe since so many people have Prime memberships and I read on Amazon’s terms that they will use the lowest cost shipping method when it comes down to it. Anyway thanks. Can’t wait to see how it turns out.

  5. Out of all the research I’ve done since releasing my first book, this article has been by far my favorite. I read it once about a little while ago. Have been running giveaways almost non stop since. I stumbled across it again today, having forgotten about it and looking for an answer on something else, and everything has proven true. Not only is this full of useful information but it’s damn entertaining as well (“They all have mom in their handle and many mention they are disabled in their info”… LMAO… if that aint the truth).

    I will say though that I prefer the Twitter followers. With Amazon follows we have no idea what we are getting or what effect it has. With Twitter followers we get, not only a bunch of information, but also new tools. All those followers are potential minions. While it is true that most of them will be giveaway spammers, many will be actual readers. I went through my entire list and just scanned their profile descriptions. Anyone with “I love to read” or similar in their description, I followed. I was then left with a manageable amount that I could actually go through. Then went through my own wall and muted the ones who spammed giveaways. Now I’m left with a few dozen non giveaway spamming readers I can interact with who are willing to go through the trouble of a giveaway for a book. Basically marking them as potential buyers or at the least readers with a non spamming account with a circle of influence. These people will still be able to see your tweets, receive messages from you, etc. So why not choose this guaranteed option of direct interaction over a leprechaun-like amazon follow? We never see them, never know anything about them, no avenue of communication is established. OH YEA!… That how I came across this post the second time, was looking for something on the benefits of Amazon followers lol.

    I completely forgot about the “you can still get something free. Click down there for a book” message that you suggested. Im going to be adding that word for word in my next giveaway. I just wanted to write this to thank you for your candid and informative article. Great work my man. Ill be sharing this with any author I find that may be interested in Amazon giveaways.

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