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Why You Might Not Want to Do a Book Giveaway Promotion for Your Self-Published Book

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


Giving potential readers the chance to win a copy of your book, maybe even a signed copy, sounds like such a great idea for them and you. You can do exciting “win my book” promotions. You could get people to opt in to your email list. However, this tactic could end up being a total hassle.

Who's Eligible to Win . . . and When?

As I was trying to work out an upcoming potential book giveaway with a podcast guest, I immediately bumped into a bunch of issues with figuring out who would be eligible to win the book.

My audio podcast is available on at least four different platforms. My video podcast is, of course, available on YouTube. But I also embed my videos into my blog posts. The guest also would probably be embedding the video on her site or using it on social media. I counted, at minimum, at least a dozen places this video could be promoted. So how will people enter to win on each platform?

Some people who live stream their podcasts or videos, or present via a webinar platform, make the giveaway offer to participants who are on live. The host and guest have to devise a way to select a winner from the live participants. That’s tough in itself while both the host and guest are trying to manage the live broadcast. But it’s doable.

Then there’s the issue of timing. Mentioning a deadline date or time for the duration of the contest will date the presentation instantly, making the content quickly seem old.

Whether live or not, how should authors select a winner from participants or commenters? That brings us to the next problem . . . and it could involve lawyers.

Online Contest Rules That Could Impact Giveaways

Depending on the platform, there may be rules about how contests of any kind are run. And if you have any giveaway that involves a drawing, or requires something to be considered for a prize, it may be considered a contest.

Facebook, for example, has some specific contest rules.

Governments also have some specific rules about contests. Do you know what those are? Any time you run a contest on social media, you have to comply with international, national, regional, and local laws governing the giveaway. That’s way too much work for me to waste my time on for giving away one book.

What’s interesting is that from around 2015 until the fall of 2019, Amazon had a giveaway program where they would handle a promotion for you. I tried it and it was really convenient. While it’s unclear exactly why Amazon discontinued it, I’m thinking that if even Amazon is retiring a book giveaway program, why do I want to get involved in one?

Personal Data Collection and Logistics Issues for Book Giveaways

If the contest rules issues haven’t discouraged you from doing this, then here’s another reason. You need to ship the book to the winner. Kindle books can be emailed to the winner via Amazon (yes, you have to buy the book to gift it this way). But print books require a physical shipping address. Now we’ve just opened another can of legal and logistical worms.

While people may be willing to part with their personal data if they’re a giveaway winner, what if you require everyone to submit their name, address, email, etc. when entering for the prize? Will you automatically add them to your email list? Have you told them you’re doing so and stated how you’ll use their data?

Collection of personal data is now governed by “acronym” regulations and agencies such as CAN-SPAM, GDPR, COPPA, and the FTC. Complying with all that is getting more and more complicated and challenging all the time. Sure, as a self-published author, you’re probably a small player in that pool and some laws may not apply to you. But do you want to take the chance on that? I sure don’t. The fines are stiff.

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Aside from the data issues, there are shipping issues. Using the postal service in your home country is probably the cheapest for a physical book giveaway, especially if book mail or media mail rates are offered. But remember that if you host a book giveaway online, it’s called the World Wide Web because it’s, duh, worldwide. Unless you restrict entries in some way, a winner could potentially be from outside your own country. The shipping or postal cost could be several times the cost of the book. Giving away a Kindle edition is a more practical and profitable choice, even if you have to buy the book to gift it to the winner.

Giveaways Attract Freebie Seekers Online and Offline

The other thing I’ve noticed with giveaways, both online and offline, is that it attracts freebie seekers. Are those your ideal fans and potential customers? Nope.

I see a lot of authors or other creators host giveaways on social media. In addition to the contest rules, data collection, and shipping issues noted earlier, I’ve noticed that there’s no genuine engagement. Usually, the author does an “I’ll give my book to first comment” type pitch. The comments received are so stupid, such as “First.” I’m going to say that’s someone who’s not really interested in you and your work. They just want a freebie.

For offline in-person events, here’s my experience with “fishbowl” type giveaways. This is where attendees drop their business card or entry form in a bowl or basket with the hope of it being drawn as a winner. Almost always, the winner drawn was a loser for me. I never gained a new client or customer from one of these drawings.

Speakers used to do these fishbowl-type drawings to build their email lists. But as discussed earlier, collecting personal data is a much more complex activity than it used to be. Merely receiving someone’s business card or entry form does not automatically give you permission to add them to your email list and send them marketing communications from here to forevermore unless you specifically state how you will use their information, they formally agree to it, and you give them the opportunity to unsubscribe.

What About a Kindle Free Book Promotion?

To get around the hassle of a book giveaway promotion, authors who self-publish on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and enroll their book title in KDP Select (which requires selling exclusively on Amazon) could do a Kindle Free Book Promotion. Amazon handles all the logistics and the reader gets the free Kindle book.

Here's why this tactic as a book promotion can be a loss for authors.

It gives your book's Kindle edition away for free. No sales and royalties for you! In my experience, these promotions don't help increase reviews on Amazon, even though you'd think those who got it for free would feel obliged to give a review. This only attracts freebie seekers. Plus, you don't get to collect any new fans into your email list.

When a book title is enrolled in KDP Select, it is also eligible to receive a royalty share of Amazon’s Global Fund, based on the number of pages read by a Kindle Unlimited or Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KU/KOLL) reader. It’s not a lot, trust me. But I’d rather get a bit of something. However, when authors do a Kindle Free Book Promotion, these KU/KOLL readers can download the book for free. It doesn’t impact the reader's book credit allotment under their KU/KOLL program. The author doesn’t even get the small amount of KU/KOLL royalties for the pages read.

Easiest Way to Handle a Book Giveaway?

So how did we handle it? Well, we promoted officially opting in to my guest’s email list during the presentation. For voluntarily signing up, she would give away some helpful resources. Also, we emphasized her presence on social media so people could follow her there, too. This totally eliminated the hassle and risk of handling a book giveaway or contest.

Only those who are truly interested in the author or her work will sign up. I'd rather recruit a few engaged fans this way, rather than have a bunch of freebie seekers.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne


Lynsey Hart from Lanarkshire on July 11, 2020:

I know I hadn't, so thanks again for your insight. And thanks for the luck, I will need it!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 09, 2020:

Lynsey, most people don't think about the logistics and other details until after they've launched their promos. Then the reality sets in. Glad you found the information useful. Thanks so much for stopping by and good luck with your self publishing adventures!

Lynsey Hart from Lanarkshire on July 06, 2020:

Thanks again for sharing some insight on this. I had never thought a simple giveaway could have so many elements to it. I reckon when I do eventually publish, I will not be doing a giveaway!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 14, 2020:

So appreciate you sharing your KU experience, Lawrence!

I've had the identical experience with free book downloads. Ugh! Why I quit doing them, too.

Like you, I've been seeing some steady KU activity over time. It's the way things are going.

Thank you so much for your kind support! Have a lovely rest of the weekend!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on March 12, 2020:


Some really good points here.

Last year I published a novel called 'Safe Haven, nowhere to run'. I set it up for five days as a free giveaway for the sole purpose of sending free copies to my beta readers who'd helped me with the final draft.

I didn't advertise anywhere, yet 23 people downloaded the book within 24 hours, and I've never heard from them since! (Thats why I don't do freebies!)

As for KU, from experience it can be upto 40% of your royalties!

Since Christmas I've been getting a regular if somewhat small payment from Amazon and between 40-45% of it each month has been KU. This month is down a bit at 35% but you get my drift, its well worth having!

Great information here though.


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 17, 2020:

Liz, thanks so much for the kind words! Invariably, whenever I make a suggestion, I get a ton of questions. So I try to answer many of those questions that I know authors will have. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 17, 2020:

Chitrangada, book promotion and sales is the toughest thing that authors ever do. I just wish that authors understood that. Thanks so much for chiming in and have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 17, 2020:

Flourish, it is so not worth it! I say run a few experiments. But I wish I could impress upon authors that they can't afford the same type of promotions as the big publishers. Thanks so much for putting that exclamation point on the message of the article. Have a beautiful week!

Liz Westwood from UK on February 17, 2020:

This is a well thought out and interesting article. I really appreciate the way that you look at the issue from different angles and use your experience to help others.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on February 17, 2020:

Useful information for the writers and the authors, in this excellent article.

I always believe that book promotion and sales, are the toughest part for the authors.

Thanks for sharing this valuable post.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 17, 2020:

You are thoroughly convincing here in your arguments. It’s just not worth the investment of time or effort and the payoff is unknown.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 16, 2020:

Linda, I've been in the self publishing game so long that sometimes I don't even think of these things until I see them pop up in an author forum or through networking. It's such a complex industry! Appreciate your kind comments, as always! Have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 16, 2020:

Hi Pamela! I definitely don't think it's worth it these days. Too complicated, not enough ROI. Thanks so much for your kind words and have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 16, 2020:

Thanks, Bushra, for your kind comment! Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 16, 2020:

Doris, the privacy and data issues are just getting so complicated. So I'm not going there unless there's a valid reason to do so. And I'm definitely avoiding the freebie seekers! Thanks so much for your kind words and have a lovely week ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 16, 2020:

Hi Peggy! The newbies often don't know what they're getting into when they start the publishing journey. Just sharing what I've experienced. Hope it helps some of them. Thanks so much for your kind words! Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 16, 2020:

Bill, I only give my books as gifts, too. I heard that rumor about spring as well. But with -4 on Friday AM, I'm thinking that it's still just a rumor. Thanks for stopping by and enjoy your week ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 16, 2020:

Thanks, Umesh, for the kind words! Have a great day!

Anya Ali from Rabwah, Pakistan on February 15, 2020:

Good article!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 15, 2020:

I love the fact that you share important information that I don't know or don't even realize that I should know. Thank you for sharing another informative article, Heidi.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 15, 2020:

It sounds like giving away a book might not be worth the investment. It certainly can be complicated depending on how you handle it. This is very good author information.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on February 15, 2020:

I am definitely grateful for this article, Heidi. I didn't even think about the privacy issues that could arise from a bunch of freebie seekers. Thank you for a most informative article.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 15, 2020:

For people new to the book publishing world, this is good information to know. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Heidi.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 15, 2020:

Nope...won't go there. I give books away as presents to friends, but that's it. Good information, always, my marketing guru. Now go enjoy your weekend! I heard a rumor that spring is coming. lol

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 15, 2020:

Interesting article. Useful for the writers in general. Well presented.

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