Bloggers frequently bill giveaways as an ideal method of garnering reviews, and by extension, gaining exposure for your book. Give away your book, get a review in lieu of payment. This made perfect sense to me. Although I don't fully understand the ranking system on Amazon, Smashwords and other sites, I assumed that more reviews (particularly good reviews) would give Kydona a better shot of showing up on search results.
Since releasing the first book on April 4, I've participated in 2 book giveaways on LibraryThing and Goodreads. It's been a bittersweet experience. What have I learned?
Well, first of all, I think I'll be avoiding LibraryThing, contrary to my advice in a previous post. Although I gave away 85 copies of Kydona, I've yet to see significant returns. A month-and-a-half after sending out free copies, 10 recipients have reviewed the book. And I'm sorry to say that these reviews were either 1 or 5 star--literally no middle ratings. I'm unsure why this is the case for LibraryThing in particular. But the community there seems to be very critical, even judgmental. In fact, most of the 1-star reviews weren't reviews at all--just ratings without any substantiation.
On Goodreads, the results have been more heartening. A group there, Indie and Proud, is hosting a giveaway that remains ongoing. I've sent out approximately 200 copies of the book under their program. That's quite a reception, and already, I've received 25 ratings. These ones have thankfully been much, much more helpful. The majority are 3 star reviews, with a smattering of higher and lower ones, though no participants have seen fit to give me a 5 star review just yet. I don't mind this. Reading each review, I've been able to glean a lot of useful information that will definitely improve my writing. Goodreads giveaways are a helpful learning experience.
It may seem like I'm making an early conclusion, but I'm seeing trends from each group of recipients, and I don't expect those trends to change.
Kydona's rating on both these sites is comparatively low, hovering between 2 and 3 stars. Yet on Smashwords and Amazon the ratings are 4.13 and 3.70 respectively. So why is this the case?
Primarily, 1 star ratings. Not reviews, but ratings. My book isn't for everyone; I understand and accept that (and my next post will focus on that topic). I think the content put some people off to the point that they simply dropped the book partway through, and Goodreads gave them the opportunity to punch in a 1 star rating with no review necessary. It's remarkably easy to rate a book and move on. Put an extra step in that process, and people are much less likely to commit. Booksellers require ratings to be accompanied by reviews, however short. If the case was otherwise, I'm certain that my ratings would be lower across the board. If a few people disliked Kydona enough to leave a poor rating, then I assume there are others who feel the same, except that they didn't bother to review. They simply dropped the book and moved on to the next one.
So in short, here's the main lesson I've learned from giveaways:
If you give away your book in exchange for an honest review, you're going to get exactly that. You're going to get criticized. If someone downloads your free book of their own volition and they don't enjoy it, they'll simply move on.
So, if you want glowing ratings, just write a quality story and don't give it away.
If you want to grow as an author, give your book away, and brace yourself for the consequences.