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Author: Iola

I provide professional freelance manuscript assessment, copyediting and proofreading services for writers of Christian fiction and non-fiction books, stories and articles. I also review Christian novels at www.christianreads.blogspot.com.

A (not so) Short History of Fake Reviews on Amazon

A (not so) Short History of Fake Reviews on Amazon

When I first started blogging, back in September 2011, there were almost no restrictions to reviewing on Amazon. Someone could create a buyer account on Amazon, buy something, and 24 hours later they could review any product on any Amazon site.

Yes, any product. On any site. Amazon has never placed any restriction on who can review what. You don’t have to have purchased the product on Amazon to review that product—which is good news for book bloggers. Bloggers often receive free copies from authors or publishers, from book tour companies, from reviewing sites such as NetGalley, or from sources such as the library.

Amazon allow customers to review whether or not they have experienced the product (i.e. read the book). However, Amazon also recognise that potential customers place more trust in reviews where the reviewer has experienced the product. Amazon acknowledged this by introducing the Amazon Verified Purchase badge, and AVP reviews are now shown ahead of non-AVP reviews.

But as Amazon gained a reputation as the powerhouse of online shopping, sellers attempted to game the reviewing system by posting fake reviews. Amazon responded by tightening and clarifying the reviewing guidelines—an ongoing process.

In this post, I’m going to highlight some of the background to these changes.

Spoiler: Amazon isn’t out to get honest authors. Only the dishonest ones.

Friends and Family Reviews

Amazon’s fake review problem first came to my attention several years ago. Savvy reviewers noticed an oddity: a self-published book from an unknown author had somehow managed to garner over 350 five-star reviews. It also had a handful of one-star reviews. The five-star reviews were all from new accounts that had only reviewed this one book. The reviews were all short, and expressed similar sentiments: the book was amazing. A must-read thriller.

The one-star reviews told a different story: this was a novel in dire need of editing. They questioned the authenticity of the five-star reviews.

Amazon investigated, and the five-star reviews disappeared.

Amazon tightened their reviewing guidelines to prohibit “promotional” reviews (including reviews from friends and family). A lot of authors have lost reviews in this way, as Amazon has (rightly or wrongly) tied them to a reviewer through common IP addresses, gifted books, or perhaps even social media relationships e.g. Facebook friends (if you log in to Goodreads using Facebook, Goodreads tracks your Facebook friends and adds them as Goodreads friends. Amazon owns Goodreads, so this is entirely possible).

The investigation was expanded across the store, and Amazon deleted many reviews. They also introduced a new requirement to the US Amazon Reviewing Guidelines, and clarified their definition of promotional content.

Customers now had to make a minimum purchase of $5 before they could review. But this didn’t stop the fake reviews.

As well as deleting reviews, Amazon began prohibiting reviewers from posting reviews if they believed there was a relationship between the reviewer and the seller. For example, in mid-2017, Amazon Australia refused to allow one of my reviews to post because they had determined I knew the (Australian) author. I did, although I don’t believe that affected my review and I had disclosed I’d received a free book from the author. Ironically, Amazon US posted my review of the same title with no question.

Buying Reviews

Now deceitful sellers looking for fake reviews had to become world-class hackers in order to deceive the hacker hunters at Amazon. Fortunately (or unfortunately), there was an almost endless supply of ethically challenged “reviewers” who would post a fake review in exchange for a buck or five … which was against Amazon’s guidelines. Websites with convenient names like “Buy Amazon Reviews” sprang up to connect the two groups.

Creative sellers could write their own reviews for the company to post on “genuine” accounts, and for a small premium some reviewers would offer to buy the ebook so the review would carry the AVP tag. I guess they forgot that Amazon can and do track our Kindle reading habits, so it wouldn’t have been difficult for them to tell that the writers of these glowing five-star AVP reviews hadn’t even opened the ebook in question.

Amazon soon caught on, and filed suit against the websites in question.

This was followed by additional lawsuits against Fiverr reviewers offering a similar “service”.

Coupon Clubs

Then came the coupon clubs. Sellers would offer product discount coupons to Amazon Prime members, offering them products at a 99% or 100% discounts. Facebook groups sprang up, connecting people who were happy to receive free products through Amazon (with the shipping paid by Amazon through Prime) in exchange for a five-star review. This left Amazon paying to ship hundreds of dollars of free product to customers who didn’t spend any money at Amazon except for their Prime membership.

Amazon started deleting reviews, and reviewers appeared in the Amazon Discussion Forums.They complained their reviews had disappeared, and that was awful because now they weren’t going to get any more free products (it was apparently a condition that reviewers had to post a five-star review within a narrow timeframe to get more products).

Other reviewers investigated, and called out the coupon club reviewers for their bad behaviour—for knowingly or unknowingly breaking Amazon’s Reviewing Guidelines by posting multiple reviews for products without adequately testing those products. The discussions are gone now, but the ones I remember reading showed wilful ignorance from the coupon club reviewers. They refused to believe what they were doing was in any way misleading or unethical, or that it contravened Amazon’s guidelines.

Amazon Increases the Purchase Requirement

Amazon responded by introducing a $50 purchase requirement.

In order to review products on Amazon, a potential reviewer had to have spent $50 on the site, excluding any Amazon Prime membership.

Initially, the increased purchase requirement only applied at Amazon US. In late 2017, I noticed Amazon had introduced a $50 purchase requirement in in Australia and Canada, and a GBP 40 purchase requirement in the UK. But it appeared that if you were eligible to review on Amazon US (as I am), you were eligible to review on any other Amazon site. The reverse may also have been true.

I have personally purchased dead tree books from Amazon US and UK, and ebooks from Amazon US and Australia (one of the quirks of living in New Zealand is that I must purchase physical products from the US store, but can choose to purchase Kindle books from the US or Australia).

I’ve been actively reviewing since 2011, and have always posted my reviews on Amazon US and UK. When Amazon introduced the Australian store, I started adding my reviews there as well. Anyway, despite the increase in the purchase requirement, I was still able to post reviews at all three Amazon sites. I then tried posting a review at Amazon Canada, a store where I have never spent as much as a cent. My review was accepted. This showed me the $50 purchase requirement was at a single store.

This has now changed:

  • The purchase requirement is now per year, not a once-for-all-time.
  • The purchases must be made at the store in question.

The requirements differ by geography:

  • Amazon US says reviewers must have spent $50 in the last year at Amazon.com.
  • Amazon Canada says reviewers must have spent $50 at Amazon.ca within the last twelve months.
  • Amazon UK says reviewers must have spent GBP 40 at Amazon.co.uk within the last twelve months.
  • Amazon Australia says reviewers have spent $50 at Amazon.com.au, but there is no timeframe mentioned. Yet.

I tested this. My results:

  • I was unable to post a review at Amazon Canada (no purchases ever).
  • I was unable to post a review at Amazon Australia (lifetime purchases: <$20). I am still in the Top 100 Reviewers at Amazon Australia.
  • I was able to post at Amazon UK (no purchases in the last ten years).
  • I was able to post at Amazon US (purchases: >$50 in the last year).

I suspect Amazon UK will catch up with me soon, and veto further reviews. However, the UK site displays the top three or top five reviews from Amazon.com, so some of my reviews will continue to show on the UK site, even though they were posted at the US site.

I don’t know what is behind this latest change. It could be that sites like Buy Amazon Reviews sprang up offshore to sell fake reviews from non-US reviewers who had spent the equivalent of $50 in their home store. Non-US sites are harder for Amazon to track and sue. The easy solution is to only allow US customers to review in the US store.

Conclusion

I know authors find it hard to get reviews. I know authors find it frustrating when they lose reviews, or when reviewers can’t post for whatever reason. Often, it’s the honest sellers, honest authors, and honest reviewers who miss out.

But I also know Amazon customers need to be able to trust the Amazon review system

Amazon want that as well. Without trustworthy reviews, Amazon is just another online retailer.

Years of observation has shown me that every rule Amazon have introduced, every review they have deleted, has been an attempt (successful or otherwise) to protect their review system.

Amazon could get harsher. They could only allow people to have purchased a product from Amazon to review that product on Amazon. Many other retailers do. They could correlate our Kindle pages read with the books we are permitted to review. After all, they already collect that information.

We don’t want that. So we need to be ethical customers, sellers, and reviewers. And we need to encourage others to be the same. Anything else hurts us all.

This post is the background to a series I’m planning for later in the year. What questions do you have about reviews that you’d like me to address? Let me know in the comments.

Updating Your Privacy Policy for GDPR

Updating Your Privacy Policy for GDPR (an #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:

Click here to visit the main Blog Hop page
Click here to find our posts on Twitter
Click here to find our Pinterest board

GDPR and Your Privacy Policy

My April #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop post introduced GDPR. Here are the main highlights:

  • The GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation, and comes into force on 25 May 2018.
  • If you process or hold the personal data of EU residents, it applies to you no matter where you are based.

In other words, GDPR applies to me even though I’m not based in the EU. It probably applies to you as well.

Since writing that post, I’ve read thousands of words of blog posts and watched or listened to hours of YouTube videos and podcasts to try and understand what we have to do by 25 May to comply with GDPR.

First, the PSA. I’m not a lawyer, so none of the information in this blog post is legal advice. It’s my best guess as a layperson who has studied the subject. If you want legal advice, you ask a lawyer who is qualified to practice in this area. In this case, that means a lawyer based in the EU with a background in privacy, data protection, or similar. You don’t get legal advice off the internet.

The first thing to remember is that the world is not ending. As British lawyer Suzanne Dibble says:

“The GDPR mandates organizations to put into place comprehensive but proportionate governance measures.”

“Proportionate” is important. It means that you and I, as a one-person organisations, aren’t going to be expected to have all the data protection bells and whistles of, say, British Airways. But we still have to be responsible about the way we collect and process personal data, and we’re still accountable for that.

It’s the Golden Rule in practice.

We need to treat the personal information we hold in the same way we’d want them to treat our data.

Note that personal information is defined as any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person. This includes name, email address, and can also include an IP address, and website cookies. At the most basic level, GDPR is about respecting the privacy of individuals. I’m sure we can all agree with that.

The other thing to remember is that the ICO isn’t going to be actively monitoring our GDPR compliance. Organisations will be investigated only if a complaint is made against them.

What Do I Need to Do?

There are actually a few things you can or should do. Here are six I think are important (and that I’m still working on myself):

1. SSL Certificate

If your website doesn’t already have an SSL certificate, it may be worth getting one for the added layer of security and the Google benefits. If you haven’t yet set up your website, I would definitely recommend using SSL from the beginning.

Many web hosts (e.g. BlueHost) provide a free SSL certificate with their hosting packages. Alternatively, NameCheap offers SSL certificates starting at $9/year (see this blog post from Nuts and Bolts for more information).

2. Update Your Privacy Policy

If you don’t already have a Privacy Policy, now is a good time to develop one. You already need one under Californian law (CalOPPA), if you use Google Analytics, or if you’re an Amazon affiliate.

There are plenty of free and paid resources online to help you. I’ve checked out several options:

Auto Terms of Service and Privacy Policy WordPress Plugin

Auto Terms of Service and Privacy Policy is a free WordPress plugin. I added this to my author website, and found it had no customisation, no reference to GDPR, and fails the plain English test. I’ll be replacing this ASAP.

Free Privacy Policy

Free Privacy Policy is customisable and produces a solid policy, but has no reference to GDPR. On the plus side, free meant free, and the form was easy to fill out. But it won’t be valid after 25 May.

DGD Deutsche Gesellschaft für Datenschutz

The only free GDPR-compliant policy I found was from a German website (click here). The policy is customisable, and available in your choice of English or German. However, the stilted English suggests the policy has been written in German and translated. I’d rather have a policy that was written in English.

Terms Feed

Terms Feed offer a “free” Privacy Policy, but you have to pay for certain necessary customisation, like the GDPR verbiage. My quote was $61, so I didn’t download it.

Privacy Policies

Privacy Policies charge $29.99 for a commercial policy (with “commercial” including anyone who is using affiliate links, or marketing or selling any product or service). The policy is customised, but I didn’t buy it so I don’t know how good it is or whether it covers GDPR.

iubenda.com

Randy Ingermanson of Advanced Fiction Writing recommends iubenda.com. The free policy covers next to nothing, so most authors will need the paid version, which is $27 per year. The policy is customisable, but I found there were too many options to choose from, and it didn’t include some of the plugins I use. I didn’t get a policy, but you can see Randy’s here: Privacy Policy. Note that it’s stores at the iubenda website, not on Randy’s own site. I prefer something that’s stored on my own site, so I know it isn’t updated without my knowledge.

GDPR Tracker from AppSumo

AppSumo is selling the GDPR Tracker for $49 (affiliate link), which includes a Privacy Policy template, and a list of actions to complete. I think this is the approach I’m going to take. (I’d hoped to get this done today, but all this took longer than I’d thought!)

Suzanne Dibble

Suzanne Dibble, a British lawyer and expert in the subject, has put together a full GDPR pack. It’s not cheap (GBP 197) but covers everything. To see what’s in the pack, check out this blog post from Shannon Mattern: How to Get Your Website Ready for GDPR.

Suzanne also has a free Facebook group and lots of videos. This is the most important (and the longest):

 

 

3. Update Your Email Signup Forms

Once you have created (or updated) your Privacy Policy, you will need to update your email signup forms to include a reference or link to your Privacy Policy.

Your signup form must also make clear that they are signing up for your email newsletter, and that they will receive marketing information. You can also give them a free book or other gift for signing up, as I do. But it has to be in that order:

Sign up for my monthly newsletter and receive a free gift.

Is probably acceptable (probably. Not definitely). This is not:

Want a free gift? Sign up here.

Why is that second example not acceptable? Because it doesn’t make it clear that the user is being signed up to an email list. What about this?

Want a free gift? Sign up here, and I’ll add you to my email list.

This isn’t acceptable under GDPR because it ties the free gift to signing up to the newsletter. Yes, this looks the same as my first example. Semantics. Even the lawyers I’ve listened to don’t agree on this one.

4. Update Your Comments Form

Most blogs have a comments section. This collects your name, website, email address, and IP address, as well as your message. This is private information, and is stored by WordPress, so we probably need to update our comments forms to include a tick box for the consent of storing this information.

5. Update Your Contact Form

Most websites have a contact form (e.g. Contact Form 7, Gravity Forms, or Ninja Forms). Contact forms collect information such as the person’s name, email address, and IP address. You’re allowed to collect this information, as it’s a legitimate business interest that will enable you to answer their query. But you still need to disclose you are collecting and storing this information (even though it seems obvious), and that probably means another tick box to show consent.

6. Create or Update Your Cookies Policy

EU businesses or businesses directed towards EU citizens must also inform visitors if cookies are used, how they are used, and obtain consent if required (not all cookies require consent). This can be through a Cookies Policy, or as part of the Privacy Policy. At this stage, I have chosen to address cookies as part of my overall Privacy Policy, as my business is not specifically directed towards EU citizens. This may change if and when the EU revise their cookie laws.

One Final Warning

Don’t copy someone else’s Privacy Policy. It might not include the information you need, either because they use things you don’t, or because you use things the policy doesn’t refer to. And it might use the wrong language for your brand.

Also, copying a Privacy Policy is infringing on the copyright of the lawyer who wrote that policy. As writers who want our copyright to be respected, we need to respect the copyright of others.

Do you have a GDPR-compliant Privacy Policy? Do you have a privacy policy site you can recommend?

Introducing NetGalley

Introducing NetGalley

This is a revised and updated version of a post that originally appeared at Australasian Christian Writers on 6 February 2015.

One of the big challenges facing new authors—especially self-published authors—is how to get book reviews. I’m working on a longer series on book reviews for later in the year, but today I’m going to introduce NetGalley, which is where I get most of the books I review.

What is NetGalley?

NetGalley is a service to provide “professional readers”, including book bloggers like me, with electronic versions of upcoming releases. Trade publishers have produced paper Advance Review Copies (ARCs) for years, mailing them to newspapers, magazines and key review sites and influencers in the hope of gaining favourable pre-publication reviews. Amazon led the rise of the customer reviewer, and the Kindle made expensive paper versions even more of a luxury. Why mail paper, when you can email a file?

This is where services like NetGalley come in, providing secure electronic ARCs to over 370,000 booksellers, media, librarians, educators and reviewers who use NetGalley. Around 50% of users visiting the site more than nine times a month (I admit: I am one of those).

How Does NetGalley Work for Authors?

Publishers list titles with NetGalley and provide an electronic version of the book, the cover image, book description, and details such as price and release date. They also have the option of uploading social media links, a marketing plan, and advance praise (although most don’t. That’s why they’re on NetGalley: to garner advance praise).

Publishers pay an initial set-up fee plus a monthly fee depending on the number of titles they offer. Each title gets its own page:

NetGalley page of Where Hope Begins by Catherine West

What Does It Cost?

Self-published authors can also list through NetGalley, either individually or through a co-operative. An individual listing is $450 for six months for one book. A co-op listing will depend on the terms of the cooperative, but can be as little as $50 for a one-month listing for a single book, to an annual membership which allows for multiple books for around $350. Twenty authors are needed to form a co-op, with one person responsible for setup and administration.

Authors who are members of the Independent Book Publishers Association can get a $50 discount on either the basic six-month listing, or Marketing-plus-Title listing. This includes a single listing in any scheduled NetGalley newsletter.

I suspect the additional fee might not represent good value for money—personally, I’ve opted out of the ‘push’ email list, as it was mostly advertising general market titles I wasn’t interested in. Before signing up for this additional service, I’d want to how many of the 370,000 users have opted in to receiving the relevant newsletter, and how many of those regularly request Christian books.

In either case, publishers can choose whether to make their book available to anyone who requests it, or to screen requests. NetGalley shows publishers how many requests, downloads and reviews a title has, and publishers can vet each review request before making a decision (for example, to weed out reviewers who have a low average review rating, who have a low review-to-request ratio, or who don’t typically review in that genre). Authors can do this by checking out individual reviewer profiles:

NetGalley Profile

How Does NetGalley Work for Reviewers?

I’ve been a NetGalley reviewer since late 2011, and have so far requested over 650 titles and provided feedback on over 90% of them (NetGalley keep good statistics!). I can search for books by title or author (for example, when I hear about a new release from one of my favourite authors), by publisher, or by genre (e.g. Christian). I can also select my “Favourite Publishers”, or “Auto-Approvals”, which is a list of publishers who have checked me out and now allow me to read any of their titles.

It’s easy to use: I request a title, and if I’m auto-approved, I’m immediately given the option to Send to Kindle, or download to another ereader (NetGalley supports all major ereaders). If I’m not auto-approved, the book goes to my “Pending” list, and I’ll get an email to advise me whether my request has been accepted or rejected. The longer I’m a reliable NetGalley reviewer, the more titles I am approved to read.

Publishers can also create a widget to send to potential reviewers e.g. reviewers participating in an online blog tour.

And we get badges.

500 Book ReviewsReviews PublishedFrequently Auto-Approved80%Professional Reader

What Else do I Need to Know?

Getting your genre right is important:

I search exclusively on my favourite publishers, and on “Christian” (which includes fiction and non-fiction). Authors can include more than one genre, so a Christian Romance should be categorised under both.

Listing with NetGalley isn’t paying for reviews:

NetGalley doesn’t pay reviewers. What your fee is paying for is the online system which provides direct access to over 210,000 reviewers for a specified period of time.

NetGalley doesn’t guarantee results:

It doesn’t (and can’t) guarantee a certain number of reviews, nor does it guarantee positive reviews. NetGalley acts as an intermediary between the author/publisher and reviewer, which means reviewers are less likely to sugarcoat their review of a book.

Authors have different experiences of NetGalley:

Keary Taylor had over 1,200 requests for her novel, The Bane. This lead to over 400 reviews posted through NetGalley, and more posted on blogs, retail sites such as Amazon, and reader sites such as Goodreads. All reviews posted through NetGalley are also posted online in at least one other location (personally, I post reviews to between five and ten separate sites, if the book is listed on those sites).

Susan Quinn had equally impressive results for the romance co-operative she organised. She uploaded eleven titles when the co-op first went live, and within the first day had 446 approved requests, 286 downloads and one review. After a week, they had nineteen titles uploaded, 2,216 approved requests and 36 reviews.

In contrast, Heather Day Gilbert didn’t find it useful. She only got a few reviews, perhaps because she listed through a co-op that primarily offers romance novel (she describes God’s Daughter as a love story rather than a romance). Melissa Pearl had a similar experience, with only four reviews from 200 approvals.

Reviews won’t come in immediately:

It can take me anything between one and four months to post a review, depending on my blogging schedule (and some have taken me much longer, for various reasons). I believe authors should list their book three months before release, as this maximises the chance of getting reviews at or around release date.

Overall, NetGalley is about getting reviews, not selling books.

However, getting reviews is an important aspect of a marketing strategy, especially for ebooks. Amazon users are more likely to purchase books with significant numbers of reviews, especially when they can see a range of reviews, including some with low star ratings. It’s not cheap and the results can vary, but it is a marketing tactic worth considering.

For readers, it’s great. Most of my favourite publishers are on NetGalley, which means I get first look at their new books, and am able to find and recommend new books and new authors.

Introducing #NaNoProMo | National Novel Promotion Month

You’ve probably heard of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is held in November each year, and is the time when novelists the world over challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in a month—the first draft of a novel.

There is also Camp NaNo, in April and July each year, where writers challenge themselves to complete some other project—writing fiction, writing non-fiction, or editing. Then there is NaNoEdMo—National Novel Editing Month, and the challenge is to spend 50 hours in March editing your NaNo draft.

NaNoProMo National Novel Promotion Month

And now there is also NaNoProMo, National Novel Promotion Month, with 2018 being the inaugural year. This is the brainchild of Rachel Thompson of Bad Red Head Media, and will cover all things marketing.

There are no sign-up forms, cabins, lists, targets or badges. Just lots of great advice on publishing and marketing your novel (or your non-fiction book).

Rachel has organised daily guest posts and giveaways throughout the month of May, including a half-hour one-on-one Skype consultation with one of the biggest indie authors in the US, Hugh Howey.

Other giveaways include books, coaching calls, social media, website and newsletter audits, book formatting, and manuscript assessments. There are also discounts on VA services, editing, and cover design to be won. And a free enrolment in my Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge!

To be in to win, comment on the relevant guest post each day.

Yes, my March Marketing Challenge is now ongoing. If you know you need to start developing your online brand and platform, or to refresh what you already have, visit Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge to find out more and enrol. Or comment on my #NaNoProMo post later this month for a chance to win.

#NaNoProMo is kicking off with an excellent post from Elizabeth Ann West, Who is the Reader You Save Every Night. She is talking about creating your reader profiles (or more than one), and how those profiles can inform marketing decisions such as pricing. Also, one commenter will win a free two-month pass to WhatAuthorsNeedToKnow.com, and a 25% discount code for everyone.

You can find the daily #NaNoProMo blog posts at http://badredheadmedia.com/nanopromo/. You can also follow #NaNoProMo on Twitter (https://twitter.com/NaNoProMo) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/nationalnovelpromotionmonth/).

I’ll be sharing the top posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

(You already follow me, right? If not, click the links). But you’ll have to visit http://badredheadmedia.com/nanopromo/ and comment to be in with a chance to win each day.

Almost every writer I meet says they need to know more about marketing. #NaNoProMo is your opportunity. And it’s free.

Five Tips to Polish Your Presence on Pinterest

Five Tips to Polish your Presence on Pinterest

Pinterest has made several changes over the last year. If you’re on Pinterest, it’s worth taking a little time to polish your profile

Today I’m sharing four tips to polish your presence on Pinterest, and one tip for pinning:

  • Choose your Profile Cover
  • Add a Board Cover Photo
  • Sort your Boards
  • Section your Boards
  • Use hashtags

1. Choose Your Profile Cover

Pinterest have introduced a profile cover photo. But this isn’t the same header image or cover photo as on Facebook or Twitter—you can’t design and upload your own image. Instead, Pinterest forces you to choose from three options:

Latest Pins

The most recent Pins saved to your profile, whether you’re pinning your own pins or other people’s pins. The advantage of this option is it is current. The disadvantage is that what you pin might be personal, not around your author brand. Do you want your Profile Cover to display your Pins and your books, or  recipes for cauliflower pizza and obscure Dr Who memes?

Recent Activity

Pins people saved from your site and linked accounts. This shows which of your pins are the most popular, which implies some of your pins are popular enough that other people are saving and sharing them. My Pinterest analytics say this is the case, but my Recent Activity cover doesn’t share the same message …

Not too sure what happened with this one!

Pick a Board

I think this is the best option. For published authors, pick a board that includes all your book covers. For unpublished authors, pick something that’s consistent with your author brand, and interesting or inspirational (not the cauliflower pizza). Don’t pick a group board or something like writing tips unless that reflects your author brand and target market.

I share about reading and writing on Pinterest (that’s one of the beauties of Boards: people can choose to follow only the Boards they are interested in). I went through several Boards trying to decide which to use. Did I want to use a group board (no), a board about writing (no), or a board about reading (yes).

I eventually settled on using my Favourite Quotes board, as that highlights great lines from some of the books I’ve read. It does (unfortunately) include one quote three times, but hopefully that will change as I add more quotes to the board.

Pinterest Profile Cover

Action Point

Head over to Pinterest, go to your Profile, and click on the grey pencil (top right-hand corner) to choose your preferred Profile Cover.

2. Add a Board Cover Photo

Did you know you can choose which Pin shows as the cover on each of your Boards? This gives you another opportunity to reinforce your author brand visually … and to give your Pinterest visitors a clear picture of what they can expect to find on your Board.

Board Cover Photos on Pinterest

While Pinterest prefers vertical images as a rule, your Board Cover Pin should be square, as that is how it is displayed on desktop and mobile. My Board Cover Pins are 800 x 800 pixels, and I created them in Canva.

To Create your Cover Photo

  • Create a branded image in Canva.
  • Go into Pinterest.
  • Click the red + button at the top right-hand side of the page.
  • Select Upload Image.
  • Upload your branded image.
  • Add the URL of the relevant page on your website.
  • Add a description of the Pin (this could be the same as your Board description).
  • Click Done.
  • Go to your Boards page.
  • Click the grey pencil at the bottom of the relevant Board to Edit your Board
  • Click Change cover.
  • Select your branded Pin.
  • Save Changes.
  • Repeat for each Board you want to brand.

Action Point

Create and Pin branded Cover Photos for your author boards.

3. Sort Your Boards

In case you didn’t know, you can also sort your boards. This is a good idea, as it means you can position your branded boards at the top to promote and reinforce your visual brand. If you don’t sort your boards, then Pinterest will choose how they display the Boards (Last saved to, A to Z, Newest, or Oldest). This might not be the image you want to send …

  • Go to Pinterest.
  • Display Boards.
  • Go to the Sort Boards menu to the right, and select Drag and Drop.
  • Drag your Boards into the order you want. Start with the Board you want at the top, and work across, then down.

Action Point

Sort your Boards to reinforce your author brand by placing your most important Boards at the top of your page (but without looking entirely self-promotional).

4. Section Your Boards

You can now section (aka segment) Boards within Pinterest. This is a great idea, as it means you don’t have to have a gazillion separate boards. Instead, you can have one board for a topic (e.g. Food), then divide that board into appropriate sections (e.g. breakfast, lunch, keto, chocolate).

Illustration of Pinterest Board sections

This is also great for authors, as it means you don’t have to have separate Boards for each book (which can look self-promotional and self-indulgent). Instead, have one Board for each series, with individual Pins sectioned by book.

How to Section a Board

  • Click into a specific Board.
  • Click Add Section.
  • Click Organise (at the top right-hand corner).
  • Select the Pins you want to move. Click Move.
  • Hover over the Section you want to move the Pins to until you see “Move X Pins here”.
  • Click.

This means you can combine and eliminate small Boards … which is good Pinterest practice anyway. To combine Boards, go to your Boards page, click Organise (at the top right-hand corner), and move Pins from their current Board into the appropriate Section of your new Board. You should have a minimum of five Pins on each Board (and ideally at least twenty).

For more information, see this post from the Pinterest blog: Organise Your Ideas on Pinterest.

Action Point

Section your larger boards to make them easier to navigate.

Tidy up your Pinterest account by combining and sectioning some of your smaller Boards.

5. Use Hashtags

In September 2017, Pinterest official announced that they would now support hashtags in the same way as Twitter and other popular social media apps. The principles are the same: choose relevant hashtags people are likely to search. Twitter suggest using no more than twenty hashtags on a single pin, but other Pinterest experts suggest four (as using too many hashtags looks spammy).

Action Point

Add up to four hashtags to each Pin (e.g. the hashtags you’re using when you post to Twitter or Instagram).

And If You’re Not on Pinterest …

If you’re not in Pinterest, perhaps you should be! Pip Reid, Kiwi author and co-owner of Bible Pathway Adventures, has collaborated with Mark Dawson of Self-Publishing Formula to write a short introduction to Pinterest. It’s available free from Amazon: Pinterest for Authors.

 

 

What tips do you have for using Pinterest?

What Authors Need to Know about GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)

What Authors Need to Know About GDPR | An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:

I have two posts in the Blog Hop this month—this post on GDPR, and I’m also guest posting on Publishing at Ronel the Mythmaker’s blog, as part of her April A-Z Challenge.

But here I’m talking about the General Data Protection Regulation: what it is, and why authors need to know about it.

First, the PSA. I’m not a lawyer, so none of the information in this blog post is legal advice. It’s my best guess as a layperson who has studied the subject. If you want legal advice, you ask a lawyer who is qualified to practice in this area. In this case, that means a lawyer based in the EU with a background in privacy, data protection, or similar. You don’t get legal advice off the internet. Now, on with the blog post.

What is GDPR?

The GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation, and comes into force on 25 May 2018. It harmonizes data privacy laws across the European Union (EU), so it affects any organization holding personal data from EU citizens. Note that the EU still includes the United Kingdom, so GDPR still applies. The British government have indicated they will implement GDPR-like legislation following Brexit (if it goes ahead).

Why do authors need to know about GDPR?

GDPR affects all organisations based in the EU, or supplying goods or services in the EU. If you have an email list, this includes you.

If you have an email list, you’re supplying services. Your subscribers may not pay you, but you are supplying a service. If your email list includes EU residents, or is likely to include EU residents in the future, the GDPR applies to you whether you live in the EU or not:

[The GDPR] applies to all companies processing and holding the personal data of data subjects residing in the European Union, regardless of the company’s location.

‘Personal data’ includes data such as a name or email address. It also includes IP addresses (such as those collected by your website when someone comments), and posts on social networking sites.

‘Companies’ includes your email list provider (e.g. MailChimp or MailerLite), and includes clouds. If you use an email list provider and follow their recommended best practice (e.g. double opt-in), then you are probably operating within the law. Probably. As I’ve said before, I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

GDPR requires that you collect the minimum data necessary.

This has always been best practice: if you are collecting email addresses, the only piece of data you actually need is the email address.

Asking for their first name might help you build a relationship with the subscriber (if they type their name correctly!), but it’s not necessary. Many sites also ask for a surname, and few people are going to object to that. But giving my business name, address, telephone number, number of employees … that’s over the top when all I want to do is download a short pdf file.

You have the option of making fields compulsory or optional. If the field is anything but 100% necessary, make it optional (most people will still complete it).

Note: this also applies to the contact form on your website, because that’s another way of collecting personal information.

GDPR requires active and explicit consent

The regulations say:

Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.​

People must be actively consenting to join your email list.

  • Joining the email list can’t be automatic by filling out a form (as happened to me today!).
  • If there is a “Join my list” checkbox, it has to be unchecked. This means the would-be subscriber has to actively check the box.
  • Joining can’t be one item in a long and unreadable list of legalese.

I suspect people also can’t explicitly consent to joining twenty email lists at once. We often see this in online giveaways. Now, giveaways will have to give entrants the option to opt in or not opt in to each participant’s list (which some giveaways already do).

It must also be easy to withdraw consent. All the major email providers make this easy, by offering instant unsubscribe options (a far cry from when I used to unsubscribe to a spam email list and be told it might take up to a month!). Subscribers also have the right to have all their information deleted upon request, and the good email list providers do their best to make that easy as well.

How email providers are reacting

The major email providers do have lawyers on staff. I’m sure they’ve all been busy reading and arguing the finer points of the legislation, and considering what they need to change in order to ensure their customers (you and me) remain compliant.

Here’s what some of the main email providers have to say about GDPR:

Aweber

Aweber is self-certified with both the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield, and intend to be fully compliant with GDPR. They say Aweber customers need to ensure they comply with Aweber terms of service to help ensure they are GDPR-compliant.

Convertkit

ConvertKit are building new features to enable users to identify their EU subscribers and provide explicit consent, including providing a specific opt-in checkbox for EU subscribers.

ConvertKit recommend users:

  • Use double opt-in wherever possible.
  • Perform regular list backups.
  • Make your intentions clear on email signup forms and landing pages (e.g. what will they get by signing up to this list? Will they also be signed up to another list?).

This is good advice for everyone.

MailChimp

MailChimp explains what they are doing to prepare for GDPR (such as a specific opt-in box on forms), and recommends users clearly explain to subscribers how their data will be used.

MailerLite

MailerLite have developed a GDPR template to help users revalidate their email list to be sure everyone has actively and explicity consented.

What should I do?

If you’re not 100% sure all your subscribers have opted in to receiving your emails (e.g. you haven’t always used a double opt-in), then you should check out what templates or services your email list provider offers, and use them to clean your list.

If you have an email list, you need to use a recognised email list provider! No, you can’t send bulk emails through Gmail, Hotmail, or Outlook.

Have you cleaned your email list lately? Have you deleted the people who never open your messages? That would make a great project for May. Sure, it will mean fewer people on your list. There are advantages to cutting the dead weight from your list. It will increase your open rates, cost you less, and mean your emails are less likely to end up in spam. Isn’t that a good thing?

What do you need to do to prepare for GDPR?

Using BookFunnel, Instafreebie, or MyBookCave to Build Your Email List

Using BookFunnel, Instafreebie, or MyBookCave to Build Your Email List

Over the last three weeks I’ve covered various ways to build your email list:

There are two main kinds of giveaway tools. Last week’s post looks at contest-type tools. These are used when running a giveaway that selects one (or more) winners from the eligible entrants.

The other kind of online giveaway is where everyone receives a free ebook in exchange for signing up for an email list.

I’ve found three tools which facilitate building your author email list:

  • BookFunnel
  • Instafreebie
  • MyBookCave

Let’s look at each in turn.

BookFunnel

A growing number of self-published authors using BookFunnel to build their email lists. It’s a great service: you upload your book files, create a download page, and BookFunnel gives people the option of how they want to download the book. They then provide detailed instructions (right down to the Kindle version), an email-my-book option, and online support so you’re not having to deal with readers who can’t work out how to sideload a mobi file onto their Kindle.

BookFunnel has a $20/year option which allows one pen name, and up to 500 downloads. This is useful if you’re using BookFunnel to deliver advance review copies (ARCs) to potential reviewers, but not useful if you’re trying to build your email list as it doesn’t collect email addresses.

If you’re wanting to collect email addresses, you’ll need at least the Mid-List plan ($10/month, or $100/year).

However, this doesn’t integrate with your mailing list provider—you’ll have to download the CSV file after the giveaway and upload that to your email list. Email list integration costs an additional $5/month, or $50/year. Or you can subscribe to the Professional plan, which also offers an additional pen name, priority support, and unlimited monthly downloads.

I haven’t used BookFunnel as an author, but I have used it as a reader and reviewer. A lot of the authors I review for use BookFunnel to deliver their ARCs. If you’re on the MidList plan or above, BookFunnel will watermark the file and only allow one download per code. These measures help prevent online privacy. It also means if the BookFunnel version of your book shows up on a pirate site, it’s obvious where the file came from.

One of the advantages of using a paid service is they help you keep on top of changes in national and international legislation.

For example, the implementation of the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR, which I’ll talk about in a future post).

For example, if an author was on the Mid-List plan or above, BookFunnel used to automatically collect and pass on the email address. Now the person downloading the book has to actively opt in to having their email address shared with the author, although authors have the option of not permitting readers to download the book until they have opted in to the mailing list. This helps authors ensure they are complying with GDPR and other anti-spam legislation.

Instafreebie

Instafreebie also offers a way to give books away. Their basic plan is free, and includes unlimited downloads and free delivery to readers in their choice of format. However, the basic plan doesn’t add entrants to an email list. The Plus plan is $20 per month, and includes integration with MailChimp or MailerLite (users of other email programs can download the CSV file).

Instafreebie offers a free 30-day trial, and allows authors to subscribe by the month. This means an author can upgrade from Basic to Plus in any month they are promoting their lead magnet, then downgrade again at the conclusion of the giveaway.

I participated in an Instafreebie group promotion in early 2017. This added around 400 people to my email list. I didn’t give away a published book, as I don’t have any books published. Instead, I offered Christian Publishers: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction, which is the incentive I offer everyone who signs up to my email list.

The advantage of an Instafreebie giveaway is that entrants choose which email lists to sign up for.

This means the giveaway was compliant with the GDPR, and meant I didn’t have a huge number of entrants unsubscribing.

The disadvantage was that not all entrants knew how to get their downloaded book/s from their PC over to their ereader. Fortunately, the giveaway host had a Youtube video demonstrating how to sideload an ebook, so was able to forward that link to those who had trouble.

I participated in another group giveaway on Instafreebie later in 2017. This only netted me 40 subscribers, because the group was not nearly as active when it came to promoting the giveaway.

MyBookCave

MyBookCave is similar to BookBub and other online ebook promotion companies, in that it sends daily emails to subscribers, sharing a collated list of sale and free ebooks.

MyBookCave’s unique angle is that books are rated in the same way as movies or games are rated (well, it’s an almost-unique idea. Review website More Than a Review also rates books for language, violence, and sexual content). MyBookCave gives an overall rating which combines all these factors and more:

  • All Ages
  • Mild (and Mild+)
  • Moderate (and Moderate+)
  • Adult (and Adult+)

MyBookCave offers two kinds of promotional opportunities for authors:

  • Promoting your sale book
  • Gaining Newsletter subscribers

Gaining Newsletter Subscribers

This is currently a free service (although I’m sure that will change). All books are rated by content level, and classified according to genre. There is a Christian fiction genre, Authors upload their lead magnet, and MyBookCave includes this on their Book Cave Direct page. Readers can then download the book in exchange for providing their email address (necessary for MyBookCave to send them the download link!). Readers can opt out, as required by anti-spam laws.

MyBookCave supports readers to transfer their downloaded files onto their Kindles. They have an app for Kindle Fire and Android users. Other users are taken through a sequence of menus to get their book (similar to the BookFunnel menus). Users also have the option of having the mobi or epub file emailed directly to them, or downloading the file to their computer (which is what I ended up doing, as the download link didn’t work, and the email took a while to arrive).

MyBookCave also has a Facebook group where authors can join together for group promotions. Group promotions are then promoted by MyBookCave, which should help them get more visibility (and you more downloads). Authors can also use MyBookCave to provide readers with review copies (ARCs), to reward current newsletter subscribers with a subscriber-only link, or to pass their work in progress to beta readers.

The only disadvantage is that MyBookCave doesn’t automatically add people to your email list.

Users have to download the CSV file from MyBookCave, then upload it to their own email list provider. I suspect this will need to be done at least a couple of times a month so new subscribers are added to your list and welcomed in a timely manner (i.e. before they forget they signed up!).

Do you use any online tools to build your email list? Which tool do you use, and what success have you seen?

Introducing Three Online Giveaway Tools: Gleam, KingSumo, and Rafflecopter

Introducing Three Online Giveaway Tools: Gleam, KingSumo, & Rafflecopter

We’re still talking online giveaways. So far, I’ve covered:

I also briefly discussed online giveaway tools. There are many, including GiveawayTab, Giveaway Tools, PromoSimple, Punctab, RandomPicker, Wildfire, and Woobox.

Today I’m discussing the three online giveaway tools I see authors using most often:

  • Gleam
  • KingSumo
  • Rafflecopter

These tools are used when running a giveaway that selects one (or more) winners from the eligible entrants, and where entrants have do do more than simply comment on a blog post. The other kind of online giveaway is where everyone receives a free ebook in exchange for signing up for an email list. I’ll discuss that next week.

There are several advantages to using a good tool:

  • The winner is picked at random.
  • The tool probably complies with general giveaway laws (although laws are so different that no tool will comply with all state and international laws) e.g. disclosing the prize and the value of the prize.
  • A range of entry options to fit your individual strategy.
  • Integration into the organisers social media profiles and/or email list, which reduces administration time.
  • The email integration probably complies with the CAN-SPAM Act and the EU GDP Regulations.
  • The giveaway is more likely to look professional.

The main disadvantage of using a giveaway tool is cost: while there are free options, the premium features such as viral sharing and email list integration will come at a cost.

Gleam

Gleam integrates with a wide range of social media platforms, including Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and more. It provides options for entrants to undertake a variety of actions, but the entrant doesn’t have to prove they have completed that action (e.g. a Tweet or Facebook share). This means the organiser has to confirm the entrant did undertake the required action before declaring a winner.

Gleam is available via a website, or as a WordPress plugin.

There is a free plan with limited functionality (i.e. you only get the email addresses of the winners). Paid plans start at USD 10 per month, which includes a downloadable email list but not full email integration. Gleam offers email integration and viral sharing options on the Pro Plan and better (from USD 49 per month). That makes it an expensive option for most authors who are just starting out.

One of the advantages of Gleam is it offers incentives for viral sharing.

Viral sharing is when the entrant earns additional entries for sharing the contest, and having other people enter through their unique contest link. This means instead of having one chance to win, a contestant could have dozens or even hundreds.

KingSumo

The objective of a KingSumo giveaway is to increase the number of subscribers on your email list. KingSumo does this by encouraging viral sharing. As with Gleam, KingSumo adds each entrant to your email list, sends them a unique code, and encourages them to share it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

As an entrant, the more people enter the giveaway using your unique code, the more entries you get and the more likely you are to win. KingSumo picks the winner using some secret random algorithm.

KingSumo have recently announced a new web-based version anyone can use.

The basic app is free, and there is a premium version available for USD 8 per month (billled annually). The free version integrates with MailChimp and Zapier. Future upgrades will include limiting the location of contestants, adding multiple prizes, and editing the giveaway rules (all of which you can do in the plugin version).

The older WordPress plugin is still available, for USD 195 for a single website and USD 595 for a multi-site developer licence (they may offer a Black Friday or Cyber Monday discount in November. Their 2017 offer was a 75% discount). You do need a self-hosted WordPress site to host the giveaway, but once you’ve created the giveaway it can be embedded in non-WordPress sites—just add the relevant html code.

The KingSumo plugin links with more email providers than the free web version, incuding:

  • Aweber
  • Campaign Monitor
  • GetResponse
  • MailChimp
  • ConvertKit
  • ActiveCampaign

If you use another email service provider (e.g. MailerLite), then I’d recommend adding the giveaway entrants to a MailChimp list with an autoresponder, then moving them to MailerLite once the automation sequence is complete and the winner has been announced.

Rafflecopter

Rafflecopter is a free giveaway tool that’s integrated with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and various email providers. Giveaway organisers can set a variety of tasks for entrants to complete, such as commenting on the blog post, following the author on Twitter, liking their page on Facebook, sharing the giveaway on social media, or signing up for an email list. I’ve never run a Rafflecopter giveaway, but I understand email addresses can be downloaded at the conclusion of the giveaway.

Basic Rafflecopter giveaways are free, but you’ll have to pay for premium features like Pinterest entries (USD 13 per month), email list integration (USD 43 per month) or viral giveaway links (USD 84 per month). Rafflecopter does offer a free 7-day trial, but it’s limited to 50 entries. Contests can also be run through Facebook.

I’m not a fan of Rafflecopter.

Although that’s not necessarily the fault of the tool.

Organisers often set up a huge list of ways to enter. This can seem overwhelming to a potential giveaway entrant. In addition, there are often a lot of hoops to jump through e.g. find the tweet URL and paste it into your entry to prove you’ve tweeted about the giveaway. As an entrant, it feels like more hassle than it’s worth—especially if the prize is a cheap ebook.

It’s also a question of whether these activities provide any ongoing return for the author. Given the recent changes in the Facebook algorithm, it’s possible your new followers might never even see posts from your author Page, let alone Like, Comment, or Share those posts.

From a reader-entrant point of view, the best Rafflecopter giveaways are those that only require one action to enter e.g. a blog comment. But as I discussed last week, this is the action that has the least ongoing benefit for the author.

Which Tool Is Best?

Which tool you use will depend on the reason you’re running a giveaway. If you’re trying to build brand awareness, then Facebook integration is probably more important than email integration. If you’re trying to build an email list, then email integration is going to be a major deciding factor.

Cost is also a factor—can you afford the one-off cost for a more expensive tool like King Sumo, or do you prefer the monthly subscription model? Paying up-front is probably cheaper in the long term, but it does depend on what you are looking for in a giveaway tool.

What giveaway tools have you used as an organiser, or as a participant? Which would you recommend for cost, ease of use, and functionality?

How To Conduct An Online Giveaway

How To Conduct An Online Giveaway

Two weeks ago, I introduced six ways to build your email list. One was offering giveaways. This week, I’m going into more detail on the “how” of giveaways, and touch on some of the legal issues.

There are several ways to conduct an online giveaway, but first you need to:

  • Consider Your Giveaway Objectives
  • Keep Your Giveaway Legal

You then need to consider what kind of giveaway you want to participate in:

  • Run Your Own Giveaway
  • Join a Group Giveaway
  • Join A Paid Giveaway

Consider Your Objectives

What are your objectives in conducting or participating in an online giveaway? Your objectives will determine which is the best approach for you. Do you want to:

  • Build overall awareness?
  • Increase blog engagement?
  • Build your social media following?
  • Build your emai list?
  • Do you want one winner, or will you give every entrant a book?

Your objectives will help determine your priorities in choosing how to organise your online giveaway.

Keep Your Giveaway Legal

There are laws governing how people run giveaways, contests, and raffles. If you are running any kind of giveaway, you need to ensure you comply with these laws … which is difficult, because the laws are different in every state and country. No giveaway can comply with all international laws (or even all the different state laws in the USA).

All online giveaways are illegal somewhere, which is why many giveaways restrict entrants to their own state or country.

Here are some principles for running an online giveaway:

Limit Participation by Geography

For example, limit entrants to USA only, or Australia only. At the very least, say “void where prohibited” (although this means you need to know where your giveaway is prohibited).

Be Fair

If you say one random commenter will win the prize, the prize has to go to a random commenter. Not the person you like most.

Don’t Require a Purchase

I’ve just received an email offering me the chance to win something if I buy the author’s new book. All I have to do is forward the Amazon email purchase receipt, and I’m in the draw to win. But this is an illegal giveaway, in that it’s not actually a giveaway. It’s a raffle, and that’s a whole different set of laws.  For example, many states and countries require you to provide a way for people to enter without purchasing.

(If you want to give readers an incentive to purchase, offer a limited-time sale, or offer bonus content to purchasers.)

Make Your Giveaway Easy to Enter

Don’t require entrants to jump through hoops or answer hard questions, especially not questions they could only answer by having already bought and read your book (because that again turns your giveaway into a raffle).

State the Prize

State the exact prize up front, and the value of that prize. I’d also suggest you keep the value of your prize relatively small. A $4.99 ebook or $50 Amazon gift card is unlikely to attract attention. A Tesla will.

Provide the Odds of Winning

This can be as simple as “the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants”.

Note: This is not legal advice. I am not lawyer and am not qualified or licenced to give legal advice in New Zealand or anywhere else. If you want legal advice, you pay a qualified lawyer who is licenced to practice law in your location. You don’t get legal advice from websites or from anyone who isn’t a qualified and licenced lawyer.

Following these guidelines means you’re unlikely to run into trouble.

Unlikely, because the people who care have more important things to do than prosecute authors giving away a book or even a dozen books on their website. But that doesn’t make your giveaway legal. It just means you’re not likely to be caught, just like you’re not likely to be caught going 53 kph in a 50 kph zone on your way to church on Sunday morning.

If you want to better understand the laws surrounding online giveaways, click here to read How to Run A Website Contest (without going to jail) by lawyer and author Courtney Milan.

Run Your Own Giveaway

There are two main ways to run your own giveaway. Giving a prize to a blog commenter is probably the easiest, most common, and most enduring.

The newer method—and the method that will better help build your online platform—is to use an online giveaway tool that encourages social sharing and/or email list signups. Lets look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Blog Comments

Comments on a blog post encourage interaction. But it’s not always positive interaction, especially if the comments are of the “I’d love to win this book!” variety, rather than true engagement with the post.

The problem is this: encouraging people to comment on your blog post doesn’t contribute to your larger goals.
  1. Blog comments don’t help more people find out about you because they don’t encourage entrants to share your giveaway.
  2. Blog comments don’t encourage entrants to sign up to your email list.

Think about it: if I find a giveaway or contest that has only one entrant and I also enter, I have a 50% chance of winning that giveaway.

If I share the giveaway and more people enter, I’ve reduced my own chances of winning. Who is going to share if sharing goes against their own self-interest?

If you’ve organised a giveaway and you’re the only person who is sharing it, that’s probably what will happen: you’ll only have a small handful of entrants, and the giveaway won’t be shared beyond your faithful readers. That might work for you if your objective in running the giveaway is to reward your faithful readers. But if your objective was to extend your platform, a simple blog comment giveaway is unlikely to work.

The answer to this dilemma is to incentivise participants to share the giveaway, which is where giveaway tools are useful.

Giveaway Tools

There are a variety of giveaway tools available online. Giveaway tools enable you to

Popular tools include:

  • Giveaway Tools
  • Giveaway Tab
  • Gleam
  • KingSumo
  • PromoSimple
  • Punctab
  • Rafflecopter
  • RandomPicker
  • Wildfire
  • Woobox

These tools are used for contest-type giveaways, where there are many entrants but only a few winners (maybe only one). Most group and paid giveaways use some kind of giveaway tool.

Join a Group Giveaway

Author networks often coordinate and promote group giveaways, usually based on genre or some specific theme (e.g. in January 2018, I coordinated an Australia Day Giveaway for members of Australasian Christian Writers. The winner received a $50 Amazon gift voucher, and twelve books set in Australia or by Australian authors).

Participants are expected to share the giveaway within their own networks via a blog post, email newsletter, and social media sharing. In my experience, the more authors in the group and the more committed they are to social sharing, the better the results.

Group giveaways can use an online giveaway tool such as those listed above. The Australia Day Giveaway was run using KingSumo, which I’ll discuss more next week. We offered one prize, but KingSumo does allow for multiple winners. The giveaway had over 450 confirmed entries (and many more who didn’t confirm, so weren’t added to our email lists).

Authors can also use tools like BookCave, BookFunnel, and Instafreebie for giveaway promotions where everyone who enters receives a free ebook. I’l discuss these in a future post.

Join A Paid Giveaway

There are many marketing organisations offering paid group giveaways. For example, RyanZee’s Booksweeps offers two genre-specific multi-author giveaways each week. All entrants are added to the RyanZee mailing list, and these people are contacted the next time that genre giveaway is offered.

Some paid giveaways (including RyanZee) allow entrants to choose which (if any) mailing lists they want to sign up for. In theory, this means participating authors should be collecting interested people who won’t unsubscribe.

Other giveaways sign all entrants up to the email lists of all participating authors. This can mean a large number unsubscribe once they start receiving emails (or, worse, report the emails as spam). There are ways authors can minimise this, as I discussed in 5 Lessons Learned from Signing Up to 20+ Author Newsletters.

I discussed strategy in more detail in Six Factors to Consider in Planning an Online Giveaway. And I’ll be back next week to discuss three online giveaway tools in more detail: Gleam, KingSumo, and Rafflecopter.

Have you ever entered or organised an online giveaway? What did you learn from the experience?

Book Review - Book Launch Gladiator by Jordan Ring

Book Review | Book Launch Gladiator by Jordan Ring

Book Launch Gladiator starts by emphasising the importance of building a platform well in advance of launching your first book, with an emphasis on the importance of launching your book with a good number of reviews. He recommends some good tools, and has some good tips particularly around book promotion sites, and the importance of getting reviews early. He also has a Udemy course available free for those who purchase this book (RRP $149).

Ring doesn’t talk about pre-orders at all, which I found odd, as I know a lot of authors use pre-orders to drive early sales and reviews. He also claims reviews help trigger amazon [sic] algorithms to help your book become more visible on Amazon. I’ve never seen any evidence of this: reliable sources such as David Gaughran say sales are what count, not review numbers (although reviews provide consumer proof and may encourage sales).

I also disagreed with this statement:

“it can be very hard to be the first person to review a book.”

As a long-time reviewer (and sad person that I am), I find it’s a small buzz to be the first person to review a book (as long as my review is positive. I loathe being the first reviewer of a book I didn’t like). I would also point out that authors who follow his advice and rely too heavily on reviews from friends and family are going to run into problems with disappearing reviews, as Amazon doesn’t permit reviews from people who have a close personal or financial relationship with the author.

The author provided me with a free copy for review, and the review copy opened at the free bonus (nice) and opening chapter (fine). But the book opened after the part where the author disclosed he is a marketing coach for Archangel Ink, a pay-to-publish press, and the publisher of this book. If the book is meant to be a low-key form of promotion for the publisher, the proofreading errors (e.g. capitalisation errors) are not great advertising.

Overall, this isn’t a bad book. The information and links were relevant and useful, but there were a few too many pseudo-promotional mentions of the publisher for my taste, along with borderline reviewing advice and indifferent proofreading.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review.

About Book Launch Gladiator

Welcome to the only guide written by someone on the front lines that will show you how to succeed in the Kindle world. By learning how to become a Book Launch Gladiator you will reign victorious in the Kindle Colosseum, where many others have failed.

In this book you will learn:

  • How to make decisions on KDP Select, pricing, and most importantly, launch timing
  • How to set up your book for marketing success through crafting the perfect book description, book title, and making sure you have a great book cover
  • How to get the bare minimum of reviews for your book (and more if you want them) complete with tools and recommendations
  • What to do during launch week instead of just incessantly checking sales numbers
  • A guide to continued marketing success in your writing career

Jordan wants you to succeed as a new author, and the process packed within these pages will lead you towards your goal. It isn’t an easy journey, and this book doesn’t pull its punches, but by the end you will have a much better grasp on the process as a whole.

Learn how to do book marketing the right way, without loads of money or time. Becoming a book launch gladiator requires careful planning, and this book will be your guide to meet that end.

You can find Book Launch Gladiator online at:

Amazon | Goodreads

About Jordan Ring

Jordan is the marketing and book launch guru at Archangel Ink. He has discovered the ins and outs of launching books by writing, publishing, and launching three of his own in a short time span. He currently enjoys working closely with authors to help them find success with their own books. During the day he is a freelancing authorpreneur and at night he runs a podcast with his wife called Freedom-Cast: Leaving Normal Behind.