Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bribing Readers?

I've been working on some special holiday treats for my readers over the past few days - free books, contests, and more. For instance, I've got a giveaway on Friday, when I'll be a guest at Chrissy Szarek's blog. I'm hoping to be able to get my newsletter done by Saturday, with a brand new installment of Cat Toy plus a page of seasonal goodies. And it's high time I did another contest for my private email list. I promised them one every month, but last month it just slipped between the cracks.

As I contemplate all this, I start to wonder - am I trying to bribe my readers? These days, it's hard to get anyone to visit your blog unless you're offering some sort of reward. I have to admit that except for authors who are personal friends, I don't usually host blog tours unless the author has a decent prize.(That doesn't count for my regular guests. They're not required to do a giveaway. But I do encourage them to offer something, because it does result in more page views and more comments.)

When I scan the digests I get from my lists - The Romance Studio, Lovers of Romance and so on - I realize that everyone is giving stuff away. $50 gift certificates. $100 gift certificates. Kindles and Nooks! Jeez! How can I compete? I don't want to spend more than I make in royalties trying to lure people to my blogs, but some months, I actually come close. Are readers really that mercenary, anyway? Will the authors with the deepest pockets be the ones who draw the most eyeballs?

So - if you happen to take the time to read this, even though I'm not giving away a thing today - I'd love you to leave a comment. How much of a difference do prizes and giveaways make to you? And if you are influenced, what sort of prizes are most likely to make you leave a comment?

Thanks for reading - those of you who aren't off entering other authors' contests!


Annabeth Leong said...

I've given a lot of thought to this, and I feel pretty torn. I absolutely hear what you're saying about how ubiquitous giveaways seem and the danger of spending so much on them that you're counteracting your own royalties. I experienced this to an extreme degree when I attended an erotic romance convention recently. It felt obligatory to bring swag and offer giveaways and yet there was no way anything I could afford would have stood out among the very impressive swag and giveaways others had brought. It forced me to consider the issue more deeply. Here are my current thoughts:

As a writer -- I just can't afford it, and I can't compete. I can't give away a $50 gift card, so my giveaways look small by comparison. I don't think I can see this as promo or advertising exactly.

As a reader -- I actually dislike giveaways as a reader of books and blogs. I tend to read what I consider to be "real" posts and see posts with giveaways as thinly disguised advertising or excuses to post the giveaway. (I realize the hypocrisy of saying so when I have written many posts that accompanied giveaways that I hope were also "real"). I have bought more books than I could ever possibly read, and I don't need more. If I want a book, I will buy it. The few dollars for an e-book is pretty much never a barrier for me.

My conclusion: My behavior as a reader (unless I'm weird) suggests that giveaways really aren't necessary. The financial drain and exhaustion (I find running giveaways very stressful) of offering them as a writer suggests that I need to think twice. However, I noticed something interesting at the convention I attended. The giveaways often went from one author to another, and I felt ashamed about that at first (when I won prizes, I felt I had stolen them from a "reader" who should have had them). However, pretty soon I realized that what was going on at the convention was a gift culture, not bribes or advertising (or that it was best seen that way). For myself, I decided that I cannot really think about giveaways as advertising because the ROI doesn't work out for me -- they take way more time for me to put together than you would think, and I'm a fast writer, so this is robbing me of a significant amount of story income, not to mention that they're expensive. While they do bring more comments and attention, I'm pretty sure it's not as much as I get from, say, appearing in a Cleis anthology. I can, however, participate in gift culture (and I think there may be some social obligation to do so--one doesn't want to be the only one at the office party who didn't participate in the Secret Santa). I have great love for my writer friends, I'm interested in meeting readers, and giving presents can be fun. My current policy is that I will do giveaways if I think it will bring pleasure to me to do so, or if I feel it's a necessary part of gift culture, but I really don't want to break the bank in the process, and I don't want to feel that I'm not doing promotion properly if I don't.

This is still a fraught issue for me, and I doubt these are my final thoughts. I do think there is a lot of peer pressure to offer expensive, impressive giveaways constantly, and it is creating madness. Some authors are trying to make a living or at least not lose money on writing, while others are simply excited to share their book and don't need to make money or are fine with taking a net loss in order to be more widely noticed. The result is that the conversation around this gets very strange because people in very different positions are operating in the same playing field without necessary outlining their underlying goals. I'm pretty sure based on my own math that any author who wants writing to be a net financial gain needs to be extremely cautious about giveaways (e-book backlist is one thing, a $50 gift card quite another).

As usual, I've given you a comment about as long as your post. Brevity is not my virtue.

Colleen C. said...

There are blogs I visit everyday to see what is going on... this is one of them. I will admit to looking to see what is posted, but a lot of time I do not post a comment. My comments when I do make them are usually short because I have a hard time putting thoughts down into words. I have found so many new authors from blogs and wish I could buy every book I see and like. I love to enter contests and try to win prizes just to add to my reading, but it is not needed for me to visit and look around. I still buy books from a wide variety of authors, but only what my book budget allows.

Unknown said...

At a certain point all the give aways are like driving down the freeway, there are so many signs you lose the scenery. As writers and especially for you bloggers don't you hope people will flock to your blog to bask in the light of your insight? That's a give away ,isn't it?

Lisabet Sarai said...

Thanks for your thoughtful - um -essay, Annabeth! ;^)

I actually enjoy doing giveaways, especially of my books. On the other hand, I recently did a survey of my so-called "readers", people who follow me around on my blog posts, and found that many of them had actually never read one of my books. Now THAT bothered me.

I'm not trying to make my living writing - I write for the joy of it and for the sharing - but sometimes it's a bit discouraging.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Thanks so much for your loyalty, Colleen. And for taking the time to comment when you say that it's hard!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Well, I don't flatter myself that my blog posts are "gifts" (unlike RG's!). Good analogy, though.

Lisabet Sarai said...

One comment I would like to add. I have discovered that many of my readers function on pretty limited budgets. So free books or gift certificates really do mean a lot to them - otherwise they wouldn't be able to afford their reading.

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