Social Media Book Giveaways & You: Why Giveaway Culture Matters

Online book giveaways are becoming pretty standard in the publishing industry’s marketing toolbox—so much so that readers have come to expect them. Giveaways familiarize readers with book covers and copy, increase the number of reviews they receive, generate pre-publication social media presence, and build loyalty around both the author and the publisher.

Certain publishers, of course, have the distinct advantage of resources that allow them to go all-out for their giveaways. (Penguin, I’m looking at you. Penguin Random House recently held giveaways for 25 bestsellers of 2016, a 50-book library in the genre of the reader’s choice, and a collection of 75 Little Golden Books. They don’t do these things halfway.)

Regardless of the size of the company, publishers’ social media accounts are constantly promoting their most recent giveaways. Giveaway posts on social media can also serve as a reminder to readers that they’re an actual business. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the publisher you follow on Instagram actually sells books and doesn’t just take pretty pictures. I mean, when I take pictures of books with a latte and post it on Instagram, it looks pretty much the same as the social media content of even the biggest publishers. Jumping in once in awhile to say that readers can enter win a free book also works as a reminder to buy books.

Publishers use a variety of methods to market their giveaways. They may offer book-themed goodies like a tote bag, or a book for both you and a friend you tag in comment to spread the word, or an entry if you follow them, or an entry if you share a post, or an entry if you join a mailing list, or all of the above. The same basic principle always holds true; giveaways are driven by numbers. How many people can you get onto your mailing lists or to follow you on social media for each book you give away? Small publishers are generally unable to hold these massive book giveaways to generate readership, social media buzz, and mailing lists. And from this strictly-numbers view, it seems as though there is no value for small publishers here at all—it’s just too costly for such little influence.

But I’d argue that there is a value to participating in book giveaway culture that doesn’t initially come from generating numbers: showing a willingness to engage and give and create a tangible connection with readers, an excitement that only getting a book gift in the mail can offer. Perhaps a smaller publisher’s goal is not lengthy additions to their email list, dozens of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, or their cover shared far and wide across social media platforms, but simply strengthening the relationship between a publishing house and its readers.

Small publishers don’t need to give away fifty free copies of their books (as in a current giveaway of All the Light We Cannot See from Scribner). Book giveaway culture allows for offering just a single prize from a small publisher to have an effect. While mailing lists and Goodreads reviews won’t skyrocket as a result, giving just one book away creates the same possibility for that tangible connection with a publisher, the same pre-publication hype, and the same magic of getting a fresh new book in the mail.

Tied Up in Fifty Shades of Grey

During my time in the book publishing program, I’ve forcibly read genres and specific books that I otherwise would not have touched with a ten-foot pole. Much like anyone, I have my own stomping grounds in the world of literature, and that naturally excludes some genres. This is detrimental because the odds are not in my favor that I’ll work on a book or in a genre that I love. It’s a simple fact of how the industry operates, so it’s in my best interest to embrace the entirety of literature.

The bane of my literary existence is the romance genre. I’ve never actually read a book that’s been strictly billed as “romance,” simply because there’s zero appeal to me. I barely even tolerate on-screen romances; I’m that guy in the theater who rolls his eyes and sighs whenever something romantic happens. To say that I’m a cynic is the greatest understatement of all, and if I’ve no patience for romantic shenanigans in a movie, what are the chances I’ll tolerate it in a book?

These realizations made it obvious to me that I should try to expand my horizons, and with that goal in mind, I chose the most popular romance book of the last few years that I could possibly think of—Fifty Shades of Grey.

Despite the book’s press coverage, its sequels, and a burgeoning movie franchise, I knew very little of the book’s content. I had no reason to pay attention to it, so it mostly flew under my radar. I knew of it, and like everyone else who has a pulse and can read, I also knew that it’s terrible, but not specifically why. I did my best to set that judgment aside, even though the cashier at Powell’s scowled at me for buying it.

It sat on my desk untouched for several days until I worked up the courage to actually open it. I envisioned myself slogging through all 514 pages bored out of my mind. By page 10, I immediately regretted not purchasing wine beforehand. I groaned louder and louder with each page turn until something wondrous began to happen . . .

Somewhere amidst the total lack of character development, the nonsensical narrative, and the completely unlikeable characters, I began to laugh. Not just laugh, but knee-slapping, body-shaking, oh-my-god-I-can’t-breathe laugh. I had no idea that I could interact with a book much in the same way I can interact with a movie that’s so bad that it’s occasionally good for all the wrong reasons.

After reading the book, it’s obvious to me that the selling point is its apparently racy and salacious content. Take out the sexy bits and the reader is left with a very long and very dull list of happenings. This is ironic to me because the romantic moments of this book are anything but. Fifty Shades is as sexual as a phone book and exactly as erotic as a seventh-grade biology book, if it had also been written by a seventh grader. Needless to say, the book’s “eroticism” left me in stitches. I stumbled through those moments due to my uncontrollable laughter, and—no exaggeration here—I laughed until I cried. I even dropped the book multiple times.

As I’m not a savant of the genre, I’m not about to make any assertions about what a romance novel should and shouldn’t be. I do have a suspicion, however, that clumsy sex metaphors, pointless expositions (notably, “Oh my!”), cheesy innuendo, and incessant murmuring do not a good novel, romance or otherwise, make.

My first foray into the romance genre was not a success, and I’m not especially jumping at the opportunity to wade back into it. If Fifty Shades is indicative of the genre to which it belongs, romance novels simply aren’t for me, and that’s fine. Any book I read has exactly fifty pages to hook me, and the fact that I finished this novel is a testament to how much I wanted to at least try to make this work. I’m certainly open to suggestions from those who favor this genre, though. It’s entirely possible that I just haven’t found the right romance novel.

At least I can rest assured that I know all of this for a fact now, instead of just assuming it. If I’m forced to read or work on a romance novel in the future, chances are that I can relax, sit back, and laugh my way through the entire ordeal. If I’m lucky, though, the next romance novel I read will also contain such gems as, “His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel . . . or something.” Yes, something indeed.