Reader confession: most of the books I currently own, I’ve received for free. In fact, I’ve won them in publisher giveaways. And now I’m sharing the secrets to my success.
The thing is, way back when I used to work in publishing, running these sweepstakes fell under my job description. And it always boggled my mind that no matter how cool the book or how widely we spread the word, at the end of the day we’d only receive a few dozen entries. The odds of winning were so high that I had to keep track of the winners to avoid duplicates too often. To be completely honest, sometimes there were fewer entries than total books we were giving away!
Once I left publishing, I knew that entering these contests would be an amazing way to stay current on the hot new books coming out. The books that they give away in these contests are semi-finished paperback manuscripts called Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) or galleys, much cheaper to produce than real hardcovers, and created solely for the purpose of giving them away to create word-of-mouth buzz and to elicit reviews. Marketing departments get dozens, sometimes hundreds, of ARCs per book, just for this purpose. (Insider secret: publishers’ marketing interns spend half to all of their time packaging, labeling, and mailing ARCs.) And, no, I have never entered a contest run by any company that I have ever worked for. I helped write those terms and conditions! I know what they say!
So, even though it may mean adding more names to the drawings and lowering my chance of winning a bit, here are my top five ways to get free books.
- Goodreads Giveaways: The giveaway section of the social network for readers is the motherlode of book sweepstakes. Seriously, they must give out thousands of books each year.
- Publishing newsletters: Free publishing industry newsletters are funded by banner ad spaces to promote new books, and usually those banner ads tout an ARC giveaway. My advice is to sign up for Shelf Awareness, both the reader newsletter and the professional newsletter. They share different content and promote different contests.
- Online book clubs: I’m honestly not clear on how this came to be, but a woman named Suzanne Beecher is the queen of email-centric “book clubs.” They don’t actually have much, if anything, to do with real book clubs, at least in my personal experience, but her newsletters give away lots of books every week. She runs First Look for Random House and Read it First for St. Martin’s Press.
- Publishers’ social media accounts: Check in with publishers on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Pinterest to participate in direct-to-customer sweepstakes (rather than promoted sweepstakes through an intermediary, like all of the examples above). I know people think more about the genres of books that they read than who publishes those books, but take a look at the logos on the spines sitting on your bookshelves and track those companies down on social media.
- Netgalley: If your goal is to read, not to keep, and you don’t mind (or you even prefer) the e-book experience, sign up for Netgalley immediately. Basically every book published in the U.S. today goes up on Netgalley, in its penultimate draft form, and you can read these digital ARCs for free. Some publishers open their settings completely, letting everyone with an account read all their books, while others release a few dozen permissions per book to normal readers (in addition to sending the digital ARCs to hand-picked industry professionals for reviews).
Happy reading, everyone, and good luck!