How I got 8500+ new readers on my email list BEFORE I published my first book with giveaways

How I got 8500+ new readers on my email list BEFORE I published my first book with giveaways

This post is about how I used book giveaways to build a big list of targeted readers before published my first novel – it really helped with hitting #1 and getting a bunch of book reviews quickly.

However, after getting over 50K readers on my lists, I realized I wasn’t engaging them enough – I didn’t have an autoresponder series to warm them up and get them to like me. I was building big lists but not getting enough value out of them, because I wasn’t focused on building the relationships. So recently I’ve been more focused on what to do after they’ve signed up for your list… how to turn them from subscribers to supportive fans.

Here’s a video I made for a presentation in London at the beginning of 2018, it has a lot of specific ideas.


For an in-depth tour of the various book giveaway software I use, here’s a more technical video showing how to actually set these giveaways up.

Update: I got about 20,000 new subscribers this month running giveaways. I also got about 10,000 new likes and followers on social media. They aren’t cheap, but they are soooo powerful. Now I’m using giveaways to drive book launches and get more book reviews… I’ll post more on that later.

This month I’ve been playing around with contests using Rafflecopter and KingSumo, and have gotten over 8500 new email subscribers. Contests are THE GREATEST way for new authors to build a platform, an email list, and get followers and likes to their social media account. Here’s what I learned, and how you can benefit.

1. Contests are great for engagement.

I have a list of about 12K that isn’t that engaged, I might get 10% of them to click on something (and getting them to then buy or share is unlikely). But I can do a contest for something big and fun, and get that same audience to share my thing with their friends.

So I put this contest together (free stay in a castle to write a book) – that giveaway is over but you can see how it looked.

It’s gotten 4000 new subscribers in a couple days, with about $100 in targeted Facebook advertising. To make it work better though, I should partner with a few people with big overlapping platforms (offer them a free room too if they share it with their list, etc). I think I can use the giveaway to grow the list to 10k. I don’t like reaching out and asking peers to share my things, but the castle idea is big enough most people feel comfortable sharing it. It’s free and easy to signup, so it’s not like they’re sharing a course or product or something.

I get lots of signups for low value stuff like book templates, but people don’t remember who I am. Something big like this is good for branding and visibility. Give away something awesome that people will remember.

2. Easy to build a very targeted list.

I also started this one, for 10 signed YA books (also ended). Books are a great idea because you can give away a package of bestselling books for any genre or subject; you can also ask the authors if you can buy a signed copy and see if they’ll share your giveaway with their fans. If you do 10 authors and get one of them to share your contest, that’s a big win. You can also target people who like those books or authors specifically. This giveaway grew a new email list from zero to 6500+ in a week, and I’m going to do another one next week and try to reach 10K. You could use a books-package giveaway to build a list before any product launch.

This is what I’d recommend for any new author:

Find book bloggers or authors in your genre that you want to network with. Instead of asking for a review, it would be better to start off giving – say “I want to offer a group giveaway, can I buy a signed copy of your book and include it?” Then you’re doing them a favor, and getting them involved so they’ll share your contest. If the contest goes well you can build a list and ask people to buy the books after it’s over – authors should see a bump in sales which is good for them. THEN you can ask for a review of your book, and it should be much easier (plus now you have a big list).

3. Shares, Tweets, Likes, Links

Everybody who shares your contest is linking back to your contest page on your site, which is good for traffic: also a lot of people are following me on Twitter because it tags me every time someone shares the contest. So it’s a really fast way to get a lot of targeted followers for Facebook and Twitter (good social proof when you’re starting something new and need numbers quickly).

4. KingSumo vs. Rafflecopter vs. Gleam

Update: I just discovered “Gleam”  and I like it a lot. It’s kind of the perfect blend between KingSumo and Rafflecopter: it’s well designed, adds a contest into a page or post, and has a lot of different choices and ways to enter. I especially like the “write a blog post about this”… you could JUST do that one and get a BUNCH of links back! This is a contest Scarlett Rugers is running (that’s how I discovered Gleam); I’ll probably just use it from now on.


KingSumo is more attractive, and better for just getting emails, and then encouraging sharing.

Rafflecopter is put on a WordPress page or post, so I use it for smaller contests: maybe a big one first with KingSumo to get them on a list quickly, then a smaller one with Rafflecopter where they can actually see my blog and find out more about me as they sign up.

Rafflecopter also has a lot of different features, so they can earn more points if they do a bunch of stuff. So you can get them to like you on Twitter, Facebook, join your email list, and even pin something to Pinterest (pretty awesome for getting a few thousand links from Pinterest). You can add your own too, follow on instagram, leave a comment, etc… It can be really good if you need one thing done or want to boost your numbers somewhere quickly.

I’m running a rafflecopter on this page for a book lamp. Later I might try one that’s “buy the book for 99cents and leave a review, and win this big awesome thing…”

Update: I have my own app for book giveaways now and it’s sweet:

check out

5. Genre specific prizes

Having a contest is more interesting than just publishing a book. So for example, if I’m writing a vampire romance, instead of just emailing vampire book bloggers, I want  a prize that’s so awesome even the bloggers want to win it: so they’ll share. I might do something like this:


That’s on ebay for $600.  It’s a full vampire hunting kit of awesome goodies. $600 is a lot to spend, but think about how much you actually spend on marketing in a year. With this prize I could probably grow a brand new list of very targeted readers to 5,000. Can you make your money back? It depends. I probably can’t sell them my book right away, but I could probably get a couple thousand of them to download it for free. That would spike my ranking up to the top of Amazon. If they all liked my book and I had another incentive for reviewing, I could probably set that at 99cents and continue selling well. (So you could spend $600, then wait till you make your money back, then do another promotion).

My point is: do one, big awesome contest, instead of lots of little $20 promotions that don’t work. Plus, using a contest to build a list is SO easy, and lets you control your relationship with readers, so you’ll save hundreds of hours of stress trying to tell people about your book. You can just email them.

But it doesn’t have to be a huge thing. 

Right now I’m working with Azalea Dabill to redo her author platform. These are the new covers we designed. We can find a cool dagger like that on ebay for under $50 and use that as a giveaway.


6. Targeted Facebook advertising

The trick is, you don’t want to run a giveaway that anybody will enter. A lot of people might like that cool old dagger, so I don’t want to share it with everybody. I don’t want everybody signing up, just people who might like my books.

So Azalea would want to find maybe 3 bestselling YA fantasy books and authors that are very similar to hers. She could giveaway those three books AND the dagger – and then email those authors and ask them to share (or ask to buy a signed copy if it’s possible, it’s more likely you’ll get them to share).

But even if those authors aren’t involved, you can target people on Facebook who look those 3 books or authors. You can set location and age and a bunch of other things. So you might want to define a very specific audience. For Azalea, maybe Christians between 14 and 26 who like specific types of fantasy books.

Then, you’d spend $50/$100 on ads just to them (so they will see your contest, but not everyone will). I’d spend all that money on the first day of launch, get the ball rolling and have them start sharing with their friends, who probably have similar interests. The trick is to “weed out” people who aren’t a good fit. So you want books that don’t just appeal to everybody, but books a certain type of people will know about.


EXCLUSIVE BONUS:  Download my FREE book launch checklist and discover the step-by-step publishing roadmap I use to launch bestsellers.



Some people say short contests are better, I would do at least 10 days, because every few days you can email the growing list and remind them to share and win. You can also use social proof – my first Facebook posts were stuff like “Win 10 signed books!” ; they work OK but not nearly as well as this one:

I boosted that post and it gets more engagement than other things I’ve done. And having a whole bunch of comments on the post is great for social proof – also a lot of people are liking the Facebook page even though they don’t have to to join the contest (from zero to 500+ in a week).

So if you’re starting out and want a Facebook page or group (I would recommend a group, but that’s a different topic), contests are an easy way to get a lot of likes and follows, without even asking for them. Just remember, you want to give away something they already want. You don’t have time to educate them about you or your product. You need to give them stuff they already know about and want, but wouldn’t buy for themselves.

Warm them up

Some people say contests don’t translate to sales – because people just sign up for free stuff. But you can control that by targeting with Facebook ads. Get 1000 of your ideal clients to sign up, and then get them to share with their peers. If you have high-end clients, you might need a really large package or something awesome. But try and make it fun and unique enough that they will share, so it’s about more than just the value of the prize, it has to be something cool.

The list should already be pretty warm because it’s focused (I know the people on my list want those specific YA books, so they might like similar products; or that they’re writing books so may need publishing services). But I still need to build the relationship, teach them who I am, get them to like and trust me, etc before trying to sell them anything.


KingSumo is $198 for one site licence; but I think you can use it on different sites at different times. I’m going to do different giveaways on all my sites to boost SEO.

Rafflecopter  is $13 or $84 a month depending on options.

Gleam is $39 per month.


Plus the price of the item(s), plus Facebook advertising. It’s not the cheapest form of book marketing, but most of the other stuff I see authors doing don’t work at all.

ALSO, once you get a big list, you’ll probably be paying a monthly fee to Mailchimp or your email provider. I think it’s roughly $10/1000 subscribers, so for 15K subscribers I’ll be paying $150 a month. If you aren’t earning that money back, it’s obviously not ideal.

After you get a lot of people on your list, you want to keep the ones that are interested in you and your books. For me, I might ask for beta readers, and see if I can get a couple hundred of them on another, smaller list.

For the bigger list, after you send out 5 emails are so, see if you can delete all the ones that aren’t opening your emails, or only open for free contests but don’t open the other emails you send. It’s OK to delete them if they are never going to become buyers, though it could just mean you haven’t warmed up that relationship enough yet.

Other ways to monetize your new list

It might prove difficult to use your new list to make any money, so I wouldn’t try to do it directly. For me, I’ll use my list for reviews and a boost in ranking on free campaigns, hoping that OTHER people buy the book when they see it rocket up to the top of Amazon.

But I would also recommend sharing a monthly newsletter, like “My top favorite YA fantasy/scifi/business/your-genre books of December 2015″… etc. Do it every month so they keep opening your emails. Give a brief review of them and use your Amazon affiliate link for the book you recommend. If you can get a couple hundred people to buy one of those books, you’ll make a good chunk of change.

You could also charge other authors for promotion, but I’d be wary of this. Instead I’d look for quality authors in your field or genre and ask if they’d like you to email your huge, targeted list about their book (easy way to get their attention and trust). They’ll say yes, you email and get them some sales, now they’ll be very open to working together with you or recommending your book to their followers.

But again, you might want to just burn off all the fluff, or tell people you won’t do any more giveaways and this list is just going to be used for your own books: most people might unsubscribe, but you might keep a thousand real fans. If you can keep your mailchimp list under 2000 (tip: start different mailchimp accounts for different projects, so you stay under the 2000 limit) then you won’t have to pay…


The biggest risk is: will you earn your money back?

It depends on your product and how well you build the relationship. I’m OK spending money because I’m launching 10 different series soon, which eventually will be about 50 (or 200, if I serialize them) books on Amazon. They aren’t awful and the covers are beautiful.

Are they guaranteed to make money? No. But if you’re publishing a book, you’re hoping readers are going to like it, right? There are far worse ways to spend a lot of money (like hiring a publicist or trying to get a billboard or TV appearance…)

It’s hard to make money if you only have one book. You might want to start small. On the other hand, I know that I’ve done everything I can: I’ll build a list to 10K young adult readers. If they don’t like my books, then nothing I do is going to work. But if even 1/4 of them like my books, I’ll be able to get maybe 1000 reviews if I give them a free copy and offer incentives. And if I have good looking books with 1000 reviews, they will sell, consistently, for a long time.

I’ll write another post soon with the results of all of these: how many sales/reviews came from this list I built. You can see my launch page for my first book here.

Also: I’ve been noticing, with contests, there are a bunch of fake accounts and spambots who just sign up to win stuff. That happens. I don’t know how many of my signups are fake yet, but it could be as much as 1/3… if you chose a winner, make sure they are a real person (their name matches their account, they post real stuff and not just more contests, etc). If you see someone that doesn’t look real, I think it’s fair to pick another winner.

Here are some videos I made: I made these when I was getting started. I’ve learned a lot since then so I may make another one later…

These videos are meant for authors, specifically on how to use bestselling books in your genre to build a genre specific list, but can really be used for building any kind of online platform or business quickly.

Using KingSumo to build your email list 

Advanced book giveaways with KingSumo

Rafflecopter for likes and follows

Using Gleam to boost traffic 



After several more months I learned some new things about why my giveaways are more successful than other authors who are trying this. I usually don’t use amazon credit but added it this time because 8 signed books didn’t seem exciting anymore.

★use signed books *you can get them at book fairs or events, and usually order on the website so you don’t have to stand in line.*
★target younger, 13 to 26, more likely to be excited about free books and share and comment
★ask them a question to encourage comments (leads to less add spend). This is good for me because I write young adult – people argue teens don’t have money to buy books, but they will become evangelists and help review or share; also in a few years they’ll have jobs. But if you don’t write YA, you could target 20 to 30 (depends on your genre though!)
★very careful with targeting… lots of books and authors in my genre, and usually narrowed interests, like “young adult fantasy + time travel + dystopia”
★kingsumo works better because it’s clean and simple and looks good, instead of a giveaway that’s embedded in another site or blog.
★once you’ve done some advertising and it’s going well, double down – people are much more likely to pay attention and share if they see dozens of comments and shares already, so it will build up steam. (So on a boosted post about the giveaway with comments, don’t start a new one, just keep boosting that one.)
★email them a week later and remind them to share. Email before giveaway is almost over with “last chance to share and win.”
★oh and I would also, usually, tweet the giveaway every couple days but TAG one of the authors in the giveaway, like “I loved (name of book) so much I’m including it in my ‪#‎giveaway‬ of ‪#‎freebooks‬. @authors name.” I don’t always do this, because it feels a little spammy, but almost always if you’re sharing an author’s book with a giveaway that’s free promotion for them and they’ll be happy to share it.


Watch these next!

I’m learning more all the time, make sure you watch some of my more recent videos.

The exact book marketing strategy I used to build a huge author platform quickly with KingSumo, WordPress and Mailchimp

How I used giveaways to run the greatest book launch of all time (1000+ reviews, 100K downloads, starting from zero platform).




Go from zero platform to #1 bestseller in 90 days or less with my book, Guerrilla Publishing. Download now for free and get access to my new companion workbook and book launch roadmap (this is advanced stuff you won’t find anywhere else).




  • kindlepreneur Posted

    Like i said in my facebook group, this was excellent. I’m going to have to try this sometime!

  • Antara Man Posted

    Great stuff! I got wondering about making different account on Mailchimp… I think I’ll get confused. I’ll suggest to better export a list all those who haven’t’ opened more than 10 campaigns or even none of your campaigns and then delete them on your Mailchimp account. later on or at some time you can try again but the average open rates of the publishing industry according to Mailchimp are 19%.

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      Yes, I definitely will, I’ll do some more giveaways first and keep warming them up, but then I’ll try to transition them onto a list of dedicated fans just for my fiction, or start promoting some other books, or turn them into book reviewers (to post a lot of content on my sites). And I can try to do a monthly “recommended books” and see if I make enough money from Amazon to pay for the mailchimp list (probably not…). But after a couple months I’ll probably cut the list in half, at least, if I get rid of spam or junk emails, or the people not responding. I’m going to try to get up to 20K, then boil it down to 5K very engaged readers. Right now the opening rates are over 40%, but it’s because they want to win the big prizes.

      • Antara Man Posted

        Great, keep us posted about that.

  • Derek Murphy Posted

    I just used photoshop…

  • Andre Khrisna Posted

    Hey, you have such a big list of subscribers, Derek!

    I have something that could help you save all the cost of autoresponder like MailChimp, with a simple solution that cost you just a fraction of what you have paid to MailChimp in order to get your subscribers up to date with your latest info and book launching.

    Let me know if you’re interested.


  • Tom Adams Posted

    Such a great post with lots of ideas I never would have thought of. That tip about having multiple mailchimp accounts was especially useful. I’ve been looking at Sumome and other such integrations. A number of review sites rate Icegram as it doesn’t put an obtrusive icon on your pages etc. Do you have any experience of this product?

  • Perrin C Posted

    Quick heads up, brother: using Amazon affiliate links in emails is against their terms of service & will getcha banned 🙁

    Nice article, though 🙂

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      Thanks, yeah I probably stated it wrong – you should make a post of recommended books, then email your list a link to the post…

  • Wesley Banks Posted

    Derek, now that your book, Shearwater, has been out for a bit, what are your thoughts on the giveaways you did? Did they end up building a list that boosted sales/reviews on other books?

    I’m loving the idea of a huge giveaway, but curious about the ROI.

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      It’s still the best way to build a list fast; but that’s not as good as real fanbase. Now my YA fiction readers is about 15K… but they aren’t very engaged (however, I can do more giveaways and get them to share with their friends, broadening my net).

      I also have four permafree books that get about 500 downloads a day, and those get people to sign up to my list pretty quickly – about 33 a day – and those are actual fans. It would take me a year though to grow my list big enough for a big launch… I’ll keep using both. I also need to focus on actually engaging my followers on social media, keeping things fun and interesting. I’m not great at that stuff. I’m very laid back and quiet, compared to the enthusiastic booktubers or ya reviewers…

  • Wesley Banks Posted


    I know you’re super busy, but I’m finally trying out your giveaway advice. I actually reached out to a very popular company and they are partnering with me on the giveaway, but I’m still not getting more than 100 sign ups per day.

    If you get a chance, could you maybe take a look and let me know if I could do anything better?

    FB Post:


  • Chris Leippi Posted

    Hey Derek,

    I came across this post looking for insight on how to run a giveaway. I’m the founder of Booksprout and have put together a hefty set of prizes targeted at authors (roughly $1000 value), so I obviously don’t want to screw it up! Are you still recommending that people use Kingsumo over gleam or rafflecopter?

    Also, did you write a post about your lessons on running a giveaway targeted at authors? If so, I’d love to read it.

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