Sunday, 13 December 2015


In November 2015 I decided to run a giveaway for my readers - a series of downloadable short stories, called Upon a Time.

All the stories in Upon a Time are based on fairy-tales: Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty. Except they have a fairy godfather, a mirror programmer (how do you define 'fairest'), and specially engineered glass shoes.

Fun, right? Easy, right? Well, yes and no.

This blog post documents the process, partly for my own reference, so I don't repeat my mistakes, and partly for others, because I really wished I'd had something like this to read before I started.

The Story of My Giveaway

I wanted to do two things with Upon a Time

One: I wanted to thank my readers.

A side note: When you're independent, like me, your readers are the most important thing in your world. (Apart from family and friends, of course!). Traditional publishers have multiple customers: distributors, booksellers, book clubs. I have one: my readers. This does change the focus significantly - astute self-published writers have a very active social media presence for this very reason, and explains perhaps why some of the large publishers have taken a while to discover the power of directly engaging with their readership. My readers are wonderful, intelligent and so kind - I really, really enjoy talking with them on facebook and twitter. I felt it was important that I thanked them for all their support over what has been a very full-on year.

Two: I wanted to find out more about who buys my books.

So I decided to set my giveaway up as a lead magnet.

What's a Lead Magnet?

A lead magnet is an article of value for a visitor to your website. It's also a way to encourage customers to sign-up for more information from you ("to receive a free xxx sign up for our newsletter"). Why on earth would I want people to sign up for anything - I'm not a store, I'm a writer? A lead magnet is designed to extract email addresses from customers. The holy grail of marketing; a targetted market. This is a bit conflicting for me, because I wrote Upon A Time as a present, not a carrot. But what the hey, if it could be both that would be super.

So I decided to ask readers to provide their email address before receiving the link to the short stories.

I wanted to set up this short story collection as an EXPANDING collection. I love serials, and I love the idea of special stories for a select group. I also love advent calenders, the idea of opening a little door and seeing something secret inside. So I wrote this set of stories kind of like an advent calendar. Nutty, I know.

The plan for my Giveaway was that, four times throughout the 2016, I will release another bunch of short stories, for readers to download. By signing up to this collection, they will end up with, by the end of the year, a substantial free book. And hopefully, by the end of the year, I'll have enough content that I can actually put it up for sale in 2017.

Sounds simple, doesn't it?


Martin Scorsese from AZ Quotes

There is no such thing as simple 

Here are the steps (and costs) to doing this Giveaway:

  1. Write the stories. Edit, repeat. Re write.
  2. Create digital files for your giveaway. I splashed out on Vellum to produce epub and mobi and I used a template I'd already created to do the pdf. Another side note. Oh wow, Vellum is so AMAZING. I did all this formatting in an afternoon - it would have taken me all day to do this earlier. I purchased a single use license, but you pay per title, and because this is an expanding book I won't have to pay again.
  3. Engage a cover artist, or do it yourself. I engaged Paper and Sage. Because I'm fussy with my covers, I didn't buy a premade, but if I had this would have made the process a little cheaper.
  4. Build a newsletter on mailchimp. This means figuring your way through the mailchimp software. Not hard, but takes time. (I went with mailchimp because my web wizard, Doug, said it was the best for me. That's how I select website plugins: Doug tells me what to do and I do it.)
  5. Build an email header on Canva. Again, not hard, but takes time to learn the software.
  6. Build a Facebook ad on Canva. Ditto. And, oh no, because I haven't got the pro option (because I'm trying to keep everything low cost), I can't resize the email header. Solution: download the email header as a jpg and upload it again into Canva's uploads files. This means I can't change the elements within the image, but it saves me starting again from scratch.
  7. Test the newsletter. Test the newsletter link. Test everything a hundred times. It won't work the first time (or it didn't for me), so repeat and repeat.
  8. Load the files onto your web page.

Wordpress Issues

This is where it all went pear-shaped. Turns out that does not accept mobi or epub files. I spent a couple of hours googling 'troubleshoot' and finding bunches of code written by enthusiastic developers that might or might not work. But I'm not Doug: my idea of coding is to write a formula in excel. I didn't want to break my website by adding in something off the internet.

A couple of hours later I found cloud-up, a file sharing site, and recommended by wordpress so I figured probably compatible and not dodgy. I put my precious mobi, epub and pdf files on there. More testing of links, an error in the pdf, a few more fixes. Then - the files wouldn't download from cloudup onto my ipad. Aargh!

By then it was six on a Saturday and my kids and sick husband were hungry. I ordered takeaways.

Oh yes, and I'd sprained my ankle that week. It was huge and swollen and purple, but fortunately not broken. So a day sitting down was actually really good for it, but isn't it always the way, that life gets in the way of your plans?

Next Day:

  1. I embedded a pdf into my giveaway page, and that seemed to open fine. Fingers crossed.
  2. Double checked the links on the newsletter.
  3. I crafted a boosted post on Facebook, using my newly made Canva graphic, and set it off into the world. 
  4. Sent out the newsletter (with its Canva-generated graphic), into the world. 

Outcome so Far:

5 new sign-ups to my newsletter. 5! After all that work. I do wonder about this writing lark sometimes.

50 odd hits on my website. A few shares on Facebook.

I realised I might have made a mistake with the mailchimp software - I forgot to ask people to confirm their email address, so quite possibly they retrieved the file without signing up.

That's not a problem - it was a giveaway, anyway.

Motto: If you're going to give stuff away, don't expect payment

But if these people want to get the rest of the story - if this was you - you'd better get in touch, like my facebook page or something, because otherwise you'll be left hanging on, never knowing what happens to Aroha and the rose.After all, says David Mitchell, there's nothing worse than a story half-finished. It's like a half-finished love affair.

To those of you who did manage to download, Merry Christmas! I do hope you didn't have any technical glitches. And I hope you enjoy the stories.

Don't forget to check in for more. Next release is Valentine's Day.


  1. Thanks for sharing your story! I just 'learned' mailchimp, and I'm creating a new WP site. There's so much to learn!

    1. I know, right? Sometimes it feels as though writing as the easy part. All the best and good luck :)

  2. Thanks so much for your explanation of how you did your giveaway. I do one the hard way. I've got a reader magnet giveaway in a permanent-free ebook. If a reader clicks the link they're taken to a page on my website where they fill in a form with their name and email address and which book (I offer one of two in different sub-genres) and in which format (mobi or ePub). I then get that information in an email and I email them the book with a note thanking them for signing up for my newsletter. I then pop over to Mailchimp and manually add them to my list. There is an automated way to do all this through Mailchimp, but then I'd have to pay them money. :-)

    1. Ah, that's interesting. I was just thinking of something like this too. Thanks a lot for sharing!

  3. I'm a DIYer myself and easily overwhelmed as one task turns into twenty :) I appreciate your sharing your story. I'm working on a couple giveaways myself and will be testing a reader magnet at the end of the year.

    Not sure this is of any use to you in hindsight, but you can upload and store your giveaway files directly in mail chimp. Even in the FREE version there is a way to auto deliver them via direct links in the Thank You confirmation email. It's easy to set up, but too detailed to explain here [ If you want feel free to contact me. My email address can be found on my web page ] There is also a reasonably priced service for reader magnet file delivery called book funnel ($50 a year) though they may still be in beta testing...

    All we can do is keep trying and learning :)

    1. Thanks so much, Rogenna. I hope you don't mind me publishing this comment, but if you'd prefer for me to remove it please do get in touch. Thanks again for sharing :) and Merry Christmas!

  4. Rachel, this was very interesting. Your images look great. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Edie! I am such a novice that half the time I feel like a klutz, but then I guess we all have to learn somehow :)

  5. Thank you for your post. I'm still learning how to do all this stuff and it is great to hear about other writers experiences.

    1. Thanks Allison, that's what I hoped. I've learned so much from other writers that I wanted to pay it back just a little! Merry Christmas

  6. LOL. Well done. Fun, isn't it? Some days....

    1. Some days... Still, every little helps and always moving forward - that's all one can do. Merry Christmas, Lizzy xx

  7. Thanks for sharing, Rachel. Yes, it's one heck of a process. I published a new book of short stories last night (Romantic Reads Vol 3), and decided the easiest way to get it to my faithful readers free for Christmas was to make it free on Amazon for a couple of days and tell only them about it in a Mail Chimp letter. Then they can grab it if they want to. It's a bit of a cop-out, but it's Christmas Week, and every darn thing is stealing my time.

    1. I think that's a much more sensible idea! I did think about that, but because Upon a Time is an expanding set of stories I thought the first episode might be too short for Amazon and I was worried about push back...But next time, yeah, that's what I will do :) Merry Xmas, Kris.

  8. Great post, Rachel. Thanks! I hope you get many hits and sign ups. The stories look fabulous.

  9. Thanks for the post, Rachel. This is complicated stuff, isn't it?

    1. complicated for me, unfortunately! my kids don't find it nearly so hard...