Online Contest for Book Promotion


With the PR Notes Wednesday, I’d love to answer questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll go and find answers. Email your questions.

Creating a Contest as Book Promotion

Mary Nethery took the time to ask this book promotion question:
Kirby Larson and I have written Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival, and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle. I have a new picture book just out from Clarion, The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star.

Mary Nethery’s question is:

What’s the best way to do a contest with bloggers where your book is the prize (and is this strategy effective)? I see lots of that going on, but not sure how to actually implement the strategy. So, that’s my question!

To answer, I asked three authors to comment on their experiences with contests:

What was the goal of your contest?

  • YA: I usually run a contest when I have a new book released, or when a paperback version of a book comes out. For example, my most recent contest was to announce the paperback release of BOBBY VS. GIRLS (ACCIDENTALLY). It’s a fun way to promote the book and connect with readers.
  • AA: To increase readership and awareness of my blog, strengthen my writing platform. Also to thank readers for their loyalty.
  • JA: During the month of my launch, I did hope to get new visitors to my site by holding contests, but for the most part, the idea behind them was to thank people for all their support. I feel weird promoting my book by giving it away. I’ve actually never given my own book away on my site. For the most part, when I’ve had contests in the past, it’s been to give away books I love or in conjunction with authors that I’ve had on my site as guests.

How do you structure a contest?

  • YA: The last contest I had was a photo caption contest. I’ve also run book title contests and other word games contests. The first week I post the contest and the rules, and then on the next blog, a couple days later I hint at who the “celebrity” judges are and list the prizes. On the next blog, the judges are revealed. (In the past I’ve had Newbery authors, editors, agents, illustrators, indie book sellers, librarians, etc.) Each contest runs about two weeks, then the judges are given a week to select the winners.
  • AA: I find the less hoops the better. People don’t like having to do a bunch for an entry. If you ask for less, you often get more. For example, if I ask people to retweet or mention it somewhere, then often RT, FB & mention it on their blog. If I asked them to do all of that on the outset, less people will participate or they might resent all the time they have to take to do these things. I feel too that if you ask them to provide links to where they promoted your contest, it’s a negative thing like you don’t trust them. I’d rather avoid that and take people at their word, and I think they appreciate that. I do ask that all people become followers of my blog.
  • JA: Some people do really elaborate contests, but I like them to be easy for everyone. In general I do a blog post about the prize and why I’m giving it away, and then anyone who leaves a comment is put into a drawing. It gets really high tech from there – I write all the names on slips of paper and my husband draws one out of a hat!

How do you announce a contest and get participation?

  • YA: The contest are announced on my blog and on facebook. Lots of times, others will blog about it, too, and that’s fun because it draws in new readers/contestants.
  • AA: Blog about it and make sure Contest is in the title, then announce it on Twitter, FB, & forums. Many people have me in the sidebar/blogroll and the word ‘contest’ always is noticed.
  • JA: I post it on my blog, tweet about it a few times on Twitter, and usually post something on Facebook. Others tend to pick up the news and post about contests in their own social networking way too.

What reward/prize do you have for participation?

  • YA: The prizes include autographed books, and stuff I find in my office and around the house. Plus, this last time, since the judges were animators/illustrators (Tom Warburton and Bob Boyle), they each contributed autographed books, and the illustrator of BOBBY VS. GIRLS (ACCIDENTALLY), Dan Santat, drew a picture for the winner.
  • AA: Prizes that will appeal to my target audience: writers. Often I give away critiques which are extremely valuable for a writer. Do enough of these well and word will spread, and more and more people will enter for a chance to win a critique.
  • JA: Usually my prizes are ARCs or books and they’re almost always promoting the release of a book I love, often by someone I know. During my launch month, I did have other prizes that tied into the book like vegetable seeds, music CDs, bookstore gift certificates, and Restoring Harmony SWAG.
    Note from Darcy: I had to ask Joelle what SWAG was? Joelle says it’s free gifts to promote something. She used Random House postcards, magnets, post-it notes, notebooks, and totebags.

How has the use of a contest helped your book promotion efforts?

  • YA: I’m not sure, but I do know that it’s lots of fun!
  • AA: I do not have a book to sell yet, but contests have really helped my followship and increased my platform. Agents, Editors and authors mention my blog as a resource at conferences and workshops, and my blog has been mentioned in at least 1 writer’s magazine that I know of.
  • JA: It’s really hard to say. I know I got more visitors during the month of May than I normally do, but there’s no real way to tell if any of them bought the book or just wanted the prize. It doesn’t really matter to me because I do the contests for fun.

Would you use a contest again?

    • YA: Absolutely.
    • AA: I do several a year.
    • JA: I might. For my next book release, probably. And occasionally in between, like on my birthday or something. The thing is, now that I live in Canada, postage is very, very expensive, so I probably do a lot fewer contests than I would if I lived in the U.S.

    Any other tips/comments?

    • YA: Because I have both kids and adults entering my contests, I make sure that all the entries aren’t higher rated PG-13.
    • AA: Don’t make the rules of the contest complicated. Readers are giving their time by being on your blog and they appreciate it when the blog owner respects their time by not asking a lot just to enter a contest. Like I said, I find that if I only ask a little, people tend to do more than I asked in the first place, just to be nice. I think it also promotes loyalty by not asking a lot. Good luck!
    • JA: Don’t make contests too complicated or people get turned off. Also, think about whether you really want to give your own book away or not. It can come off kind of arrogant if you’re not careful. Like “Win this great autographed book by ME!!!!” I’d rather use my site to promote other writers. The way I see it, if someone comes to my site, it’s pretty obvious I have a book out and what it is, so why pound my blog readers over the head with it?

      I think that giving a book away on Goodreads is probably better promotion. A few people gave Restoring Harmony away on their site and I think the most entries one of the really popular blogs got was about 60 entries. On Goodreads over 2000 people entered to win one copy of my book.

    • Natalie Aguirre
      June 30, 2010

      Great advice. I agree making the contest rules simple is best. I tend not to enter a contest when the rules require a lot or you have to write something to win. I barely have time to work on my own manuscript.

      If I ever start a blog, I’ll be using your helpful advice in structuring any contests. Thanks.

    • caroline starr rose
      June 30, 2010

      I find contests that require you to post details elsewhere too self-serving and ususally avoid them.

      I’ve hosted several contests, giving away other people’s work. Right now, I’m hosting a verse novel challenge (read five verse novels by the end of the year). Those who complete it will go into a drawing for my verse novel ARC.

      Having read only two verse novels before I sold my own, I figured I needed to become more familiar with the genre. This has been a fun way to promote verse novels in general.

    • Cassi
      June 30, 2010

      I enjoy contests with point systems.

      The ones where you get entered for commenting but can earn other spots in the drawing if your ambitious like me.

      As a reader I find that contests sometimes make me want a book. I’ll read about it, enter, then not win but still want the book. I’m not sure how widespread that phenomena is but it works on me specifically (not all the time).

    • Abby Ang
      June 30, 2010

      Great advice! I’ve never hosted a contest, but it’s been fun participating in them.

    • Adventures in Children's Publishing
      June 30, 2010

      Fantastic tips ladies! I like that you encourage people to keep it simple. We are all short on time and a complicated contest usually leads me not to want to enter at all. May we link this awesome Q&A on our Friday blog round-up? I think it will help many people!

      Thanks so much!

    • Sharon Mayhew
      June 30, 2010

      Great post, Ladies! The contests I’ve hosted have been fairly simple…make a comment, choses a number and that’s the winner. It’s usually for a book of a person I’ve interivewed.

      I’m doing a contest later next month, it’s going to be fun…My blog is mostly about writing, but often about random life things. This contest is going to be random. My teen daughter and I have been buying random things and are planning on asking random questions (related to the goodies) and then she’s going to judge it with some friends. It should be fun. :)

    • Zoe C. Courtman
      June 30, 2010

      Amen to not making people jump through too many hoops! For me, I definitely don’t bother if there are a lot of steps to take. But I do find contests really great for increased readership – although sometimes it’s just a temporary spike. Thanks for the tips!

    • Southpaw
      June 30, 2010

      I’ve been toying with the idea of having a contest so this is all great to read about.

    • Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse
      July 1, 2010

      As a reader I find that contests sometimes make me want a book. I’ll read about it, enter, then not win but still want the book.

      I think this is a really good point and I agree–often the contest will make me look for the book when I don’t win, just because at that point I’m hooked and want to read it. It helps to read users comments about the book–like that it has been recommended by them by other people they know or they’ve heard the buzz about it, etc.

      Another thing to mention–if you do want to go the points route where you award more draws when people promote more, definitely use a form and attach it to your blog posts. Forms are very quick to fill in and there is more privacy, so people will be more willing to fill them out. If you go to Googledocs, you can find pre made forms or you can make your own.

      Another trick is to find someone who uses a form with their blog contest and then follow the link that is often included so you can make your own. This is how I found out about Googledocs forms. :)

      Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

    • Darcy Pattison
      July 2, 2010

      Great tips, Angela. Thanks!

    • Mary Nethery
      July 2, 2010

      Thanks, Darcy, Lisa, Angela, Joelle and all who shared their comments/ideas! I appreciate your generosity and the great information!