You’ve probably seen many contests out there. Some writers hold a contest on their website every month. I’ve held a few contests before, offering various things as prizes. But as I was thinking about what to do for the launch of “Flawless” I started to wonder what was the best way to run a contest? And what are the kinds of prizes that draw readers to your website and entice them to buy your book?
The first place I turned was to an article written by Courtney Milan in the September 2009 issue of RWA’s Romance Writers Report. In her article “How to Run a Web Site Contest (Without Going to Jail)”, Courtney explores some of the legal dos and don’ts of running a contest. For instance, Courtney says some authors have set up the following contest: Buy her book, send her the receipt, and you’ll be entered for a prize. Unfortunately, that could land the author in a heap of trouble. Courtney says that by conducting such a contest the author is guilty of a “misdemeanor offense in California, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and a multitude of other states, punishable by up to two years in prison.”
Yikes! Good to know, Courtney. The funny thing is I was just reading some information on a promotional site and they were urging authors to set up that kind of contest.
Courtney offers the following advice for the author to stay out of the slammer:
- Provide the odds of winning. If you are giving a book to one commenter on your blog you should state that “The odds of winning depend upon the number of participants.”
- State what the prize is upfront. You can’t just say that it’s a surprise package. If you are giving away a book, give the name of the book. I suggest that you also state the book’s format (hardcover, paperback, ebook download) so the person entering the contest knows what to expect.
- Don’t make it too hard to enter. If your entry requirement states that the reader must give the name of an obscure character, the reader may not bother entering. And if she can only get the answer by buying the book, Courtney says we’re in a gray area, legally speaking. You should not require a person to buy something in order to enter the contest. The best practice is for the answers to be somewhere on your website, usually in the excerpt for that book.
- Courtney also states that to avoid problems, it is wise for the American author to limit participation to U.S. residents. Since I am Canadian, I will have to leave that advice to my American friends.
I scooted around on the net and looked at several authors’ contest pages. As an example here’s Historical author Kathryn Caskie’s contest page. The page is attractive and Kathryn makes it easy to enter. She gives a link so that the answer can be easily found and states that her books are readily available in libraries if someone wants to look up the answer there without having to buy the book. The prize is shown and the times of the draws are also listed. One other thing that Ms. Caskie does is to state that by entering in her contest the reader is also signing up for her free newsletter. Since getting the word out about your books is the whole purpose of holding a contest, and a newsletter is a great way of connecting with readers, this is a great idea. But she makes sure she tells people what she’s doing upfront.
Sometimes authors can band together to hold a contest. Author P.L. Parker says “I think the ones where it’s sort a scavenger hunt and each day another author has a clue to the next blog spot. They’re fun for everyone and get a lot of hits.” She also says that the ones with a holiday theme do especially well.
Have you ever entered an author’s contest? What enticed you to enter? Do you think contests get readers to buy an author’s books? In a move of shameless self-promotion, I will tell you that I have a contest running at my website to celebrate the release of “Flawless”. I’m offering several of my books as prizes. The contest ends February 28 so I hope you’ll drop by and enter soon!