Thursday, February 24, 2011

Website Contests

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:
  1.  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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
What kind of prize should an author give? Perhaps it depends if you are targeting readers or writers. I once entered a contest at C.J. Lyons’ website where the prize was a critique of a query letter, 2 page synopsis and first three chapters by an agent. My focus is on getting readers to know me. I have given away jewelry and chocolates, but I think books make the best prizes. Author Beth Trissel agrees. “For me, it (the best prize) has to be where the prize is a signed book or books. People do like those signed author copies.” If the purpose of my contest is to introduce new readers to me and my work, then it makes sense to offer my books as prizes. I can only hope that having read one of books, a prize winner will come back for more.
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!

15 comments:

  1. Hi Jana,
    I'm glad I read this! I held one contest on my blog, and at the time, I didn't think about the legalities very much at all.

    I like the book giveaway. I'm heading over to your website now with crossed fingers!

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  2. Thanks for the contest tips, Jana. You really do need to plan these things out instead of jumping in without a thought (my usual approach) :D

    Heading over to your website now!

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  3. Hi Joanne,
    I hadn't thought there could be any legalties for a little old contest on my website, but apparently there are!I guess contests need to be above board whether the prize is a book or a million dollars.

    It makes sense to have my books as prizes. If I want to have readers learn about my writing I think it's a good way to get them out there. Good luck with the contest!

    Jana

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  4. Hi Karyn,
    My usual approach too! Good luck in the contest!

    Jana

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  6. Great advice for holding contests.

    I love the contest that are made easy. In the past, I've participated in contests where the reader is to answer questions from each of the participating author's website.

    I must admit there were times I wanted to pull my hair out. There was one author's website where it was so cluttered with nonsense, I couldn't find the answer.

    One author's site didn't even have her book listed. I had a hunch she wanted the readers to purchase her book to answer the question.

    So not cool and definitely not the way to encourage the readers to come back to find out more about her.

    I wish you the best with your contest and the success of your book!

    By the way, I love the idea of winning a book from the author.

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  7. My quick take after watching a lot of books being sold. Give one away, you'll sell many more if you give them a book. Out of 17 authors one of the two people who sold a book gave an old one with it.

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  8. Good information to know, Jana. Thanks for writing this. Linda

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  9. I'm glad I found this blog, great info regarding contests, wow, I had no idea of the implications in law. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  10. Hi Karen Michelle,
    If a contest is too difficult to enter, I usually give up and move on. So if you want people to enter, make it as easy as possible. My hope is that if people read through my excerpts (the answers to all my contest questions are in the excerpts) they will be interested enough to buy a book even if they don't win the contest.

    Jana

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  11. Very good point, Mary. If someone wins one of my books I'm hoping they'll like it well enough to come back for more. It's like manufacturers who give away samples of shampoo or face cream to entice us to buy a full size bottle. It works for them, so why not for us!

    Thanks for stopping.
    Jana

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  12. Thanks for stopping by, Linda. I hope you can use some of the information.

    Jana

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  13. Dominique, thank you for visiting. All the best.

    Jana

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  14. Fabian, I'm glad you found the information useful. I hope you hold a contest and try it out!

    Jana

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