Quick Tips for Contests & Giveaways

by | Oct 10, 2012

When authors think about book marketing, they often begin with a groan. It seems like an endless trudge from one social media site to another, trying to spark interest in readers who have hundreds of offers, ads, and other promotions coming at them every day.

That’s not a pretty picture.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, and authors who find ways to stand out from the crowd get a lot more eyeballs on their books than those who sink without a trace.

One of the easiest ways to generate some interest and enthusiasm is by making your promotion more fun, and more rewarding for people who participate.

That’s where contests, giveaways, and freebies can boost your marketing to a whole new level. Let’s take a look at some ways you can use these reader-engagement and promotion tools to gain more attention for your books.

Contests Engage Readers

Like most of these promotions, contests are mostly used around the time authors are launching a new book and trying to get some attention while it’s new.

But you don’t have to be limited to just running contests during your launch. You can also tie them to holidays, special events, and any other time when there’s some link to the subject matter of your book, or just for fun.

And who doesn’t want to win something? What you give away is up to you, but you might be surprised how many people will enter your contest even if the prize is something modest like a $25 Starbucks gift card.

Contests bring traffic to your site, put names on your email list, and help spread your brand.

Tips for using contests:

  • Choose a prize or prizes for your contest carefully. Most authors want to give away a copy of their book, but you have to ask yourself whether that’s going to motivate people to enter. Consider giving an e-copy of your book to everyone who enters your contest and you might get a head start on your word of mouth marketing by putting your book into the hands of a lot of people over a short period of time.
  • Keep the entry time limited, since our attention spans seem to be shrinking all the time. A contest that goes on for a month will likely lose steam.
  • The bigger the prize, the more interest and attention your contest will generate. If your budget is very limited, get some other authors together and run the contest jointly, with everyone contributing to the prize and sharing in the excitement on their own blogs. You can amass a lot of books in the same genre from different authors, for instance, for a more impressive prize, or chip in and give away a more expensive gift than you could manage on your own.
  • Clearly state the rules and deadlines for the contest when you ask for entries. Make sure your rules and deadlines are simple to understand.
  • Entries can take any form you like. For instance, if you want more comments on your blog, make commenting the way people enter. If you want links back to your blog, make the entry a blog post on the entrant’s own site that links to yours.
  • Be careful what you ask for. Don’t make posting a review a condition for entering your contest, as e-retailers have to be careful about authors trying to “game” their ranking system. You don’t want to run a contest and end up getting banned or demoted.
  • When the contest is over, get those prizes out right away. Follow up to deliver the goods, and make sure you post an article telling everyone who the lucky winner was.

Freebies and Giveaways

Besides being declared the “winner,” the next best thing is to get something for nothing. Giving stuff away is one of the most common marketing techniques, and it’s easy to see why.

If I offer to give you something of value in exchange for a few minutes of your time, or your email address, or for taking a survey, you’ll balance what the cost is against your own perceived value of the “freebie.”

Most authors want to use their book as what they’re giving away but, again, think about whether your new, and therefore mostly unknown book, is really the best thing to motivate people to take part in your promotion.

More on Contests and Giveaways

There’s a whole science to running contests that focuses on social media sites. If you have a good-sized following on Facebook or Twitter, a contest can be a great way to engage with your readers, spread the word about your books, and make a lot of new fans.

For instance, you might run an entire contest on Twitter and gain a lot of new Twitter followers at the same time.

If you decide to use Twitter for your contest, you’ll want to create a unique “hashtag” so people can follow your contest. This is a way to tag tweets so they can be filtered out of the stream of all tweets, and it will allow people following the contest to stay up to date with developments.

On Facebook, the most common request is to ask readers to “like” your fan page in order to enter. That’s a very low barrier and, depending on what the prizes are in your contest, you may want to raise the bar and ask for a comment, a suggestion for topics for your next book, or for results they’ve achieved using your ideas or your program.

These forms of feedback can be very helpful to your other promotions down the road, since you are soliciting testimonials at the same time that you’re running your contest.

The best guides for authors who want to incorporate contests and giveaways into their book promotion is to see what other authors are doing, and to approach it as if you were going to enter the contest yourself. Is it worthwhile? Will the prize motivate you? Is it fun?

Be creative, and use these proven promotional tools in your book launch. Your readers will thank you.

What results have you seen from contests or giveaways? Were you happy with the result? Got any tips for us?

Originally published by CreateSpace in a slightly different form as Promote Your Book with Contests & Giveaways. Photo credit: shimelle via photopin cc

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  1. Danielle

    Thank you this is really timely and inspiring. I’m ready to run a little competition now and excited to see the outcome. Many thanks from Manchester in England

  2. Chessia

    Since we can’t use Facebook’s functionality to gather entries, what is the lowest barrier of entry for fans to enter a Facebook sweeps? I’ve been using Woobox as my sweepstakes application, and it collects entries via email address or makes users approve the app authority dialogue.

    Anything less invasive that these methods to collect entries?

  3. ymschwartz

    A very helpful article, thank you for sharing such valuable information!

  4. Tom Bryson

    Hi Joel,
    Just came across The Book Designer – great site/blog. I downloaded ’10 Things You Need To Know About Self-Publishing’ – excellent advice and tips, clear and succinct and well presented. Having published three books so far I can see how to improve my next. Thanks again – you’ve got me signed up!

  5. Barb

    Thanks, Joel and to all the com mentors for the tips. Great Post.

  6. Peter DeHaan

    Joel, this gives me a lot of ideas — and you saved me from making some costly errors, too. Thank you!

  7. Tracy R. Atkins

    Quick Question,

    For eBook giveaways, do you concern yourself with eBook security?
    I am not big on DRM, and I figure that if people are giving your book to others, it is not necessarily a bad thing, at least, in the beginning. However, I can see some areas for concern.

    So, I wanted to pose the question. Do people prefer to just give out straight Mobi/PRC/ebook format files? PDF’s of the book? Amazon Gift Cards to buy it, or gift it through Amazon (which could increase sales)?

    • Russell Phillips

      The short answer for me is no, I don’t worry about it. I send whatever format the winner prefers, usually by e-mailing it to them. If they prefer to get a Smashwords voucher or download it from my website, I’ll set that up.

      I don’t use DRM when selling either. My feeling is that it won’t stop pirates but it can annoy legitimate users.

  8. Ilana Waters

    Very timely post (at least, for me) as I’m in the process of running several giveaways together with book bloggers. Not sure if this will affect any of your readers, Joel, but if they’re in MG or YA: no collecting e-mail addresses from anyone under 13. Just thought I’d put it out there. :-)

    • Joel Friedlander

      Excellent point, Ilana, thanks for mentioning that!

  9. Jo Michaels

    I use rafflecopter for my promos. It brings Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets all to one handy-dandy widget. I’ve seen very nice response by using it, too. It captures e-mail addresses and is super simple to set up and embed, as well as being easy for the entrant to use. Great post today. WRITE ON!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Jo, thanks for that. I’ve heard great things about rafflecopter and now you’ve convinced me to go try it out.

  10. Michael N. Marcus

    A free e-book or even a p-book is not a very valuable prize. Authors and others who want to offer something more expensive than a book should check the ‘points’ they may have earned by using various credit cards.

    It’s easy to ignore this hidden asset, and you might find that you have accumulated enough points to enable you to award iPads, iPods, Kindles, Nooks, cameras, etc. without spending more money.

    You can plan your shopping to maximize points. The Amazon/GE ‘store charge’ doesn’t earn anything, but the Amazon/Chase Visa Rewards does. If you don’t have this card, you can get $30 in freebies when you get the card. If two people in your family get new cards, that’s $60.

    If you need copies of your own book to give away to friends, family and reviewers, you can get them for free with points, and also earn money from your publisher or printer, and maybe raise your sales ranking a bit.

    Even if you are not running a contest and don’t need copies of your own book, points can provide gifts, office supplies, food, personal rewards and gifts — or you can sell the stuff on eBay.

    Addendum: If you want to use books as prizes, consider bestsellers, maybe even a choice of bestsellers — instead of or in addition to your own unknown book.

    Michael N. Marcus

    • Tracy R. Atkins

      Your addendum idea is pretty interesting. You can offer a “grand prize” and bundle your book with the top 3-5 books in your category. It will give you some association credit as well and something with a higher intrinsic and monetary value.

    • Joel Friedlander


      Very interesting idea to use your points to buy your own books, don’t think I’ve run across that one before. This can be significant. For instance, we have three iPhones in our family, and all of them were acquired with points.

  11. Russell Phillips

    Quick note about Facebook: their promotions guidelines specifically state:

    You must not use Facebook features or functionality as a promotion’s registration or entry mechanism. For example, the act of liking a Page or checking in to a Place cannot automatically register or enter a promotion participant.

    It’s true that lots of competitions are run using a “like this page to enter” mechanism, but you could get into bother for doing so. The guidelines are here: https://www.facebook.com/page_guidelines.php#promotionsguidelines

    • Joel Friedlander


      Many thanks for the warning and the link, that’s important for readers to know. It’s also why many Facebook-oriented promotions ask you to leave a comment on a fan page, since you have to “like” it first.



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