Monday, October 19, 2009

Website Contests

The Wild Rose Press will be sending my novella “Burning Love” out into the world on January 20, 2010. This release date is crucial. Readers are most likely to buy a book around its release date. But they can’t buy a book they don’t know about. One of the ways to let readers know about your new book is to hold a contest on your website.

Readers love contests. I’ve held a few contests before, but as I was thinking about what to do for the launch of “Burning Love” I started to wonder about 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 to was to an article written by Honorary Prairie Chick 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, this 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 to keep the author 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 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 is too difficult 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 the 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 her contest. She gives a link so that the answer can be easily found. 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 of 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 kinds of prize should an author give? Perhaps it depends if you are targeting readers or writers. I recently entered a contest at C.J. Lyons’ website where the prize was a critique of a query letter, 2 page synopsis, and first 3 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 my 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 arrival of “Burning Love” in January. I hope you’ll enter.


Janet said...

I usually enter contests that have prizes geared to query letter critiques, agent reads, and the like (didn't know about CJ Lyons - bah). Then there's those book draws that you're entered into just by commenting. But I've never entered an actual contest to win a book on an author's website. So I have no advice for you, Jana (other than you should go in and re-edit this post to include the cover pic of "Burning Love" - sorry, I'm all about promotion :)

Very informative post - didn't know there was so much information about running contests. K - going to your website to check out your prize.

Janet said...

I'm back. Great contest. And nicely formatted. I like how you used the excerpts already on your website - and the prizes are great. Good luck with it :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I didn't know there was so much to know about running a contest either! And okay, when I get home I'll put the cover of "Burning Love" on the post. I'm really lousy at promotion. Wanna be my publicist?

Definitely check out the CJ Lyons contest. It's still open.


Karyn Good said...

Can't wait for January 20, 2010. We need to start a countdown for Burning Love.

I didn't realize there was so much to think about when running a contest. Thanks for sharing the tips you've learned. I don't think I've ever entered an online contest in the hopes of winning a prize but I'll have to start.

I think you're contest page looks great. You've followed all the rules in offering a great contest. Wonderful prizes! I'm glad to see you'll be going home and adding the cover of Burning Love to the post.

Good luck with your contest!

Jana Richards said...

Thanks Karyn,
Just got home and will add the cover to my post ASAP. Thanks for the feedback.


Judy said...

I love contests. I love the winning part the best. I have found quite a few new authors from contests. I also did not know all the rules and regulations of an author having a contest!! The only contests I do not participate in are the ones that have you buy the book. I have participated in a couple of these in the past, but when it came time to find out who won, I still don't know who won. So I wonder, did anyone win??? So, as I said, I just stay away from those contests.

Congrats on your new release!!!

Mona Risk said...

Autumn, thanks for the graet advice. I plan to run a contest in December to celebrate the release of my second TWRP book, Rx for Trust and your post came very appropriately. My prizes are usually pieces of jewelry or items bought in foreign countries and difficult to find here, therefore attractive. I've also given books signed or not. The idea of a critique is super. I'll keep it in mind.

Mona Risk said...

Oops, Jana, forgive me for using the wrong name. Author's distraction. LOL

P.L. Parker said...

Contests are fun, getting people to the site is the hard part.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Judy,
I've never actually seen one of those contests where you have to buy a book to enter a contest but like I said, I did see it advertised as a good way for an author to promote a book. I don't think I would enter a contest like that either.

I had no idea a person had to be so careful setting a contest, but it makes sense. Like you say, something like listing the names of the winners just lets everyone know that yes, there really were winners to this contest!

Thanks for responding.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Mona,
If you have something really unique to offer as a prize, like something from another country not readily available in North America, or an offer of a critique, I think it could really attrack people to your contest.

Good luck with your new contest and your new release in December.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Patsy,
No kidding it's hard to get people to a website! I just have to hope that my contest attracts a few new readers to my books.

Thanks for stopping by.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, I don't have time to visit all the blogs I want to in a day so I keep a bloglist of those I really like and watch their headlines. I've won many books from Petticoats and Pistols and Writers at Play as well as other blogs which regularly host authors I like to read.

That's not to say I only visit them when they have a giveaway but from my bloglist, I usually pick 2 or 3 to visit daily regardless if they're giving something away.

I guess for me then, you could say I'm at the point where it's nice to win but I have to weigh my time carefully.

I've also entered Rachelle Gardner's contest where the prize is a critique but since she's now interested in my ms, I leave that contest for others. Hers was the only one of this type that I entered, however because I was targeting her.

I do sign up for newsletters but only if I'm interested in the author and not because of the giveaways. I get enough email without all those extras.

Oh, btw - I stared reading Her Best Man when I uploaded it to the Sony eReader I was test driving this summer. I was half through when my daughter wanted to borrow the eReader when Nelson drove her to Calgary. I gave it to her with strict instructions to give it back to him when they got there. She didn't. However, she did mail it to me and it arrived as I was leaving for Denver. No time to read there. And no time to read when I got back. :( Next thing I knew, I was mailing it back. I'm going to try to upload it to my iPod one of these days because I really want to finish it.

And while I'm sitting here waiting for my meds to kick in, I do have time so I'm going to check your contest now.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, I just went and entered.

I had to come back and say I really like your writing. No wonder your reviews are so great.