How Not to Run a Contest

loser-graffiti-1024770_960_720I’m a good little indie author. Really, I am. I’m working hard on building my backlist. I have a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account, and I post regularly on both. I’m on Goodreads and Shelfari and I’m even on freaking Pinterest. And I have a blog. I’m even pretty good about posting there on a regular basis – not every day, because that would make me crazy (okay, crazier than I already am, and thanks for pointing that out). But traffic on my blog is kind…of…glacially…slow.

So I thought I’d try to increase it by offering a contest. The prize was a signed copy of my latest book. Lots of people would want one, right?

I decided to tie my contest into a blog tour I was doing to promote the new book. One of the bloggers had asked me to do an interview. By that I mean that the blogger sent me about a zillion questions and asked me to answer twenty. I think these kinds of interviews are fun to do, and so I thought my blog readers might like to have fun with it, too. So I copy-and-pasted my answers to the questionnaire into my blog, and then challenged my readers to answer one of the questions better than I had. Best response would win the book.

I went back to review that post in preparation for writing this piece, and I have to tell you, it’s a little embarrassing. The post is really long, for one thing, and the contest information is not prominently displayed. In fact, it’s kind of buried in the middle of the post.

Also, I think I miscalculated by making it what amounts to an essay contest. I forgot that a lot of people who read aren’t writers. I know it’s hard to believe that there are people out there who have no interest in putting virtual pen to virtual paper and voluntarily taking a short-answer quiz – even when they get to write about themselves – but apparently it’s true.

To top it off, I knew Blogger had a technical problem that sometimes prevents visitors from leaving comments on my blog. I’d found a work-around, but not before some of my early followers had quit trying to leave comments. But because of that, I allowed entries either on my blog or on my Facebook page. Problem solved, right?

Okay. Are you ready for the result?

I got one entry. One. It was a good entry, and I did give her the book, but still…one.

The pain of that experience has faded now, and so I’m thinking of trying another contest for the release of my next book next month. This time, though, nobody will have to write an essay to win.

Have you run a contest? What worked for you? And is it okay if I steal your idea?

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

26 thoughts on “How Not to Run a Contest”

  1. I got a big chuckle (sorry) from your story. Just this morning my boss asked me to put together a book giveaway contest for a group of children’s books that had been sent to us for review. We donate a large number of the books to our local libraries but we thought a contest would be fun. I’ve spent a good part of today mapping it out–its harder than it sounds. And FB has some crazy regulations you have to follow. Thanks so much for sharing your story! I hope you will consider entering your next book in our Book of the Year competition.

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! You should pass information on your competition to the management here at IU, so we can drum up some business for you. Click the “contact” link at the top of the page.

  2. A friend had a contest on her blog to title her newest book. She was giving away a Kindle Fire. She got 1 entry. One!! and he was in a country that couldn’t use the Kindle Fire.

  3. I’ve had zero luck with contests also. I’ve done several of them through different sites who interviewed me and nobody seems to want to win my book. The only one that seemed to work was won by a woman from Scotland so I had to ship her a print book across the ocean, lol. It wasn’t cheap.
    Once again, a learning curve. I don’t think I’m going to do them anymore. Sorry about your results Lynne, but it’s good to know that I’m not the only one.

    1. I’m wondering if it’s the book that’s the problem, Martin. Next time, I’m going to try key chains. (Also cheaper to ship!)

      Seriously, there’s a thing called Rafflecopter that I’ve seen a number of bloggers use. I’m going to look into using that for this next one.

  4. Though you usually end up with several people who troll giveaways for free books, I had good results with posting a giveaway on Goodreads. Whether they truly wanted my book or not, I got my name and book title exposed to several hundred entrants with minimal effort.

  5. Lindsay Buroker has been very successful with her contests and marketing. She is willingly shared information on her blog that others would horde. Maybe pay her a visit and look through her archives.

  6. Contests seem to be a dime-a-dozen these days, but your post caught my attention because you included your picture, and the hand position intrigued me. Obviously pictures speak louder than words in an Email. Thanks for the lesson. If I notice it, I’ll definitely enter your next context.

  7. Lynne, I know what you mean. Its almost like those tupperware parties or lingerie parties you have in your house, you invite everyone, make a lot of snack foods, provide drinks and no one shows up. Been there for sure.

    I’m with Brian on Goodreads…I did a giveaway, got over 900 people who entered, four won and you can choose if you just want the winners in the US and/or overseas and you can also choose how many winners. Though I chose US and overseas (GB and Australia) there were 4 winners all in the US, but the shipping and cost of your print books are all tax deductible.

    Now here’s something else you might try. Go here: and read their submission guidelines, but I will tell you in a nutshell how it works. Hopefully I get it correct as I have done an author feature there and I will provide you the link so you can see what I did in a minute. Anyway, you write a feature about you or your latest book or a recent past book or what ever you want to write about geared toward the reader. When you get responses, you GIFT (key word here and I’ll explain that in a sec) a copy of whatever book you are talking about. You can also decide how many you want to gift. Gifting is done either through Amazon’s gift feature or Smashwords. And here’s why you want to gift your book: you pay for it, it counts toward your sales and you get your royalties off it. I had decided I would gift I think ten books and ended up gifting 8 I think. You may or may not get a review from it, and at this time I have not received any new reviews so the receivers have not left any…yet, still hopeful. Anyway, here is my link to what I did: (beware it is really long, but informative and fun I think, lol)

    RG2E is run by DD Scott and her husband and very nice people to work with.

  8. I feel for you, Lynne; my only experience of a ‘give away’ competition was when I was interviewed by Linda Parkinson Hardman on her ‘Woman on the Edge’ blog. I enjoyed the experience, but there was only a half dozen responses. Ironically, the winner of the book was someone who had read and enjoyed (‘couldn’t put it down’ was her description) another of my books, and said she had intended getting around to all of my titles. On whether competitions are actually worth doing??? I don’t know. However we have to try everything, as often as we can, do we not?

    1. At least your winner was someone who knew your work already, T.D., and not somebody who just enters contests. 😉 And yeah, sometimes it seems like promotion involves just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, lol.

  9. I’ve never entered any online contests of this or any other sort, but I was thinking about giveaways the other day and I realised the only snail mail sample I ever kept was from a manufacturer I knew and trusted. So maybe a keychain would be of more interest to blog readers – at least until they have grown to know and like an author’s work?

  10. I had one once for “Name A Novel”. Since my Preston Andrews Mysteries all use some variation of the main character’s name (Hard Press’d, Pressing Reunion, Press On, etc.), I thought I would be drowning in bright, useful suggestions. Like you–I got ONE! I did award the prize, although I couldn’t use the suggested name.


  11. Making a comment from the winner’s point of view — I won a Kindle Touch some months back but I wasn’t the first entry drawn, I was the third. I don’t know how many people entered but apparently the first two winners didn’t respond to the author’s contact emails asking for delivery instructions. He said that by the time his daughter drew my name out of the hat both she and he were a tad sick of the whole thing. So my thinking is that there’s definitely apathy towards contests.

    1. Interesting. I wonder whether people avoid entering smaller contests because they think they don’t have a chance at winning. I’m sure someone’s done a “psychology of contest entrants” study at some point. 😆

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