How to host a book contest

book contest

Do you want people in your social networks talking about your new book? Host a book contest! With the right prizes, this promotional tactic can generate book sales, blog subscribers, Twitter followers, or Facebook fans (or all of the above).

Book contests are easy to implement and inexpensive, and they offer wonderful opportunities for you to connect with your readers and those who should become your readers. They also give your friends and fans an opportunity to “introduce” you to their networks.

Book contest guidelines

Here are a few guidelines to get you started:

Decide what you want to accomplish.

The contest goal is important because it helps you structure the contest and establish rules.When Barbara Techel hosted a recent contest to promote Class Act: Sell More Books Through School and Library Author Appearances, she wanted people to buy the book, but she also wanted to generate more authors as Twitter followers because they’re the book’s target audience.  Other common contest goals include increasing the number of blog subscribers and Facebook fans or generating pre-publication orders.

Be creative.

Host a contest before publication to help select your cover design or to name a character in the book.

Don’t require a purchase.

It’s against the law.

Determine your prize.

Give away five copies of your book; offer the books of other people (get free shipping worldwide at www.BookDepository.com) when you’re working to generate more followers, subscribers, or fans; or use other merchandise as prizes. Just make sure your prizes are appropriate for your target audience. Techel attracted authors by offering prizes donated by businesses that help authors market their books.

Set a time frame.

Most book marketers agree that seven to 10 days gives you enough time to build momentum and get action.

Establish rules.

How do people enter? How do they win? If entries are judged, be sure to explain how that happens. To generate more Twitter followers, Techel asked people to follow her on Twitter and retweet a specific tweet posted on her contest website page.

Encourage people to share contest information – and make it easy for them to do so.

Most of us are willing to help you get the word out – we just need to be reminded to do it and sometimes instructed how.

Be organized.

No matter what system you use, make sure you’ve got a way to track entries. For example, if you’re running a Twitter contest that requires people to follow you and retweet the specific contest phrase, include a unique contest hashtag. It will make it easier for you to track and gather entries. In situations where the winner is selected at random, use Random.org. It’s easier than doing it yourself and nobody can challenge the outcome as biased.

Announce the winners.

This helps extend the life of the contest and generate even more awareness.

Match the right prize with your audience’s interests, and you could have the formula for significant viral exposure.

Have you hosted a book contest? What was the outcome?


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Sandra Beckwith is an award-winning former publicist who now teaches authors how to market their books. Three groups have recognized her BuildBookBuzz.com site as an outstanding resource for authors, so you know her advice is author-tested.

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4 Responses to How to host a book contest
  1. Jane Buttery
    October 2, 2011 | 1:17 am

    Thanks for all the tips in one place. I will hold onto them. I have done a lot of school visits and it pays off for a while but does not give me,as an author, a lasting group who may like the next book since I tend to write a novel and then a picture book.
    I’ve used power point presentations and offered a free book with a school booking which was successful.
    I also encouraged new ideas at a writing seminar in a classroom and went back to talk to them about their resulting work.
    Giving out cards at a fair and having a raffle brought me email addresses at the cost of two give away books.

  2. Karin Bilich
    October 4, 2011 | 10:05 pm

    I totally agree. In fact, I’m going to share your blog post on Facebook. In the meantime, here’s an example of an author contest that started out as a brilliant idea … it just was never executed: http://www.smartauthorsites.com/authorsblog/2011/10/a-great-idea-for-an-author-website-but-poor-execution/

  3. Sandra Beckwith
    October 4, 2011 | 10:13 pm

    Great link, Karin, thanks! I agree — it’s a great idea, but why send out a press release announcing it, but never do it? Hmmm….

  4. Martha Steward
    October 6, 2011 | 5:13 pm

    In the past I have provided a free copy of Darby’s Story signed and dated to book review blogger, they in turn give the book away. Great article. Thank you. I shall follow these suggestions for the second book.

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