Contests and Giveaways

Recently I took part in an authors’ discussion group on the topic of promotional events, specifically contests and giveaways. Reader participation, we all agreed, had gone down. Why? Were readers simply tired of the constant barrage of contests? Did readers feel that ebooks weren’t “good enough” prizes to bother with? For that matter, did holding contests and offering gifts and prizes actually help an author gain new readers? We batted questions around for days and never came up with any definitive answers.




I realize now, as authors, we were only looking at one piece of the puzzle. This became clear to me a few days ago when I came across a readers’ chat on the same topic. Their questions were a bit different, and some of their comments about contests and giveaways drew me up short.

Today, I’d like to open the discussion up to authors and readers alike. There are some important issues that need to be addressed.

  • Readers I listened to complained that they didn’t always receive the prizes they had won. When they later contacted the author to ask about it, their emails and messages were ignored.
  • Readers mentioned feeling a bit “miffed” when they won an ebook, then discovered the author was giving it away free on Amazon to anyone who wanted to download it.
  • Readers questioned whether or not “random drawings” were really random. Many suspected that authors chose the winners, sometimes awarding the best prizes to friends, or picking specific winners for other reasons.
  • Readers said authors seemed to expect 5-star reviews in return for free books.

Now, from the authors’ point of view, let me share a few of our questions and concerns.

  • Authors have complained that readers no longer seem interested in winning ebooks and now expect bigger and costlier items.
  • Authors wonder if readers are searching out contests offering gift cards or merchandise only in hopes of winning, not because they are interested in the author or the books.
  • Authors feel that readers place little value on “free books” and tend to give horrible reviews.
  • Authors admitted they’re holding contests and giveaways in hopes of attracting new readers but tend to see the same readers winning over and over again.
  • Authors complained that readers make it difficult or impossible to contact them, failing to leave names or email addresses, or failing to respond to notifications about a prize they’ve won.
  • Authors were a bit miffed when they gave an ebook to a winner only to have the gift recipient exchange it for a gift card instead.


Finally, here are a few things to think about, and then I’ll turn it over to anyone who would like to comment and share a thought or two.

Authors offer prizes and giveaways at their own expense. If we give books away, we pay for those books. For paperbacks and other prizes, we also cover the cost of shipping. Needless to say, most of us probably choose the least expensive shipping method available — which, of course, means it will take longer for the books to arrive.

Yes, we want you to read our books, and yes, that’s why we offer prizes. Of course, we hope you’ll accept the gifts we give you, and even more, we hope you’ll read them, enjoy them, and review them. But, we have no control over what you do. If you like our stories, we hope you’ll check out other books we’ve written. If you don’t like our stories, we’d still like to hear from you, to know your thoughts, and to have a chance to thank you for your honest opinion.

What’s happening today is that there’s a lot of mistrust arising between authors and readers. It shouldn’t be that way. Authors need readers, and readers need authors.  Those are the simple facts.

Unfortunately there are a couple other facts we have to face.

  • Fewer authors are giving away ebooks or other prizes.
  • Fewer readers are entering author-sponsored contests.

Those two facts obviously go hand-in-hand, so here’s the real question: Should we forget contests altogether?

I would hate to see that happen. Although I’ve heard a lot of complaints — from authors and from readers — I’ve heard a lot of good things, too.

I’ve chatted with readers who love romance novels but whose circumstances don’t allow them to buy all the books they want to read.  I know, too, how much I enjoy sharing my stories with readers and how happy it makes me when a reader gets excited over winning. I’ve made a lot of good friends by holding contests and giveaways, and I’d like to believe that by giving away a few books, I might gain a few new readers — readers who will go on to buy my books in the future.

So, now, I’ll step aside. I’ve shared my thoughts, and I hope you’ll do the same. Author? Reader? I want to hear all sides to the story. What’s good, what’s not-so-good, why you enter, why you don’t enter. The floor is all yours!





22 thoughts on “Contests and Giveaways

  1. I do love giving stuff away (and it IS expensive). I’m not sure it ever garners any new readers for me, though. As one person noted in the article, often we see the same names making the rounds of the bloghops and contests. One thing that gets me every time — when you send something out, either by regular mail or email, and the response is crickets chirping. Hate having to follow up with someone to make sure they got something. Someone from overseas recently contacted me for bookmarks and swag. Sent the mailing to Europe — and it wasn’t that cheap. Pretty sure it should have arrived by now. But I’ve heard nada. I don’t expect a review when I send someone something. But an acknowledgment that it arrived would definitely be welcome!

    • I agree. I try to keep in touch with winners and follow up with them, but I know they’re as busy as I am, and I don’t want to be a pest. And international readers…that’s another issue I’ve heard mentioned. Some feel they’re being short-changed because contests are often limited to US only. As you pointed out, of course, shipping costs aren’t cheap, even within the states. Thanks so much for adding your thoughts to the discussion.

  2. Kathy Heare Watts says:

    Ok, I am a reader and I win lots of stuff here on Facebook entering these events, rafflecopter and giveaways. I would admit I questioned do they really give away Kindles. I have to say the answer is YES! I won a Kindle Fire HDX in June from a contest by an author, was it random, yes, there was 44,572 entries and I won it. I opted for the paypal cash instead of the Kindle, took the money and added to it and upgraded the Kindle to the 64GB.

    Ok, I have won all kinds of things, jewelry, tote bags, purse, signed paper books, ebooks, etc. I post a picture of the items that arrive in the mail along with the author’s name, leaving links to their Amazon author’s page. I tag them and if their page allows it, it will show for other’s on their site to see. I have tried to start leaving a message via Amazon when they gift a book that way. If the gift is mobi or pdf, I thank them but usually no posting on FB.

    Have I won gifts and never received, yes, even with reminder emails. The ones that seem not to come are usually from events where the author has to notify another author who has donated. I save emails and PM on Facebook and then when the item comes, I let all parties know. But I have never received many items and after a few follow-up PM or emails, I decided to just forget it, that I am not going to see it.

    I can not begin to tell you have many new authors I have found by doing blog hops, entering rafflecopters, following on sites. I am invited to new events all the time, I am on several street teams on book sites too. I am so busy reading ARC books now, that I can’t pick and choose just to read. I have built up a reputation because when I read a book, I post reviews at Goodreads, Amazon and BN. I started by seeing an author post, if I provide you a copy of an ARC would you read and review. Now I am getting PM on Facebook and Goodreads asking for reviews. My TBR list is always long, and I have over a dozen from June that still didn’t get read. I am learning to say no on some of the ARC books. I do read for one company. I have even been a judge for Passionate Ink, where I read and judge 17 books in May.

    I am a serious reader, having read over 160 books already this year, and yes, reviewed. I even save my reviews in Word doc. Do author giveaways help, I sure hope so for them, I know PERSONALLY, I have purchased more books from many of the authors after finding them in a giveaway. Will that always be the case for others, I don’t know. I will also say that I have found many authors by first getting one book free, especially series, and then I want to buy the next ones in the series. Also, book trailers sell me on many books.

    • So glad you dropped by to share your thoughts, Kathy. I will admit, you’re the first reader I’ve ever heard say that book trailers sometimes sell you on a books. That was another author discussion once. Most of us questioned the value of doing book trailers. This is exactly why it’s so important that authors and readers share their thoughts. If authors know what readers are looking for, we can give you more of what you want. Tell us how to win your hearts — or well, at least your brains. We also need to know what you don’t like. Personally, I think contests are important, but maybe that’s because I’ve had fairly good results with them. One of the most difficult aspects of promotion is that many times, it’s almost impossible to know if our efforts have had any real results. With contests, I know I’ve had positive results because of the friendships I’ve developed with readers. To me, a reader’s friendship and support is every bit as — if not more — valuable than the royalties I earn when that reader buys one of my books. To me, that’s what promotion really is. It’s not all about “selling books”. It’s about building a readership. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on the topic. Oh, by the way, I do hope you’re coming to the launch party for Keeping Faith. Yep. Lots of prizes. Ebooks, Paperbacks, and Gift cards, too. Lots of prizes, lots of authors. Hope to see you there!

    • Kathy, what a wonderful post. I’m doing my first contest/giveaway so I’m not sure how it will go. Reading your post lifted my spirits. Thank you. You are the ideal reader!!


    • Thanks for your comments as a reader. I have not participated in too many contests and wondered how motivational they are promotion – wise and if they do really attract new readers. You have answered several questions.

  3. I’m having my first ever blog tour (with ChickLitPlus) and contest July 8-14 so this is all new to me. I chose to not use my ebook as a prize. The winner will have the choice of a $15 Amazon GC or Paypal cash. Bonus points for entries will be subscribing to my newsletter and/or buying the ebook sale priced at .99 cents as those are my two goals. Thanks for your post. I do hope to get new readers but am more prepared now in case I don’t.


    • You mentioned Paypal cash… that’s one I never thought about. Good luck with your tour. Would you be interested in doing a “quick chat” here at the ABC Author Book Chat blog? Or, I could schedule you for a new release post, although I don’t think there are any openings until early next month. I’d love to hear back from you after the tour with any ideas or suggestions you’ve picked up from the experience. Thanks for dropping by!

  4. melissamaygrove says:

    I found this post very interesting, especially the comments from readers. Some of them drew me up short, too! *shakes head* Why would an author give away an already free ebook?

    The only giveaways I’ve been a part of (entered or hosted) have mostly involved other authors. I guess I’ve been lucky. Winners and hosts have interacted with me very professionally.

    Regarding the likeability of prizes… I won’t enter a giveaway for small swag. The prize has to be something more substantial for me to go to the trouble of entering. Because I sometimes already own the book in question, I prefer being given a choice of a copy of the book or a gift card. I often do it with my giveaways, too. Also, anytime I email my winners about a book prize, I give them the option to give it as a gift. The only condition I put on it, since I don’t ship overseas, is that the recipient also be located in the US if it’s a paperback.

    I offered Paypal cash once, when my winner of a $50 gift card (my debut blog tour prize) lived overseas. I picked two winners for that contest (1 for gift card and one for free, signed book), and BOTH of them lived in the UK. LOL

    When giving away books, I offer an ebook option for international entrants, and make this clear upfront. I use AUthorgraph, so they can still get an autograph. I’ve also offered merchandise from Book Depository (less of a selection, but free worldwide shipping).

    I do appreciate it when a reader takes the time to write a review, but I don’t expect a review when I give books as prizes. Because honestly, if my book is not the winner’s genre of choice, I’d rather not get a review than to get a bad one because the book wasn’t a good fit for them.

    As far as winners not giving names and email addresses, I don’t have that problem because I use Rafflecopter forms. If entrants don’t do the required basics, they are disqualified before I ever pick the winner. I don’t let it get that far. “Winner(s) will be chosen from eligible entries.” (Key word: eligible.) I also include in the rules that if they don’t respond within a certain number of days, they forfeit their prize. That way I’m covered.

    A Rafflecopter form will post the winner(s) if you tell it to. That eliminates the problem of people worrying whether it was truly random. I’ve also seen people use and post a screen shot of the winning number as proof.

    • I use Rafflecopter for a lot of drawings, but to be honest about it, I hate the looks of the Rafflecopter. Yeah, I know. Picky, picky. It does make it easy to select winners, and I do like the fact I can display the winners on the Rafflecopter. Even with Rafflecopter, though, I’ve had instances where a reader hasn’t responded right away. In one instance, I was about to select a new winner when I finally heard back from the reader. She’d been stuck with no internet access and had only then gotten on line and found my email telling her she’d won. Last week, I did an unplanned giveaway on Facebook. I was asked to fill in for another author with Secret Cravings who couldn’t be there for the June release party. Since I have a book that’s being released today, I stepped in and took the spot. I did three different games/giveaways, and at the end of the event, I contacted all three winners. I heard from two, chatted with them, and they’ve both received their prizes. I’m still waiting to hear from the third. I don’t have an email address for her, and she doesn’t allow anyone to post on her timeline. I’ve sent a private message and also made a public post on the event page — but, no response. I also mentioned to the publisher that I hadn’t heard from one winner. It bothers me when I make an attempt to contact a winner but can’t. Oh, well. We do our best, and that’s all we can do. Thanks so much for dropping by and adding a few new points to the discussion.

  5. The ultimate reason why authors give away prizes is to attract NEW potential readers to discover their books. Since I began publishing 3 years ago I’ve noticed a huge inflation of prize amounts. When I began $25 was a great price. Now, even a $50 prize doesn’t seem to attract new readers.

    So I’m torn between raising the $amount, lowering the $ amount or doing a tour without a prize just to see how that goes..

    For my new series coming up, I’ll probably try the raising the dollar amount, because I don’t want to shortchange my first book of the series in any way.

    I have constantly heard the advice NOT to give away your current book in a contest, because it will remove the immediate impulse to buy the book for everyone who visits your page…they’ll wait just in case they are the winner of the free book.

    So for me, beginning a new series in a new genre, I feel strongly that $$$ is the way to go.

    Now, to problems I’ve incurred when receiving gifts.

    The author’s name is left off the envelope, so I don’t know who it came from. I just have an address.

    Or in a recent case, I need an email address to thank the author for a hosting prize, but the tour was handled by a third party, I don’t have their email. Which makes it hard to respond and thank them. And one recently isn’t on the social networks by his pen name. So he thinks me an ingrate, while I ponder how to communicate with him.

    I guess I could try contacting the third party tour service and see if they will give me his address.

    Anyway, my point being, thanking the giver is sometimes hard to do.

    • Excellent points. I’ve been concerned, too, by the “maybe-I-should-wait-and-hope-I-win” possibility. Right now, for instance, my newest book was released today. At the launch party (10 days from now) I’ll be giving ebook copies away, so am I hurting my own sales? I’m thinking of doing a “special giveaway” at the party for those who’ve already bought the book. I’m just not sure how to work out the details. Any suggestions?

      • I’ve done a giveaway for people who have already bought the book. You can give away a swag pack or a gift card or whatever, and to enter they post either their order number or a screen shot of the sale or even a pic of the book on their Kindle.

      • Once I get over the hump of the first of a series, I do give away the earlier books of a series, because if the reader likes it, they will hopefully buy the rest of the series.. Thus far, I’ve found this a successful marketing tool.

      • I know a lot of writers give away the first book in a series, and later on — once I have several more books in “The Sunset Series” — I might consider that option. Of course, I will be doing giveaways from time to time, but I’m not doing any “freebies” on Amazon, although I know a lot of writers who take that approach with their series. I’m just not far enough along with mine to make it pay off.

  6. I am an author, but an avid reader too. When I do giveaways i either use Rafflecopter or I NEVER pick the winner myself. I Do giveaway a lot of e-books and I’ve found most people happy to receive them. I have also found many new readers doing blog hops and especially FB or Twitter Event parties.
    While I do find a lot of the same people commenting on blog hops, to me, that just means they are avid followers, and what more could an author ask for then fans who care?!
    I will admit if I am “doing” a blog hop as a reader and I come to site that has an e-book as prize that isn’t one I think I’d enjoy, I may not enter. Why should the author waste a book on me, when I probably won’t read it? On the other hand, I have found tons of new authors on bog hops! Their excerpt or blurb catches my eye and I buy the book and then maybe the whole series!
    I love finding new authors and although my TBR pile is huge, I still buy new books almost every week (I know I have a problem) My DH says If I read a book a day I wouldn’t have to buy a new on for almost two years before I ran out of “new” books to read.
    I love doing giveaways, and I do try to make them fun and interesting. I do giveaway some small prizes from time to time, but contrary to what most readers think, I don’t make much money from my books, so I can’t afford to give away very large prizes.
    Also, as someone said earlier, if the winner already has my book I offer them the choice of another book from my backlist, or is they have all my books 🙂 I offer the gift of a book from one of my friends or the SCP catalog.
    Tamara Hoffa

  7. I donate to a lot of giveaways with my books. I can see Liza’s point though. It isn’t a great “sales” tool exactly, though it does help with word of mouth. I don’t offer cash prizes at all; just ebooks or, in very rare cases, a print copy. I have also hosted giveaways now and then for other authors With each one, the key is to have the ability to contact those people. Like some of you, I have done everything I can short of stalking to get people to give me an email or physical address to send their prize to. That is a major downside of doing a giveaway. In most cases where someone else is the host and I am donating, they usually get back to me with the winner so it works out fine. But, I don’t envy them trying to find out the info.

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