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!