Monday, December 08, 2008

Contest Conundrums

Aside from being a wonderful word you won't likely see in text messages (and that alone is reason enough to make it a wonderful word), a conundrum is often what I face whenever I consider either entering a contest or running one.

Entering Contests. I don't have too much time to enter contests, unless it's quick 'n' easy to throw my name into the hat and/or I really want to win a particular prize. Often, contests just end up pissing me off . . . or making me feel guilty.

That mess now being run at Samhain seriously pissed me off. One day, when I was between chapters of my WIP, I thought I'd give it a go. Shit almighty.

I ended up feeling like the victim of a fraternity hazing. This is supposed to be fun? I kept asking myself as I trolled through fifty effing websites, looking for a certain icon. Worse yet, whenever I found that icon, I usually couldn't read whatever damned title was printed on it!

It was definintely not fun. In fact, it put me in a boycott mood. Before I knew it, I'd wasted many irreplaceable hours and darkened my sunny disposition.

Authors who are cunningly manipulative -- i.e., bury their clues or answers in the bowels of their sites and make entrants click . . . and click . . . and click through endless book lists, blurbs, excerpts, buy links, testimonials, photos, buddy links, blog posts, chuggedychuggedychug -- are not doing themselves any favors. I assume they figure that by trapping entrants within their online labyrinths, said entrants will gobble every word on every page and salivate over covers and be swept into the Land of Awe by that parade of "4" and "5" reviews. NOT. The inconsiderate assumption that readers have nothing better to do with their time than spend it spelunking through linked caverns of self-promotion is, purely and simply, offensive.

Lesson: From now on, as soon as I see a "Scavenger Hunt" that will make me feel like I'm Dumpster diving, I'm gone.

Winning Contests. Over the years, I've won maybe four book giveaways. Total. Only one win, Blind Eye's Tangle anthology, made me sing "Celebration Time." The other three titles weren't of my choosing but were picked -- randomly, I assume -- from groups of books being offered in mass giveaways. (You know how that goes.)

When I have no interest whatsoever in the title I end up with . . . my heart, it sinketh. I always feel obligated to try reading my prize. The least I can do is give it a chance. But I'll tell ya, I've ended up with three stinkers out of four wins, and not being able to get through even the first chapter of a book fills me with guilt.

Lesson: No more entering giveaways unless they're for titles that have piqued my interest or by authors I know are good.

Running Contests. Almost invariably, this is a depressing exercise. I've been doing it on and off for several years now, usually on my publishers' chat loops but sometimes in other places (e.g., TRS, various Yahoo groups, and the like). Two of the three books I've offered through The Romance Studio's Book-a-Day Giveaway were never claimed, even after I sent the wieners big ol' upbeat congratulatory messages. And never once has any winner through any venue emailed me with any kind of feedback -- good, bad, or indifferent. I feel as if I've shot these downloads into black holes.

Lesson: As yet undetermined.


Nina Pierce said...

This is interesting. I did host one scavenger hunt, but hopefully put the clue in an easy to find spot. Not sure. But you're right about trudging through all sorts of mazes ... not fun.

I do run contests on my website that I hope are easy for people to enter and I always respond to an entrant to let them know I received their email. Hopefully that builds some goodwill with my potential readers.

Giving away books on chats is a hard one. I've done it ... A LOT. But never received any feedback and sometimes I wonder if the reader is disappointed it's an e-book rather than print. (Though I make this very clear.)

Contests ... they're a crap shoot. Both running them and entering them. I just do my best to keep upbeat. But you've made me really think about those scavenger hunts.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Nina.

Yup, I'm giving more thought to scavenger hunts, too. As you said, contests are as much about building good will between readers and writers as they are about promotion. In fact, the more blatant the promotion, the more readers are probably turned off. That's why I said authors who make contest entrants scour their sites aren't doing themselves any favors.

On the other hand, do readers/entrants have a responsibility to authors? Not really a "responsibility," I suppose. But entering an author-run contest for a specific book implies the entrant is interested in reading that book. So, when the winner coughs up no feedback whatsoever, it strikes me as rude.

Ann Vremont said...

Uhm...yeah, black holes in running them, don't see the return...and I was thinking of giving away copies of all 4 of my print books to one winner this month (that or burning the books to save on the heat bill)...

:::goes in search of metal trash can and matches:::

K. Z. Snow said...

Sad, Ann, isn't it? Sometimes I think authors would be better served simply trading their books among each other. I've gotten valuable, and totally unsolicited, feedback from other writers...but nary a word from contest-winning readers.

P.S. You need some old mss. for that burn pile? ;-)

Kimber Chin said...

I'm not a fan of scavenger hunts.
I've very lazy
and I don't expect my readers to be any different.

I give away an eBook a month on my site
Not my eBook though.
Books I've read and enjoyed.
(That is, I buy another copy of a book I loved to give away for the contest)
I don't expect anything back from it.
It is merely my way of sharing great finds and it gives me an excuse to contact readers.

K. Z. Snow said...

Wow, Kimber, that's really, really nice of you! What a great way to spread some cheer among readers and fellow authors.

Thanks for sharing that.

Belinda McBride said...

Yeah, I'm with you on this whole thing. Sometimes the entries are dismal, sometimes I get a winner who is so very grateful, it keeps me going.

I've one two contests; one was from an author that I'm a fan of, so that was cool. The other...well, the book was just not my cuppa tea. It went unread.

I don't mess with complicated contests, not to enter, not to organize (unless someone else is doing the organizing! *G*)

K. Z. Snow said...

There's super-chef's mom! (Really, Belinda, I am so impressed.)

You know, I think I'd fall into a swoon if I got a message from a grateful reader. What a high that must be!

Lena Austin said...

In the past five-plus years I've been published, I've had one --ONE!!-- winner thank me. I lost track of the contests I've held or participated in along the way.

Do I hate scavenger hunts? Yes. Am I willing to help new authors when they want one? Yes.

I like giving the readers a way to play with me, but scavenger hunts are way too much work for authors and readers.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hey, Mistress Lena!

Helpful you are, that's for sure.

I hate feeling torn about this contest thing; it seems so grinchy. I'd love to share my books with interested readers, but considering the time and effort that go into a contest, the payback (which, for me, would amount merely to feedback) is minimal to nonexistent.

Shelia said...

I've hosted scavenger hunt contests...but the goal was for the readers to read an excerpt of the author's latest book and the answer would be located there. Author contests are used as a promotional tool--hopefully enticing the contest entrant to buy one of their books so that's why some of the scavenger hunt contests require you to click in several places so don't give up if you see a book you really want to win.

I have a couple of contests going on now. Entrants only have to sign up to my mailing list--real simple. Sometimes I have the contest set up where they only have to leave a blog comment.

Alexis Fleming said...

I must be doing something wrong. lol 90% of the time I get a thank you or feedback from my winners, which does this little heart good. I don't give out copies of my books every month. I mix it up with jewelry I make, which is always popular, or Aussie stuffed toys etc. I must admit my jewelry is now as popular as my books if the number of entries is anything to go by. Or maybe I'm just a sucker and want to look on the bright side. LOL

Kissa Starling said...

This is a great topic. I have given away countless things as prizes- downloads, tshirts, candles, hats, etc.

I heard a thank you a few times but never heard anything back about the books.

I have to agree about those scavenger hunt contests. I did one once and put it on my home page. Still didn't help, there were too many authors to visit. I don't do too many contests now but when I do I make it easy: email me or post on my blog and I'll draw a name. I often giveaway things such as cover flats. Who in the world would want that except someone who liked my writing?

I often think there must be some other way....


Kris Eton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kris Eton said...

Reposting, as the first time it was so typo-laden, I was embarrassed!

I've found many times that contests are useless in generating sales. I've had books sell well and books sell poorly...thing is, I didn't do much differently to promote them. So clearly my marketing is not the thing determining sales.

In 2009 my contests will be ONE prize: a copy of my latest book. That way, only interested readers will win. Typically, what I do is offer something extra if someone from my newsletter group wins the contest...usually a GC from my publisher or a copy of another book.

I don't like the idea of forcing people to join a Yahoo group just to enter my contest. I would think they'd just drop the group once the contest is over or never read anything I email out.

They say the best promo is to write more books. I'm going to be trying that for awhile to see how it works.

P.S. I hate those scavenger contests, too.

K. Z. Snow said...

SHEILA - What you're doing is the way to go, I think. Keep it simple. A click or two won't likely irritate people. And reading through an excerpt? I think that's the best way to generate reader interest. Plus, a contest entrant is getting something in return for her or his time.

Excerpts have sold me on quite a few books. Even if I'm not really interested in that particular title or genre, an enticing chunk of prose that demonstrates the author's talent will convince me to keep an eye out for her/his books.

ALEXIS - You are blessed! And now I'm dying of curiosity about your jewelry. Sounds like that's been a brilliant bit of cross-marketing. Unfortunately, I don't know how to do anything but write. :-(

KISSA - Hi, and welcome! Sad to say, people are more likely to be grateful for useable "stuff," which they maybe to think is more valuable than reading material. I've gotten the impression that many contest entrants have a "take it or leave it" attitude toward books -- especially e-books, and most especially e-books by writers they're not familiar with.

Hi, KRIS - I, too, don't believe contests do much, if anything, to generate sales. You and I aren't alone in thinking the best way to achieve name recognition is simply to keep writing . . . and putting out the best work we can.

Authors "forcing" people to join their Yahoo groups? UGH. That would really turn me off!

Shannon Stacey said...

In our defense (as to the Kindle contest), two winners will each be earning a prize package probably worth at least $500.00 - a Kindle loaded with almost forty books. That's worth a little extra effort.

K. Z. Snow said...

I agree, Shannon, it is a very desirable prize. That's why I and probably hundreds of other people had a go at the contest. The first round had me gritting my teeth, but I soldiered through it. The second, though, turned out to be way too frustrating and time consuming, so I threw in the towel.

Really, it just got exhausting. Too many hoops to jump through.