Guest Blog Post – How To Gain Readership Using Book Contests, by Scott Cowley

A week or so ago I did a twitter contest for a free signed copy of my book. And although I did have some participation (which I was very grateful for), the numbers of participants I was hoping for was nowhere near what I had envisioned. In fact, near the end of the contest I was scratching my head, wondering what I had done wrong.

I asked a twitter friend of mine (who I knew would have some good ideas), if he could give me some pointers. What I got from him was somewhat unexpected. Scott was very kind, but basically he told me that I had setup the contest improperly and had shot myself in the foot.

I want to thank Scott for opening my eyes in regard to doing online Facebook and Twitter contests. Let’s turn my lemons into lemonade. Perhaps by sharing Scott’s ideas I can help somebody else be successful with the next contest they do. I know that I’ll be doing things a little bit differently next time. Here’s Scott:

How to Gain Readership Using Book Contests (On Twitter and other Social Networks)

Readers, it seems, will do almost anything for a free book. Just last week, I wrote a lengthy blog post on one of my minor blogs about a topic I had no experience with, because that was the requirement for a chance at winning a never -heard-of-before book by a never-heard-of-before author. Books and contests can really make otherwise normal people behave really strangely! I know – that’s a pretty lofty assumption I’m making about people.

If you’re thinking of holding your own contest, whether it be a book contest or for something else, there are ways to succeed and ways to get less than ideal results. I’m going share some practical tips specifically on holding contests using Twitter, with the idea that you should be able to use a lot of the same concepts on other social media networks with similar results.

The best Twitter contests (like any contest) accomplish a few key things:

(a) offer something people really want,

(b) give the contest holder a real chance to gain a greater following,

(c) meet some defined business objective,

(d) don’t alienate or turn off potential entrants

Do they really want your book?

If you’re not a famous author (yet), there’s no instant recognition for your book. If you were to giveaway a book that people had heard of, you’d likely get a bigger response because there’s some established credibility there. Unfortunately, there’s usually a natural trade-off between what people want to win and what you want to give away. If you give away your own book, be prepared for less natural enthusiasm.

You can narrow the gap between what you’re giving and what people want by getting your content in front of them to experience. Consider adding a link on the contest page to some of your writing, so people can get a feel for your style and for what they might experience in your book. An entrant may not care for it ultimately, but at least you’ve given yourself a fighting chance by getting your writing in the spotlight.

Don’t defeat yourself with bad contest rules

The biggest drawback to Twitter contests is often the way the rules are set up. For example, if you require entrants to out-tweet eachother to win, you’ll get a mixed reaction. Half of the people will say “I’m not willing to do that for this book’ and the other half will say “I really want the book, and I know what it takes to win, but that means spamming everyone else’s Twitter feed with repeat tweets about this contest and my followers will get upset.” You’ll likely end up with people using spam accounts set on auto-tweet to win your contest (not what you had in mind). You need to make sure your rules are in line with your objectives for the contest.

Another way contests are often self-defeating is the opposite of the previous example in that they don’t require the entrant to do enough for the prize. If you’re using social media, you want people to gain interest in you, your book, your website, etc. while entering the contest. Too often, especially on Twitter, contest entrants aren’t even required to visit the host website or interact with the host. They may just have to retweet a message. If that’s the case, you’re just throwing your giveaway to the wind.

An “optimized” contest setup

If I were running a contest via Twitter, I would set it up this way:

1. Require people to follow you.

2. Set a limit to the number of tweets per person (either once per day or just once for the duration of the contest) so entrants don’t feel like winning is impossible, nor that their followers are going to be annoyed.

3. Set the end of the contest at least 2 weeks out. The big deal here is that you want these people to keep following you AFTER the contest is over, right? This is where most Twitter contests fail miserably. They get people to follow them, then don’t use that “window of opportunity” to engage the people in a way that they’ll stay followers once the contest is over. During your “window of opportunity” is when you put out your best content, best tweets, most one-on-one engagement, etc, because you have a captive audience that has to remain following you until the end in order to have a chance at winning. That’s where the setup of the contest helps you meet your business objective, which is to gain followers and get people interested in your book.

4. Don’t shy away from promotion! This may not come naturally for you, but it’s a big key to getting results from your contest. Promote the contest at least every day across several platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Promote the contest at different times of day with different messages depending on how close you’re getting to the end and how good the response has been.

If you have some clear goals for your contest, you have a better chance of running a contest in a way that meets those goals. You can learn by trial and error, but why not just get it right the first time?

Scott Cowley is an SEO Manager at, an SEO company, where he trains clients on using social media for better business results. He also blogs about 21st century marketing at You can follow him on Twitter @scottcowley.



Guest Blog Post – How To Gain Readership Using Book Contests, by Scott Cowley — 12 Comments

  1. Thanks to this post I’ve got some great ideas for my upcoming book launch. Specifically: what about bundling your book (if you’re an unknown author) with something else to create a bigger prize? You still get exposure for your book and you’re likely to reach a wider audience due to the larger offer.

    Some good points were covered, thanks for the ideas Scott.z

  2. As winner of Daron’s latest contest and as a new entrepreuneur myself, I am very interested in learning how to promote my product with a Twitter contest. I greatly appreciate the pointers in this article.

    I’m also grateful that Daron didn’t follow these rules for his last contest. I don’t think I’d be the proud owner of a signed copy of his first work! (Which, by the way, I’m having a hard time setting aside for the more pressing and productive duties of the day!)

  3. I’m getting ready to hold a contest so these tips came at just the right time. Thanks for posting this blog. I love your site Daron. You rock!

  4. Daron, I’m sending you a comment to check on word verification as you requested. Let me thank you in advance for taking it off!

  5. Interesting. I often do book give aways, not of my own book, but just because I don’t have room to keep every book I review. I use it to build followers to my own site.

    How do you as an author feel about people giving away a copy of your book in a contest?

  6. Jen,

    Having people give away a copy of my book is great advertisement. Please do. 🙂

    In fact, I will soon be doing the same with books from other authors (three books I got signed by some friends at the Storymakers conference). Good stuff!

  7. Thanks Daron. I used this post to plan my very first giveaway for Spells by Aprilynne Pike. Very helpful.

  8. These were great tips. When I did David’s book (my first giveaway) it was definitely too short a time span. What was the rush? Still, it boosted the number of hits my blog received daily, and I gained a couple followers. The book giveaway definitely needs refining. Thanks!

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