Don’t Give Away the Store
Let me start off saying that I do enjoy a little gambling now and then. I’ll buy lottery tickets from time to time. I’ll drop a few dollars in the one-armed bandits as well. I like to play penny-ante poker (real poker, not the assorted nonsense popular in the casinos these days). I like strip poker even more, but I digress.
What I’ve never been a fan of is contests where books are given away as the prizes. I’m in the business of selling books, not giving them away.
There is a ton of research dating back more than 80 years up until just a matter of weeks ago showing such contests do little or nothing to improve sales.
As a caveat, there is a subset of contests where sales are positively impacted: Contests that require the entrant to read a book to come up with the right answer. Be VERY careful with this type of contest. It can be construed as making a purchase required to enter and that is illegal in many jurisdictions.
In general, a more effective approach is to give away something unrelated to books as the prize. Jewelry, gift cards (not to book stores), fragrances, clothing or accessories, and a host of other items work well. The simple fact is that these prizes can (and usually do) stimulate book sales. For all I know, the entrants feel guilty if they don’t buy a book.
Also, be judicious about your contests and prizes. Carefully evaluate the overall impact. If you run a contest and sales go up by $20,000, you’re still in red ink if you give away a new Lexus.
Let me tell you about a contest I used to run on a regular basis when I was living in San Diego…
A couple of years after I stopped having a booth at the San Diego Comic Com, I would put out a notice that I would indeed be at the Con, but not as an exhibitor or panel member. I would simply be there as an attendee, nothing special, not even doing cosplay. I would also announce the exact day and times I would be there. And the very first person to walk up to me at the Con and say, “You’re Melodee Aaron!” (or whatever pen name I was attending as that day) would get, on the spot, $1,000 cash money. This encourages people to read my books to get to know me, but still does not require them to buy anything. They could just walk up to any random blonde girl and play the game. Trust me…there are a LOT of random blonde girls at Comic Con!
Yes, it cost me $1,000 a day plus admission to the event plus other expenses. Call it about $6,000 total for the three-day event. And don’t forget about the time. I typically saw a jump of about $12,000 in sales across the three pen names I would appear under.
Not a bad return on the investment.