@akathereader Wins, and Thoughts About Contests/Promo

The winner of the Let It Snow release day contest is…@akathereader! Look how happy she is, all puffed out in her rainbow. And she’s in Arizona, so she’s so much warmer than me right now. OY, IOWA. So, Carolyn, email me (heidi@heidicullinan.com) and I’ll hook you up with whatever it is you’re wanting most from the list of choices.

So, speaking of contests and choices.

That contest yesterday was unplanned, which you could probably tell because it got confusing. This is why I hate contests, because they get so insane so fast. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Rafflecopter, and not much about alternatives. I love the idea of contests, though, because it’s fun to give things away. Plus there’s this joining thing going on, where I feel like everyone is doing a contest so I should too.

Readers, how much do you care about contests?

Do they get your attention? Do you find them fun, or are you sick of them? Do you ever feel like the influence you to buy a book or annoy you so much that you don’t?

I guess I like giving them, but I hate them too for the same reason I never enter, because the not winning always makes me bummed out, and I’m always bummed for the people who don’t win, which in this contest was a lot of you. I don’t enter contests because part of me is still eight and gets wounded when my poster isn’t metaphorically picked. Well–scratch that. I enter writing contests, and that’s fine for whatever reason, but somehow things like books to read and iPads and random things make me nuts. Too much Randy Jansen in my head, hating the crappy odds.

On the other hand, I couldn’t ever give everyone a prize, and I suppose one would argue the best way to reward everybody would be to write a free short or something.

It’s hard because there’s this huge push to promote, except we have no idea what we’re doing, really. We’re all throwing shit at the wall and hoping it sticks. I am constantly torn about the review drives (the asking people to post reviews on Amazon, et al, which is apparently the new black). It really does seem like number of book sales plus reviews is the way books rise or fall on Amazon, for one. Except I am both idealistic and oppositional defiant enough to hate to ask for reviews. Even when I give someone an ARC I always say, “It’s okay if you don’t review it.” Because it is. I always want things to be organic. I don’t do the weird inflating twitter follow things, or the like-for-like FB pages. I take a lot of pride in the fact that the nearly 2000 people following me on twitter and the close to 800 FB page likes are all actual people who chose to be there. Except I think a couple Rafflecopter things have messed that up–though I’m assuming if they’re tired of me they’ve left the building.

But at the same time, I know that my idealism is one of my greatest faults. What if even 70% of those Rafflecopter adds have turned into people who found out they love my work? What if it helped them decide I drive them nuts without spending money on my books—still a win to me, because I never want a reader who doesn’t want to be there. (See above idealism.) And if Amazon really is ranking by reviews, then am I not serving my book and my publisher by not doing my best to make it as big as it can be? This is to say nothing of the fact that reviews, everywhere, help readers decide what to buy. Though I guess if the deck is stacked with positives, it’s less helpful.

I really don’t know, and I’d love to know what readers think. I mean, I could say I’d write a free short out of the universe of fan’s choices based on a poll if everyone added enough reviews to X book of mine on Amazon…but I kind of don’t want to. I totally want to write the story, but I don’t want to say “GO POST REVIEWS TO DRIVE MY NUMBERS.” Every time I’ve thought about something like that my skin crawls a little. If I knew it would be a true balance, that there would be a bunch of “It’s okay,” reviews on there too, then sure. Let’s review the whole world! Except if I ask for reviews, how will that balance ever happen? Now, if the Goodreads reviews automatically aggregated, that’d be okay with me. Because there’s always someone on there one or two starring going I DIDN’T LIKE IT WHY DID EVERYONE ELSE DAMMIT and weird as it is, I kind of always high-five those people in my head. They’re keeping it real, man.

I suspect I shall forever remain stuck between not wanting to game a system and needing to play the game. I just have to figure out how to do it. I want to do it my way is the only thing I know for sure. I am kind of really hoping Carolyn asks me to write a scene instead of getting a book because it sounds like all kinds of fun. (That is no pressure, Carolyn! You do what you want.) In yesterday’s newsletter (where I stupidly said the wrong date for Special Delivery: it’s Feb 4, not April 4) I put out a call for people who were interested in helping or hearing about helping with promo for the re-release of the series and the new book. I don’t know what I want this little tribe to do yet, but I”m so excited about it.

I guess for me at the end of the day when someone emails me or tweets at me or whatever and says, “Your book made me happy,” I get happy. I usually don’t know what to say and say something lame, but in that moment I’m back at the drugstore in college buying romances to save my soul, except this time I’m on the other side of the mirror. I want to celebrate that.

I guess that’s what the promo is all about, making sure anybody who can get that hit off my work is able to do it. Maybe I have answered my own question. The right promo for me is what enables that and allows me to stand there and still feel pure, whether or not that purity is something I actually require. Because I know people who encourage and reward reviews, and I respect the hell out of them both as artists and people, so apparently this is a standard I have only for myself.

This means, though, that I really want to know what you want. How can I make you happy with promo? What will give you that bubble of joy not that sad sense of “damn it, I didn’t win AGAIN” or at least mitigate that? I can’t promise I can do it all, but I can sure try. Please do let me know. If you don’t want to leave a comment, email or PM me or something. Just be aware that I am sometimes slow with PMs and sometimes I read them on my phone then forget to go back and answer when I have a keyboard. As I think some of you have figured out.

Now I must get up to 45k on my NaNoWriMo novel not yet at par and then go bake a million things. But thanks in advance for your comments. And thanks for reading, whether you buy or borrow, whether you review or not. Just thanks, ’cause you’re awesome. ❤

24 Comments on “@akathereader Wins, and Thoughts About Contests/Promo

  1. Hi Heidi! I don’t usually reply to postings, I’m more of a lurker, but since you’re interested in what your readers think about raffles and review, I’m happy to jump in. Personally, I never enter raffles. I have some authors (like you!) who I buy every single new release the second it’s out and I’d rather have someone else get the freebie. Even if it’s an author that’s new to me, I rely on Goodreads ratings and reviews – I never buy from Amazon and don’t value their reviews much at all, to be honest. I wish that more people on All Romance would at least rate the books that they’re buying, but it’s just not that common sadly. I buy from them the most because I read on an iPad and I like iBooks better than the Kindle app for organizing my collection. Hope that helps!

    • It totally helps! All of this is amazing.

      I guess it’s reinforcing my desire to always be across platforms and validating my desire to not get aggressive with anything but writing books and doing things because they’re fun for everyone.

  2. I brought this up on the Dreamspinner group yesterday for talks during their conference schedule. I want to know what works for other authors, what doesn’t, marketing tools I might not have tried yet… because like you, I have zip idea if what I’m doing ACTUALLY works better than just letting the book speak for itself. I do the blog hops, the yahoo group promotion, ARC’s and review copies, promoting on various websites and Goodreads… but is what I’m doing time versus buys effective?

    A lot of what I’ve read on online promotion is ‘viral marketing’. The goal is to get as many people to see and pass along your info to THEIR people. To that end, I guess the forced Twitter and facebook liking/following and Re-tweet/messaging system is a good idea. I like to give things away too, but there will always be people who don’t win… and you hope they then go buy your story. I’ve done a series of giveaways and then had a discount at the end of the hop to entice readers who didn’t win into buying when I’ve self-published, but a publisher controls the price on a release so that’s not always an option. I have noticed that gift card contests tend to draw the most comments.

    So I guess I don’t really have any advice for you, other than just keep at it. Like you… I’m in the weeds and doing the best I can to widen my net of readers and followers.

    Oh, and because I’m neurotic, I check reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and ARe. If the author is on my auto-buy list I don’t bother with that *coughs* like you, if they don’t have a contest running when it first comes out. If I don’t know the author’s work, I’ll also google search their name/title to see if there are any independent reviews too.

    • Thank you for the compliment. ❤

      Yeah, there's no real answer. Some people seriously make viral work. I don't think I can bring it, though, and at least the people commenting are mostly saying don't bother.

  3. I do agree with much you said but I also look at it from another side. If the contest/book giveaway is accompanied by an author post that offers insight into who that person is as a writer or talks about the book being released, it helps introduce them to readers who might not normally read or buy their stories. I have found several authors that way and have had my readers tell me the same.

    Some authors are shy or not into self promotion and I get that. But I love their books and want them to find a larger audience. So if offering a contest and a author spotlight helps them find more readers, then I think the contests are definitely worth it.

  4. I LOVE this post for many reasons. As a reader/blogger I have no clue how to promote either aside from spamming the heck out of social media which is not something I like to see so it is not something that I do. I love that you say you don’t do the likes with giveaways…when I started blogging I was told to host a giveaway to get more followers, so naively I did (though the though of people following me was uber creepy). I hosted a giveaway for a $25 gift card to be given away when my FB page reached 350 likes. That was September of last year. As of today, I have 355 likes on the page. It didn’t work for me and I am so happy it didn’t. I like to think people that like my page have done so because they like my fangirl ramblings about books. The fact that I may have bought likes doesn’t sit well with me.

    I have hosted book giveaways out of my own pocket that make me question about doing it anymore. I giveaway books I like and want others to read but when you are told that the book you gifted was not taken but the recipient took the account credit instead? It makes me take one giant step back from doing it again.

    I have entered giveaways and won from them. I think it is fun but the whole like me to get it feels odd for lack of a better word. I think if I am seeing your giveaway I would have liked you already or in my case followed you everywhere I possibly can via social media. When giveaways make that an option for entry, I will skip it.

    As for the review deal; personally I hate reviewing on Amazon. They police the hell out of reviews and it bugs me. But if asked I will post the review. B&N limits characters and as you can tell I like to write a lot and I hate trying to cut my reviews done. I have the blog and Goodreads (and Booklikes but that place confuses me) to post reviews. Goodreads can be a scary place but I have branched out with my reading because of it.

    I signed up for the promo/street team deal but honestly almost didn’t with the term “street team” included. I sat staring at that name not knowing what it would include but I so want to not only read Special Delivery but be a part of letting folks know about it so I just let myself do it anyway.

    This was all about me right? Ugh. Sorry. For the short version; giveaways are fun. A gazillion posts about anything are not. Does that sound better?

    • Yes, I”ve thought about having a small party when I get to 2k twitter followers or 1000 FB likes, but it will be BECAUSE it happened, not to make it happen.

      I guess I should have known this about so many people not liking Amazon. One forgets it because I cannot stress how staggering the sales differential is from Amazon and anywhere else. I mean, it is MAMMOTH. But this all has me thinking now…

      (We totally need a different name, not street team, but IDK what yet.)

  5. I don’t enter contests because I can easily afford to purchase a book that interests me enough to want to read it. I’m not rich, but I’m employed. Plenty of people aren’t so fortunate. I leave contests to the readers on tight budgets, for whom shelling out $7.99 every time they need a hit of romance is a quandary they have to weigh carefully.

    Seeing a promo for a contest lets me know that the book exists, of course. If there is a blurb and an excerpt readily available, those will decide whether the book goes onto my “maybe” list. The ultimate buy decision is made after I scope it out on Goodreads.

    About Goodreads: I’m aware of its issues, including the big ones. It remains the most powerful and reliable resource for not only catching buzz on new releases, but directing my attention to backlists and new-to-me authors (having read in the genre for years, I’m still finding people I missed when their stuff was new). I don’t buy books based on overall GR rating, but the reactions of my GR friends who are vastly more connected to me than any “favorite reviewers” on Amazon. Amazon reviews, from books to kitchen gadgets, are always under suspicion as literally paid shills. No doubt the “professionals” review on GR and other sites, too, but they don’t make my friends list unless they also: post in discussion threads, join in games and challenges, engage in substantive exchanges in review comments, give 2 and 3 star reviews as well as 5’s, drop into the M/M Romance group chat room once in a while. That’s a lot for a paid shill or a sockpuppet to keep up with.

    The newsfeed feature on Goodreads is where I find my friends gushing about something new and get inspired to check it out myself. (In this scenario, somebody has to be Reader Zero and start the buzz, and this is never me. So I can’t speak to how the early-adopters choose books.)

    Okay, that’s a lot of blather on reader-driven promotion. What, for me, *does* work from authors/publishers?

    Giveaways as opposed to contests–where *everyone* gets the book free for a limited time, not just one or two winners. (I count 99-cents as free, as I understand the limitations imposed by some retailers.) Dreamspinner’s November Tweetaways (2 years’ worth) have resulted in half a dozen paid sales from me of additional books in series/backlists after discovering new authors via a freebie. Giveaways do not need to be frequent or numerous! Too many free books devalue *all* books. But in careful limited release they really work. My friends and I always hurry to Goodreads to spread the word when we see one, sending book-buzz into people’s newsfeeds.

    Well-done ads on the Facebook M/M Romance group catch my eye. This venue has the advantage of allowing a full-size cover image as well as a little blurb. Excited, happy, *grammatically and typographically sound* (rolleyes, seriously) book promo posts with great covers make me stop scrolling. I like it when an author starts the post with a sentence or two about her boys and *why their situation is interesting,* instead of just dumping the publisher’s blurb right off. Why should I be all bouncy about your book unless YOU are? I enjoy getting the sense that this book is important because of its story, as opposed to “okay here’s another one that fell off the assembly line this week, click here to buy, don’t forget to review!”

    I review only on Goodreads. I don’t buy books from Amazon (I own a Nook, not a Kindle). I’m slowly coming to understand the importance of Amazon reviews/rankings to an author’s general sales profile (even though some people are buying the books at other outlets). And I also understand that Goodreads *is* Amazon, now. I may begin to cross-post. My main concern is keeping my Amazon reviews *separate and unlinked* from my Amazon account for privacy reasons, if that’s possible to do. I don’t need my auntie stumbling across a list of M/M smut reviews while she’s looking at my wishlist to find gift ideas.

    Finally, the most important self-promo an author can do is Not Being A Big Poopy-headed Jerk. But Heidi already has that one down, of course. 🙂

    leigh b

    • Leigh, I promise you I am sometimes a Big Poopy-headed jerk. I just try to keep it off the net as much as possible. 😉

      These are all fascinating comments/ideas. I agree, mostly I have the blog posts and blurbs and things to get on people’s radar. But…yes. This is all much to chew on.

      My thing is I don’t ever want someone leaving a review anywhere that doesn’t want to leave one. I guess I only do it myself when I’m really moved. To me that extra effort says something. “This is a book that moved me.” One way or another.

  6. I enter contests because I love the excitement of winning, but if I don’t win I’m by no means disappointed and I’ll just make my purchase as planned. I’m partial to contests tied with blog tours (Rafflecopter or otherwise) because you can get a feel for the way an author writes. This is especially helpful for new to me authors. I’ve discovered great books/authors based on posts with an appealing sense of humor or a tale of what inspired a particular character. And while not necessarily the best choice for garnering new readers, some of my favorite contests were for non-book items. I have a t-shirt, mug, and keychain all of which I adore because every time I see them they remind me of the book/characters I love.

    Like the above poster, I avoid Amazon. I know how easy it is for so many people who read on a Kindle to one click buy, but I’m an odd duck in that I read on my laptop. I would rather spend the time finding a book on the publisher’s website because I know the author usually gets a higher cut of the profits. If comments and reviews are going to sway me towards a title I tend to trust them from readers who post on Goodreads or on the publisher’s site.

    • Yes, I’m thinking I want to make more swag for contests, because it’s fun. But then again I go back to feeling bad if someone wants it and doesn’t win it. Though I suppose there is always Cafe Press.

  7. I am reading ALL OF THESE and loving them. Will respond when I am not in a mad Thanksgiving prep dash. Except I have two things right now.

    1) Risqué Redhead, I ALMOST DIDN’T SAY THAT for the same reason. Except I didn’t know what else to call it. Now taking applications for names. Mitch’s Posse? Except there’ would be factions. Because I know many who would go to the mattress for Randy…

    2) WILL YOU LOOK AT WHAT CAROLYN DID??? https://twitter.com/akaTheReader/status/405766723929784320

  8. First, thank you for hours and hours of happy times! I reread a lot so between all your books that is a lot of hours I spend in cullinan-land..
    So, to the ramblings of a reader: I am one of those readers that base my purchase on blurb and excerpts. Reviews on blogs are good to find new to me authors, but amazon reviews are of little intrest. Most of them are either poorly written or seem unsincere.. I use amazon to check up on what has been published every few days (alwas by publishing date), but if I can, I’ll by directly from the publisher as it is cheaper for me than amazon. I tend to autoby when I like an authors voice.

    As a commited lurker I rarely enter contests, but among all of the promo possibilities it is a fun one. An intresting, well written blog post is a good intro to an author. For me a good webpage with lots of info on the books, regular updates, and What’s next? is great. You have this down, but a surprising number of authors do not. (Tj klune, willa okati, please? 😉 )It is so frustrating to read about a new author and then find their web page and the latest update was years ago, or consist of a list of titles with no more info and no excerpts. I do not use twitter nor facebook for and lurk on goodreads so all that social media hubbub floats past.

    I imagine the true coup would to attract more readers new to the genre, I came over from historical M/F romance via a not very satisfactory dip into contemp romance, and I am trying to remember how. I looked up at amazon and the first book i bought was His client by Ava March and I think it was a suggestion from amazon, If you liked x then you might like y. Then I worked my way through the the listmania-woods and never looked back. I sort of regret I did not join goodreads before, as they have far better recommendation lists, and best of lists than amazon. It must be next to impossible to be found by new readers unless your book is recent and up high on the new and popular browsing option. In the beginning of reading the genre I spent many hours wading through the different browsing options and wanted to bang my head on the screen.

    I love it when there is an excerpt from a book at the back of the one I bought, and I found some new authors that way, and got curious about new genres as well.

    Looking forward to april and spending time with Randy again!


    • You choose books like I do!

      I agree I think a good way to get new readers is to hook up with people outside one’s usual wheelhouse. Different pairing, different genre, just different. I don’t know many readers who aren’t looking for more good books.


  9. I personally don’t participate in contests. I always pre order your books. so by the time a contest rolls around, the book is already bought! I know of a lot of people who really love contests though and I have noticed that as long as it’s fun and simple, it will be a good contest. The more complicated a contest, the more pissy the customer gets, in my experience.

    As for promotions?? I follow my favorite authors closely on FB and GR and that’s it. I have a particular distaste towards blog tours for some reason but I know several readers who love them very much. Most new books come to me via reader recommendations, not blogs or review sites. I think you are promoting at a good pace, you aren’t spamming at all and I see your name pop up in private groups consistently for book recs (all good, I promise).

    I like that you have a newsletter option too. I like knowing when your books are coming out:) My only suggestion is to have links to your upcoming books easy to find. I remember wanting to pre order Let it Snow and couldn’t find a ink anywhere on FB (no worries, it was bought!) From my experience, a customer will choose the easiest way to buy something and once it gets difficult, they wander off to something else (hence, another reason why Amazon is popular. I personally hate the site and how it treats it’s vendors, but that’s just me).

  10. Well…since you asked. 🙂 I love contests. I don’t always enter, but I always get a little bubble of excitement when I see one of my favorite authors are doing giveaways, or in this case an opportunity to be written into/or mentioned in a story. Why you ask don’t I always enter? I usually feel bad about getting something for free that someone poured their heart and soul into. But, then again, when I see an author doesn’t have a lot of response I’ll always enter…I want them to know that their work is appreciated. So, I guess I’m a nut. lol I don’t really feel bad when I don’t win. Better next time, eh?

    In the last several weeks I won a book from a new author. It was a fabulous read and I was so excited that I won. I actually felt like it was Christmas come early. I was giddy and bounced around the room, my hubby thought I’d lost my mind. What is great is that I really liked the book and found myself a new author that I’ll follow and read. So, yay me!
    I guess this means that I do like the contests. Hehe.

    As far as ARCs go…I just finished an ARC, and the thing is…..I personally think it’s rude to not leave a review of a book you’ve been given for free, especially before it’s been released. I always try to do reviews anyway, but certainly if I get the read free of charge. I feel it’s my little way of saying thank you to the author for trusting me with your baby before the masses have had a chance to read it. Reviewing an ARC doesn’t mean one has to gush on and on, unless they absolutely loved the book. That said, even if the ARC in question isn’t exactly the readers cup of tea, there is still a way to write a review that attests to the authors talent and down right balls for having the guts to put your babies out there to be read.

    Sorry to say, I’m not sure this really helps you any.

  11. I am not an author or a blogger – just a reader. I read about three full-length novels per week. I love the contests, except for the ones that are too complicated to figure out. If it takes me more than five minutes to understand the instructions, I bag it. I also only enter contests for books I actually want to read. So, I check out the Goodreads reviews before entering if the author is unknown to me. I don’t feel bad when I don’t win. But, it is great when I do! I have read (and liked) some authors I probably never would have because I won a book. I also enjoy the author interviews, especially when a character from the book is interviewed or writes the blog. I never used to write reviews, but the first book I ever won, I felt like I should give something back, so I wrote a review. And, it wasn’t too difficult. Now, I write reviews for most every book I read. Not that my reviews are the best, but if they help a fellow reader or the author, that is great. And it does give me a little boost when someone likes my review. I do read on a Kindle – but buy my books from whomever has the best price and convert the file with Calibre if needed. I also post all my reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.

    Hope this helps and thanks for the interesting blog (and all your wonderful books).

  12. Heidi:
    I am still so new to all this book marketing stuff that I can offer no help. Only tell you that I’m saving the whole column and comments for ideas when my second book releases, hopefully next spring.

    But I do want to tell you Let It Snow made my Thanksgiving! When I got overwhelmed with some people issues, I just kept reminding myself I could get back to Frankie and Marcus’s story at night. Finished the book in 2 days. Absolutely loved it! Thanks for helping me stay sane!

    Your fan for life,

  13. I’ve gotten savvier about entering contests – I only enter contests for things I want to win, and particularly with books, I only enter for ebooks, since I don’t have room for more print books. I managed to win twice on review blogs (once on SBTB and once on DA) and ended up with print books that I didn’t particularly care about. I don’t love Rafflecopter, but I don’t mind it – but again I’m careful to only do things that I actually want to do – I’m not on Twitter and I don’t usually like authors on Facebook (I prefer to use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, not for consumerism related things) so I don’t do a lot of the Rafflecopter entry options.

    I usually discover new books and authors through review sites like DA or SBTB and recommendations from friends. I only use Amazon reviews for new to me authors – I check the 1 star reviews for potential deal breakers and ignore the rest. For an author that I already like, I use Goodreads to get a sense of whether I want to buy a new release right away or to see how angsty it is, etc. I’ve purchased a few (a very few) books that I discovered browsing Amazon or ARe, but that’s probably less than 1% of my purchases. I like some book blog tours – but they have to be substantial. I like reading about the creative process, I like knowing about the hows and whys of a book. I don’t think a blog tour has ever made me buy a book – I tend to seek out a blog tour for a book that I’m already interested in. I will randomly check author blogs when I’m bored to find out about their upcoming releases and look for free stories – I really hate it when I can’t easily find the upcoming books. I am a sucker for free short stories. Frex – I read Dirty Laundry when it was a free short on your website and I was so excited when I discovered it was going to be a book that I pre-ordered it, and I rarely pre-order books.

  14. I agree with you, cleo, on author guest blogs or guest tours. I only want to read those with substance and only offer those on my website that contain more than just another ad for their book. I enter book contests as well as offer them and like you, only enter those I am interested in.

    Sometimes I feel the blog hops can be overwhelming, especially those with 20 plus sites to visit. I rarely visit those blog hope or become a part of them. I don’t have time to visit 20 plus sites just to win a couple of books. I am not sure who does, especially during the holiday times. A shorter blog tour of 5 stops or so is fine (or maybe that’s just my attention span these days).

    I happen to think that , well run, book contests and author spotlights work well to introduce an author and their books to readers not familiar with their writing. I have had that happen more often than not by offering excerpts from stories that pull the readers in and leave them wanting more of the story. I have had a couple of my favorite authors say that they just don’t know how to use the media to get their books out, so a author spotlight and contest helps spread the word.

    I love short stories too and free stories on authors blogs is a great way also to pull a reader in.


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