Thursday, May 21, 2009

Using Contests To Promote Your Writing by Gayle Trent

When my book of parenting anecdotes came out, I thought a contest would be just the thing to garner local publicity. Still, what kind of contest could I come up with that would appeal to both young people and adults? How could I make the publicity worthwhile? I knew I had to develop something unique, something with good prizes, something people would actually enjoy; and I knew I had to tie it in with a book signing.

The book was due out in October of 2001, so when I took my children to the movies in July, I took note of what family movies were getting ready to come out. "Brother Bear" was too soon, "Elf" was too late, but "The Cat in the Hat" was right on target. I decided that a Dr. Seuss Write-Alike Contest would be a perfect tie-in to the movie.

I spoke with a local cinema manager, told him about the contest and arranged to sign books there the opening weekend of "The Cat in the Hat." I agreed to give the cinema thirty-percent of sales (less than the commission of most bookstores), and the cinema manager agreed to donate movie tickets to the contest winner. In addition, I asked other local businesses to participate in the contest. A spa donated a thirty-minute massage. A children's clothing store gave a $25 gift certificate. A candy store donated a candy bouquet, and a gift basket delivery service donated a child's gift basket. Papa John's donated one pizza per month for an entire year, Dairy Queen donated a cake, and Pizza Inn donated children's buffet meals. In addition, I gave away journals and copies of my books. There were enough prizes to award first, second and third place prizes. Everyone benefited from the publicity from the local newspaper. Every sponsor was mentioned in the contest announcement and again in the follow-up article announcing the winners.

At the cinema, I had door prize drawings for hardbound journals and other small prizes. I signed Friday from 3:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. I won't tell you it was easy to be at the cinema for that long because it wasn't. I will tell you that it was a successful signing. To further their movie promotion, even "The Cat in the Hat" itself joined me for awhile on Saturday! My children were delighted. They didn't know (or care!) that the cat was actually a girl from the library. I met a lot of great people-many who simply wanted to know what I was doing selling books at a movie theater! Some of those people bought books. One young man bought a book for his sister who'd just had a baby.

Having a contest is an excellent way to get your "advertisement" in the paper twice-as I mentioned above, to announce the contest and then to announce the winners. Think about how much cheaper it is than taking out two ads proclaiming, "BESTSELLING KIDS BOOK by John Smith available at buymybook." Plus, it's a lot more fun!

Issues To Consider:

1) What is your purpose in having a contest?

- Is it to publicize your books, company, etc.?
- Is it to find fellow writers?
- Is it to get names for your mailing list?
- Is it to build community goodwill?A well-orchestrated contest can do all of the above.

2) Will your contest be international, national, regional or local?

- If local or regional, you might enlist other businesses to donate prizes. Be sure to follow up with thank-you notes and include those businesses in all your advertising and promotions.

- If national, you will have more entrants; but consider the amount of time it will take to go through the entries, ship the prizes, etc. I once had an international contest that was simply a drawing. The winner was to receive a copy of my latest book and a box of chocolates. The winner lived in England, and the shipping cost as much as the prize itself! That's fine if it's something you've considered ahead of time. Keep in mind that if you announce your contest on the Web, your entrants could come from anywhere.

3) Can you tie your contest in to some event?

- Think outside the bookstore! In the example above, I tied my contest in with a movie. Can you tie your contest in with a local festival? A holiday? A particular group? For example, if you've written a book about dogs, you might have a signing at an animal shelter and give a portion of the proceeds to the shelter. Your contest could consist of a drawing from the names of people who adopted pets on the day of your signing, and they could win something that would complement their interest. Be sure and hold your event on a premium day, so coordinate your efforts with those of the animal shelter.

Whatever you decide, be creative, be unique, and have fun!

* * * * * Speaking of Contests * * * * *
Comment on this post and be entered to win an autographed copy of the above-referenced parenting anthology, Laughing and Learning: Adventures in Parenting. Or, if you'd prefer, you may request a file download of The Writer's Planner. Entrants' names will be listed at, which will then choose a winner. Good luck!


  1. What a great idea, Gayle! And what a heck of a lot of work you put into this!

  2. It was a great way for a lot of people to promote their products and for me to be able to give away great prizes. :-)

  3. Gayle,

    That is a very creative contest and great publicity. Sounds like fun—and a lot of hard work, too.

  4. Hi Gayle:
    Thanks for this article. I have a question: How do you arrange for a meeting to discuss your contest with the businesses? Do you write to them, send E-mails, or just walk in?

  5. Hi, Anahita:

    I just walked in and explained what I was doing most places. Some places I called first. If you're thinking of having a contest, be sure the other "prize givers" know you'll be sending a press release to local media outlets announcing the contest and another announcing the winners. That way they'll get advertising twice. :-)

  6. Since only three people commented on this post, I'm awarding each of you the book or file download of your choice. Dana, Lillie and Anahita, please let me know via gd830 at hotmail dot com whether you'd like a file download of The Writer's Planner or a copy of Laughing and Learning: Adventures in Parenting. If you'd like the latter, please include your mailing address.

    Thank you!


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