Contests, promotion, professionalism and choices

16 Mar

(This one spawned a rather heated comment thread when first published at Karen Scott’s blog)

Please note that I am not naming any names because I’m trying to address a general issue. It’s neither about pointing fingers nor embarrassing someone. Perhaps naïvely, but I hope what you are about to read may help authors maximize their promotion efforts.

First, allow me to present three different scenarios, all seen around the blogosphere in the past month or so:

Scenario A

A couple of days after I wrote this piece, I happened upon one of the blogs where I won—and never received—a couple of books last year. I have learned since that this is one of the biggest multi-author blogs around. Being intrigued by that, I started following the blog again for a few days. (Yes, I know I have too much free time.)

I read a few of the posts and posted a few comments, etc. and started noticing what I perceived to be a pattern. Some authors would post a contest but not determine an end date, or if they did, said date would come and go without announcement of the winners. Since this was related to the issues I wrote about before, I mulled it over and finally, the light bulb flashed! So I emailed this to the blog admin:

Hi, there.

I posted something about this at (link to post at Karen’s), but I’ve been thinking about it some more. I didn’t share, and won’t, that two of the prizes I never got last year were from authors who still blog at (blog in question). I *did* stop reading the blog for a rather long while after that, though, and only recently came back as a reader and commenter.

Yet I can’t help but notice that—as of (date)—there are two posts with contests (posts in question) to which winners should have been announced but nothing from either the authors themselves, or the blog itself.

When these things happen at an author’s blog, or at readers’ blogs, the potential PR fallout is to those specific author/blogs. In a large multi authors blog like (blog in question), the damage affects the other authors. Fair or not, it’s inevitable.

I’m wondering if perhaps (blog in question) should consider having someone following up on these things and making sure the authors follow through (with announcements and prizes). Or perhaps, have some sort of contest policy stating that only commenters who leave their email can participate and that the winner will be announced privately, or something.

I hope this email is taken in the spirit it is intended: an observation and a suggestion for improvement.

Thank you.

I honestly didn’t expect a reply, but got one. And what I got, I’m sad to say, wasn’t at all what I would have expected:

Hi,

We’re sorry that you never received your prizes. As to your suggestion on following up on everything, we simply have too many authors doing too many giveaways, and we also don’t think it’s our place to police our authors’ contests. We have shared your note (omitting your name) with all of our authors, though, so hopefully this won’t happen again.

Thank you for visiting (blog in question).

Ooooookay, said I, wondering what exactly a blog administrator does then…

I confess I’m not happy that my email got circulated without asking me—and I know for a fact that at least one author at the blog in question thought I was angry about waiting for winners’ announcements. (Goes to show the message wasn’t taken as intended. Good thing I’m not an author, huh?)

Anyway, I have continued visiting and commenting to this blog because, hey! Lotsa authors, interesting posts, interesting comments and, look over there, contests! for books!!! Which, come to think of it, would be good, right? Having people visiting the blog?

So here I am, checking the blog out, reading, commenting, what have you. And guess what? I notice that, right now as I’m typing this, there are no less than two contests for which winners should have been announced… but haven’t been. And another contest that is open ended—nothing about when it ends or when the winner will be announced.

Scenario B

At another blog, a newbie author was invited to guest blog (in order to promote her new release, of course), so she had a great post with a contest, and a cool conversation ensued with dozens of posts, and then… huh, nothing for five days or so. The blog owner posted a note to the effect that “as soon as (author) picks a winner, I’ll post the name” and then continued with blogging as usual—what else can she do, after all, right?

Scenario C

There’s a blog that posts one or two reviews by an author, then has the author guest blog, often with a contest. However, at least once in a month there was no announcement of the contest winner. I gather that the winner was contacted privately—which could mean people who posted anonymously/aren’t registered with that particular blog service *raising hand to both* probably weren’t entered in the contest (though that wasn’t specified anywhere in the blog); or that winner announcements are only made when no email/registration for the winner is available. Either way, I scratched my head a bit on that one.

Now, let’s see.

Obviously—as I said at least once in my previous post—I understand that life happens to everyone and that authors are people. In many cases, they are people with day jobs, family, and a whole host of other issues. I get it, I promise you I do.

But I wonder if some readers will see these things—particularly if/when it’s a pattern for author X or Z—and since people are people, through association they form a negative opinion of the writer’s product. Because, lest we forget, the entire point of authors blogging (as authors), and chatting, and especially having contests is to promote the products they have for sale: their books.

This got me to thinking that perhaps authors are spreading themselves too thin—contributing regularly to too many places as part of their promotion efforts, while writing; doing edits and/or rewrites; firing off proposals; and dealing with all the other aspects of being published.

And all this on top of everyday, family and, often, day job responsibilities.

In this comment thread over at Dear Author, which is mainly about whether writers should review, a couple of authors mentioned time constraints. The bit that struck me the most in this sense is in this comment by Nora Roberts:

I think a writer’s job is to write. The rest is choice.

As an outsider to the publishing side of writing, I can only speak to what I see from my side of the fence, but I think Ms Roberts makes tremendous sense. Yes, it’s obvious that she—and other writers with big sale numbers, or dozens of books published—are in a different position than Suzie Q Newbie who’s trying to up the numbers for her second release in order to get a new contract for her current manuscript (or something like that, remember, not a writer here, I’m speaking out of… well, you know). Suzie Q Newbie probably doesn’t have a huge promotion budget from the publisher and has to rely on her own efforts—and budget—to improve her chances of being noticed by readers among the hundreds of new books out there.

Still, the underlying principle remains true. Authors have limited time; therefore, they should exercise that choice wisely, in order to maximize the effort to benefit ratio.

As I said at the beginning, I’m not naming names nor places, because—again—this is not about individual authors. It’s not about sour grapes, it’s not about anger or bitterness, and it’s not about readers feeling entitled to anything. These are merely observations I’ve made, and my hope is that perhaps one or two authors may gain some insight into a)how some readers perceive these things, and b)more efficient ways to manage their online/blogging promotion time.

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2 Responses to “Contests, promotion, professionalism and choices”

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  1. Contests as a promotional tool (again) « Her Hands, My Hands - 29/05/2012

    […] reading some of the comments to my previous piece (over at Karen’s blog), I realized that I didn’t make myself very clear—or perhaps it’s […]

  2. Courtesy or professionalism? « Her Hands, My Hands - 29/05/2012

    […] the discussion of this piece, the question of whether author contests/giveaways are done out of generosity, or as part of […]

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