Keep Your Contests Simple!

No complex rules, puzzles or costumes. Make it easy for readers to join the fun.

It seemed like a good idea. Everyone said it was a good idea. And yet, when it came time to actually taking the “Script -Trailer Challenge,” it turned out very few wanted to be bothered.

Some background. Contests and challenges have been around since our hairy ancestors were scratching out Tic-tac-toe in the dirt a billion years ago. These days, even the government has joined the fun, launching – “a place where the public and government can solve problems together.”

So I thought I was on solid ground with the trailer contest. The concept: read a one-page, near-final draft of the script for the trailer, watch the video, and spot the differences for a signed copy of Bella.

The trailer, at, does a nice job of previewing the story of an anguished widow’s search for the truth about her husband’s death overseas. She lures a Washington journalist into the investigation, and together, they learn a bunch about the power of temptation and the futility of revenge.

The idea for the contest was spurred by those side-by-side, nearly identical photos you see in magazines. The goal? Spot the differences.

I jumped in like Patton, who said, “Accept the challenges so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.” I posted simple instructions on my website that said:

Good trailers begin with a good idea and a sharp script. Of course the first draft is never the final. We found a late draft, compared it to the trailer, and spotted at least six differences. Find them yourself to win a signed copy of the book.

I provided links so no one would even have to leave the web page, and an easy way for players to email me their findings. I was excited and a little concerned that I might have to wade though hundreds of entries.

It turned out that few shared my enthusiasm, though I did wind up declaring two winners. The lesson? For contests to work, they must be simple. A better idea might have been to ask visitors to watch the trailer and spot something hidden within. It was also suggested that asking people to cross two mediums – print and video – was asking too much.

So if you’re contemplating a contest, keep it simple, or be ready to offer up a prize most self-published authors probably can’t afford.

Why have you succeeded or fallen short with your contest?




12 Comments so far »

  1. Kelly Hashway said,

    Wrote on June 25, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

    I’ve never hosted a contest like this. I did one regular giveaway on Goodreads and it doesn’t get easier than that. Over 800 people entered in just a few short days. I did screw up the dates. I had meant for the contest to run a week but somehow I entered the dates wrong and it was barely four days. Oh well. I still thought it was successful.


    stevepiacente Reply:

    I think 800 entries counts as a success, Kelly!


  2. Nina B. said,

    Wrote on June 25, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

    I agree, contests should be fairly easy to do so people would be more interested to participate. But just because it’s easy shouldn’t mean it’s less fun.

    I only did one contest on my blog before, it was supposed to be a birthday giveaway so instead of the typical submit-your-info-and-do-these-stuff-for-extra-entries rule, I asked the participants to recommend a book for me in lieu of a birthday wish. It worked, and I got a ton of book suggestions to add to my TBR afterwards 😀


    stevepiacente Reply:

    Thanks, Nina, good point. I think the challenge is in coming up with something that requires a little thinking, but is still enjoyable.


  3. Cindy C Bennett said,

    Wrote on June 25, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

    Hi, Steve. I agree that it needs to be simple. For me, taking the time to watch a trailer twice and try to figure out the differences (which might even rquire watching it multiple times) holds no appeal. Time is something I have very little of as it is. But if i can jump on, watch it once and answer a question (posed prior so that I know what I’m lloking for), I’ll do that.
    Contests I’ve ran are blog hops, and currently one on Goodreads. Both generate good traffic and interest. My blog would never have gotten off the ground without the blog hops. People will enter those because it’s simple, with the option of extra entries if they wish to take the time to find you on Twitter, FB, Goodreads, etc.


    stevepiacente Reply:

    Point taken, Cindy. Question – can you quickly explain a blog hop and how it works? Thanks, Steve


  4. laura reese said,

    Wrote on June 25, 2011 @ 9:13 pm

    Steve – I think the ones that have a lot of success are the easy ones. The one that comes to mind is Emily Giffin’s … she did a contest in which she asked readers to post/email pictures of them reading her book. Not sure if it was a random drawing for the signed first edition, but the pictures were fun and inventive.

    I also like the contests which just ask a simple question. The ‘Trees and Ink’ blog recently did a giveaway which asked readers to list a favorite author and book by that author. Ashley picked an answer at random.

    Anyhow, from the Queen of Making Everything More Difficult (ask my husband) … simple and easy seems to rule when it comes to contests and giveaways…



    stevepiacente Reply:

    I like all that and doubt you are the Queen of making things difficult, Laura 🙂 Better believe my next contest will be a simple one!


  5. Jenny Milchman said,

    Wrote on June 27, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

    Hopefully the people who did participate had fun–I think sometimes the goal isn’t high numbers, but showing yourself to be a creative, outside-the-box thinker. Which you are.


    stevepiacente Reply:

    Much appreciated, Jenny, but be assured I will make the next one a bit simpler!


  6. Lucy D'Andrea said,

    Wrote on June 29, 2011 @ 12:39 am

    Steve, thank you so much for sharing your experience. I do agree that keeping contests simple work best. You should be commended for the wonderful ideas you had for this contest and I hope that those who participated enjoyed themselves.




    stevepiacente Reply:

    I think that those who took the trouble enjoyed it, Lucy. Thanks for your comment; if you hear of a clever contest, please let us know here.


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