Ethical Bribes For Indie Authors

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Recently, I saw a contest where a blogger gave readers $60 to leave a comment.  This blogger was calling it a contest however, I didn’t agree.  What I saw was bribery.  But no matter what I thought, it was effective.  As I thought more about it, most contests are bribes anyway: do X, get Y.  With authors our X’s are generally, book reviews, or social media followers.  So how do we get what we want without looking like shady?

Contests That Don’t Work

Free eBooks are passé since Amazon started their KDP program, these days everyone and their mother is giving away free eBooks.  For example, Guy Kawasaki author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur said he gave away 200 eBooks in exchange for a review and only 40 of these people actually responded.  That’s about a 20% rate and he’s an online celeb!

Also, stickers, postcards, bookmarks and anything small and cheap rarely gets a huge response.  I once saw a Facebook admin begging people to enter a contest for a bookmark.  It was pretty sad!  I don’t understand, why authors have a contest where the postage stamp is more expensive than the prize?

How to do it Right!

Naïve authors have upped the ante by giving away freebies like gift cards, hardback books, and even Kindles, only to get screwed by not demanding something in return before the payday.  I’ve seen many authors complaining about how shady people are and how hard it is to get anyone to support their book.  One author gave away a free hardback of his new book to whoever would review the book on Amazon.  Guess what?  The winner took the book and never delivered on their end of the bargain.  His mistake: not getting the winner to do something BEFORE he ponied up the prize.  This way we all win.

Creating Prizes

To stand out from the crowd, and not be the typical author giving away ebooks or gift cards, try creating other products like t-shirts, posters and even cell phone cases with your book’s cover or quotes.  There are sites like Cafepress and Zazzle who help you do just that.  However, you have to be careful when using pictures of your cover unless, you’re certain that you own 100% of the rights to the image/art and not just a temporary license.  This will ultimately save you a trip to court.

Contest Ideas

Just so you don’t end up like that Facebook admin who was begging for entries to her book mark contest, here are a few contest ideas that will benefit you and your contestants.

Need a review?  Here’s a spin on freebies: give away a free ebook then tell contestants that when they review it, they’ll get a signed hardback or gift card.

Need likes on you Facebook page or retweets?  Ask people to share or retweet a carefully crafted post you’ve created featuring your book’s details and give away a t-shirt or swag pack.

Want more blog traffic or comments on your posts?  Ask a moderately difficult question and whoever answers it correctly, gets a gift card or a poster.

Awesome Contests That Delivered

Not long ago, there was a fantasy author who used a treasure hunt to promote his book.  The prize: a golden wand worth thousands.  Keep in mind this was sponsored by his publisher, one of the NY big six.  However, he was the one who set up a website with a message board where he moderated as one of the characters from his books.  Interesting eh?

Another author held a Twitter contest where readers had to retweet a post and with each RT, she would donate x amount of dollars to a local charity.  P.S. she ended up owing this charity a few grand.

Promote the Crap Out of it

Don’t forget to shout this from the roof tops if you want maximum results.  You can use social media, blogs, and podcasts to help raise awareness.  Some authors have even used online ads to promote their contests.  Again, this is your contest, and your rules.

A Final Word:

I wouldn’t be doing my job unless I told you to not pin all your hopes on contests.  There are people who scour the internet looking for contests as though it were their profession.  They’re often called, “sweepers” people who enter sweepstakes or (contests) with no regard for the prize at all.  So don’t expect to make fans out of these people.  Your objective is to get people to do something for you such as, review your book, or like your Facebook page.

Now it’s your turn, have you had any contests to promote your book?  Let us know what worked and what didn’t?


  1. runs what I think is a good promotion for authors. The author offers the book for free download and those who post a review before a certain date are entered into a drawing for one of five free physical copies to be given away.

    That promotion, for me, resulted in the highest number of reviews of any promotion I have done.

  2. Treasure hunts are a fantastic idea! I’d love to do that, but I doubt I could pull it off… it’d take such a huge amount of organisation.

    I run contests on my blog once every month or two, usually with a prize of either money via PayPal or free mentoring for bloggers. It’s definitely a bribe! I’ve seen how much more thought people put into their comments and other follow-up actions when there’s a little money on the table, and I’m happy to put my cash down to get them thinking hard about their career and taking steps to improve it.

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