Thursday, May 27, 2010

Winning Contests, Part II

Stephanie Barko is a Literary Publicist. She works with adult authors of nonfiction and historical fiction. Some of her clients are 2009 Spur Award Winner John Nesbitt, 2008 Southwest Book Award Winner Paul Cool, Christy & 2008 Willa Award Winner Jane Kirkpatrick, and 2008 Book of the Year Winner Sandra Worth.

Stephanie offered to follow up her February post, Contests and Authors, with today’s post on entering contests to not just analyze your social networking strategy, but to learn to use it to promote yourself and your books.

Welcome Literary Publicist Stephanie Barko.

Winning Contests, Part II

 On February 23 of this year, Straight from Hel posted my article about entering contests as a promotional tool for writers and authors, which you responded to with 28 comments.

Today I’d like to revisit the topic with a special focus on a particular aspect of winning contests. Lately it has become popular among contest sponsors to use the contest as a vehicle to create incoming traffic to the sponsoring website. If you enter a contest that requires a popular vote prior to the editorial judging phase, then those votes are being used to create web traffic for the sponsor. This is a highly effective device on the part of the sponsor because they benefit from everyone who enters the contest, regardless of whether players ever pay an entry fee or submit an entry.

If you have a significant opt-in list, and/or Facebook and Twitter following, there is no reason why you cannot win a writing contest that requires a popular vote. All you need to do is motivate your following to vote.

Who & How To Ask for Votes

The first people you want to ask to vote for you are those who are hardest to reach and those who are the least computer literate because they will need the most lead time to complete your request. The last people you want to ask are the ones you can instant message and Tweet.

Anyone you regularly pay money to is fair game and anyone who owes you a favor is low hanging fruit. If you know someone gregarious who works in an office, you may be able to motivate them to get their entire office to vote for you.

During the last few hours of a contest, there is typically a flurry of activity to rack up votes. This is when you begin to understand the value of Facebook Chat, where you can ambush your Friends and provide them a link to vote for you. You may want to offer incentives for people to drop what they’re doing and vote for you, like copies of books you’ve already read or any freebies you have lying around. You can check the fine print in your contest, but it’s not likely that you will find language which prohibits reasonable incentivizing to gain votes.

Make sure that you thank every person who votes for you. Offer to vote for them and return the favor. You may want to ask your voters to ask their following to vote for you, (especially their Twitter following on the last night of the contest).

Why Voting is Important 

In contests like this, voting is the ante for making your piece eligible for editorial judging. It may be the top ten vote getters, for instance, that will be judged. All the rest of the players are just driving traffic to the sponsor’s website, so read the rules and know what the sponsor will be doing with your friends’ contact information.

Entering a voting contest will show you where the strengths and holes are in your social networking matrix. You will learn the value of the social sphere in your marketing mix and each platform’s unique capabilities. You may already be a good writer when you enter this type of contest, but to win it you will become as good at social media as you are at writing.

Thank you Stephanie.

Although Stephanie has many award winning clients, she also works with traditional publishers and their authors, small presses, and recently published authors. You can visit Stephanie at Authors' Assistant or at the blog, The Author's Assistant.

You can also ask her questions here today. Just leave a note or a question in the Comments section.
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  1. Thanks Helen and Stephanie.
    This post answered questions I've had and have been trying to research.

  2. Thank you Helen and Stephanie. This post was informative AND funny, "Anyone you regularly pay money to is fair game and anyone who owes you a favor is low hanging fruit." :-)

    I rarely enter contests but just read recently of a man who shopped his story around to many different publishers only to have it rejected time and again. He entered a contest, won, and his story got a ton of exposure and led to bigger and better things.

    So between your post and his success, I will start exploring the contest world.

    Thanks again.

  3. This is vital information for me. Very well organized and direct ways to get my circle of friends and acquaintences to get on my side. This was a very productive post. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise. God bless, Bobbi

  4. This is really interesting! I haven't entered any of these contests yet, but I'll certainly keep these tips in mind for when the moment comes! :)

  5. I definitely don't have enough online contacts to win a contest like that!

  6. These tips make a lot of sense. I've never thought of contacts in that way before--the ones who are most computer illiterate vs. the ones who ARE...but categorizing them that way certainly works well for this purpose!

  7. Alex, you may be surprised how far your reach is.

    I don't usually write short stories, so, frankly, I'd not even heard of contests where you win based on votes.

  8. I'd not heard of these types of contests either, Helen.

  9. Sounds almost like an American Idol of the literary world. The most votes wins :)

  10. I think what this does, other than give you a win in a writing contest, is show an agent that you have a platform - a group of followers large enough to enable you to win (and this would translate into sales).

  11. I entered one contest this year, and it was clear the the social networkers had an edge. It didn't occur to me that it was a defined strategy though. Thanks for the tips.

    Helen, I gave you a mention today.


  12. Thank you both. Very interesting and helpful info.

  13. I never thought about contests as a way of improving my social media skills (which definitely could use improvement). Thanks for the idea.

  14. I know what you mean on social networking coming from a contest. My network was zero zip at the end of '07, when I naively entered First Chapters Romance contest.

    What an eye opener. I didn't have the network behind me. I ended up in the top 20% which wasn't bad for a newbie not afraid to try.

    The biggest *win* if you will, was the social network I developed. I made friends with an American Title finalist. My god watching her network, listening to her suggestions--invaluable. I watched the veterans of such contests amass 500-800 votes, not just in one round but in three. I was in awe. I learned so much by observation and following the example.

    I saw those last minute vote searches. Whew. Amazing.

    Will I ever enter one of those types of contests again? Probably not.

    Enjoyed the savvy points in both articles. :-)

  15. I've been mentioned! Thank you, Liza. I'll be over in a minute to see why. ;-)

    Sia, I think it's fascinating to hear what you gained from the experience. I've never entered one of these. For one, I didn't even know about them. For another, I'm afraid I'd end up so close to the bottom, I'd be crying in my beer.

  16. Thank you, Helen and Stephanie. I must admit I usually shy away from contests - but I can see how it would be useful for promotional purposes.

  17. This is such a timely post for me because I'm in one of those contests where votes will make or break me, and it's forced me to learn a whole lot more about social networking (and networking in general). You make some excellent points here, and ones that I will definitely keep in mind.

    In the contest I'm in, judges made determinations up until the top 5, and then beyond that, it's all based on popular vote. I've been surprised at how far I've been able to go.

    And I guess in a post like this I'd be remiss if I didn't actually mention the contest. It's the Fresh Blood contest, and my novel is Heart of the City so if anyone would be so kind as to check out the site and throw a vote my way (if you like what you see), then I would be grateful. And I am always happy to reciprocate. The website is:

  18. Thank you, Lisa. I'll link over and check it out.

  19. I guess I'm naive, but I always figured the quality of the writing should determine the vote. I never try to drum up votes beyond one or two friends at work, and then I just point them to the contest and tell them to vote for the best story. Of course, I don't tend to win any contests either. :o

  20. Perhaps it's just me and my personal issues, but I would be at least annoyed and at worst seriously offended to be harangued to vote for someone in a blog contest.

    What really annoys me in blog contests are the ones that require you to either follow the blog, post about the blog or contest, or jump through any other hoops in order to be eligible to win. The ones that give you extra points for the above bug me a bit, but at least they don't disqualify you for not following the blog.

  21. I don't host contests often. I do know I'll be doing a book giveaway this year as the author has already sent me the book. As long as I can get your email address from your blog profile I don't plan on asking for more info, except from the winner, of course.

  22. Interesting topic and pointers, but I am going to have to think long and hard before I enter those kinds of popularity contests.

    Since I hate getting those "vote for me" requests, I am sure that most of my friends feel the same way. They are annoying and I don't often have the time to go read all the entries to determine if I want to vote for a particular entry.

    A number of the writers' lists that I belong to have people sending out these requests frequently and there is a sense that because we are friends on this list I must go vote. In fact, some are even worded that way, which is a real turn-off for me.

    I'm not sure if winning one of those popularity-driven contests would have the same respect factor as winning the Hemingway contest, or other well-known writing contest that only evaluates the quality of the writing.

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. (sorry for the previous deleted post - forgot to say something and didn't have the option to edit.) But anyway...

    It's been very interesting to follow the comments on this post, I must say, and there's been a lot of food for thought for me, particularly since I'm currently in one of those contests that are vote driven.

    I understand those that believe a contest should be purely based on merit (although writing quality is always subjective, so merit in these contests is also subjective). I would love to see all contests based purely on merit. Also, many of the contests are half and half. For example, in the contest I'm in, a panel of judges (editors and published authors in the genre) determined the finalists up to the top 5. It was only at that point that it became vote-driven.

    Personally I hate the whole popularity vote thing, and overcoming my reticence about asking people for support has been one of the most difficult things about the contest.

    But with some of the contests, I think there is a point behind the public vote portion. For example, those contests where the prize is a publishing contract (like the one I'm in), I'd suspect that the publishers sponsoring the contest are also looking to see how well authors promote themselves which is a big factor in publishing these days. If you're willing and able to promote yourself prior to publication, then it bodes well for promoting your book after publication.

    I should hope that nobody would expect anyone else to vote for them in any contest (save for family and closest friends). Support in a contest is a gift, not an obligation.

    I also see mention that people wouldn't feel right asking for votes. I understand that, too. It feels wrong, and I can speak from personal experience. It would be nice to think that the masses will be drawn to the contest sites to vote based purely on their like or dislike of an entry, but any author participating in such a contest must realize that their competitors are out there soliciting votes, so to sit back and hope for people to just find the contest site and vote is at best unrealistic and assuring yourself a loss. It's nice to be idealistic, but the bottom line -- at least for me (and like I said, forgive me, because it is a bit personal for me right now) is that often there's something very big at stake in these contests (in my case a book publishing contract with a fairly major genre publisher) and I don't think it's wrong to pursue that as hard as one possibly can. I would never expect a vote from anyone, and in fact, in most of the posts I've made about my contest in particular, I've expressed my belief in the right of anyone to vote however they see fit, or their right to ignore the contest completely.

    Anyway, forgive my ramble. I've just been following the comments and really wanted to jump back in with another comment of my own. Thanks for bearing with me!


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