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How I Built a List of 4000 Emails by Running an E-Reader Contest

Willow Shire is an author who struggles with depression. His non-fiction focuses on depression and the writing life.

How I Built a Massive Email List

As a new urban fantasy author, I spent a lot of time building out a strategy to obtain readers. One of those strategies was a Kindle Paperwhite giveaway.

The goal was to drive users to download my free short story Greed: An Urban Fantasy Heist. I wanted to build my email list for future launches, promotions, and networking.

In two months, I built an email list of over 4000 unique email entries.

There were several lessons I learned while tracking this information.

Preparing for Your Contest Is More Important Than Running the Contest

You must prepare everything in advance. I started thinking about my contest two months before it began. Several weeks beforehand, I was researching contest marketing and other strategies to drive traffic.

That led to me discovering Giveaway Frenzy and other sites for promotion. I vetted all of those sites, figuring out which ones were most likely scams and which ones seemed to give the most bang for my buck.

After that, I set up all my email automation to onboard contestants into my reading group.

If I decided, “I’m going to run a contest tomorrow,” it would have fallen flat on its face.

Like anything, you need to prepare. I’m lucky and have the advantage of a marketing background with experience in Facebook ads, Google Analytics, viral sharing tools, etc. If you don’t, start researching the tools you’ll need to pull off a successful contest.

How to use these tools is beyond the scope of this article, but I suggest setting up the following:

  1. A contest tool like KingSumo or similar. It allows for viral sharing and point-based entries to encourage visits to your social platforms, website, freebies, etc.
  2. A mailing list provider like MailChimp to onboard contestants. Make sure you learn how to properly onboard subscribers. Tammi Labrecque has an excellent book called Newsletter Ninja to help you with this task. It’s important, even more important than the contest. You don’t want people to enter then lose them due to poor email marketing.
  3. Find a contest promotion tool. There is an extensive list at Be sure to vet the site you want to use. I recommend Giveaway Frenzy. They do the work for you, and they submit to many of the sites on this list, too.
  4. Paid social media ads resulted in the most entries. You can set up a free account to run ads with your budget. If you don’t know how to use Facebook ads, you may want to hire a professional to set up the ads or show you how to set them up. Learning them last minute can be a daunting task and lead to high burn rates with your budget.

Once you prepare, the contest should run smoothly. If it doesn’t, you’ll be able to quickly react, knowing the tools you are using, and fix any issues. For example, the relevancy of the Kindle (more on that below) led to four spam reports against my email list. At the time, I was up to 1200 contestants getting a thank you email.

Four people reported the thank you email—flagged it as spam, accidentally moved it to their junk folder, etc. It only took 4 people to raise flags with MailChimp. Because everything was already in place, and I knew the tools, I was able to quickly react and tweak my email setup to avoid future reports. Crazy, I know. 4 is less than .03 percent. That’s not 3%, that’s less than 1%. That quick reaction kept my marketing moving in a strict industry of email regulation.

Without that preparation, knowing the tools well beforehand, and having my strategy planned out, I would’ve freaked out when a wrench was thrown into the works.

Facebook Is Exceptional, but Be Prepared to Spend Money

I utilized Facebook ads as one of my main methods of advertising. Facebook accepts certain image dimensions, so I created several fitting the scheme and tested those ads over the course of a week. After a week, I trimmed the fat so to speak. I tossed the ads that had a high cost per click value and kept the lowest around 27 cents per click. Others were upwards of 70 cents per click. Then I ran more tests, changing out the imagery, and playing with settings.

In the end, I was able to get an ad consistently costing 27 cents per click. I let it run and pumped my ad budget into that single ad. At my final count, Facebook accounted for 2884 visits to the page, and most of them signed up. That ended with an average cost of 32 cents per click. When you add this up, it gets expensive quickly, but I thought the number of visitors was exceptional for being a new author.

Giveaway Websites Were the Cheapest

You can submit your contest to giveaway websites on your own or pay for someone to do it. My opinion… pay for someone to do it. There are hundreds of sites making it a time-consuming task to submit to everyone.

I used Giveaway Frenzy’s aggressive package. It was around $140 when I signed up in November. They submitted to websites, ran social promotions, and more. During that time, I received at least 1000 visits I can tie to those third party giveaway sites.

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Cost per lead: 13 cents.

This was much cheaper than Facebook.

Facebook VS Giveaways, Who Wins?

In the future, I’ll still do both forms of advertising; however, I think the giveaway sites are the way to generate leads. For my giveaway, I focused on one month of advertising because of budgetary reasons. Basically, Facebook ate my budget as I tested things, but now I have the data to move forward with future ads.

My contest ran for two months. I think changing out the imagery, text, and running another round the second month would have generated another round of entries. The viral sharing options could have led to even more entrants at that lower cost.

Learn from my contest. Facebook is great at reaching more people, but the giveaway sites have a lower cost to entry ratio.

On a side note, only run one mass contest site at a time. They all submit to the same websites, so paying two services would cause duplication and wasted money.

Relevance of a Kindle Paperwhite to Authors

The results of my contest have shown that giving away high valued technology is not the way to get interested email subscribers. Many of the courses I’ve taken suggest giving Kindles, tablets, and other devices as long as it is relevant to readers.

This makes sense.

The question is, “What is relevant to YOUR readers?”

Readers want a Kindle, but I found that a small fraction of people were interested in reading Urban Fantasy books. Only about 12% stuck around. Sure, that’s better than where I started at 0, but I would rather have 1500 entries with a 50% ratio of people sticking around.

I’m curious how many people didn’t enter because of owning a Kindle, too. Remember, a high number of entries is useless if they aren’t interested in your product.

My next contest will center on giving away a large set of fantasy books. That accomplishes two things:

  1. It’s relevant to readers, like the Kindle.
  2. It’s relevant only to the readers of my genre, unlike the Kindle.

Hopefully this results in a better readership even if the entries are lower overall.

If you run a contest or any other promotion, record your data and use it to guide your decision making. The Kindle might work better for some authors than it did for me. I'll keep experimenting and recording the results. Once my next contest is over, I'll write a comparison between the two and publish the results showing which was more successful.

Have you run a contest? How were your results?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Willow Shire


Farrah Young from Lagos, Nigeria on March 22, 2020:

This is useful information for someone looking to build an email list.

I have bookmarked it for future reference. Thanks.

PoetikalyAnointed on February 08, 2019:

You welcome.

I'll read it during my down time.

Have a great weekend!

Willow Shire (author) from Central Pennsylvania, USA on February 08, 2019:

Awesome! Thanks! It’s on my website. Greed is free through the front page or book sections.

PoetikalyAnointed on February 08, 2019:


U will be checking for your Book too. It's important to support each other.

If there is a direct link to read it, let me know.

Willow Shire (author) from Central Pennsylvania, USA on February 08, 2019:

Thanks! I’m planning the next one out with a group of books. Always experimenting and trying to find what works best. Hoping for better results that other writers can use to their advantage.

PoetikalyAnointed on February 07, 2019:

Hi Willow,

I'm glad that I took some time to finally read this. Kudos to you for taking the initiative to even do a Contest. It's a brilliant idea to run a Free one for so many: You get a ready-made fan-base for those who stuck it out. You can analyze the margin between that group from the initial group and make adjustments. This gives you a forecast on possible book sales and play with various book format.

This is exciting and I hope the next one goes better.

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