Everyone loves a giveaway. It's a pretty unifying human trait to be drawn to free anything. You can toss stuff at your readers like a handful of plastic beads from a Mardi Gras parade float. Or...you can maximize and make your giveaways work for you.
For giveaways, you need to focus on timing and product. Let's talk about timing first.
You can run a giveaway/contest whenever you want, but there are times when it will be the most advantageous. Running a contest when your readers can't at least pre-order your book is silly. The point of a contest is to get readers to buy your book. You can start one leading up to the release date, encouraging pre-orders, but don't go much earlier than that.
So obviously, at your book's release. Also, to celebrate good news. For example, if you sign a contract for a sequel or companion novel/novella, announce the blessed deal with a giveaway. You can also do this when you reach a milestone such as a certain number of 5-star reviews or hitting the NYT Best Sellers list.
Just be careful not to run too many. If it feels like you are running a new giveaway every other month, your contests will start to diminish in perceived value no matter what you're giving away.
So let's talk about what you are going to give away. The first reaction of most authors is to give away your book. This is a bad idea. You want readers to buy your book. If they are entering for a chance to win it, they aren't buying it. They will wait until the contest is over and then you have to hope they remember to buy it.
I would also suggest staying away from big ticket items. While these can be flashy and draw a lot of attention, they aren't going to be drawing in your readers. Instead, you will get lots of entries from people only interested in the prize. Now you might say, but if they are spreading the word as part of the contest then do I care if they want to read my book? Yeah, you do. If I'm a college guy just trying to win an ipad, what are the chances that my Twitter followers or Facebook friends are interested in your book. Pretty low. You want your contest to attract real readers who are going to spread the word about your book because they genuinely want other people to read it.
What can you give away. I'm a big fan of gift baskets. Who doesn't love a gift basket? Call it a prize pack, box o' fun or prizeapalooza if you want to, but the idea is lots of low cost items that packaged together contain a high perceived value.
Gift cards are a good choice, as is swag, but beware the curse of the cover. I love this recent post by Leigh Anne Kopans about resisting the urge to slap your cover on everything and passing it out like candy. She suggests swag that ties in with your book and makes the owner feel like part of the in-crowd. Think about it. Would you rather have a shirt with the cover of the Hunger Games on it or a shirt that says "May the odds be ever in your favor"? Yep, that's what I thought.
Think about items in your book that would make good giveaways. Does your character have a favorite snack food? Throw a box of those in. A favorite book or CD? Add that too. Does your main character have a catch phrase? Print it on something fun like a bumper sticker or button. Does your character wear a signature piece of jewelry or shade of lipstick? You guessed it. Add it to the swag box.
By adding a little originality, you can make your giveaway something every fan will want to enter.
Today's task is to brainstorm at least five unique items you could use in a giveaway. Be sure to price them out and consult your budget.