Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

Never had a reason to say that until now . . . and now that I have, that’s [thankfully] behind me, so let’s move on to the last of the running-a-contest posts.

Having decided to run a contest, we’ve determined the:

  • rationale (our goal)
  • target
  • prize(s)
  • frequency, and
  • type.


Whether running a random-winner or most-votes-collected contest, we need to decide how to select the winner(s).  If you’re running a sweepstakes, where money or a prize is awarded to the contestee, you’ll want to ensure the contest is fair.  Give thought to using a random-selection tool site like Rafflecopter, Wishpond, Random Picker or, to name a few.  (They’re relatively easy to utilize, which I love.)

Basically, you collect entries on your contest entry page and when the contest has ended, click the “Select Winner Randomly” or “Generate Winner” button (or whatever the case may be, given the tool).  Hurrah, one contestee is quickly selected—at random.

If you’re going with a vote-type contest, you’ll be happy to know that most contest apps have built-in voting buttons and counters, which automates the retrieval of entries with the most votes.

I understand there are two great free tools for running Facebook contests, so if FB is your happy place, have at it (we like things that are simple and straightforward).

Edgerank Checker offers a tool that exports “Likes & Comments” from Facebook contest posts.  The site and product is called “Contest Capture” and is reputed to be “simple to use”.  Woodbox’s app is comparable to “Contest Capture”, but takes it one step farther—you have three options for choosing your winner.

Here are some quick but important points:

Ensure you craft an upbeat [awesome] “congratulations, you won!” email announcement.  Avoid the cookie-cutter approach and make it personal, especially if you have more than one winner.  And do check with him/her/them to see if it’s okay to publicize names (if this is your intention).

Make certain your winner has a good five to seven days to respond to the great news.  If there’s no response, select a new winner . . . and make sure you inform the original winner of this.

One thing you always want to include, regardless of which winner-selection tool or method you choose: a “Right to Disqualify” caveat.  This is vital, in the event you need to disqualify an inappropriate or fraudulent entry.


I’m going to give some [serious] thought to my own upcoming contest and draft a plan.  Good luck to me . . . and you . . . and here’s to garnering some winning results.

We Have a Winner!

Last post, the focus was running a blog contest—this post, ideas for a contest.  Given our remarkable if not impressive imaginations, the sky’s truly the limit (a valid statement worth repeating).

To restate, my intent: have a nothing-fancy, e-book giveaway at the end of March.  Yeah, kind of obvious.  That’s okay, because this suits my goal for the interim . . . but down the road, who knows what thrilling/sensational contests may transpire?  (I’ll keep you posted, literally.)

So, over to you.  You’re contemplating having a contest, but aren’t yet sure what to do to compel folks to follow you or buy from you and—most importantly—stick with you.

There are two basic types of contests:

  1. Entrants provide an email address to enter: this is a random-draw contest.  When the deadline arrives, you indiscriminately select a winner.
  2. Entrants submit “something” to compete for the prize: this is a best-entry contest.  These can be quite fun, but should be fairly straightforward; too time-consuming or intensive, and people won’t enter.

Let’s consider a few concepts:

  • best / most fun / silliest selfie, photo, or vid (perhaps with a caption or slogan relevant to your site’s theme or product/service)
  • social media notions that inspire potential entrants to share photos or vids that highlight your site, product or service
  • promotional post or composition about why your site is so awesome
  • fun / first-rate reasons why folks should follow your site, buy your product, invest in your service (and so forth)
  • compelling “why I should win” pieces of writing
  • thought-provoking quiz or trivia questions (perhaps about your site, product or service)
  • regular product and/or service giveaways (you determine how often and how much).


Depending on what you’re selling or blogging/writing about, you might want to run a specialized contest: most adorable pet or baby pics, stunning travel or holiday photos, yummy dessert/dish recipes, inventive or inspired drawings or designs.  You might even go for something like “The 500th Follower Wins”.  Again, imagination is boundless.  Have at it.

Decide how often you want to run a contest, too—once annually, twice, thrice?  It’s up to you.  But don’t do one [or many] simply for the sake of it: make sure you identify why you’re having a contest.  What’s the ultimate aim?  Determine your prize(s).  Decide how you’ll choose your winner(s)—we’ll look at this in a subsequent post.  Organize all pertinent components accordingly, because you don’t want any [flabbergasting] surprises.

To reiterate an essential point, keep it all simple and sweet—always.


And the Winner Is . . . ?

Anyone who focuses on a goal and sets it in motion is a winner, that’s who.  The outcome doesn’t have to be successful: the important thing is that you gave it a shot.

One of my goals in the next two months is to run a contest.  The plan: give away the three books in the Triple Threat Investigation Agency in both e-version and hopefully hardcover—“hopefully” because my formatter/designer is still MIA (hmm, wonder if that’s a sign).

This got me to thinking about contests and all that’s involved—and hey, what a great topic for a post!

Why run a contest?  To attract new visitors/followers and boost traffic to your blog or site would be key reasons.  To promote your business would be another.  Whatever the reason, for the contest to be a “winner”, the prize(s) should be pertinent to your site.  You want to attract contestants—followers—that are sure to [want to] stick with you over the long haul.


Given A Writer’s Grab-Bag is about writing and blogging (and the private eyes from The Triple Threat Investigation Agency), it’s a natural to have an e-book giveaway.  For you, it could be something completely different.  In fact, there’s nothing that says you have to give away something strictly dedicated to the focus or topic of your blog, but something relevant would make sense.

If you’d like to run a contest, consider what would work best for you.  Give some thought to what you’re hoping to accomplish and set an objective.  For me, I’d like to attract more followers—I’d be [very] happy with 50 new ones.  And if I could sell a few e-books in the process, all the better.

You know, he more I think and type about it, the more I realize this might be two- or three-part post.

Running a Contest = Giving [something] Away

Running a Contest = What Type of Contest Should be Run

Running a Contest = How to Select the Winner(s)

<LOL>  Just when you think something’s fairly straightforward, it isn’t.  Good ol’ Mr. Murphy’s Law hits you smack-dab between the eyes.

Let’s look at some options as to what you might like to give away.

Books: yeah, I’ve got them on my brain, but maybe you’d like to offer books/e-books you’ve written . . . or provide ones related to your blog’s theme.

Gift Cards/Certificates: who doesn’t love them (I do, I do)?  You can also offer the electronic (e) version.

Your Skills: while I don’t generally focus on my editing experience on this blog, if I were so inclined, I could offer free editing services for a select number of contest entrants.  What might you offer?

Ca$h: who doesn’t love cash (I do, I do)?  If you can afford it—and it doesn’t have to be a lot, by any means—give some away.

Products / Services from Another Company or Blogger: contact a blog or site that’s piqued your interest and/or is in line with yours.  See if they might consider serving as a sponsor and/or providing you with a freebie to give away.  In turn, perhaps you’d post a review or run a promotion for them.

How to announce the contest?  Have a page (which is stationary) and not a post (which is always moving as a new one is posted).  That said, however, also post about the contestPlace a link in your sidebar (or header).  Share the contest—in simple, straightforward terms—on social media.

Lastly, when all is said and done, and the contest has ended, think of a way to cheer up the non-winners.  Email them singularly maybe.  Offer something to entice them to remain followers, like a guest post perhaps (imagination truly has no bounds).

Speaking of winning, I have a lottery ticket to check . . . so I’ll leave you with the notion of running a contest.  Next post: a look at different types of contest ideas.

Here’s to a winning day, my friends.


#1 . . . One . . . Won

#1 = single = first/firstly = one = sole = singular

The title, oddly, came in a dream.  What does/did it mean?  No idea!  But I felt a need to play with it.  Given this blog is related to writing/blogging and the gals (JJ, Rey and Linda) at the Triple Threat Investigation Agency, I’m simply going to type whatever pops into the ol’ noggin’.  Why not do one post without a pre-set plan in mind?

The first action I’m taking this (very early) morning is penning this post.  The second-first is taking a breather while enjoying a hot coffee (it’s really cold here right now) and a few cookies (orange-cranberry, in case you’re curious).

My single thought/objective re A Writer’s Grab-Bag: learn how to make and get the most out of it.  Utilize all the bells and whistles.  Make it happen.  That’s the #1 intention for the year.

My sole aim re the Triple Threat Investigation Agency series: get ”Forever Poi” completed and ready for Amazon, etc.  My one dream re the TTA P.I.s?  <LMAO>  Get a film/TV deal.

Maybe you’re new to this blog or blogs in general, or are thinking of starting your own.  That’s awesome!  You’ve got your #1 on the list nailed.

The #1 question on some folks’ minds perhaps: why create a blog?  We-ell, besides the fact it’s fun, blogging’s become a prevalent means of communication.  It’s an excellent way to share information.  Did you know money could be made at blogging?  T’is true.   It takes time, however, and commitment . . . and, as the saying goes, don’t quit your day job (at least not right away).

So, first and foremost, determine your niche/focus.  Who will you blog for?  Make it a sole priority to become familiar with “Blogging 101”.  Don’t be daunted by the plethora of information out there; embrace it.


It’s been on your mind, on your tongue, and in your heart—so, commit to it.  And Day One: set up that blog (it’s neither difficult nor time-consuming).  It’s Establish goals.  Get a domain name and blog host, install a free blogging platform, add an opt-in form to collect subscribers/followers, start posting (take a look at last year’s posts).  And after you’ve got that marvelous eye-catching blog up and running, one thing you’ll want to do: keep it interesting, keep it fresh/current.

We all have it within us to do well.  You (and I) can be top bloggers—#1s!  It’s merely a matter of applying ourselves and managing each objective as if it were the first and foremost one.

We’ve won when even one (no matter how small the goal is) is done, because—kudos to us—we made a decision and saw it through to fruition.

Ones have run into some, but they’re still single units in the grand scheme of it all.  And now, the single thing I’m going to do is give thought to the weekend post while munching more of the aforementioned cookies.  Nummmmm.

Have one heckuva day, my friends!



Newsy Know-How

One of the goals this year [besides managing to find more time for writing / blogging / posting] is to get a newsletter going.  Sure, I could write one now and again [I think], but it needs to be a regular feature.  Can I do “regular”?  Hmm.  Methinks not—not right now.  But never say never (as JJ, one of the Triple Threat Investigation Agency private eyes, often resolutely says).

Let’s consider what makes a good newsletter, besides the aforementioned regularity.  But speaking of, if you’re planning to start sending out newsletters, commit to it.  Determine when / how often and inform your followers accordingly.  Let them know what they can expect.  As an FYI, it’s said morning is the best time to send out items such as newsletters, as most people check their email at least once every morning (I can attest to this as I do so, at least three times).

Most importantly first perhaps: decide if you even need to have a newsletter.  If yes, determine what the newsletter will entail: is it for a blog or a business, or . . . ?  Being a writer/blogger and sometimes editor, I’d want mine to encompass what’s happening in the writing and blogging world.  That, however, might result in a plethora of news that could bound all over the place, like Angry Birds and Pigs on a battlefield.


Focus on a few key items.  Cover a variety of topics, but not an overabundance.

What’s the goal?  Define what you intend to accomplish by sending one out—attract [more] followers, make sales, inform.  Ascertain your audience and write specifically for it.

You can certainly be both informational and promotional; keep the latter to a minimum (10-15%).

This may sound like a broken record (discs used on devices called turntables before downloading became the thing): write well.  Keep your newsletter readable and pertinent to your audience.  Your content should be engaging and free of typos and errors.  Research, as necessary, to ensure accuracy.

A newsletter title would be good, something that readers/followers will become familiar with and anticipate the arrival of.  Make sure it reflects what you’re “newslettering” about.  And while on the topic of titles, make certain you have intriguing (fetching) headings for your subject matter.

What’s that newsletter going to look like?  It should be appealing.  Avoid too much print (you don’t want readers suffering eye strain).  Have strategically placed photos and white space.  Choose an effective font (nothing too fancy).  Think: layout.

Don’t forget CTAs—call-to-action buttons—but use them only if you truly want/need your followers to do something (like forward your email to a friend or make a purchase).


You may want to set a schedule for six months or a year.  List topics you want to cover and set dates . . . and, yes, commit to the timetable.

Determine how to execute the newsletter.  Will you send it in its entirety or provide a link?

After you’ve finished (and polished) that awesome newsletter, upload it to your email marketing system (MailChimp is good, but this is by no means an endorsement).  When you send out, by the by, make sure your subject line is as engaging as your newsletter: capture the attention of your followers/readers so that they are intrigued enough to want to immediately open the email.

You know I can’t not say this <LOL>: do your due diligence.  See what others are doing to get a feel for what works (and what doesn’t).

Tracking is part of the equation, too, but let’s touch upon gauging traffic in another post.

You may also wish to do some testing to see what works—i.e. try different newsletter looks and approaches.  Or just go for it.  Time will dictate whether you continue or navigate a new route.

Learn.  Develop.  Grow.  Above all, my friends, have fun.

Prettying the Package: Boost Your Bio

Having a dynamic front cover and engaging back cover is vital for success (which = s-a-l-e-s).  What about your author bio—the one you have on your blog/website and the one you’ll have in your book?  (They should be different.)

While a bio would encompass information on your resume, it shouldn’t read like one; it should be well-crafted and appropriate for the “venue”.  For example, the bio on your site would be more detailed than the one included in your book.  You’ll want a super brief one, too, for social media sites.  Make sure they’re informative yet interesting; let’s not have readers do the zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz thing.  You’ve just finished some great writing; make certain that bio is equally great.

Ensure your bio reflect your writing.  Consider your audience and voice.  What sort of impression are you looking (hoping) to convey?  If you haven’t (yet) been published, it’s perfectly all right to state this.  Just keep it short and sweet.  Remember: we all have to start somewhere.

Many people write bios in first person.  Opt for third; it should sound objective rather than subjective.  And what would you start with?  How about your first/best writing accomplishment, your literary achievement(s)?  If you have a lot, pare them down: highlight the cream of the crop.

Tell us about what you’ve written—books, articles, short stories, poems, posts.  If you’ve received awards or five-star reviews, or completed an internship, let us know.  And if you have a degree that’s relevant to your writing/blogging career, add it.  Feel free to include any first-hand experiences that augment credibility.

Particulars you probably don’t want to add (unless they’re truly pertinent to your writing/career): where you were born and/or reside, parental or educational info, travel or personal experiences.  Be factual, to be sure, but be you.  Give your bio personality.

If you’re funny, show off your wit.  If you’re writing a series, detail book features or quirks.  There’s nothing wrong with adding call-to-action buttons for followers/readers to sign up for a mailing list or enter giveaways.  And by all means, include links if applicable.

As I’ve often said: do your due diligence.  Take a gander at the bios of other writers and bloggers.  Get a feel for what works (and, again, what doesn’t).

Ask friends and family, and followers for feedback.  If you belong to a writing community, request input.  I follow the SPF Community and the advice/support that marvelous group provides is constructive and encouraging.

Lastly, a photo will be required for your book, blog/website, and social media (among other things).  Go for a good, professional-looking one.


I’m Ba-ack . . . with Back Covers

The last four-five weeks have been crazy-bad ones . . . but in a good way.  Sometimes you have to undergo a breath-sucking plummet—like shooting down Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Full Throttle loop-de-loop rollercoaster—to ascend again.  And this time, you’re totally revitalized, very optimistic, and ready to take on the world.

Angst now [blessedly] cast aside, I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll.  “Forever Poi” is almost done.  One final edit and all that’s required is formatting, a front and back cover . . . and to find my MIA formatter-designer.  <LOL>

Front covers, as we know, must be appealing, period (I’ve posted about them in past).  Back covers are equally important, but I don’t believe we often give them as much thought or weight.  We should, because as soon as a potential buyer has eyed the engaging front cover, he/she will check out the back.  It had better be equally engaging.

The words on the back cover—about 150, give or take—serve as your selling tool.  They must entice.

In present tense, summarize your novel in one or two paragraphs; ensure to include a couple of key plot hooks.  Such as . . . ?  Your protagonist’s predicament or quest would be ideal.  Add an appealing question perhaps; it often works well in snagging that potential buyer’s interest.

As an example, the Triple Threat Investigation Agency gals’ latest case involves arson and homicides.  I’m apt to add something like this to my back cover: Who in the close-knit local art world is desperate enough to set a gallery ablaze in a drastic attempt to conceal two brutal murders?  Yeah, needs a little refining, but you get the idea.

If you’re doing this for the first time, take a look at several in your genre.  Get a feel for what works (and what doesn’t).  Most fiction back covers follow a formula.  They’ll begin with a situation, present a problem or conundrum, provide a kink or two, and then end with a sentence that prompts the reader’s curiosity, be it via aforementioned question or cliffhanging scenario.

Make sure that first sentence is a killer (mystery writer talking).  If it’s not, it won’t encourage your potential purchaser to carry on, much less buy.  Play around.  Use words appropriate to your genre.  Invest serious time in getting that back cover—blurb, selling tool—to prove effective, because you want to attain your ultimate goal: sales.  If you’re able to get an endorsement or two from writers recognized in your sphere, go for it: nothing adds credibility like testimonials.

You’ve got what it takes: have at it, my friends!



⇒ A big thanks Rey for holding the fort these last couple of weeks. 

Starting Off a New Year Just Right

JJ and Linda haven’t returned from their holiday trips and festivities, so I’m taking over the 1st official post of the year.  The topic was super simple to figure out—how to start off a new year just right.  How, you ask?  Not with those New Year’s resolutions that never last long, but with a goal (or two) and commitment.

As an FYI, I hear that of the folks who make resolutions, not even half manage to keep them until mid-February.  That’s depressing.  But having made them—a lot!—over the years, I can confirm that.  It’s tough keeping promises, but not impossible.  For example, as someone who wanted to be an actress from the age of seven on, I can attest to the fact that if you want something badly enough, you can make it happen—through commitment and perseverance.

Decide on what you’d like to accomplish this year.  Make it a significant and/or life-changing goal.  Avoid having too many goals (or “resolutions”), because too many equals non-success.  Remember this my friends: to attain something means you have to give up or change something, which isn’t easy.  This is where commitment comes in.

Take your goal and break it into manageable bits.  Draw up a plan.  It doesn’t have to be extensive.  Keep it simple.  For instance, when I decided I was going to become an actress, I didn’t hop on the first bus to Hollywood.  I jotted down actions needed to make it happen.  I started reading up on the performing arts and film folks, and learned (devoured) all I could.  I took acting lessons, tried out for community stage productions, and volunteered in the theater world.  Some things worked out brilliantly; some not so much.  That’s okay.  It’s all part of the process.

Consider all the things you can do to make your goal reality.  Know that there’ll be setbacks, that you may receive criticism, warranted or otherwise (some folks can be just plain nasty).  Play duck: let the negative stuff flow off your back like water droplets.

Share your goal with others.  I told my mother (mistake, but live and learn), friends and cousins I trusted, and a couple of teachers.  I felt that by stating my intention—my quest, if you like—I had to, and would, stick to it.

Motivation: be your own driving force.  You can do it if it’s in your heart to do.  I know, because I’ve been there.  Sure, there’ll be off days.  The odd one may even knock the winds out of your sails.  And no, it won’t be simple, but think of it this way: if it were super easy, that awesome (!) sense of accomplishment—joy, triumph—wouldn’t happen.  Let me tell you, there’s no better feeling than experiencing a sense of success that comes from knowing you—yes, you—did it.


I’ll leave you with some quotes that have kept—and still keep—me from straying off the path (too often):

“You always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear.” – Sammy Davis, Junior (actor, comedian, dancer and singer)

“Life is a challenge, meet it!  Life is a dream, realize it!  Life is a game, play it!  Life is love, enjoy it!” – Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Indian guru and philanthropist)

“Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s the determination and commitment to unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.” – Mario Andretti (racing-car driver)

“Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.” – Julie Andrews (actor, singer, and author)

Here’s to 2018 being your year.



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