A book scavenger hunt is an extremely powerful author marketing tool that will help you connect with new readers.
Robin Lee Hatcher has seen the power of a scavenger hunt at work. She is an award-winning novelist and has written more than 70 books. She started in the general market and wrote for publishers such as Leisure Books, Harper Paperbacks, Avon Books, and Silhouette.
In 1997, she felt a call to write stories infused with her deep faith in God and has since written for Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, Revell, Steeple Hill, Tyndale House, Multnomah, and WaterBrook. In 2014, Robin received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Christian Fiction Writers Association.
Robin knows about writing and promoting novels, and she’s hosted her fair share of book scavenger hunts.
What is a book scavenger hunt?
Robin: A book scavenger hunt hosted by authors is an online game for readers that introduces them to new authors and books.
Authors who write in similar genres collaborate and host a scavenger hunt stop on their websites. Readers go from website to website, searching for scavenger hunt clues.
At the end of the hunt, readers will have collected all the “clues,” which are typically words that complete a quote. Readers enter the completed quote with their email address into a RaffleCopter form at the end of the hunt. When they submit the form, they are entered to win a collection of books by the participating authors.
From the author’s perspective, a book scavenger hunt is one way to introduce your readers to other books in your genre and to be introduced to other authors’ audiences.
How does an author organize a book scavenger hunt?
Robin: The event organizer will choose a quote from a writer or about writers and will break the quote into one or two-words chunks. Each chunk of the quote becomes a “clue” that will be displayed on participating authors’ websites.
Each participating author inserts the scavenger hunt instructions and the clue in a blog post or on a book page on their website. When readers visit each site, they read your blog, learn about your book, collect the clue, and click through to the next author’s website, where they can find the next clue.
What is the benefit to authors?
Thomas: Book scavenger hunts drive traffic to author websites. If you partner with 30 authors, each author’s audience participates in the online hunt during a specified window of time. Authors typically see their web traffic increase tenfold during a scavenger hunt.
Robin: Most of our participating authors see 2,000-3000 additional website hits during the two-and-a-half-day event.
How does a scavenger hunt impact book sales?
Robin: Traditional authors have difficulty determining the impact on sales since publishers don’t give them timely access to that data. Traditional authors can, however, watch their Amazon rankings to see if the scavenger hunt moves their books up in the rankings.
Indie authors can see the daily impact on sales in their KDP dashboard.
How does a book scavenger hunt impact email newsletter signups?
Robin: I see my newsletter subscriptions spike every time I run a scavenger hunt. But one of the most rewarding aspects of the hunt is when I receive an email from a reader saying, “I’ve never heard of you, but I’m looking forward to reading your books!”
Most readers who participate in a Christian fiction book scavenger hunt are serious readers of Christian fiction. They are delighted to find new books because they are voracious readers. They go through many books and are always looking for a new author to read.
How do scavenger hunts create a sense of urgency for readers?
Thomas: Readers like to procrastinate. They won’t do it today if they can do it tomorrow. A book scavenger hunt has a deadline. All the clues must be collected and submitted by a certain day. It creates urgency that propels readers all the way through the scavenger hunt.
Robin: Readers are so eager to start. Even though the hunt doesn’t begin until Friday at noon, some readers try to start on Thursday night before all the sites are activated.
How many authors do you need to host a successful scavenger hunt?
Robin: We shoot for 30 participants. I’ve found that 35 is the max. We usually have many authors from every genre of Christian fiction interested in participating.
Readers have varying interests, so for each scavenger hunt, we try to include as many genres of Christian fiction as we can.
What is the first step for an author who wants to host a scavenger hunt?
Robin: If you’re starting with a group of authors, choose one person to be the point person in charge.
If you’re seeking authors to participate, you’ll want to put out the call and find the authors who want to participate. Three months before your scavenger hunt event, get confirmation from participants and put their information in a spreadsheet. We used a Google sheet so everyone could enter their own information and have access to the other authors’ website URLs and book titles.
Each author’s webpage must include a link to a webpage that contains all the links to every stop on the scavenger hunt.
Occasionally a link will break, a website will crash, or a browser will get glitchy. We don’t want those events to keep people from completing the hunt, so on every author’s site, there’s a link to a page where all the scavenger hunt stops (and links) are listed. That information needs to be at the top of every author’s webpage.
Thomas: Managed hosting costs a little bit more than free hosting, but it is also more likely to keep your site from crashing when there’s a lot of traffic.
Robin: I’m fairly tech-savvy and try to help with browser issues as much as possible, but I can’t be the tech support for all the readers doing the hunt. If someone is having a hard time, I will simply tell them the clue for the site they are having trouble with so they can move on.
Thomas: Since the hunt is linear, if site 11 is broken, readers won’t be able to move on to site 12. If every author provides a link where people can go if they get stuck, no one will get stuck.
How much does it cost for authors to participate in your book scavenger hunt?
When you have 30-35 people participating and contributing $15 toward the prize, you can offer a nice prize. We’ve given away an iPad, Kindle, and a Kindle with a gift certificate.
Each author also contributes two copies of their book, one for the winner and the other for the runner-up. Authors must agree to mail their books anywhere in the world.
How much time did you invest as the point person for the book scavenger hunt?
Robin: I didn’t keep track of my hours, but it was a significant time commitment. For three months, I sent emails to help authors get the correct information on their sites. I sent general instructions like, “Don’t do any updates to your website right before or during the contest.”
The Thursday night before the contest went live, I hired two proofreaders to comb through every author’s site to ensure every link worked. Each of them spent at least three hours proofreading the sites. As they found errors, I would either fix the errors or work with the author to help them fix the error. During that three-hour test drive, I sent over 100 emails to participating authors who needed help.
Thomas: A smaller contest with only ten authors participating would be less work, but it would also require a larger financial investment to purchase the iPad, Kindle, or whatever you decide to offer as the prize.
Robin: Readers like to have more than ten authors participating. At a minimum, I think you need 20 authors to meet reader expectations.
How would an author learn more about hosting their own book scavenger hunt?
Robin: Lisa Tawn Bergen learned about the book scavenger hunt from authors in the general market who were doing it. I learned from Lisa because I was her assistant for a couple of events she hosted. But one of the best ways to learn is to participate in an event as a reader.
To participate in Robin’s next book scavenger hunt or learn more about her books, visit RobinLeeHatcher.com.