Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Challenge of Challenges [Discussion Post]

I debated about posting this here at Reading the Paranormal or putting it over on the Bout of Books blog, but I think this is something that would appeal to more than just the Bout of Books peeps, so here we are.

I want to talk about challenges -- specifically the types of challenges that Amanda and I approve or reject when we're planning Bout of Books.

After Bout of Books 6.0, we made a decision to no longer approve "Guess the Cover" type of challenges (where participants guess what the book is based off a small portion of the cover). We had reasoning behind this. To be truly successful, guessing the cover had to focus on a very narrow genre or sub-genre or there were simply too many books that could be drawn from.

What does this mean? Simply put, having covers that spanned all genres was too broad to be effective. People who exclusively read YA might not know adult PNR covers and people who only read contemporary romances might not know horror covers. So, the covers would have to be confined to a small subset genre for people to REALLY be able to to answer them.

We had a zombie cover challenge once and it was easy. For me. Because I read zombie books and the rules clearly stated that all these covers were drawn from the zombie genre. But not everybody reads zombie books and I did see some comments about how people didn't participate because they have no interest in "those type of books."

Yeah, you might be thinking, but at least SOME people would be able to participate and answer.

True, but one of our goals with Bout of Books is to be as inclusive as possible. Which means that we try to avoid the genre trap and choose challenges that can be adapted across multiple platforms by people who read a variety of genres/authors/subjects.

This isn't always easy. We declined a couple of GREAT challenge ideas for Bout of Books 8.0 because they were limited in the way participants ... participated. Having the only option being to "take a picture" of something limits those who don't have a camera. (Stop laughing. IT HAPPENS. The camera in my phone died a while back and I was camera-less for MONTHS before I got a new phone.) Also, consider that asking people to post their response on their blog now limits the people who can participate to bloggers. During Bout of Books 7.0, we had a huge upswing in the number of booktubers that joined us. Their medium of communication is different enough from traditional blogging that we had to think creatively to make sure they were able to participate in challenges.

In our experience, giving participants the flexibility to (a) use multiple mediums to post their responses/answers/etc and (b) use their own books to create/find/etc something for the challenge garnered the best participation. It also upholds our goal to be inclusive. Win/win.

I'm going to pause here and point out that Amanda and I try to be inclusive in more than just the Bout of Books challenges. When we first began playing with the idea that would later become Seriously Series, we had to think long and hard about how to structure it so that people would WANT to join us and could do so easily.

On the other hand, we host an every-so-often naughty read-a-thon (Doin' It Dirty) that is specifically geared toward those who read erotica. While the focus on the books that can be read is narrow (our rules state "You must read erotica or any subgenre of romance that borders on erotica."), how participants can update/approach/choose their books is left to their discretion.

Our rule of thumb when we're approving and/or creating challenges is to ask WHO IS THE AUDIENCE WE'RE TRYING TO REACH? For Bout of Books, we want the challenge to be accessible to as many people as possible. For our naughty read-a-thon, we're not as concerned with EVERYONE, but rather with those that enjoy reading dirty books. So, consider your audience. Where are they at? What platforms will they be using to post their responses?

The reason I'm posting this is to point out that the best challenges (no matter WHAT you're challenging people to do) aren't so rigid that only a handful of people can participate. This is one of those think outside the box moments that you can totally embrace. Allow flexibility for people who only use Twitter or who hate Twitter with a passion and only use Facebook. Get creative with both the challenge and with how participants can respond to the challenge.

Think big! Think bold! Go ALL OUT the next time you create a challenge!


  1. I think you are spot on! Whenever I try to put together challenges, I want to make it where general user (aka the one I know nothing about) can take part in it. I guess this comes from doing social planning at work for certain events. Having to come up with something that old/young/man/woman will like and participate makes you think broad range instead of specific. :)

    1. It killed Amanda and I this last BoB that we had some really great challenge ideas submitted but we had to decline them because they were limited in the way people could participate.

      I will say, though, that we were taken by surprise by the number of booktubers that joined us for 7.0. We had to rethink our strategy for challenges when 8.0 rolled around. Which is a GOOD thing. It keeps us on our toes.

  2. Not to be nitpicky, but this...

    (b) use their own books to create/find/etc something

    ...actually doesn't work for me, because I own so few books.

    I don't do a lot of challenges anyway, so it doesn't matter so much for me, and I know that no challenge is going to agree with everyone. Still, I figured I'd speak up since one of your two main points for being inclusive may not be as inclusive as you think.

    While I wouldn't actually be excluded from these challenges, I'd be at a huge disadvantage -- seriously, I own about 30 books -- to the point where if I was considering the challenge, once I saw that in the rules I wouldn't even bother. And while I know I'm in the minority, I'm sure there are others out there who, like me, don't have much of a book budget and read almost exclusively from the library.

    I'm really not trying to be difficult or accusatory. I just wanted to mention it.

    1. The idea there was to use their own books vs going out and buying new ones (or taking the time away from reading to go to the library and borrow them). That statement would also apply to books that have been read in the past and are shelved on Goodreads (or whatever book site you use).

      I was using books as an example, but that idea applies to other types of challenges, too. If you create a challenge to ... make a diorama depicting a favorite time in your life, let's say, you'll get better participation if you leave it up to the participant's discretion on HOW they can approach the challenge and what materials they can use. If you require all dioramas to be made in clay, you're going to get a lot of people choosing not to participate if they don't have clay on hand.

      We had someone say that they don't participate in any Book Spine Poetry challenges once because they only read ebooks. That kind of flummoxed me because ebooks are still books. And that's one reason why we encourage hosts to allow participants to post their answers in the comments (as in: post the poem with a list of the books used after -- no physical copies of the books are required for that to work).

      Perhaps I could have worded my point better, but I stand by what I said: Encouraging participants to use items on hand (in this case, books), allows the opportunity for more people to participate.

    2. "'ll get better participation if you leave it up to the participant's discretion on HOW they can approach the challenge and what materials they can use."

      Agreed. But then a challenge like this one that clearly states, "you must use a book that you own either physically or electronically," isn't quite in keeping with that.

      I suppose that in the future, I could just complete challenges however I like, and if the host wants to disqualify me from winning the prize then so be it... but this one didn't even have a prize, so the restriction surprised me and put me off a little.

    3. I'm going to be honest, I'm not really comfortable dissecting past challenges because people put time and effort into getting them up and running and I want to respect that. I'm also going to say that particular wording might have been something we requested without thinking things through. I don't remember at this point.

      Unfortunately, we are only human and we do sometimes makes errors.

      This post was meant more as a reminder that just because we, as bloggers, use blogs as a form of communication, not everyone does. And since Amanda and I recently had the experience of declining a couple of otherwise great challenges, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of our reasoning.

      I will say that your comments have been noted and we'll consider them when looking toward Bout of Books 9.0.

    4. Understandable. Thanks for hearing me out.

    5. No problem. Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Thank you for this. I was left really confused about why I wasn't allowed to do a challenge I had previously done. I didn't officially submit it, only floated it on Twitter, (which isn't a great medium for actual discussion) but I was left feeling as if I had done something wrong.

    This helps me understand better why it didn't work for BoB, even though it seemed successful to me. I appreciate that. :)

    1. Ack! I'm sorry, Mandi. You should have asked. I probably would have given you a long winded explanation that made little to no sense, but I would have tried to explain it.

      Really random aside, we also try to (for lack of a better way of putting it) mix up challenges. As in, if someone submits a challenge they had already hosted (with no changes) in a previous BoB, we're more likely to consider that challenge/host combo last. This is partly to keep the challenges fresh and partly to give other participants a chance to host.

      That said, if someone submits a challenge they've already hosted but they put a new spin on it, we might look at it and go WOW! PUT THAT ONE ON THE SCHEDULE! An example of that was the Book Spine Poetry challenge in 7.0 that focused on creating a haiku instead of a standard poem.

      All I can say is that it's a juggling act all around.

    2. No worries. I'm also known for being overly sensitive at times - and we all know I've been a little...crazy... the last several months. :)

      But seriously - thanks for this post. It's helpful to know how you guys think, so I can try to think outside of the box next time! Challenges are a LOT of fun and bring people together.

    3. I'm glad it was able to help.
      (and the offer's always open to hit me up if you have a question about something. Just so you know.)