On Author Promo & Swag

Call it loot, spoils, whatever. Stuff we all get is the general interpretation of “swag” these days – so much so that it’s not even “s.w.a.g.” anymore. Some people say that swag is a pejorative of promotional items. Whatever you think, there are mixed feelings about swag. However, the only feelings I can be certain of (or at least how I feel at the exact moment I’m typing this), are mine.

Consequently, let’s call this my pondering or exploration of author swag/promotional items. To be terribly frank, I generally don’t like it. I don’t see the purpose of it, and don’t really care to receive it unless I particularly ask for it. (I get the concept of it – let’s be clear now – I just don’t think it works well enough.) That being said, there is some awesome swag out there. Still, let’s start with the basics.

Bookmarks are the biggest thing. I never used to use bookmarks. Not until a few years ago, because I could and would simply remember where I was in a book. Even if it was in the middle of a random page. Obviously I wasted too many brain cells doing that, because now it seems I can’t even remember things I ought to. Personally, if I’m going to have a bookmark, I want one smaller than the book, or the exact same size. This is because if I want to read a book but shelve it before I’m done, there won’t be a piece of paper sticking out. Some might argue this defeats the purpose of a bookmark because you can’t see it… but honestly-Β  if you’re unable to find a thicker piece of paper wedged between pages, I feel like you have bigger issues to consider.

These days, however, we have many readers going the ebook route. I myself am trying to acquire only ebooks to increase my book collection. I simply don’t have space for print books, as evinced by the glimpse of mainly my category romance collection. Also, I love the portability of ebooks. This means I have no need of physical bookmarks. The downside is also… I have no way of getting my books signed. Which leads me to another promo item. Cover flats. The signed cover flats. I didn’t like them. I might not still. For contests, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to win a cover flat, I want a book. In fact, there’s a great possibility that I rather have nothing, than get a cover flat. I know not everyone feels this way, however, depending on the cover I’ve heard some people (yes, readers) even frame them.

Why do I feel that way about cover flats? Because I had no idea what to do with them. They have no actual purpose, really, and if I don’t have room for books, I most certainly don’t have room for cover flats. When I was lucky enough to win a number of book contests in ’07-’08, I was always a little baffled by the amount of author promo I got – namely cover flats. I suppose it makes sense because they’re easy to ship, and maybe it makes the packager feel better, like “look at all these things the winner will get!” And then, when I got them, I’d feel bad, because I didn’t particularly want them, but I also felt that I shouldn’t throw them away, because… well because. [Luckily this worked out for me because I collected scads of cover flats, bookmarks,Β  etc., and I used them for swag giveaways.]

But, I want to get to something meatier and juicier. I’m talking about the good stuff. The awesome author promo/swag that everyone wants to have. The cool mini notebook with detachable pen. Unique candy. I like the items that are useful. There are two authors who come to mind who have compact mirrors. Janelle Denison, and Sandy Sullivan – and I have both and I use both, and every time I use them I think, wow, Janelle and/or Sandy are really awesome, and put thought into their promo. (And if you like their books too, that’s just double awesome.)

Another one is chap stick. The first author I think of is Lexxie Couper. I was lucky enough to pick up the promo item she had sent to Lori Foster’s Reader and Author Get Together, and I keep it in my purse. I use it constantly, and I think Lexxie Couper is pretty fabulous. It also was practically a life saver at RomConΒ  – what with the elevation, etc, chap stick was crucial. (A hint for those of you going to RomCon and considering what promotional items to order.) Pens are always good too – everyone can use more pens, but don’t get the super cheap ones. The ones that don’t work even before the first time. Readers discard, and sometimes even notice what really cheap swag there is out there. People gravitate to the nicer pens – the ones with grips, sticky tabs, high lighters, etc, more than the traditional old school Bic types.

Carina Press had their logo printed on little bottles of hand sanitizer, which is another useful item. And computer/keyboard brushes. One item I’d never seen otherwise that I absolutely covet is a microfiber glasses cloth. Apparently Harlequin made them for Brenda Joyce and sent them to a few really special people. I wasn’t one of them, but I saw my friend Ali use hers.

I heard someone at RWA had a nail/manicure kit as her promo, and I thought that was really great too. I’d definitely want that to be something I got to pick up at a conference. Mugs, and thermoses can be good… but the insulated cups are likely expensive, and these days with the travel restrictions not good for a convention or conference that isn’t mostly local. Tote bags are also good, especially those that zip, or at least fasten in some way. T-shirts. Some people wear them in public, some use them as sleep shirts. But at least they’re being used, and whenever a person wears it s/he will think of you, or your company. However I know these items can be pricier. Tote bags can be good for the special contest or event.

Then there’s post it notes, because many people keep them at their desks, and it’s a constant reminder about the author. Something you see over and over again. Going along the lines of items you look at… excerpt books. These are promotional items, and I find excerpts crucial for book buying. 99% of the time, if an author doesn’t have an excerpt on her website, I won’t buy the book I was considering. I just don’t want to take that gamble, and there are enough authors out there with updated websites that my book reading/buying will be satisfied. But, I don’t want to talk about author websites here. That’s a different post.

There are also the fun or unique items. I’ve seen a few authors give away fans. This works especially well for historical romance authors who mention fans in their books… or give them out at conferences in warmer climates. I asked the Twitter Hive Mind, and got responses to items I’d generally thought of. There seem to be only so many promotional items, yes? The ones that are relevant specifically to a series, however, and useful are to my mind the best. I know Louisa Edwards has aprons and spatulas, and she joked on twitter about having pot holders made up for her new series, which I think would be fantastic. Oh – she also has champagne flutes with “On the Steamy Side” printed on them. You know, Ms. Edwards is starting to look and sound pretty badass! I also like the “chip bag clips,” and magnets that can actually hold things, and mugs. (No need to show the last one because we all know what those look like. :P)

So it seems that most of us (readers) like promotional items that are useful. Whether for practical reasons, or that offer us something of substance about your book, beyond the cover and back cover flat. We want excerpts.

Now my question to you is, what’s the best piece of swag you’ve ever received or picked up? Do you have a favorite? Did some item prompt you to go check out an author’s website and buy a book? Or – if you’re someone looking for promotional items, do you have trouble choosing? What makes you pick what you do?

*Quick note: I’m also guesting at the Borders True Romance Blog later today – please stop by and say hey!

29 thoughts on “On Author Promo & Swag

  1. Jesilea

    When I got home from RT last year, I was loaded down with useless swag, but I felt bad tossing it. I know how much this stuff costs to print. I ended up holding onto it until last week when I finally tossed it all.

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Jesilea – I know exactly how you feel. Exactly. That’s why I decided to do swag giveaways… and/or sent them to people. The two pictures of the swag in this post are actually boxes I have sent/will send. Of course I’m poor so when I have these contests I ask the recipient to pay postage. :X
      But you know what? I’ve recycled a bunch of cover flats before too. A person can only have so much with so much space.

      Reply
  2. Lori

    I love getting certain things: pens, post-its, and bookmarks (I still read a good amount of print). My problem comes when the swag contains more than the author’s name and/or their tagline. I have children, people. How am I supposed to use a post-it to remind my kids to do their homework if I blush just looking at it. I’m certainly not going to give my teenage sons any more ideas than they already have! I just can’t bring home swag with naked guys. And there is a ton of naked guy swag out there, some of it from my favorite authors.

    Some of the items you listed are great, too. The compact – what a fantastic idea! And the chapstick is, too.

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Great point, Lori! And yes, yes, yes! I’ve visited with friends after conventions and felt the need to hide what I got from them. I’ve definitely had to toss the odd magnet or two because of the tag line/image.
      I’m so with you on the naked guys thing – can we please see less of that on covers too? :X But, that’s also another post πŸ˜‰

      Reply
  3. vanessakellyauthor

    As someone who constantly struggles with what kind of swag to spend my promo dollars on, this was really helpful. Thanks!

    And I was the person who gave out the nail/manicure kits at RWA – I gave them to the librarians. It was the awesome Kim Castillo’s idea, and they were a huge hit!

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Oh that’s right, Vanessa – I remember people talking about it on twitter, but I couldn’t remember who. I also recall Kim saying that your swag this coming year at RWA would be equally awesome, if not better. (The bar has been raised!) Although… I’m not a librarian either, so I guess I wouldn’t have gotten, and wouldn’t be getting your awesome swag. *sadface*

      And glad this post helped! πŸ˜‰ Selfishly I hope to see swag that I find more exciting as well, right? Then everyone benefits! πŸ˜€

      Reply
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  5. Larissa Ione

    My favorite two swags ever: Cat food can lid from Linda Lael Miller, and jar openers from Geri Krotow. I use them both on nearly a daily basis. I love the jar openers so much that I just ordered a bunch for promo items for the RWA conference.

    I don’t know that swag necessarily entices me to buy books, though a simple bookmark did do exactly that once. TOR put out bookmarks for Robert Jordan’s first Wheel of Time book, The Eye of The World. The bookmark was so beautiful that I bought the book. And all the sequels. And bought several books to give to friends. I’d say that the one bookmark led to 25 book sales by me alone. Then there are all the people I hooked on the books by giving them copies. That one book mark was probably responsible for 100 sales. Easily.

    I also like pens and Post-Its!

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Larissa- whoa! Cat food can lid? That sounds awesome. Also jar openers – definitely useful yet unique items when it comes to swag.
      Interesting about that one book mark – it is hard to say what’s hit or miss, right? I think bookmarks do make sense – they’re not too expensive, and what if a reader does what you did?

      Reply
  6. Mary G

    Hey Lime
    Good post! I’m a book mark junkie and if they’re signed – wow. I have mine standing up in a glass jar so I can see them & only actually use a few generic ones that I laminated because I hate when they wear out. Love signed coverflats because I plan to get a bulletin board up & put up my faves. A lot of them are like art work. I also won an author’s mouse pad that shows a cover of one of her books. I use it. Also loved the Lori Foster tote & Larissa tote (shown above). I got my Lori tote signed. Note to self – bring markers next time. I had to borrow one.

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Mary – I liked that too. The silver and gold sharpies are great for certain bookmarks and the tote bags you get. As for the signed bookmarks in a jar – that’s quite a good idea. I like that! I have most of the pens I got in a mug, all stuffed in there :X

      Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Here’s to hoping I can go to RWA, Vanessa! πŸ˜‰ Although, I do understand that swag can get pricey, and to have it for a focused group. Librarians are definitely important – I love the library πŸ˜€

      Reply
  7. Estella

    I like the lip balm best. Also like key chains, mugs, t shirts, pens and note pads. Have gotten some calendars that were nice, too.

    Reply
  8. Vi

    I love the oversized postcard I received for Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke. I have a Kindle so the black and white cover is not fun to look at. The postcard is safely stored inside my Kindle cover.

    I also requested Jaci Burton’s The Perfect Play cover. Seriously, look at that cover. I hope I accidentally get sent an extra one πŸ™‚

    One of my most favorite promo gifts was the Shea butter tin I won from Sherry Thomas. She was promoting His At Night and made them herself. I quickly used it up but still have the pretty tin.

    Reply
  9. Lynn Raye Harris

    Hey, Lime! Been out of pocket all day or would have responded sooner — but I LOVE the picture of my bag. πŸ™‚ Thanks for including it. It’s such a huge bag — which was an accident — but I think it works so well that Kim and I are ordering more for RT this year.

    I’ve always wanted to do the mirror, and may for RT. I got one from the Fog City Divas in SF and it’s in my purse even now. Love that mirror! Very useful.

    I hear you about throwing swag away. I hate to do it. Like you, I have done swag giveaways where I box it all up and mail it to someone else to deal with. πŸ™‚ And yes, I send the good stuff too, not just the bookmarks and wonky pens.

    I do love bookmarks, and will probably always do them. They kind of work like a business card in some ways. I think I may violate your size rule though.

    Great post!

    Reply
  10. infinitieh

    I’m fine with bookmarks, magnets and such, but not anything scented. I received a delightful scented candle as a promo from an author but I couldn’t use it because I’m allergic to that sort of thing. There are many people out there who are sensitive to scents, not just me.

    On the upside, I gave the candle away so perhaps my friend will buy a book from that author, too.

    Reply
  11. Lanae T.

    I love getting the swag. No matter what it is. My sister and I can always share it, since we are both huge readers.

    The bookmarks and cover flats are cool for me, since they introduce me to authors and books I may not have heard of yet. (I’m in a tiny town.) And yes, I have bought books from authors I’ve seen on bookmarks.

    One of my coolest swag items has to be the Demonica bag from Larissa. I had actually won a book and the bag was an extra goody!

    As always though, I love getting books. But hey, I won’t argue with the other fun stuff either. And I may even be willing to pay postage. πŸ˜‰

    This was a great post. What neat ideas!

    Reply
  12. Manda

    Wonderful suggestions, Lime! I’m definitely with you on the useful swag as opposed to just…stuff.

    I too love manicure sets, pens, post-its, jar openers, tote bags. I always like gum and candy for conference swag too, since fresh breath is a must for networking!

    This gave me all sorts of great ideas to try when my time comes to start giving stuff away. Thanks:)

    Reply
  13. Brae

    The chip clips are the best. For whatever reason I never have enough in the house and when I pull out my author clips I think of them fondly and wonder what they have coming out.

    I keep some bookmarks that I really like. Same with cover flats. I actually bought a binder and page protectors to put the cover flats in.

    I’m indifferent on the chapstick since I love a certain brand, SoftLips.

    Bags and totes are cool to a point. I have a fab one from Sylvia Day and Shayla Black that I use all of the time. The more durable ones are the ones I like to keep.

    Reply
  14. scooper

    A long time ago I got a gripped jar opener. Best swag ever. I still have and use it. Your post nailed my feelings on swag completely. I’m not a fan of bookmarks. I just lose them. I’m all for bags, books and useful items.

    Reply
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  17. Lana

    Several years ago at the RWA National Conference in Atlanta GA, I helped my roommate Sarah Grimm put the finishing touches on her rather unique SWAG for the Goody Room. Her novel was titled “Not Without Risk.” We put stickers with her name and book title on individually wrapped condoms. They created quite a buzz and were gone within a few hours. I dubbed her the “Prophylactic Princess” and the nickname caught on.

    Reply
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