Ok so I’ve been talking about writing this post for oh … the past four years, basically. Some things have changed, some things haven’t. (You can check out the first post here.) What am I talking about? … STUFF WE ALL GET. That’s right, it’s swag time. [Did y’all know that’s what swag stands for? Well, it does.] Swag is eeevvvveeerrryyywhhere at conferences. Almost every author has some sort of promotional item to give out. Either to leave in the goody room, or to hand out to people they see/meet. Some have special swag if you buy their book at a signing. (Or just at the signings to draw people to their tables.)
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- 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, 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 RomCon – 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!