Many authors know about swag and its potential to increase visibility and book sales. But with the wealth of material and distribution options available, what is the best way to integrate it into their marketing campaign? Here are a few tips on how to make the most of your swag strategy and ensure it fits your budget.
Choose Swag that Represents Your Author Brand
Just because you can print your name or book cover on almost anything, that doesn't mean you should. Choose materials you know your readers will actually want and those that will embody your author brand. Here are a few ideas for swag you can give away in social media contests, at author events, and on your author website:
- Coffee mugs
- Tote bags
- Bumper stickers
Consider which materials will resonate strongest with your core audience. If you have a professional book, perhaps pens, stationary, or coffee mugs would fit. If you have a YA novel, might readers enjoy stickers or buttons? As a poet, I've frequently used postcards, bookmarks, and magnets.
Also consider the kind of image you'd like to use, which depends on both your readership and your intended goal. Are you advertising yourself as an author/professional or a specific book? Not all images will be equally resonant with readers.
- Create a realistic swag budget before you start ordering materials.
- Balance your swag campaign with a few inexpensive items and one or two pricier ideas. I often choose magnets or pens to supplement the standard bookmarks and postcards. And stickers are a cheap way of making your readers into members of your marketing team as they advertise your book with whatever they put your sticker on. Just don't sink your entire budget into a limited t-shirt run when you could have placed an order in the hundreds of smaller priced items.
- Your design and particular swag items should remind readers of your book or pique their curiosity and make them want to read your book. After they've read it, the swag will be a conversation starter that inspires new readers to pick it up. So your design shouldn't feel arbitrary. Make it clearly your own.
- Look to your book's cover art and illustrations for inspiration. Consider all the materials you plan to use and how your chosen artwork will look on them. For example, your name or website will likely fit on a pen better than a book cover image. Stickers are often round, so choosing a unique artistic representation instead of full book cover might work. Rectangular items like postcards are optimal for your full book cover image. You might also wish to design a few versions of your artwork (black and white, full color, rectangular, square, round, etc.) to make sure it will fit all your chosen materials.
- Don't purchase cheap swag that is certain to break, tear, or simply look inexpensive. You don't want readers to throw your marketing materials away. They need to be durable. So always go for quality. When you're comparing materials, go with the one you'd want to receive from your favorite author. The (usually insignificant) additional investment is worth it.
- Don't order more than you'll realistically use. Although it's not always easy to judge how many items you'll need, make a sensible guess based on the number of events you plan on participating in, your snail mailing list, and swag giveaways you'll host. In general, err on the conservative side. This way, you'll have a bigger budget to invest in higher quality materials, and you'll avoid waste. And you can use book sales to order more, if needed.
- Don't go overboard and order everything you can put your name or book cover on. Pick a few items that make the most sense for your author brand. If your stock runs out, you can always try a different approach and order new swag. Test the waters by seeing which items "sell out" quickest and order those for future efforts and later books.
How to Distribute Your Swag
You'll want to spread your swag far and wide. You'll want to create a mailing list right away, as sending promotional materials to your contacts is crucial. You also want to send your swag to local bookstores and libraries, as well as all pertinent media, including magazines and bloggers. If you write for a specific audience, send your swag to such targeted venues. For a children's book, you should mail swag to schools, summer camps, and children's stores. If you write science fiction, try a comic book or video game shop. Send your swag to where your readers spend their time.
A few other distribution ideas:
- Include swag with books you sell, making a nice surprise for your readers.
- Visit your local bookstore or library and slip pertinent swag like bookmarks or postcards into books similar to your own.
- Create a swag giveaway on social media or your author website.
- Keep a few swag items on you (in your bag or car or pocket) at all times. You never know when you'll meet a potential future reader.
- Events events events! Always have swag on hand for readings, workshops, and conferences you attend. Some readers may pick up your extras without purchasing your book, but the swag becomes a reminder to purchase in the future.
In the end, swag is like any other publicity effort. It's all about finding your readers and targeting an approach that is most likely to pique their interest. As no two books or authors are alike, no tactic is guaranteed to work. Try out different kinds of swag and new manners of distribution until you find a strategy that fits your needs.
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John Sibley Williams is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, 2019), Disinheritance, and Controlled Hallucinations. A nineteen-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as an educator and literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Yale Review, Midwest Quarterly, Southern Review, Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, Saranac Review, Atlanta Review, TriQuarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, and Third Coast.