Swag is the term used for the colorful marketing goodies authors give away to promote their books and brand. Swag is a big part of many book promotion packages, and it’s increasingly important in a crowded marketplace because it sends every prospective reader off with a little something to remember the book and author by.
Here are our tips for creating eye-catching–and totally hoard-worthy–swag.
1. The better the swag, the longer it lingers.
Every marketing person knows this rule, yet the idea of what constitutes “better” is subjective. A bestselling author can give out the ugliest swag item in the world and still have a line out the door of rabid grabby hands. And what works for a mystery writer will not necessarily work for a children’s writer. Each and every book is different; you need to understand your product and your audience. Try to think about the best piece of book swag you have ever received and how it made you feel about that author. For me, it was a mini Ouija board on a key ring. I love it! And I’ve already bought three of this author’s books and counting.
2. Revamp the commonplace.
Swag that creates a high demand and breeds long-term retention takes creativity. The old standby of paper bookmarks are cheap, but they’re uninspired. And if 20 authors at the same book fair are giving away paper bookmarks, you have only a one in 20 chance that your bookmark is the one they reach for. Think outside the box. Give away bubble tubes, stress balls or small toys. If your heart is set on bookmarks, find a way to give it a spin. Try book thongs.These long colorful bookmarks are more like beautiful book jewelry.
Thongs are totally practical swag, light weight and small enough to ship in an envelope, or to carry by the hundreds in your luggage while traveling. You can make these items yourself, buy them ready-made on Etsy, or hire your kids or some local teens to make them for you. Try to pick beads that match your book’s theme or make them with some custom-printed ribbon. With a little imagination, you will have bookmarks people will cherish for years to come.
3. Shun quickly consumed swag.
Hungry book fair trekkers will scoop up cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies in cute custom printed cookie bags by the handfuls, but they’ll shuck your data along with the wrapper just as quickly. Consumable swag is tricky stuff, but for some books indulging a potential reader’s sweet tooth might be the logical choice. That means you must think smart about your treats. Since talking to strangers makes everyone self-conscious, consider giving out mints. You can pick up over 100 individually wrapped mints with custom printed stickers for about $16.00 USD. Most people don’t binge-eat mints, so the candy should last longer in a person’s bag. Better yet, if you have the marketing money to spend, get some of your mints in a custom printed tin. Tins are readily available from companies that specialize in wedding favors, but they do run about .75 to 1.00 each. This price point make tins best for special occasion swag. The plus side of tins is they mail like a dream, and when the mints are gone, the tin is reusable. Your tin might stay on a reader’s desk for years. That creates a long-term happy reminder of how thoughtful you were to give them such handy swag.
4. Find a need and fill it.
Public venues present the opportunity for you to come to the rescue by filling a need. Pens and pencils fit the bill perfectly, they are inexpensive and people love them. Consider teaming your pen with a mini notebook, pocket planner or date book. This will increase the value of your swag and turn it into a solid keeper.
Always a big hit in the fill-a-need category are giant clips for holding handouts and tote bags. Offer tote bags as swag and every reader with overburdened arms will find you. A great place to spot more ideas like these is on Pinterest.
5. Comfort is king.
Summer heat and air-conditioned spaces makes for dry cracked lips. Consider giving your new friends a lip balm to sooth those aches. You can buy high quality/major manufacturer brands of unlabeled lip balms for pennies on the dollar. Tubes start as low as .28 cents each if you buy them in lots of 50. Check out Bulk Apothecary.They have a range of lip balms in assorted colors and flavors. Make your own labels and you can send everyone you meet off with kissable lips and a way to remember your book for at least a month of happy smiles. This one is perfect for romance writers. Mailing lip balms might work okay in cooler months, but in summertime keep these for in-person handouts.
6. Reward the faithful.
If you have the marketing budget for a few expensive items, try to make sure your most loyal fans get those items. The best way to do this is with cross-promotion. Place a riddle or a task (like creating fan art) on your website. Make sure you include the information about the special prize waiting for the first group of people who email, tweet pictures to your hashtag, or come to your book fair table with the secret information. T-shirts, fun USB drives or any high-end swag item is perfect.
7. Keep information simple and accurate!
Figure out what you want your readers to remember. Is it your name, your website, the title of your next book? Custom printed swag is often highly restrictive of word counts. There can be set-up fees to consider. Try to select easy-to-read fonts and high contrast ink. Proofread everything at least three times before you order. There is nothing worse than swag with a big old typo on it, or with print so small and faded no one can read it.
What is the best swag item? Please share your suggestions, DIY tips or links to great swag resources in the comments.
19 thoughts on “7 Tips for Better Book Swag”
These ideas are seriously amazing, especially the mints! I would LOVE that!
Thanks, Stefanie! In terms of mints, the tins are costly. But you can also find bulk packs of over the counter mints (like Tic Tacs) online, or at places that sell wholesale products to stores. If you attach your own label to those boxes, you should be able to get the unit price down a bit.
These are some neat tips! I’ve never seen anyone discuss this. The mint idea is cool. I wish there would be more swag posters. There’s not enough of those. I know they’re probably more expensive, but they’d be cool for a special prize.
Posters are not that bad of an option. You just need to buy at least 100 of them to get the unit prices down. Limiting the colors should also help reduce the printing costs. And if you fold rather than roll, that brings down the shipping costs. I think doing posters is a great idea. A world map would be fantastic swag for any fantasy author.
Great suggestions, Robin! I’m starting to think about my launch next fall, and these ideas will come in handy! Picture book swag doesn’t differ much from that for adult books, there are just more crayons and trading cards in the mix. Though, come to think of it, character trading cards would be great swag for a fantasy or paranormal series.
For your book I have a few suggestions.
The first is custom temporary tattoos and/or stickers. You can get 1000 small (2 inch) color stickers for about $40.00. You will need a simplified image from your picture book, but since you’re working with your illustration this shouldn’t be an issue. I know your demographic will love tattoos or stickers.
Also look into custom printed crayon boxes. They’re not as expensive as you might think. You can buy them in packs of 4 or 6 crayons. You could also buy the crayons in bulk and label them yourself with the stickers. That makes your stickers do double duty.
My next suggestion is fans. I feel like they would tie in really nicely with your setting. You can buy plain white folding fans (they’re not too easy to find, but Wrap With Us has them) and let the kids decorate them. Or get flat fans printed with your information.
Hopefully those ideas help. If anything else comes to me I’ll let you know.
Great ideas, Robin! Thanks so much!
Thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas.
I’m glad you found some ideas you liked. Thanks for stopping by.
I am enjoying catching up on your posts. You share wonderful information, and I appreciate it!
Great ideas, Robin. For a book convention last fall, I gave specimen bags with syringe needle pens – since my protagonist is a nurse. I like your ideas better!
I love the pens shaped like a syringe. I haven’t seen one of those yet. Do you have a picture? Or a link to the company that made them for you? And specimen bags are super memorable. It sounds like you hit on the perfect swag for your book.
Ooh, I like the book thongs suggestion, and I do bead craft so they would be perfect! I am about to make some book-themed greetings cards that I can give away at an upcoming event. I have a sheet of library acrylic stamps and some basic cardstock, and I’m sorted! Thanks for those suggestions 🙂
If you’re good with beads the book thongs will be so easy for you. I made one in just a few minutes and I haven’t done any beading in years! Angle cutting the end of the ribbon was the secret. It helped me get it into the needle and start the beads. I love the one I made. I used pearls, silver beads, crystals and small heart shaped trinkets. Let me know how yours come out, I’d love to see them.
I will keep you posted! Probably won’t get started for a couple of weeks, I’m thinking it will be a good summer holiday craft project while my daughters are off school. 🙂
Thank you for the practical tips. I am not published yet but I do collect ideas for the future so this was helpful.
If you’re shopping for ideas I highly recommend Pinterest. There are a large number of book swag boards there. Also keep an eye on boards from wedding and party planners, they have lots of great ideas that can be modified for book swag. Good luck!