Cynthia D’Alba is the real deal. Funny, smart, kind and she writes awesome, sexy heroes. She is also savvy and practical, so she was a natural choice for me to ask to write a blog about SWAG. It can be a black hole that sucks up lots of your money with no evident return on the investment but Cynthia has lots of good advice. Welcome!
Hi All! Cynthia D’Alba here. I love Romance University so I was thrilled when Robin asked me to blog today. As I used half of my brain to toss around topic ideas, the other half was scanning promotional websites for unique but inexpensive (i.e. cheap) promo items I could take to RT2014. Then the two halves collided and voila! A topic was born.
Swag. Freebie. Author giveaway. All the things stuffed into your bag at conference registration. All the items that authors hope you’ll take to remember their names and their books. But what works? And better, what flops?
Every author, new or established, struggles to find some promotional swag that will set them apart…something the reader will take home…something that will keep that author’s name (if not the book) in the reader’s mind. Just this morning, Tawny Webber (a NYT best selling author) posted in a private group we share that she’d love some new ideas. New authors face an uphill battle for name recognition in the vast sea of new and established authors. Remember, the purpose of swag is to get your name out there as much, if not more, than the title of your book. Books come and go. Your author name is what a reader needs to remember.
But buying, or even making your own swag to give away is expensive. It may be one of the major expenses that an author faces. In my experience, and from what I’ve observed, first time authors can spend quite a bit of money on ineffective marketing items or items that go directly into the trash.
It used to be that paper products ruled the swag world. Bookmarks. Trading cards. Postcards. Book excerpts. Door hangers. Business cards. Paper swag is a relatively cheap form of swag. I remember the first RWA writers’ conference I ever attended (Tulsa, 2005). My registration bag was crammed full of bookmarks. Did even one of those go home with me? Sadly, no. Trashed all of it. In fact, I usually sort through the registration bag at conference and the vast majority (if not all) of the paper goes into the trash. Horrible, as I know the authors paid for the promo and maybe even paid to have it in the registration bag.
However, apparently I wasn’t the only one filtering out the paper products. Many conferences are now banning paper promotional items due overflowing trash cans. Does that mean I don’t have any paper promo in my promotional arsenal? Of course I do. I mail it out to readers, book clubs, and collectors. I sent 5 postcards per book in the Texas Montgomery Mavericks to my street team with instructions to pass them out. On the back of one of them was the message…Email me at (email address) and ask for this book free. In the top right corner, each team member had a different code. I wanted to see how many requests I got. The answer? None! That’s right. I don’t know that my postcards ever left the street team’s hands and if they did, if the receiving party even looked at it.
So paper is cheap and “everybody” uses it but don’t put too much faith in its ability to transmit your message.
Staying with inexpensive items, pens and nail files are very popular with authors and readers alike. Why? They are useful. They have a purpose. Truthfully, I have pens from authors I’ve never heard of, never read, and certainly never bought. So do I have pens in my promo stash? Of course I do! Pens can range anywhere from about $0.15 to more than a dollar. Lots of places to get them online but shop around. The same pen may bring different prices.
When I set out to do promo originally with Texas Two Step, I knew my personal history (trash can, remember?) I wanted to find SOMETHING that readers would think was clever and useful. In fact, even now as I’m looking at items for RT2014, “Is this something someone can use? Is this something an attendee will carry home?” stays in my mind. Think about conference attendees flying to conference. Remember the additional charges the airline will hit someone with if their bag is overweight. So if your giveaway is a mason jar with a hot chocolate mix inside just waiting for the hot water, what are the odds it will make it home with a reader? A driving reader, probably. A flying reader? Doubtful.
So not only does your promo item need to be unique, inexpensive, non-paper, and useful, it needs to be lightweight for travel. Yikes. A tall order for sure. So how did I do that?
A boot-shaped jar opener, followed by a cowboy hat jar opener and finally a Texas-Shaped jar opener. Pretty much weightless. Unique. Cost about $.50 each. And who doesn’t need a jar opener?
Another popular item is refrigerator magnets. Leia Shaw mentioned this morning that she gives out a magnet that is her business card. I gave out magnets with the Texas Two Step cover. But someone made the comment that my cover might be “too hot” to display on the home refrigerator or in someone’s office. Interesting comment that has kept from ordering more magnets.
How many of you collect pins? Not ink pens but button/badge pins? I’ve never done pins but they can be pretty inexpensive at $.15 each (and up) in price. I know Leah Braemal has a slew of pin with her characters’ names on them. I have a couple of big promo pins from authors. I’m posting a picture of Leah’s badge to show you not only her pins but look at the other promo pins there…
I’ve received everything I’ve listed so far plus highlighters, rulers, notepads, bags, playing cards and calendars. I picked up plastic wine glasses, plastic hats, chip clips, and coasters. My favorite from RT2013 were the refrigerator magnet clips that a marketing company gave out. Loved them and even though I’ve not posted the name of the company here, I know exactly who they are!
Swag can’t make or break your career. Only your writing can do that. As you spend your hard-earned dollars on swag, keep in mind what you want it to do for you.
I’d love to hear about unique and different promotional items you’ve collected or given out.
I’ll pick one person from the comments to win a bag of swag I collected last year during my conference travels.
So – what ideas do you have for SWAG? What worked and didn’t work for you?
Kimberly Kincaid joins us to discuss using setting to make your books sing.
I was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas and lived there until I went off to college at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (Go Razorbacks!). I’ve lived in Little Rock, Memphis, back to Little Rock, and finally back home to Hot Springs, where my husband and I live on a lake.
I spent seventeen years in the healthcare field. I worked as an RN, taught Obstetrics in an RN program, coordinated a prenatal screening program and then was Medical Services Director at the University of Tennessee, Memphis and ended my medical career as an Administrator for a private group medical practice. I missed academic and left medicine to return to the University of Memphis as Director of Graduate Programs at the Fogelman College of Business. I grabbed the opportunity to return to Arkansas by taking a position as Assistant Dean for Executive Programs in the College of Business at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. It was there that I finished my education by earning a doctorate in Higher Education Administration. In 2002, I retired and took up the pastime that had consumed all my spare time my entire life –reading, a new book every day. I’ve been a reader as far back as I can remember – including forging letters from my mother when I was in grade school so I could stay in from recess and read! I cut my teeth on Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, and The Hardy Boys.
When I decided to try my hand at writing, I did what any academic would do; I decided to get as much information about the craft as I could. I traveled a great deal in 2006, meeting people and learning about writing as an art.
Since my husband retired in 2003, we’ve split our time between home in Arkansas and home in our RV on the road somewhere. But we don’t travel alone. We have Maggie (Border Collie), Jill (Flat Coated Retriever) and Panama (Spoiled Parrot).
So, that’s my story. I travel. I read. I write. I erase what I wrote. And FINALLY…I can say…I SOLD!
- Weekly Lecture Schedule Jan 6 – Jan 10 
- The Benefits of “Going PRO” 
- Diversity in Fiction by IRMC Books 
- What is Good for the Goose is Not Exactly Good for the Gander: How to know what works for YOU in Promotion by Liz Talley 
- From Jane Austen to Jane Jetson – Making Yourself At Home Online with Pamela Mason