Recently, I saw a question raised about promotional items for authors: “How on earth do I go about getting them done?”
The question was raised over on the highly popular new Facebook group for the Womens’ Fiction Writers Association (WFWA), and there were a lot of great answers. Now, full disclosure: I am a graphic designer as well as purveyor of words, and I create promotional material for authors like bookmarks and postcards as well as websites. But I also have a prior life as a marketing and tradeshow manager, and promotional items was one of my responsibilities. So I’m here to share some knowledge.
First, there are two ways I would recommend you approach promotional materials:
- Everything you do says something about you. Be it your website URL (www.yournamelolololololz.com does not exactly impart a sense of professionalism) or how and what you present at book signings and book fairs, everything has meaning. Your readers will glean that meaning, so do it with intention and do it professionally.
- The best way to approach promotional materials is to think about how they’ll be used. This rule of thumb pretty much goes for anything in industry, and yet is often ignored. Sure, high glossy posters of your book cover look great, but what will your readers do with them?
Now let’s discuss a few of the biggie promotional items.
Print swag is typically bookmarks, book plates, stickers, and postcards. Another really fun item I’ve been doing for a lot of my YA and MG author clients is trading cards, which lend themselves well to series.
So how do you get these things? Likely, you’re going to have to hire a designer (like me!). But you’re not going to pay big agency fees (and if anyone quotes you thousands, run!). You’ll get a reasonable package, and in turn you’ll get a design that typically will encompass your book’s font, images, and high-res icons, and it will be done properly in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. (And if they aren’t, question that!)
Any designer you work with should have a good understanding of both what readers want and an author’s promotional needs---as well as brand and usability. For example, what kind of finish will support ball point pens or sharpies for book signings? Does the designer understand what brand is and what that means to an author, and can the designer suggest ways in which to promote and emphasize your brand? Does your designer want you to step outside your comfort box or does the designer respect your book and its cover as they relate to you as a long-term author? These are all important questions.
In most cases, getting your items designed and printed are two separate endeavors, so you’ll need to know about printers. Vista Print is an all-time favorite for being inexpensive, but they don’t print bookmarks or stickers. However, there are two excellent online alternatives: Gotprint.net and Printrunner. Both are reasonably priced and my clients have been very happy with the quality from both. Got Print offers templates for designers for each one of their products, however, and that is key (Print Runner requires an account for templates). With templates, you can be assured that your designer will be able to design exactly to print specifications.
Promotional items for book fairs and signings
In my days as a tradeshow manager in a technical industry, there were four things that stood out in a sea of booths from companies all trying to do the same thing—apart from having a good product:
- something moving
- candy in a bowl
- flowers or plants
- a really good giveaway item
Chances are, something moving, such as a machine or a TV, isn’t going to be possible for you, so let’s ditch that.
Get candy in a bowl; people will flock. And listen. Get chocolate. CHOCOLATE. Not cheap, hard candies. Remember what I said about everything having meaning? Cheap hard candy says you’re cheap. And with flowers, they’re also easy and frequently overlooked. Flowers say you care about looking nice, it says you’ve taken the time to get what is essentially a frivolous item and put it out there for people to enjoy. Don’t get a potted plant or even a pretty bouquet. They block your head in your booth. Orchids. Orchids, people. They are pretty, and you can see around them.
Now for the fun one: giveaway items. Good giveaway items are something cute that tie in with the book. The stuff that gets lost or tossed? Pens, pencils, clips, and any kind of paper item. That’s right—bookmarks and postcards aren’t going to be as useful for book fairs.
Your goals with a promotional item are to:
- Make sure the reader will take it home
- Make sure your name and your website is on it
Those two goals are paramount because you will struggle to make sure your name is noticed in a sea of authors. Notice I didn’t say your book’s title should be on there—nope. Your name. People will remember you—you might write a bunch of books.
You might be thinking, dude, I don’t have the money for printed promotional items! I’m a poor author!
Don’t worry. You can get away with pre-printed tags on a cute item, but it requires a bit of creativity. Pinterest is a mine of such things. Try searching for “author swag” or even “Teacher Appreciation Gifts” – there are a TON of ideas for teacher appreciation gifts that have cute tie-ins and will get your creative wheels turning.
Focus on anything that relates to your book or book cover. For example, Sarah Addison Allen’s First Frost. Check out that frosted apple on the cover. You could buy a fake apple at Michael’s and glue a few beads on it, or spray a blast of frost paint over the top and tie a ribbon with a tag that has your book’s name. Now, that’s not THAT useful, but you could also give real apples with a tag. Wouldn’t that be totally stinkin’ cute?
For another example, I chose one of WITS’ own, Laura Drake. For her book The Sweet Spot, there are lots of possibilities here. A small square of flannel folded over a little bag of candy—to hit your sweet spot?
You get the picture. There are lots of things you can do.
If you’re not crafty, consider something inexpensive like a carabiner with your website printed on it, or a magnet.
In my tradeshow days, often companies would have a really good promotional gift—something expensive—on hand for the extra-special customers. You could do that, too—a book light, perhaps? Only have one or two; reserve them for a drawing prize or have people play a game to win it.
Just make sure your name and website are on it!
How about you? Have you done any different promotional items? Do you have any lessons from the trenches on this?
Sierra Godfrey writes fiction with international settings and always a mention of football (soccer) or two. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and a quarterly contributor to the Writers in the Storm. Her non-fiction essays have been featured on Maria Shriver’s Shriver Report and Architects of Change website, and in the anthology, Nothing But The Truth So Help Me God: 73 Women on Life’s Transitions (Nothing But the Truth Press, 2014). She writes weekly for Football.com and other blogs, and is also a freelance graphic designer. She lives in the foggy wastelands of the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.
Come visit her at www.sierragodfrey.com or talk with her on Twitter @sierragodfrey.