by Sherry Ficklin
SWAG is one of those places where authors can go very right, or completely wrong and so, while I've talked about this before, it is worth repeating. As the industry evolves, so does the art of book SWAG. Plus, it's the first question I get from new authors about to dive into publishing.
What is SWAG, and why do you need it?
SWAG is the general term we use for promotional materials. There are two kinds I see at events: free swag and sale swag. Both have merits, but some work better at certain types of events than others.
The goal of SWAG is simple, you want to build brand awareness and recognition. While it is often collected by fans and readers, it's also vital to have at your event so that even if people do not purchase a book right then, they will remember you and your novel at a later date.
Paper swag comes in many forms:
It can also include more out-of-the-box things like door hangers, stickers, character trading cards, posters, and tattoos.
Paper SWAG is usually fairly inexpensive to produce and easy to brand with your vital information. Every piece of paper SWAG should have your name and website address but can also include your book cover(s), a brief blurb, a short review snippet, or the image of a character/scene from your story.
The reason this is the most necessary SWAG to have at every single event is: it's easy to hand out and doesn't cost you a fortune. Plus, it gives you the best kind of brand recognition, image recognition.
They say consumers have to see a product 3-5 times before they will decide whether or not to purchase it. So this kind of SWAG, combined with online images, bulk up those sightings.
Pro Tip: For an even better paper SWAG experience, consider placing a QR code or link on your promotional items that take the receiver to a free sample of your work. This can be a chapter or an entire free book. I have a 6 book series where I keep the first book free, so I use it as a loss leader to draw people into buying the other 5 novels. It not only adds value to the SWAG, but draws them into your sales funnel.
Every person who sees you at an event should leave your table with something.
As much as it pains some people, publishing has become a digitally driven industry. More and more, e-book sales are king, which means people often use store events as a sort of showroom where they check out new titles but then go home and order online.
If a browser leaves and five minutes later forgets the title or your name, you have just lost a sale.
Plus, while it may sound odd to us, people can be really intimidated by authors. It may be hard for some people to approach you cold, as they are either too nervous to talk or are afraid of being hit by what I call the 'tough sell' that some authors put out.
When you can smile and offer them a bookmark or other freebie, it is a great tension breaker and they will be more likely to approach and connect with you.
There are as many kinds of SWAG as there are authors, and everyone has their favorite kinds. My only word of caution going in is this; be really aware of what you are spending and what kind of brand recognition you're hoping to see in return.
If you have a book that is digital only, bookmarks may not be the way to go, but large print cover postcards might be a great option. If you have a children's book, stickers might get you more attention than tattoos or door hangers.
Here are a few common types of non-paper SWAG:
Any and all of these are moderately priced items and make for great SWAG, but be careful that you don't break the budget.
I highly suggest starting with one paper SWAG item and one more expensive item to give as a gift with purchase.
You may have noticed an * beside a few of those items. This is because not only are they very popular with readers, they tend to offer what I like to call passive visibility. This means, many other people besides the initial receiver see them so they offer much broader visibility. A tote bag used for several months during library trips, for example, may catch the attention of other readers who weren’t even at your event.
There are also much more expensive to produce items like:
These items are excellent if you are doing a vendor fair type of event and you want to sell items in conjunction with your book, or if you want to use them as special promotional giveaways. However, if you give everyone who buys a book a free t-shirt, you're actively losing money. The items above get you some brand visibility (as they are worn and used), but often not enough to recoup costs.
It's also important to note that most bookstore events don't want you selling anything besides books, so you should definitely check with them first to get clarification. Also, for newer, lesser known authors without a long series, these items lose value. They are best employed for long series, or once you have a thriving base of readers.
As with so many things in this industry, SWAG can help you or hurt you.
Low quality items can make you look unprofessional, but too many expensive items can turn people off as well (not to mention breaking the piggy bank). Your best bet is always to consider your brand, your audience, and your budget. Then decide what SWAG you want.
Example: If you’re handing out water bottles with your business card taped to the front, this devalues you as an author and people who receive it aren’t likely to trust that your books are high quality.
If you want to have SWAG, you should invest in it. The perception of quality is key to building trust with new readers.
I'd like to take a quick moment to talk about another important kind of SWAG that I've not mentioned before
I'm seeing more and more digital SWAG offerings and it's great for people who can't get to an event in real life. Digital SWAG is great for authors.
Authors are offering free downloadable SWAG via their websites. Everything from desktop and smartphone backgrounds, to Spotify playlists, to printable goodies like wall art and calendars. These are great offerings for online fans and great for drawing traffic to your website.
Pro Tip: As with any SWAG, be sure you have the rights to everything you use.)
For my recent release, The Canary Club (a prohibition era gangster romance), I used traditional paper SWAG with door hangers and mini posters. For my special events, I had matchbooks and drink coasters made with my website and tag line. They are easy to travel to events with, functional, unique, and perfectly on brand for this series. BUT in addition to that, I created a special area of my website that acted as a virtual speakeasy, which included period cocktail recipes, historical information, and other free downloadables.
The best part? To get the password, people had to pre-order the book.
Don't be afraid to think outside the box of the items I've listed above, but remember, any SWAG you use should have at least one piece of your branding on it. For example, foam fingers are great for your sports romance, but if they don't also serve as a promotional billboard for your book or website, it's not doing you, or your brand, any good.
What sort of SWAG do you love getting from authors? Do you need good SWAG resources? Let me know in the comments below!
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Sherry is a full-time writer from Colorado and the author of over a dozen novels for teens and young adults including the best-selling Stolen Empire series. She can often be found browsing her local bookstore with a large white hot chocolate in one hand and a towering stack of books in the other. That is, unless she’s on deadline at which time she, like the Loch Ness monster, is only seen in blurry photographs.
Sherry also appears as a guest speaker at several conventions annually. You can find her at her official website, www.sherryficklin.com, or stalk her on her Facebook page www.facebook.com/sherry.ficklin.
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