More than a million books are published every year, and whether you go traditional or indie, you have a lot of competition. Marketing your book falls squarely on your shoulders no matter where on the publishing spectrum you fall—so you need to how to get the most for your buck. “Book swag” is a proven tool for gathering readers and devoted followers.
So, what’s swag?
Any kind of material used to market your book is considered swag—including little giveaway items that remind readers of your work. Book swag comes in many shapes and sizes, ranging from the basic paper bookmark to personalized bottles of expensive champagne. Some readers collect magnets that depict book cover art. Crafters design keychains featuring book covers or author photographs. Collectors treasure the subject-specific book swag, such as personalized candles, jewelry, or handbags.
When to use swag
- Before your book is published. As soon as you have a copy of your book cover, it’s time to use that cover in every way you can. Post it online, send news to your friends, and get some copies printed to use as business cards or fliers. Carry them with you all the time. Give a copy to everyone you talk to: friends, family, hairdresser, bartender, high school buddies, the barista at the coffee shop, the girl on the bus. Make sure you include a link to your website or Facebook page (or Instagram account) on the flier. Tell everyone your book is coming soon!
- Whenever you do an event. Once your book is published, you should have something to bring to the events you schedule—whether it’s a bookmark or a poster, some personalized candy or simply a business card. Make sure you hand your reader something free that they will either look at again and again (think fridge magnets) or will pass along to another reader (key chains, bookmarks, pens).
- Whenever you send a book to a reader/reviewer. You should include a personalized note with your book—and you can also include swag.
Types of swag
$ = less than $1 each | $$ = $1-$5 | $$$ = $5-10 | $$$$ = $10+
- $ Bookmarks. Tried and true and cheap. Easy to stick into the book, and if you can sign them for your readers, they are more collectible. Design them well and you’ve made them works of art. I’ve made bookmarks with rounded corners and embossed writing, as well as simple glossy bookmarks printed on both sides. Consider linen paper for an elegant and simple approach.
- $$ Bookplates. Prior to the book’s publication, ask your readers if they would like a signed bookplate. Offer the bookplate free if the book is ordered off your website. The bonus here is you’ll build your mailing list prior to the book’s pub date.
- $$ Magnets. Use the book’s cover as your main image, add a line about the story, and a mention of your website or social media.
- $ Business cards. Use an image of the book cover on one side and your contact info on the other side. If there’s room, you can also include brief blurbs or a short hook.
- $$ Mini notebooks. Print your book image on the front cover and your contact info on the back cover.
- $ Sticky note pads. Nothing is more effective than your book title and website at the top of each little note.
- $$ Posters. Small ones (8 ½” x 11”) are more effective than large ones, unless you have a particularly beautiful cover.
- $$ Keychains. Again, use the book cover. Since keychains are small, think about what part of the cover will print clearly.
- $$ Fans. A writer friend of mine, Leslie Zemeckis, printed hand-held paper fans with her book cover and information about the story to promote her new book, Feuding Fan Dancers.
- $$ Bags. If you’re attending a book fair, bags are effective because readers will carry the rest of their swag in your book—thus advertising your work while carrying everyone else’s inside.
- $ Postcards. I love using postcards, because they’re so versatile. I use them to invite readers to book events personally, I write them to book reviewers and feature writers, I send them to friends and family to announce new books. Think about this: emailed newsletters and invitations to events are easily dismissed with a quick click of a button. If you receive a postcard, you’re more likely to look at it more than once (that’s your goal: get the reader to look at your marketing piece at least three times).
- $ Stickers. Though some writers swear by stickers, I’m not personally sure they are as effective as other pieces of swag. I order “signed by the author” stickers and make sure they’re on every book I sign. In larger bookstores, your book is more likely to sell if it’s autographed.
- $ Buttons and pins. Readers who attend the larger conferences and book events are particularly fond of collecting buttons because they’re easily stored.
- $ Pens/pencils. A pen/pencil might stay in someone’s pocketbook/pocket for years. Every time the reader picks up the pen, they will think about you and your book.
- $$ Jewelry. Earrings, bracelets, necklaces. Many of the big companies create inexpensive pieces, and crafters on Etsy design swag that is both interesting and collectible.
- $$ T-shirts. Unless you have a huge budget, you won’t be able to order too many T-shirts, but if you’re crafty enough, you can order some iron-on stickers and make your own T-shirt giveaways.
- $$ Bottle openers. Inexpensive, useful, and they may become a staple in your reader’s kitchen drawer, used on a regular basis.
- $$ Wine glass swag. You can go inexpensive with plastic or full-on, high-class with crystal. Did you write about wine? You need monogrammed wineglasses for bookstore owners or reviewers. They’ll never forget you. Guaranteed.
- $$$ Personalized wine. You got the budget? Go for it! Get a local vineyard to name a varietal after you or your book, and have a giveaway designed to get very special respect and attention.
- $$ Cups. A plastic cup with your book title and name printed on it has a relatively long shelf life. Book covers, however, don’t print well on cups, so my suggestion? Stick with text.
- $$ Lip balm or lotion. Simple, small, lip balms are popular at writers’ and readers’ conferences. Romance readers (who number in the bazillions!) love having that little something-something for their skin. Science fiction readers, not so much.
- $$$$ Local tourist goodies. A book set in the mountains in Kentucky might use decals or coasters from whiskey distillers. When your characters live in Paris, you might order some Eiffel Tower keychains. Or choose plastic alligators as a joke to giveaway to readers of your Floridian memoir.
The design should match your subject matter
The most important thing to remember when creating book swag is to focus on your book’s theme. For example, my last novel was set in Thailand and elephants were main characters, so I created kitchen magnets prominently featuring elephants. Though my novel is more than a year old, those magnets still hang on readers’ fridges. In other words, use your own imagination to reach your audience “where they live.”
One of the best marketing tools I’ve seen was for I Love Men in Tasseled Loafers. Author Debbie Karpowicz created chocolate tasseled loafers as swag for the launch party. She sold more books that night than some people sell in their lifetime, and I’ve never forgotten the title of her book. If your swag can do that job, you’ve created the most effective advertising tool there is: one that makes people remember you and your book.
How much is it going to cost?
But why spend part of your budget on these giveaways? Shouldn’t you purchase $400-$600 in advertising rather than postcards, magnets, posters, and imprinted T-shirts?
After writing and promoting 30+ books, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that the one-on-one advertising works better than anything else—and the best part about book swag is that usually you’re the one handing the swag to your reader. One-on-one contact. That contact is important, because readers remember you and your work if they have a bookmark in their latest book or a magnet on the refrigerator door. Those pieces of swag keep your book and your name in front of the people who’ll most likely buy your next book: the readers you meet at conferences, book signings, and workshops.
Where to buy your swag
- PrintRunner. Inexpensive paper goods printed to your specifications.
- Etsy. Search for “book swag.” Everything from postcards to gorgeous, handmade pieces of jewelry, sold directly by the artisans.
- Oriental Trading. Oddball little giveaways for those on a strict budget.
- VistaPrint. Easy-to-use templates for postcards, bookmarks, special products.
- Michaels. T-shirts by design. Lots of craftsy items for the do-it-yourself-er.
- CafePress. Custom t-shirts for the literary client.
- Adco Marketing. T-shirts, caps, paper products, chocolates. You name it; they got it.
- World Market. Specialty wine charms and interesting international goodies.
- Uprinting. Custom bookmarks
- StickersandMore. The name says it all.
- Merchly. A popular service for indie musicians that focuses on apparel (for humans and pets) and bags
The last word
When I think of swag, I think of giving the reader something connected to the book, something that’s memorable, and most importantly, something in my price range. But I don’t want the item to look cheap, so if my budget is tight, I simply create the best-looking bookmark I can.
Use your imagination. Brainstorm with friends. Think about your book’s subject matter, its setting, or its main theme and tie into it!
Your turn: Share your swag ideas and successes in the comments.