Thursday, May 26, 2016

Creating Promotional Material That Works: Swag

By Marcy Kennedy, @MarcyKennedy

Part of the Indie Author Series

Over the last two months we’ve looked at writing a tag line for our books and writing our book description that goes up on retailers and on the back of our book.

This month we’re going to talk swag. Swag is physical items related to our book/series. It could be bookmarks and postcards, mugs or magnets with our book cover on it, or even jewelry based on something worn by our characters.

Authors sometimes confuse swag with things like candy that many also hand out when doing book signings or attending conferences. The defining quality of swag is that it’s a “permanent” physical product and it’s directly related to our books in some way. So candy with a custom wrapper doesn’t really qualify. People will eat the candy and throw the wrapper away. It won’t be something others see and comment on. Disposable items usually aren’t a good investment.

I polled a few other authors for this post to see what’s worked for them when it comes to swag and what sites they like the best.

The secret to what swag works seems to be know your personal business model.

For authors who want to be able to quickly adapt, swag can be a bad idea because it leaves you with a lot of outdated products.

“I have not done bookmarks for a very long time,” said multi-genre author Pauline Baird Jones. “Because I need to be nimble and flexible, my covers sometimes change, so then I lose the money spent on bookmarks. I think bookmarks work better for authors who do a lot of events, such as signings. Most of my sales are online, so it’s not cost effective for me to do a lot.”

However, for authors who’ve built up a street team to help them spread the word or who want to do launch events, swag can be a great way to build audience excitement.

Mystery author Kassandra Lamb explained, “I definitely use bookmarks! People love them and act like I’ve just given them the best gift ever, and they’re not all that expensive in bulk. I’ve used other swag for Facebook parties and as rewards for my street team. They probably aren’t worth it from a return on investment standpoint, but they spread goodwill. So I do use it but sparingly. I’ve found tote bags and mugs are popular, but if you want to go cheaper, you can do key chains, etc.”

(Here's more on making bookmarks with Canva's Bookmark Maker)

The other part of making swag work seems to be know your audience.
If we’re not having a positive response to the swag we’ve created, we might be failing to consider the interests of our readers.

Book clubs, which tend to read paper books, will love bookmarks. Readers who stick to ebooks will likely have little use for a bookmark, but might like mousepads.

The age group of our readers matters too.

“Teens love those rubber bracelets,” said YA author AlicaMckenna Johnson.

So what sites have authors successfully used to create their swag?

Moo – Moo allows authors to put together business cards, postcards, and stickers. Their biggest advantage is what they call Printfinity. It allows you to put a different photo or design on each card or sticker in the package you order. This feature is especially useful for those of us with multiple books.

Printer Studio and Zazzle – Both of these sites let you create a variety of products from notepads, to pillows, to puzzles. You can even do coasters, water bottles, and phone covers, so you can find what’s right for your audience.

Shapeways – Shapeways is a 3-D printing company where you can get jewelry and models among other things. They allow you to upload a pre-created design or to hire a designer to help you. Although hiring a designer is probably out of the budget for most of us, it could be a good way to make a one-time special object for a launch event.

What swag have you tried? Do you think it’s worth the cost? Any other places you’d recommend for buying swag? 

Marcy Kennedy is a suspense and speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance fiction editor and teaches classes on craft and social media. She’s also the author of the Busy Writer’s Guides series of books. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth at

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  1. Hi Marcy and Janice,
    For Canadian authors, Vista Print does a great job with good pricing. But stay away from their mugs. I use them for my greeting cards and love them. If they mess up the order they also replace the product. My calm coloring Ebook is launching on May 31st so I best order some bookmarks. The paperback to follow soon. I couldn't resist plugging the book. Thanks. ❤️

  2. I'd like to see more authors using local printers and crafters for business cards, bookmarks, and swag. Your local printer can offer more personalization than Moo, Vistaprint, etc.

    There are some Etsy stores offering some very interesting and unique products. I'm checking locally to see what I can find closer to home. Currency exchange and shipping rates can be murder for those of us not in the US!

  3. Thanks for the shout out, Marcy! I'm so glad you did this post to guide writers on this topic. I wasted a lot of money on swag that didn't work before I found what did.

    I'd just add one piece of advice. Think about who will see the swag besides the person who receives it. Swag that people will flash about in public (like a tote bag) is better than something they will just use at home.