Sunday, January 22, 2017

What Am I Researching? SWAG!

Guess what, Fathoms Fans? I’m working on getting some swag (and soon!) for the Star Crossed series! I’m thinking some book marks (because every reader needs one!), some socks (because who doesn’t use those?), and maybe even a replica of Cather’s winged key necklace (because how cool would that be?)! As an independent author (I queried my second agent of 2017 this week! Fingers crossed!), this requires a fair amount of research (as does everything else in the self-publishing industry), and I’d like to extend a huge thanks to Sherry D. Ficklin and Creativindie for all their help! Their blogs are worth checking out for any current or aspiring author! You can see the posts I researched for my book swag, as well as links to these blogs, below.

SWAG~ What to bring to your book events

Posted on February 9, 2015 by sdficklin
In today’s market, authors face a unique marketing challenge. Gone are the days of people attending book events and gobbling up print copies. The digital frontier is here, and authors know a great portion of our sales are now made far from the traditional bookstore, in the various e-book platforms. Which means that to sell effectively, you need not just carry books at your events, but SWAG as well.
There is a weird, neurotic desire as an author to have the bestest, coolest swag on the block. Unfortunately, we are usually out of pocket for it, and that expense can add up REALLY fast, especially if the book hasn’t hit shelves yet, or is newly released.
But, if you’re an author who travels, does lots of conventions, or even just has signings at the local bookstore, swag is really important. Not every person who comes to your table is going to buy right then–the vast majority won’t. Many people will wait and look for it on e-books, which is awesome if they can remember your name. So I’ve compiled a list of the best book swag and where to get it without breaking your budget.
This is the MOST COMMON type of swag and it includes bookmarks, postcards (which, if you are doing one or the other, I prefer postcards. They can act as bookmarks, but you can also mail them, and they present a larger image of your book. Plus, lots of fans collect them.) and flyers. You can also buy business cards with your book cover on one side and your contact info on the back. They are like mini bookmarks and are really cool.
The best place I’ve found for all my paper swag is Vistaprint. They always run great sales and can do everything from postcards to wall posters. Generally, I can get 250 postcards for about $12. is where I get my bookmarks. They have good prices and are excellent quality.
I love both of these, however, it’s been my experience that people aren’t AS into them as some other types of swag. Still, specifically if tattoos are a theme in your book, they can be great. They are small and light and easy to grab. StickerYou is a great place for these.

These are a lot of fun, and this is another thing that people collect, only they last longer than the temp tattoos and people even wear them out and about. They can be on the higher end of the scale, price wise, but you can buy in bulk for steep discounts. You can get 200 for about $55 plus shipping. (That’s the lowest price I’ve found, just FYI) Grab these over at 

This one isn’t very practical as a mass swag item, just because they are SO expensive. The cheapest I’ve found are $10/ea and aren’t very good quality. For me, my marketing budget is very tiny, so I have to be careful how much I spend. PLUS, it’s a real pain to get them to and from events (especially when I’m flying, HELLO baggage fees).  Items like this are better reserved as limited giveaway or street team prizes. Also, while you can use online printers for shirts, you can almost always get a better deal at your local print shop. This is also true of things like cup coozies, hats, etc.
These aren’t your normal paper bookmarks. These are often cord or ribbon with fancy dangles at the ends. You can make them yourself (again, if you’re crafty) or you can have them made. The price isn’t outrageous, but again, these are better as limited giveaway items, because of the cost. Also, while cool, they aren’t as envelope friendly as paper ones. I know many authors who use these and/or book charms as giveaway goodies. I’ve also seen several authors who sell them at events for a small fee. They are very cool.
This is a great resource if you’re interested:

These are a cool, kind of throwback idea. Great for YA/TEEN books (since most adults don’t sport buttons anymore). They aren’t super pricy but are fun to hand out at events.
You can get 100 mini buttons with your book design for $30 here:
I LOVE posters, but again, they aren’t really in my budget. At around $50 for 15 smaller size posters, they are a special occasion buy for me. I bought a pack for UtopYA where I signed them to celebrate the release of Queen of Someday. They are good for those limited edition things, but they are murder to ship (unless you fold them, which I kind of hate) and not super budget friendly unless you buy them in huge bulk.
I normally order from or my local print shop.
Oh my heavens these are my favorite things ever especially when I go to book events. I LOVE getting bags to haul my goodies in. As an author, they are great because, as people carry them, hey, free advertising. Plus bags are one of those things people tend to use over and over. Now, there are literally a billion places to get bags so I’m not going to list them here, but I will say one of my favorite places is 4imprint. If you have a favorite bag printer, please, feel free to share links in the comments.
These are really cool, especially if you writer for kids or teens, because they make excellent school and library swag. You can get pens for around $.15 each, but you usually have to buy at least 500. Now, you can buy less bulk at places like VistaPrint, but the price goes way up. Pencils are good too, though less flashy. You can get them at Discount Mugs (which Is where I get mine) and really any online promotional printer. The only downside is they are hard to stick in an envelope and mail.
OMG, there are so many things you can use as marketing swag. Oriental Trading has millions of goodies you can get, some personalizable. Is your book featuring a soccer player? Try inflatable soccer balls. Is your book about kings and queens? What about mini tiaras or necklaces with crowns on them? (FYI, I just ordered both of those things from OT, at a killer price). I know an author who writes vampire romance bought dozens of vampire mini-rubber duckies for swag. Does your main character play guitar? How about guitar picks? Think outside the box. Shop for deals. Make a budget for both mailable stuff and in person swag. Start out slow. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
Canary Club matches for my speakeasy novel
Ok, this one really isn’t swag in the traditional sense, but it WILL attract people to your table and give you a very professional appearance. You can get these banners in various sizes, I normally use the 6 foot option from Vistaprint. I can’t recommend these highly enough!
Author June Stevens Westerfield
Author June Stevens Westerfield

The biggest mistake I see authors make with swag is buying everything, spending a fortune, and just kind of tossing it Mardi Gras style at the crowd. Think honeslty about what kind of return you want to get from your investment. Consider your audience. WHO are you marketing to? What kind of things would that demographic want? And most importantly, what kind of items are going to get your book the most visibility? If you are marketing a series, it may make sense to spend more on upfront marketing than if you are marketing a stand alone novel. Remember, the idea is to get as much BANG for your BUCK as possible! Hope this helps a little, and happy swagging!

*** UPDATE ***

I took an informal poll at my last book event, asking what swag readers like the most. Here are the results in order:
So there you go! Good info to have!


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How to make business cards, bookmarks and other kickass author swag for your writing conference

I’m not a big believer in print marketing materials, nor writing/author conferences (to promote your books) because:
1.     It’s a lot of time, money and effort and requires you to manually hand out your materials (and usually to other authors, not readers!)
2.     There are much better ways to market books, for much less money.
I’ve been to lots of writing conferences full of eager authors, some with excellent print materials, and they’re all basically trying to sell each other their books.
HOWEVER, I also feel like a dumbass if I’m talking with someone about my books or my writings, and they’re asking questions, and I don’t have anything to give them.
Also, I do plan to hit up a few conferences this fall… and I was just going to make friends and not to promote, but on second thought, as long as I’m going, I might as well grab a table and set up some stuff – not only will it give me a chance to hook any readers that are there, it’ll also help build trust and rapport faster with other authors (because I’m a fellow writer, with polished, well designed marketing materials, not just some strange guy hovering around and being creepy).
So what’s the best kind of book marketing and promotional stuff for authors to bring and handout? I’ve made a list of the things to consider, the best options, and then the super best options (what I’m using myself).
Firstly, you have to sell.
It’s not enough to make cards or bookmarks that have your cover, website and some information. Everything you give to someone else should make them want to read/buy your book. That’s hard to do, on a limited space (we’ll talk about that), but you can achieve it by:
1.     Amazingly powerful sales copy (with a headline that grabs and hooks, and a description that leaves them begging for more).
2.     An amazing, beautiful book cover design and well designed materials (builds trust and credibility.)
3.     Social proof (“over ten-thousand downloads!” / positive reviews). Positive reviews are almost always better than sales copy. Use reviews that tell what the book is about.
This is the same stuff you should have figured out on your Amazon page, by the way… so if you aren’t selling, you probably already have problems with your sales description, summary, reviews or book cover (getting print materials made and going to conferences probably won’t help, unless you have a GREAT book but suck at selling it… with enough grunt work you might overcome your initial disability. But it’s easier to figure out what’s wrong and fix it, rather than spending time and money on conferences.
Secondly, you need them to take action.
You need to have an offer (free book!) and project scarcity. Don’t be desperate, make it seem like you’re giving them a limited opportunity, that they might be lucky enough to take advantage of.
Do you need your email, phone number and author bio? Probably not (more on that later).
You do need a link to your website, or better, to your signup form.

Bookmarks, postcards, business cards?!

Previously, I’ve been a big fan of postcards, because you can basically print the front cover on one side and the back cover on the other – so it’s got all the marketing material you’ve already carefully crafted and polished on your book cover, in postcard form. If your cover design is amazing, and it should be, just put the art/cover on one side and leave the details for the back.
The problem with postcards is, if you have lots of books, you’ll end up with boxes of unused postcards. Plus, they’re great for tables but a little awkward to pull out casually and hand to people. Business cards work better for that. You probably want an “author” business card, very simple, with just your name, tagline, a review or two and a website. Maybe with your amazing book cover or two. But keep it clean and simple, and it should be something you can use for years.
Bookmarks are great too, though they are common. But they’re a good in-between size.
I usually use for more stuff, especially because I like to use spot varnish (shiny bits over the text). Here are some examples I’ve made for clients; they’re design heavy and sometimes have no more than a website.
The blank white box is a place for the author to sign the cards.

lightbookmarks postcards2

Going beyond the ordinary…

The above designs well-designed, professional examples, but still aren’t really focused on selling. Plus I don’t want to have to hand out all three to everybody (people might take all three just because they’re there… which eats into your profit). Readers only really need one to remember you.
But if they got a card or postcard, even though well designed, would they really look you or your book up online later? Do they have enough information to hook their interest?
For my cards, I decided to use these images I’d made for Instagram:
Instead of a book description, I just used Amazon reviews. But you still need a reason to get them to come back to your site and follow you, so the back has my email optin offer:
“Limited time offer” sounds kind of cheesy, but it’ll probably work better than something like “Join now” – I’m giving away free books but I might not always… and I want them to take action. Over 8,000 young adult readers boosts credibility and establishes myself as a non-newbie. It’s also important when meeting other authors, so they take me seriously (as not just another author… as someone who knows how to market and build a platform).
I actually have about 12,000 young adult readers now on my list now but I need to screen some out. This would have been a decent effort, for one book, but I have several… so I made 5 versions. I was thinking of making a folding card, so I could have three books and the offer.
That would have worked, though I’m not sure how I feel about folding business cards. Instead I decided to use 2.5×2.5 “fat” square cards (they have them on “Fat” cards have increased paper weight, so they’d be like little coasters. Paper weight is an easy way to boost professionalism, if you can afford it. It won’t fix design problems, but having sturdy materials sets you apart.
In the end however, I moved away from 2.5″ and decided on square postcards, at 4.5″.
The small, mini-cards are cooler, but I was afraid the text would be too small.
I also decided to go with – they’re a bit more expensive but quality is usually better – and they have the option to swap up to 50 designs on the back… so I could order 200 cards with the offer design, but use 5 different book designs on the back (here’s a gif of the designs).
There’s a few benefits to that: I can give out different cards to different people, or let them choose (choosing gets people engaged and makes them actually think about your books or ask questions). I can also lay out six different piles of cards – showing all the faces – though I would have a sign or something that says to pick one rather than taking all six.
I could still print the little versions at 2.5″ which are a little more fun and discreet… though I think they were almost the same price as the big ones. I think I paid about $150 for 200 of these, which is actually too expensive. You need to think of your print materials as lead gen/cost acquisition… If you give out 200, how many of those will actually sign up and become readers?
You can boost conversion by using social proof, a call to action, a great offer and scarcity, and by having high quality materials, but you can’t afford to get 10% conversion if you’re paying $150 for 200 cards. Even if you’re getting 50% conversion, you’re not doing great – you could get clicks on ads for much less (which is why, again, I don’t usually do events).
But you also have to figure in the “impression” factor.
Having great print materials, at conferences, is a way to immediately broadcast your worth and jump ahead of all the other authors: you need to project yourself as a success, as someone who knows what they’re doing, which will make it easier to make friends and build relationships during the conference.
If you went in with a plan to impress or befriend one industry insider or bestselling author, that $150 investment might be worth it if you secure just one valuable relationship (note: on relationships, I never try to sell or ask for help; I try to prove my worth by not being promotional or salesy, and just being fun to hang out with and super helpful/knowledgeable).

But wait, there’s more!

The other thing I’d like to do, however, is print up mini excerpt books, maybe with the first couple chapters. That way instead of selling books at conferences (which I’m loathe to do, because we can’t travel with a big box of books), I’d have little pamphlets with the cover and back cover, and maybe 36 pages inside.
The problem is cost: you can get these made at Createspace (just upload a shortened PDF) but they cost at least $2.10 each. You can get them from, at 5.5×8.5 for $133 for 100 booklets of 32 pages.
If I went ahead, I’d probably want to get these mini booklets that are 5″ x 3″ … because they’re cooler and cuter. I could get 100 for about $80, at 32 pages… but because they’re smaller I’d probably need more pages. I’d probably get 60 pages for $120, then order one for each book and have 5 different booklets.
They’re expensive, yes, but also awesome: nobody else will have something like them. But instead of just giving them away for free, I would bring an ipad and make people sign up on my list before picking one out. And I’d have a little sign saying these are just for “serious YA fans” to discourage random strangers or people giving fake emails to get free stuff. This is also something you could volunteer or donate into a conference’s swag bag. (Which impresses everyone, but won’t convert as well).
I think the mini-booklets are more fun, but the idea is readability, so I’d have to make sure my booklets are readable (5″x3″ is about the size of the little booklet that comes with a tarot deck or instruction manual, so it should be fine… the text will just be really small). I might try to source these on as well.
Update: Got some books made!
Got a price of under $1 per 50 page booklet, ordered 400. This is what they look like.

Ideally, you really want several books printed up so they have to choose one; that gets them invested, and they’ll spend some time flipping through and reading all of them to see which one they like the most – that’s good because you’ll get them hooked, but it’s also good because you want people standing around you. Just like your website, you want to keep them there as long as you can, by giving them something to do.
Nobody wants to come up to the table with nobody at it… they want to come to the popular table where something is happening. Having a bunch of people reading your books is a great way to keep a crowd.

Giveaways and cool stuff

If I’m going to take the time to actually go to an event, I’ll want to make it even more fun with games, giveaways or cool free stuff. I printed up some stickers – again, not cheap, I used stickermule which makes great quality stickers. But you don’t want cheap stuff that gets used once and thrown away… stickers are great because people will either put them on right away and wear them (so that everyone will ask, “where did you get that?” and they’ll send more people your way) or they’ll put them on a binder or something where they could stay for years (unlike a postcard or business card which will go straight into a bag or pocket, probably forever, or be thrown out later).
The trick with stickers is to make them super cool and not promotional, at all… no website, no author name or book title… people won’t wear an advertisement. But if you give them something of quality and value that they actually appreciate, they are more likely to remember you and say nice things about you or your books.
Spending a dollar for stickers seems like a terrible deal, but you need to factor in the gift exchange value. If they really love the sticker, and it’s high quality, they’ll appreciate getting something for free and then they’ll feel like paying you back somehow… they’ll be in a position of gratitude. This is the opposite of how most authors do marketing – they only ask for favors (buy my books, follow me, support me) or give out “free” stuff that’s actually just advertising and promotional material. Even when readers take your free swag they might feel like they’re doing you a favor or just trying to be nice.
They might have good intentions but never look up your book afterwards.
Finally, I might go a step further and set up a game or contest… something interactive, like a bean toss or a pinball game (something easy and portable though… maybe tossing a pingpong ball into a clam shell). Something on theme for your brand. Something really hard, but if they get it, they win a free book. That keeps people engaged and having fun at your booth.

In summary…

High quality, well done marketing materials that aren’t strictly promotional work better than mass printing of “swag.” Find ways to make it fun and to give more than you ask. Make sure you only go to events with your ideal readers. Printing little booklets with excerpts can get them reading right away; also give them a reason to sign up to your list right away (cool shit, a big giveaway or contest, etc).
Do you have print materials or ideas you’re proud of? Share in the comments, or post pictures on the Creativindie Facebook page here.

In other book related news, I just got confirmation this morning that another fabulous local vendor, Tom and Sandy's Horseshoe Restaurant, has started selling copies of Fathoms Below! This was such an unexpected treat, and I cannot think these wonderful people enough for giving me this opportunity. Paperback copies are only $13 each and in limited supply, so if you're a townie, live nearby, or on the road and just passing through, stop by and purchase one for yourself or the YA Fantasy lover(s) in your life! And don't forget to give yourself enough time to sit down at a table and enjoy some truly delicious southern cooking served with a free helping of small town hospitality. For more info about Tom and Sandy's Horseshoe Restaurant, visit their website by clicking on the link below, and keep checking back here to see when Fathoms Below will be available at stores near you! I have two more lined up already (can't mention any names yet until it's final) that should start carrying it within the next two weeks. (Does author happy dance) :)

I was a little late to the party to participate, but I still managed to review the live Q & A on Twitter in which one of my personal favorite authors, Cassandra Clare, whose Mortal Instruments, Infernal Devices, and Lost Artifacts books have catapulted the genre of YA Fantasy to new heights, talked with readers about her upcoming work. I did, however, have the privilege of participating in the #YAThrillersChat with outstanding YA authors Victoria Scott and Merrie Destefano, where I and other readers got to pick their brains about all things book and writing related. Since I recently read Victoria Scott's Fire & Flood and Salt & Stone, she has become another of my favorite authors (it's quite an extensive list lol), so getting to talk to her one-on-one was a dream come true! If you haven't read any of her books yet, I totally recommend hopping over to Goodreads and checking them out! The two I mentioned above were beyond excellent (hopefully one day there will be a third!), and although I haven't read her Dante series yet, it's definitely on my to-read list for 2017. One of her upcoming books, Violet Grenade, is also listed as a Giveaway on Goodreads (yes, I signed up for it, and I included the link below for your easy access), and she gave a little sneak-peak reading of her other upcoming book, Hear the Wolves, on Instagram that left me longing for more! (There's a link below for that as well if you'd like to hear it.) And, since we're talking videos, I posted a new one as well: the full length video of my presentation and reading of Fathoms Below at the Savannah Art Walk last weekend. Check it out at the link to my YouTube channel below. (Be warned, it is a long video lol. There is a shorter, edited version on my Instagram page, also below.) Plus, if you missed either of those Twitter events, not to worry! You can still review them on my Twitter feed by clicking on the link below.

In non-book related news, I celebrated my birthday on Monday with pizza and brownies (a tasty combination). I finally finished reading Ice Like Fire by the amazing Sara Raasch, and can I just say that if ever a sequel was as good as the first, this book wins the blue ribbon! I absolutely can't wait to find out what happens next!!

Most importantly, though, I started the final planning stage (aka shopping) for my daughter's 8th birthday party. This year, the theme, at her request, will be Fly to Neverland, featuring the Disney Fairies Tinkerbell, Vidia, Rosetta, Iridessa, Fawn, Silvermist, Periwinkle, and others as well as the classic beloved Peter Pan characters Wendy, John, Michael, Captain Hook, Tiger Lily, Mr. Smee, Crocky the Crocodile, Nana the Nursemaid Dog, and, of course, Peter Pan himself. And while I feel a little bit like Alexander the Great must have felt when he set out to conquer the world, I am looking forward to seeing the look on her face when she sees the finished product. Wish me luck (and sales lol), and I hope you all are staying safe and dry during this bout of stormy weather.