Thursday, May 16, 2019

Don't Give Me A Glue Gun.

Swag: what do you do about this knotty question? Have you wasted money in the past? What works best for you, and why? Do you have an annual budget? 
By Catriona

Have I wasted money in the past? Have I? Not just money: effort, time, dignity . . . I suck at swag. 
When I was starting out, I read somewhere that postcards were the thing, and far better than bookmarks or business cards. So I got thousands of postcards made and then was too scared of looking pushy to "use them for all casual correspondence" as instructed. I threw boxes of them out when I emigrated. 
Then I got more made over here after I immigrated. I've still got some. Look:

Can you see how thick the two piles on either end are? (Those two books are from 2012 and 2013). Notice too how the DEADLY MEASURE OF BRIMSTONE postcards have got the information laid out in such a way that they're unusable as actual postcards. Contrast that with the BOTHERSOME NUMBER OF CORPSES postcard, with . . . no information at all! Then contrast it with the middle card, promoting an anthology where I published my first ever short story. Can you tell that this is the work of a competent and successful indie publishing enterprise? Oh and by the way, see how the BRIMSTONE postcard is upside down when you're looking at the front and right way up looking at the back? Yeah. 
I finally gave up on postcards about four years ago and moved to bookmarks. I like bookmarks. I've got a collection of them in the boomark burro on my kitchen table:

I'm not sure I've ever used one a spur to buy a book, mind you. 
It took me a while to get my own bookmarks right: website address, clear jacket images, pithy quotes, a headshot. And it took me a good while to stop succumbing to the pricing strategy that makes 2000 so tantalisingly not very much dearer than 1000, which are irresistibly similarly priced to 500. When you write three books a year, you've got mere months to shift these babies and throwing them away hurts. 
Last time, last March when SCOT FREE came out, I vowed that I'd order the right number and stick with them till they were done. Plus I had (what passes for) a brainwave. A bookmark of two halves:

This is the same thing, front and back. And this - thirteen bookmarks - is all I've got left after over a year of grim determination (and a bit of chucking them out when they get grotty in my handbag). I'm at the Central Coast Writers meeting next week and, unless I offend everyone, I feel confident that I'm going to finish the stack there. (Note to self: order some new bookmarks for June.)
So much for casual swag. when I'm hosting a table at a banquet, I do a bit better. This spring in Vancouver, I handed out whisky, jimmy wigs, and Irn Bru as well as  books. And in the past, I've made my own ribbons, with pinking shears, to tie shut gift bags with book-themed ties:

It was the Malice auction that broke me. I was toastmaster at Malice 30 and I wanted my live auction item to be decent. So, as well as a cuddly haggis, a tin of culinary haggis, a skean dhu, a spirtle (Scotland isn't like other places at all), and a book or three to go with a character name, I also packed - in my suitcase, for my flight - yellow net, red ribbon, green paper, cellophane, a presentation board, tissue, streamers and a stapler, just in case. I sweated it out for an hour trying to make one of those lovely auction baskets you see at fundraisers. When I finally presented the clag of crap that looked as if a cat had coughed it up, Shawn Reilly Simmons happened to mention that the donors only have to hand the swag over and Malice does the baskets. I could have cried. 

But it did make for one of the funniest photos I've ever had taken:

Aimee Hix and I, looking like something from The West Wing, if not ER, as we rush the auction basket through the Marriott at the eleventh hour. And look at the damn thing! Did you ever see a bigger mess? 

I should stick to writing.


Paul D. Marks said...

I wish we could all just stick to writing, Catriona, instead of having to deal with all this other stuff. But I guess that's the way of the world, so we just do it the best we can.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Yeah, I do that too, Catriona. Get too many bookmarks printed between book releases — don't use them, but don't throw them out either. Maybe I'll get one of those nifty bookmark burros.

Brenda Chapman said...

I was at an event where an author was giving away intricate handmade beaded bookmarks and selling her books for around two dollars each. I've always wondered at the logic of spending more on swag than one is making on a book. I stick with the simple bookmarks, believing that our books are worth recompense and we should feel confident enough in their value to expect people to pay us. I recognize that swag is a way to get a book or author noticed - perhaps - but nothing I've every received in the way of swag has led me to buy a book.

Dana King said...

I'm enjoying reading this week's posts, as I have struggled with this myself. The question I come back to is, "Is there any evidence swag sells books?" I can't say, as I don't have the numbers. What I can say is that I have never bought a book because of a swag item, no matter how clever. Am I an outlier, or is it similar for the rest of you?

Keenan Powell said...

It was a lovely basket and, as I recall, got the highest bid last year. I refused to believe it was because of the fifth of booze. It had to be the fluffy plushy haggis toy -- a replica of the rarely seen haggis animal, which some think may be extinct, an ancestor to the modern-day marmot.

To cash in on this valuable lesson, this year I included a plush husky toy in my basket and it did quite well.

catriona said...

Dana - I think your question is well-founded. Swag's maybe more of a thank you to readers already in, than an enticement. I think the same is true of newsletters.

And Keenan - you are very kind!

Leslie Karst said...

My favorite author swag items to this day are the pens in the shape of hypodermic needles that Kathy Valenti had made to go with her Maggie O'Malley series about the pharmaceutical industry. (The stories she tells about transporting them and the TSA are pretty amusing, as well.)

Susan C Shea said...

An auction item with haggis? Automatically a best seller. Good to know we all struggle with the same attempts to attract readers, albeit in different ways.

Frank Zafiro said...

Catriona, I'm glad someone else "sucks" at swag.... although, based on your description, I'm going to drop myself to "double suck" in future descriptions!

Great post!