Friday, May 17, 2019

The Swag Man Cometh

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 Paul D. Marks

I’m not a big swaggart. About the only thing I’ve done to this point swag-wise is bookmarks. I did have business cards printed, but almost never give them out, instead handing out the bookmarks. So the biz cards sit forlornly in my office gathering dust, but I do like the picture on them. And they helped keep someone employed, so I’m doing my bit for humanity.

I also had mugs made for White Heat, but just a handful. Then we changed the cover of White Heat and we made more mugs, another handful. Then we changed the cover again and… When Broken Windows came out, we tried to make combo mugs of White Heat and Broken Windows. And that’s a story in itself. We couldn’t get it right, so had to make them again. And then again. So now we have a lot of White Heat-Broken Windows mugs that are half good, but taking up precious space in our house. I just can’t seem to part with them, even though they’re flawed.

But even if the mugs came out perfectly – and we might still try again – they aren’t what I’d really call swag. They’re mostly just to give to family and friends. Not as a general give-out item at conventions and the like. They’re too expensive for that, though we might have given a couple of the earlier ones away here and there in gift baskets and for auctions and such – The Great Mug Affair of 2018.

And I’m not really sure how much good swag does, especially the bookmarks when they’re one of multitudes that people leave on tables and hand out at various events. Like grains of sand on the beach. Does any particular one stand out?

Now, maybe if I could give out the swag they do at the Academy Awards, I’d get some attention. You know, things like trips to the Galapagos Islands, Iceland or stays at the Golden Door spa. Like Frasier and the Golden Door…and then the Platinum Door – well, you had to be there – and now you are:

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And most recently at the Oscars jewelry or cannabis-infused face cream and bath salts. Because as Distinctive Assets (who provide the stuff) founder Lash Fary says, “After a stressful Oscar week, you need to relax.” Of course, life’s a bitch when you’re a pampered millionaire actor telling all the rest of us how to live. So the toilet plunger shaped like a poop emoji should really help you de-stress after that tough, grueling Oscar week – nothing like what our soldiers deal with in Afghanistan, Iraq and other stress-free places they get to go for fun and excitement. And what particular stress that poop emoji toilet plunger helps with I’m not sure, but I’m sure it does. But if it doesn’t, the phobia expert (another swag item) is sure to help.

And that Oscar swag is so good Christopher (Michael Imperioli) on The Sopranos robbed Lauren Bacall of hers:

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So, if I could give out swag that was worth getting mugged for I guess I’d do more of it. But it seems to me that the expense of key chains, pens, magnets, etc., vs. the return on investment isn’t really worth it. But if you’d like a box of unused if a little dusty, biz cards, let me know. You could paper your walls with them.

So, while I like collecting free pens, I don’t give them out. Mostly I just do bookmarks. Bookmarks will remind people where they left off reading in Michael Connelly’s book. They’re inexpensive. Readers seem to enjoy them. And they don’t take up a lot of space in the garage. On the other hand, if I could bribe people with a Porsche in their choice of color, hmm, well if it would get them to buy a book it might be worth it.

What about you. Do you swag or not?

And now for the usual BSP:

White Heat -- Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller -- is a BOOKBUB Featured Deal on Sunday, May 19th. You can get the E-book for only $0.99.


New May issue of Mystery Weekly is out. And I'm honored to have my new story The Box featured on the cover. Hope you'll check it out. -- This link is to the Kindle version, but there's also a paper version available.


Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website


Jacqueline Seewald said...

I don't think giveaways encourage much in the way of book sales--but I could be wrong. I also had business cards made up but haven't found much use for them. Bookmarks are a good idea though. I've given away copies of my novels both print and digital. That got me some extra reviews but no extra sales. What can I say? It's a tough business.

Paul D. Marks said...

Jacqueline, I'll second your notion (how's that for a good old-fashioned word?) that it's a tough business. I never thought about giveaway books as swag, but now that you mention it I've done that, too. As for "regular" swag, I'm with you in not being sure that it really does any good. But it's fun to look at ;-) .

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I stick to bookmarks too, Paul, but that poop emoji toilet plunger's got me thinking.

Anonymous said...

I don’t go in for swag either, and let bookmarks suffice. Being of a frugal nature, I have to feel confident that any expenditure is cost effective. Some authors have an assortment of items; one with a series set in a toy shop has a basket of mini toys, all different. People rummage through the basket while engaging with the author about her books. Another author has a variety of buttons (the kind with a pin). They’re very popular and lead to discussion about books. So the right item works.

That all said, I’m thinking of getting some fridge magnets for the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival in August.

GBPool said...

The first LA Times Festival of Books I did showed me swag was worthless. I saw people dropping by every book-selling booth picking up bookmarks and whatever and putting it in their bag like Trick-or-Treaters. It didn't take a rocket scientist to learn that they were just seeing how much they could gather, sort of like crows picking up stuff that they see lying around and hording it. But I do have small tokens that go with the sale of my Christmas books - a polar bear eraser, a snowflake, and a dragon. But you can only get it if you by the book. I do have business cards. I have actually gotten author gigs because of those. But that's the limit.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking, probably worthless when it comes to book sales, but I just like giving stuff away with my name on it--egocentric or generosity? Hmm... My latest was pens with rubber stylus ends for phones and tablets and all those things that you have to touch--and everyone seems to really like them. Related book sales? Not a clue. But I think swag is fun (within my limited budget of course!)

Enjoyable post, Paul.

(forgot, always give out bookmarks I print myself with tassels because I like them myself! smile)

Paul D. Marks said...

Hmm, Dieter, so you’re going with the poop emoji plunger? At least your swag will stand out. And people will think of you every time they…. :-)

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Maggie. I like the toy shop-toy basket idea. The question is does it pay off. Ditto for the buttons. Though the buttons actually sound like a good idea if people will wear them and advertise for you. But as of now, I’m with you, just bookmarks.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Gayle. The trick-or-treat analogy is a good one. And I like your idea of giving out things only after someone’s bought the book.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I agree with you that swag is fun. And I like your idea of the pen with the stylus. Maybe you have the best idea, just do it ‘cause it’s fun.

jake devlin said...

I'm a super-cheap -- I mean sensibly frugal guy, and I like free stuff. Back in 2013, Vistaprint was getting started and giving away lots of stuff free: T-shirts, tote bags, pens, posters, flyers, yard signs, car magnets, etc., etc., for only the cost of shipping. I designed some T-shirts with the cover of my first novel, my web site URL, and "I *heart*" and the name of one of the characters in the book. I recently had the covers for all four books in the series redesigned, so almost all of those things are still sitting in my living room ... and dining room ... and den -- oh, and part of a guest bedroom. But the car magnets have brought several sales of paperbacks, with enough profits to pay for the shipping.

I also have business cards and I do hand them out often, leading to several more sales.

I also made T-shirts for the people I know whose names I used as characters, saying "I *heart* Being in the Book" with the cover at the top. Those are all gone, given away for free, and I sometimes see them around town ... with the old cover.

More recently, I have coupons from Harbor Freight for 20% off any item and a free flashlight with ANY purchase, and since I go past them every day, i drop in, pick up a small boxcutter for 50 cents, including tax, and a free flashlight. I give everyone who buys a paperback directly from me a flashlight (and maybe a boxcutter). I've got maybe 200 boxcutters and 125 or so flashlights left. Also, some of the cashiers have bought one or more of my books.

As far as I know, nobody has bought a book from me just to get a flashlight. But they do like the surprise extra freebie gift. For me, it's not only helpful, but fun and a conversation expander.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Jake. And if you got all that stuff for free from Vistaprint, why not? That would be great. Wish they were still doing it. And I know what you mean about things sitting in the living room…dining room…and den :-) .

Re: flashlights and boxcutters – if the cost/benefit works out in your favor that’s terrific. And sometimes I think it’s worth having a loss-leader where you don’t necessary make a profit right away but you gain a reader.

Whatever works.