Wednesday, May 15, 2019

To swag or not to swag, that is the question... by Cathy Ace

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?
Oh my – SWAG! The eternal question of “To swag, or not to swag?” I’ve seen a lot of swag. I’ve been tempted to purchase a lot of swag – and some swag can be extremely tempting. I’ve loved most of my book covers over the years, and the idea of seeing them printed on mugs/tees/posters/matchbook covers/earrings/necklaces/shoes/candies/chocolates/teab-labels etc. etc. can be extremely appealing. Then I tell myself it’s all hubris, and I can’t afford it…and move on!
An idea of the swag handed out at Malice Go Round - the fabulous "speed dating" event at Malice Domestic

That being said, the idea of using something other than a bookmark to promote my books at conventions and books signings is something I give thought to with every book. I can absolutely see the point of having something relevant made with either my name and website address on it, or maybe focusing on the visual images on/connected with my book…but then I come back to practicalities.
Living in Vancouver, Canada, means I’ve had to fly to every convention I’ve ever attended – except Left Coast Crime, held in Vancouver this year. This means I would have to put swag into my suitcase, have it be acceptable to customs as I cross into the USA or the UK, need it to weigh “almost nothing” as I always reach my limit with packing as it is, and be used up so I don’t have to bring it all back to Canada again. 
Every author here just gave you a two-minute pitch, and gave you something to take home - how does an author "stand out"?

The way I look at it is this: the purpose of anything I give a new reader (with a book purchase), an existing reader (as a thank you), or a potential reader (as a reminder of my work when they are building their TBR pile) needs to work in terms of being appealing/useful to/for the recipient, and meeting its needs from my point of view. Printed sticky/note pads, pens, pencils, keychains etc. can all be useful to the recipient…but will they say “thank you” loudly enough, or will they remind the recipient about my work in the future?
I tend to use most swag when I am participating in one of those wonderful “speed-dating” events at conventions – where two authors table-hop around dozens of groups of readers…you have two minutes each to pitch your work, hand out swag…then move on. Now I’ve never been a recipient at one of these, but I can sense how overwhelming it is for readers to have twenty pairs of authors tell them about their work over 90 minutes. I think it’s vital to have some sort of leave-behind, or those who take notes won’t have a reference point, and those who don’t take notes will be totally at sea. 
With Vicki Delany at Malice Domestic 2018

But…I have always stuck with a bookmark. That’s it. I see a bookmark as useful for readers (they are all readers!) and the print space allows for both my series of books, my collections of short stories and novellas, and my standalones to ALL be featured – using their lovely cover art – as well as my website address. And that’s it for me.
The previous iteration of my Cait Morgan bookmark
As for budget? Yes, I have an annual promotional budget. Conventions are expensive (always over $1000 per convention); advertising is expensive (you could spend a fortune, or not buy any at all); living in Canada means mailing a book to one person can cost around $15…so I budget $20 per book, and I sent out 40 with the last launch; swag can cost any amount of money. I just had 2000 new bookmarks printed and they cost me around 19 cents each (inc. artwork & delivery). I’m sure there would be cheaper ways to get them printed, but I trust the printer I use and they get them done fast for me…which is good, because I always seem to need them in a hurry! (Yes, I get through about 2000 bookmarks per year.)
So, at this time (unless I win the lottery) the only swag you should expect from me should be a bookmark – informative and useful. And I always collect up the unclaimed ones at the end of every event where I use them, because each one costs almost 20 cents, and that can add up very quickly!
One side of my current bookmark

The other side of my current bookmark
If money were no object? Oh, now let me think…

Even though I cannot pass you any swag through this screen, maybe you'll consider reading my books? Click here to get straight through to my website.


Terry said...

I found a wonderful piece of swag through another author. There's a company that puts wraps little bite-sized candy in you book-cover, with room on the back for a quote. Yes, it takes up room in the suitcase--room that I can use to bring back books I buy at conferences. People seems to look it, and best of all, I steal one for myself when I get the afternoon munches. Does it sell books? Who knows? But then, who knows what sells books?

Frank Zafiro said...

Cathy, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who goes for bookmarks only! At least you've updated yours, though!

And Terry, I love that candy idea... would you be willing to share the link?