Sunday, March 8, 2009

Swagology 101

Dear Friends,

Hope everyone is having a marvelous Monday!  Robin and I are both fully submerged on very tight novel deadlines, and we both have BIG presentations looming next week.  Wish we were doing them together-- that would be insanely cool!  Robin is jetting off to Dallas to do a presentation at the Museum of Art-- does she have the best publicist or what?  I am headed off to the Raisin Capitol of the World, Fresno, California.  Tres glamour! Seriously, I am very excited to be a keynote for a group of librarians at their annual retreat. Librarians, in my book-- RULE the world, or they should, for god's sake. 

I am mainlining green smoothies to stay well throught it all, and feeling very grateful to Robin for keeping me supplied with the best homegrown spinach ever.  We are both seeing green these days, thanks to her spouse's bumper crop.  All very fitting, given that St. Patrick's Day is nearly upon us.  I am praying for the luck of the Irish that we both meet our deadlines easily, get the very fun presentations behind us, and are soon sitting together behind enormous salmon salads, happily recharging.

So, our topic de jour-- Swagology, or as my hair stylist calls is Schwa-a-agology.  Either way, swag generally refers to the free promtional booty one can find at conventions, or conferences-- and for the sake of our conversation, on your author signing table.  It is a hot topic among authors and illustrators, and there is usually a bit bemoaning about how little the publishing houses are able to help with the financing of swag.  In the writerly circles in which I run, which include a goodly group of esteemed writers, we might see an occasional poster, perhaps some reimbursement for postcards-- but generally, all the costs come from us.

And, the purpose of swag?  That depends on who you ask.  For me, it serves as both a welcome and an icebreaker in connecting with kids or adults who are looking at the book table.  (Or in the case of lurking introverts, trying to look like they are NOT looking at your table.)  And, as a former kid that had no disposable income, I love being able to give a child something totally free, no strings attached.  I give out postcards, candy, stick-on gem earrings, small notebooks, fun erasers, and pencils.  Only the postcards have my promotional information on them.  I keep meaning to order personalized pencils, and then I just never get it done.  I'd rather just give out cool pencils.  (But I'm absolutely not advising this--  I'm just confessing here, folks.)   

Robin has beautiful items, and I get SSE next to her (Serious Swag Envy)  She has gorgeous pencils, scary/cool tattoos, Egyptian symbols, black cats, bookmarks, postcards.  She's good at this. And, she usually raffles off a really nice gift set of a few of these things packaged together.  (RL, am I forgetting anything?)

For those of you pre-published and those up and coming, I think swag works best when there is a specific and personal point to it.  Since  this will likely be your money you're spending, make sure that you know why you're doing this. I don't think I've ever heard of good swag being the thing that launched a book from obscurity to the Bestseller List.  I'd recommend that you start out small and conservatively, and see what items seem to be popular.  I think buying in bulk is good, but if  your order requires a forklift to get it into your garage, you might want to slow down a bit.

Consumables items are the best-- things people can actually use, not just some  medium for putting your name on it. That's why pencils, pens, pads, bookmarks, book thongs, snacks, stickers, and tattoos are great.  Postcards are good, too, but I'd encourage you to actually leave space on the back for a child (or adult) to use the postcard.  As a kid, I always hated when I got something cool like that, but there was no room for me to write on it.  I will sometime even put stamps on them, and make sure there is plenty of room for a child to write a message to their remote BFF.   Or, put your editor's name and address on the back, and ask the child to tell your editor if they liked the book and why. 

There are a number of sites we've talked about previously that are great for perusing and ordering inexpensive items.  I don't think you can beat Vista Print for ordering postcards, business cards, pens, pencils, sticky pads, tons of great items.  I've always enjoyed fabulous customer service which them, which goes a long way with me.  The Oriental Trading Company has just about anything that you could possibly think of, particularly in terms of looking for book tie-ins.  Two other sites that I like are Zazzle and epromo.

We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas about Swagology, and any fave sites that you use.

* * * * 
Big congratulations out to Beth Cato who is the winner of last Monday's contest-- Please Help Luther!  :-)  We recieved a number of terrific posts and suggestions.  Thanks so much, everyone!  It was tough to choose.  I had to empanel a very special judge to help.  If  you haven't read the comments from that post, and public speaking can be a challenge for you, do go back and check them out. Beth's suggestions were practice-practice-practice, try to have some fun-- even at your own expense, use sturdy note cards, visit the empty stage or podium in advance if you can, have a cough drop or mint on hand for desert-throat, and make sure you don't wear anything that could choke you, trip you or otherwise present a clothing malfunction.  

And, we want to thank Kimberly Lynn for sending us the fun 'nervous speaker' case study.  Beth and Kimberly have won a copy of the soon-to-be-released (March 19!) new novel by the amazing Laurie Halse Anderson entitled Wintergirls.  If you both will email me off-line with your mailing address, I will put the orders in for you. 

Have a great week!
Mary Hershey


R.L. LaFevers said...

Great run down on swag, Mary!

And, as a former kid that had no disposable income, I love being able to give a child something totally free, no strings attached. Yep. This is pretty much it in a nutshell. The truth is, at booksignings or school visits, not all the kids who show up are going to be able to buy a book. I love having some way to connect with them, some little thing to give them to take home as a souvenir so that the event will still be memorable for them.

Anonymous said...

I’ve always wondered how the two of you kept up with your busy schedules—Robin’s homegrown spinach mixed into Mary’s smoothies . . .

Thank you so much for the new novel by Laurie Halse Anderson. I can’t wait to receive it!

You ladies are amazing,


Anonymous said...

Although I've never used them, I've heard a lot of good things about Earthly Charms ( And if you're looking for eco-friendly promo stuff (which I am), check out Wright Choice Promotions (

Anonymous said...

Okay, officially printing this post off and LABELING a promotion folder for my file drawer! I need those references and ideas. Thanks! And have fun in Fresno. Wear RED! (Isn't that the college color?)

Anonymous said...

Lots of good ideas! I love Vistaprint and they will work with you.

And I just so happen to live in Fresno, Ca. and I love my librarians so I'm glad your coming for their annual retreat.

Yes, red is the college color, but make sure it's short sleeved. It's sunny and warm!

Thanks again for the ideas.

Anonymous said...

Every now and then I Google my company name, Wright Choice Promotions. I was happily surprised to see my name mentioned on your blog and to read your refreshing viewpoint of promotional products.

I just wanted to throw in a couple of comments that I hope you will find helpful.

Always try to tie your promotional product into the theme of your event. In your case you are talking about books - so having an item that fits with the theme of the book is perfect. If your main character lives in the Alps you might do a snowglobe, if the story takes place in a forest do an item made from natural wood, etc. A thoughtfully chosen item, even if it costs a little more, will have much more impact in the long run.

Also, when you are purchasing anything that is going to represent you or your business make sure you can talk with a real person about your order. There is no extra cost to work with a promotional consultant. People in my industry have years of experience working with clients and we know what will work.

Finally, I wanted to share with you an item that I immediately thought of when you mentioned giving away pencils. There are now pencils made from rolled up recycled newsprint. It just seemed like a cool concept to me - the written word being recycled back into a tool for writting.

Good luck to you in your endevors!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Thanks so much for stopping by, Julia! And you're right--those newspaper pencils do sound cool!