Sunday, September 12, 2010

After all those years in Asia, I don't have to do promotion anymore. We just release a Jackie Chan movie and - Boom! - people go. ~ Jackie Chan

I do promotion when it is necessary, but I always want to get back to the music.~Enya

Oh how I wish I could be like Jackie Chan or Enya. To be able to release a book and – Boom! – people reading…it would be lovely. Sadly, that is rarely the case for most authors. You have to build your audience. You have to encourage them to read your words by promoting yourself. There are many ways to do this.

One thing published authors must take into consideration is promotional materials. I'm not talking about promo where you talk about your latest book. I mean the tangible stuff sometimes referred to as SWAG. That's a slang term for free promotional items. SWAG, aka Stuff We All Get, can be anything from bookmarks to t-shirts.

I've used pens, coffee cups, bookmarks and postcards in the past. Honestly, however, paper promo is not really SWAG per se because it is paper. Consider things like beach towels, lunch bags, jump drives, water bottles, stress balls and jar openers instead. You want something the reader will keep using so that they keep seeing your name. This is part of that old marketing adage sometimes called the Rule of Seven.

“The customer needs to see an advertisement seven times before it is effective.”

That generally means seven times but in as many different mediums as you can afford. So a book video, a bookmark, a good review—all of those are marketing in terms of being seen. If you can get something physical in the reader's hands, then you've upped the ante considerably!

Pens are one of the most common swag items. I personally like pens that work. I still have pens I got at RWA conferences three years ago.

One enterprising author put her name and book cover on water bottles. While this is a great idea, it's temporary. Raise your hand if you did NOT throw away the water bottle once it was empty.

That's what I thought. But sometimes, that's okay. I still remember that author's name (Kresley Cole for those who are curious - LOL) and even that the book cover had a ship on it so it must have worked, right?

One difficulty is finding the right source for your promotional items. I want the most bang for my buck just like everyone else. So I find 500 jar openers at one site for .50 each. What about this other site where I can get 650 jar openers for .35? Get your calculators out, darlings. This is where that high school math comes in handy. 500 jar openers at $.50 each is a grand total of $250.00 whereas 650 for $.35 is $227.00. Houston, we have a winner!

But do we, really?

Let's say the second site has an art set up charge of $90 plus shipping and handling BUT the first one is only $40 and if you order by Friday you get free shipping. Well that just bounced the 650 up to $317.00 which brought them up to $.48 a piece. So they are still cheaper than the first site per item but it may be a win for your pocketbook to stick to the $250.00. Or you can team up with another author and cut your cost even more!

For the Romantic Times Booklovers Conference in 2009, I joined forces with Ashlyn Chase to purchase 1000 coffee mugs.

By splitting all the production and shipping costs we were able to get a nicer swag item. It was popular for sure!

Other authors have also combined their money to come up with bigger items for that conference. C.T. Adams & Cathy Clamp offered the cutest lunch bags that were handed out at the 2009 RT Awards that were just stuffed with books. I use mine on a daily basis - good advertising for them, right?

Some good sites to look for promotional items are:


You can also ask your fellow authors who they use. Pay attention if they tell you that the customer service was not good. Bad customer service is never worth the money you save.

For my publisher's convention, RomantiCon 2010 this October in Ohio, I will be offering mini bottles of Tabasco with my name, website and tagline.

Here is the actual size.

My plan is to put these out with my business cards and some postcards featuring my latest book, Needing Harte, with the tagline "Add a little Spice to your Life." This story is my first novella-length M/M set in a BDSM world and will release on October 6. You can find that here.

Needing Harte

Harte Donovan has a problem. A murder leads him to wanting a sexy stripper bound and naked in front of him. He can’t let his secret desires ruin his career as a detective. When he’s given a mysterious business card, Harte discovers a side of himself he intends to fully embrace.

Ramey Nichols strips for a living and he’s not willing to pretend to be something he’s not. When this sexy submissive meets the closeted cop and unwitting Dom, something has got to give. That something might just be Ramey. Ramey knows what he wants, and more than that, finds himself Needing Harte.

This is part of a brand-new series called 1-800-DOM-help

So what kind of swag do you like to get? Do you still have anything from conventions past? If you have a great promo place, please share it with us.


Martha W said...

Thanks for the links to promo sources (I am sooo in need of that!).

I think the biggest thing for me to get is a pen. That's my number one.

(And I double-checked to make sure Oct 6 was marked on my calendar...!) Best of Luck & great post.

Jill James said...

I love pens. But, get good ones. If the pen stops working or isn't nice to hold it will be gone and so will the promo.

I love things that last; coasters, push pin holders, big notepads.

Maybe don't get as many, but get good quality things.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Thanks for putting all this great information in one place. I like getting pens,too. I have thought about doing chocolate or candy, but I guess that wouldn't meet the seven times rule.

Mona Risk said...

The tobasco bottles are a fantastic idea. To be honest I am tired of all the work necessary to promote a book. I personnally never buy a book because of promotion items. I have so many pens, nail files, cards... and never bothered to look at the names on them. I buy a book because of the blurb.

Josie said...

Very informative blog. Promotion is a necessary evil and your Tabasco sauce bottle looks to be a winner.

Arwen said...

Martha, I love pens and have many from various authors. :)

Jill, you make a good point. A good pen that lasts will do the work it is meant to do--both in writing and advertising.

Clarissa, you are welcome. The chocolate or candy meets one of the 7x. :) No one promo (I think) can meet that rule fully. So you have to vary your approach.

Mona, I hear you on the work. It gets to be a drag at times. But even blog posts like this one are promotion simply in getting your name out there.

Joanne, it is, isn't it! And we hope those Tabasco bottles are at the very least memorable. :)

Alexis Morgan said...

Besides nice pense, one thing I've been really happy with are sticky notes--I like to get them and they're definitely something I use.
I bought mine at this site:

You get 500 25-sheet pads for about twenty-nine cents each. Service was fast and the quality good.

Arwen said...

Alexis, thank you. I'm a sticky pad fan myself!

Cai said...

Thanks, everyone for stopping by and for your comments! I love SWAG, myself, and am always on the lookout for something "different."

I hope the tabasco bottles will be a big hit at RomantiCon!

Our next blog post will be a recap of RomantiCon, so I'll let you know what SWAG was available there! :)

Cai said...

P.S. Martha - can't wait to hear your thoughts on Needing Harte!

J L said...

I never knew what SWAG meant ... thanks!

I use a recipe card with a recipe of a dish mentioned in the book. I use the banners from my books (the banners appear in ad space on different web sites) for the artwork on the cards (if you're curious, check here for cards: and here for banners: to see what I mean).

My HOPE is that people keep them and use them and thus may check out one of the books. Does it work? I have no idea, but it makes me *feel* like I'm doing promotion, so that's half the battle, as far as I'm concerned.

And like you, I've gone back and worth between vendors. I used to use but lately I've tried, and have been pleased with their product and pricing.

I look forward to the swag report from RomantiCon. If you see some cool items, please share!

Maggie Toussaint said...

I used 4imprints for my golf tees which I imprinted with my book title and my website. Did they work? They all left the promo tables in a heartbeat. I'm thinking to order more this time around for book 2 in that series.

I still do bookmarks, which are not appreciated so much by other writers (can we say overloaded???) but readers do hang onto bookmarks.

For the SWAG at my MUDDY WATERS launch party, I'm giving away miniature kayaks which are Christmas ornaments.

Best of luck with your new release!

Cai said...

Thanks, JL & Maggie!

JL,I still have some of your recipe cards from a few years ago and have tried them out (pre-Jenny Craig - LOL), so I'd say they were successful at least in getting someone to hang on to them! They didn't influence me to buy your books, the Turtle weekends did that! LOL

Maggie, I totally agree on the bookmark thing, though I always pick up one or two at conferences I go to. Good luck with the mini-kayaks, they sound AWESOME! :)

Saskia Walker said...

Wonderful post! Thanks so much for sharing your ideas, this was so helpful. I love your Tabasco sauce idea. :)

I've only been able to attend one RWA conference so far (I'm in England) and weight was a problem for bringing stuff home. I had to be cautious and only take what I knew I could carry and treasure. I brought home several pens, drink mats, and a magnetic bag clip (which I keep on my noticeboard in my office with my receipts clipped in it, so I see it every day!)

I love the idea of sticky notes, and I heard lip salve is very popular too.

Hot Ash Romance Novels said...

Thanks so much for mentioning my name and adding a link, my lovelies! It was great fun giving away those mugs at RT. I still have a few and I give them to booksellers who are kind enough to host a book signing for me.

Therefore every time I promote myself, I promote you too! I still use my mug too. It's been through the dishwasher hundreds of times and the image and writing are still crisp. Yay!


Marcia James said...

Great blog post! I present author promotion online workshops, so I LOVE talking promotion. ;-)

One way to get a great deal on logoed items is to pick your item to represent your author brand vs. a single book. That way you can buy the items in higher quantities and use them for several books.

By the way, when a person says they've never bought a book from a pen or a bookmark, I cringe. Print and trinket PR items are meant to interest the receiver enough to go to an author's website (her #1 PR tool), where the author's book blurb and excerpt might persuade the person to buy her book. Think of a bookmark like a resume. A resume won't usually get you a job, but it will hopefully get you a job interview. A bookmark might not sell a book, but it hopefully will draw a reader to your website. Sometimes PR is a multi-step process.

The only print promotion that seems to directly result in sales is the first chapter booklet/excerpt booklet. These can be expensive to produce in large quantities, though, even if you make them yourself. A less expensive option is a tri-fold brochure with an excerpt in the middle.

-- Marcia James ;-)

Nina Pierce said...

I think I spend too much time/money trying to figure out the perfect swag. I've done all kinds of things and I'm not sure any of it works. But the hope is that it will. But the cost/unique item thing is such a balancing act. (And I always wondered what SWAG stood for ... you'll never know how happy you've made me that I now have a logical answer.