At a recent meeting of the author marketing group I attend, we talked about author swag. I was expecting that we would talk about the art and technology that goes into creating and obtaining said swag, but it became a philosophical discussion on whether swag is necessary for authors at all.
First of all, let’s define swag, tchotchkes, leave-behinds, whatever name you prefer. Swag is what you give people so they will remember you after they have walked away. At a future time, they may want to buy your book, ask you to speak, interview you, or pass along your information to someone else. In the best of all possible worlds, swag is something cheap enough that you can give lots of it out, but valuable enough that it won’t be immediately discarded as they walk away from you.
Swag can be a business card, a bookmark, a postcard, a trinket, a food item or other small token. The idea is that they will keep this remembrance for some period of time, therefore your name, your book title and your contact info should be on it.
The guest speaker, a graphic artist and marketing consultant, explained how to create eye-catching leave-behinds and gave some tricks of the trade regarding image sizes, print bleeds, die cuts and so on. All of that was useful information for getting the biggest marketing bang for one’s buck, but it prompted the discussion on why an author should bother spending money on swag at all.
The most common place for swag is book and author fairs. We’ve all either seen this done or have done it ourselves: The table is set up to display the author’s books and also features swag to attract customers. Admittedly, sometimes attendees just make the rounds of the displays pocketing the candy and bookmarks without ever even looking at the books on the table.
Of course authors will try to make eye contact and engage the attendees in conversation to pitch their book and make a sale. Sales do happen, but most of those at the meeting felt that book fairs didn’t result in enough sales to make going to them worthwhile. And if it’s not worthwhile to go to the fairs, then one doesn’t need swag.
We talked about other uses for swag. Someone suggested putting bookmarks in the books you sell as a “value added” treat. That works at a bookstore or if you are shipping your own books, but there’s no way to add a bookmark to an Amazon sale. Another person suggested going to the library and slipping your bookmark into books similar to yours as a “suggested alternative.” The idea of using swag as rewards for fans, contest winners and early readers was also mentioned.
So is there a need for authors to have leave-behinds? Lots of people are still using them, but is it a dying tradition? If you have any insight into this question, I’d love to hear it!