Friday, November 6, 2015

Promotion items

Swag, promo, giveaways, freebies - most authors have some items they give away in order to promote their books. Science fiction and fantasy conventions often have freebie tables provided for this purpose as well as promoting conventions. When I first started thinking about promo items I took a long look at what was on freebie tables - and what quickly vanished off them. From what I could see, standard swag items from science fiction and fantasy authors were usually bookmarks, postcards, pens and pencils. What I heard from some science fiction authors was that promo was a waste of time - that one should only concentrate on writing good books because that was what would sell your books. Meanwhile I looked at the freebie tables and noticed what grabbed my attention, and what items made me follow up to look up a book. One thing I knew from my own experience was that promo items can remind you days later (when you're away from the convention and the dealers room) of a particular author or book that you wanted to track down.

Promo items differ from genre to genre. I heard a lot of suggestions from the romance authors at my publisher of promo items I never saw at a science fiction convention. When I started attending EPICon, which was a convention run by EPIC, an organization of electronically published authors of all genres, I saw a demonstration of what other genre considered great promo. Emery boards, balloons, fans, bags of candy, flashlights, rubber ducks, ribbons for convention badges, book cover buttons, notepads, stress balls and many more. Since these were advertising ebooks, there were also CDs and mini-cds with sample chapters and, in later years, free flashdrives in a variety of shapes. As an example of what is popular recently among romance authors, my friend J. Kathleen Cheney wrote a swag summary of her experience at Romantic Times in Dallas.

I've tried various items, but the ones I've stuck with over the years have been pens, bookmarks and postcards.

Not only do those work for freebie tables, but they also help fill up the space when I have an author table and they help draw people to the table. There seems to be something about free pens.

The pens are also useful when I'm not at a convention. My local bookstore isn't interested in bookmarks, but will take and give away my pens. My local post office is also happy to get pens. Black ink pens were the ones they preferred so that is what they all are.

Although pens themselves aren't something featured in my books (as a flashlight was when I tried using that as promo), I do try to have the colors reflect something in my books. The Crystal Throne pens are the colors of magic in that universe, while the silver pen for Agents and Adepts reflects a magic wand in one story. The stripes on the Michael and the Elf pen is similar to the stripes in the elf's cap on the cover of the book and the colors on the Talking to Trees pen call to mind those of a fall forest (well, they do to me).

Where does an author find promo material? You can often make and print out your own bookmarks, but after a while you'll start to want more professional looking material. There are several companies - all with varying price ranges and quality. Once you get on one company's mailing list, you'll start getting catalogs and samples from many more. I use Overnight Prints for my bookmarks and postcards and National Pen for my pens. I also have labels (book title and URL) that I get from Colorful Images that I put on the back of all my paper correspondence (especially my bills). Ask any group of authors and you'll get several more recommendations (feel free to add in the comments).

There is as well the more expensive form of promo. Tee shirts, mugs, messenger bags, baseball caps, etc. A few years ago, these were often freebie items. More often now these are considered a reward for your fans or patrons.

What type of promo do you give away? What types of swag do you pick up at conventions?


  1. Where did you order the pens? I've used temp tats, buttons, bookmarkers, cross necklaces, candy, and rubber bracelets. For a RWA signing, I used those little wedding favor bags you get at Michaels, and filled with my bookmarkers, tats, a button, and some candy. Huge hit!

  2. I've had good luck with a new pen from - it's a better retractable stylus/pen. And I can't keep the little spiral notebooks in stock. They FLY off tables. I try to keep my pens and notebooks "project neutral" so they're not "dated" whenever something new comes out.

  3. My best promo items (or the fastest to disappear) were pens, water bottles, spiral notebooks, and letter openers. I've found paper promo to be pretty much useless for me, although I still order bookmarks because they do in a pinch.

  4. Bookmarks have been the best. They're small enough that I can just always have some with me to hand out. And I figure that if someone leaves one somewhere that's just increasing the number of people who've at least seen my title. I'll have to try the pens next. People really do love free pens.

  5. Thanks for the pen link! Those look very doable. I do bookmarks and business cards for mystery writers' confabs, but have wanted to do pens. I like the prices at your link.

  6. I love this post. I never thought about spiral notebooks...I would be tempted to buy different ones with each cover -- they never really go out of style. I agree that promo materials that are dated make your life a bit harder...I have a "how and where to buy my books" post card -- it's glossy and pretty and has all my book covers on the back, and people take them, but when I get a new book out the card is no longer any good.

  7. Thanks for the great suggestions, Kathy. I usually give bookmarks, but like the idea of pens and little tablets. For the kids I have finger puppets, small balls, and candy. Sometimes attracting the kids' attention brings the mothers/dads to the table.