Romance Author University: 5 SWAG Must-Haves for 2019 by Carmen Amato
Author swag has two purposes:
Make an impression NOW, and
Make an impression LATER.
Most of the time, writers hand out swag at conferences, book clubs, and other in-person events. Face-to-face is great but when the show is over, that swag has to keep working for you.
With that in mind, your author swag has to be eye-catching, suggest your genre, and promote your unique author brand. It has to hold its own on a conference table full of swag from authors who didn’t read this article.
Anyone who doesn’t know you has to be enticed by color, design, and testimonials. When they pick it up, they should immediately know how to find your books and contact you. The person who finds your piece of swag could be a potential partner, book blogger, journalist, or even a film producer. Make it easy for them to find you long after the event is over.
Any swag must have (at a minimum) your author email address. Let me emphasize this again. Always, always ensure your email is on anything you hand out.
Your swag also has to be easy to transport or mail. Costs are a factor, too. One weekend author conference can gobble up 100 or more promotional items.
So here’s the challenge. What can you personalize, easily carry or ship, make it grab and hold someone’s attention, and gives you the biggest bang for your buck?
Luckily there are plenty of ideas out there. At the 2018 Killer Nashville international mystery writer’s conference, plenty of swag was on display. I mentally grouped the swag into three categories: flats, flats plus, and prizes.
Within these three categories, the following five swag must-haves will step up your book marketing in 2019.
These are the marketing essentials every author needs: business cards, bookmarks, postcards, and rack cards.
Business cards are indispensable if you want to make a professional impression. Throw away those old cheapies on thin paper and go for a heftier model, like Moo.com’s premium paper. Keep to the same branding used in the design of your website, author logo, tagline, or book covers. Need some ideas? Check out Pinterest or surf Moo.com’s gallery.
When you want more space to showcase blurbs and book covers, go for bookmarks, postcards, and/or rack cards. Use them to call attention to a new book, advertise a series, or offer a tantalizing excerpt. Vistaprint has excellent rates.
One of the most successful flats I’ve seen lately is a bookmark advertising mystery author Jim Nesbitt’s Ed Earl Burch series. On the left, there’s an intriguing graphic with the big tagline, “Nobody’s hero. Nobody’s fool.” Jim’s contact information is on the right. The whole thing pops. Your curiosity is piqued. You have to pick it up.
Another good bookmark example advertises the audio version of A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window, with the book cover superimposed on an iPhone. There’s a bold blurb from the Wall Street Journal. Instructions for downloading the audiobook are on the back.
I recommend rack cards to advertise a series, similar to The New Yorker magazine’s card. Rack cards are bookmarks on steroids. They are the height and width of a trifold brochure. No folds but still lots of real estate.
Want to take your flats to the next level? Leave some unadorned so you can slip them into envelopes for thank you notes and business letters, but customize others with tassels, ribbons, or beads, in keeping with your author branding. Etsy is a good resource if you are not a crafty DIYer.
These flat items are still easy to carry or ship but go beyond standard sizes and designs. Some authors even sell them through Etsy or their own website as an additional income stream.
Three innovative ideas in this category are story samples, mini-posters, and seed packets.
Story samples work like free samples in the grocery store. Readers taste and want more. If your story sample is anything besides an excerpt, make the connection to your book is crystal clear, i.e. a prequel.
Print any of the options below on a tri-fold brochure, bi-fold booklet, or for short excerpts, even an over-sized postcard:
Short story or book excerpt.
Mini-cookbook of 3-5 recipes of food served in the book.
Guidebook, map, or walking tour personalized with your own trip tips.
Mini-posters require more design effort but can be excellent value for the money. Quotes, drawings inspired by your book, or a collage with a book-related theme are some possibilities. One of the simplest but most effective use of mini-posters was by John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars. His signed mini-posters each featured a simple graphic and quote from the book printed on 12 x 12 inch glossy paper.
Again, make sure your website and email address are printed somewhere on the poster—maybe a small line at the bottom.
Mini posters can be gloss paper like Green’s but also effective printed as over-sized postcards and branded as art prints. Or use the design on regular sized postcards to make ribbon-wrapped art postcard collections.
Do your books lend themselves to a garden theme? Have birdseed or flower seed packages custom-printed with book and contact information. Still fairly flat but with a gift inside that keeps giving. Make sure the package is clearly labelled with the contents, as well as your book and contact information, so readers don’t try to grow birdseed!
Contests, raffles and giveaways are all in an author’s toolbox and it is likely that you’ll participate in a group event or even host one of your own in 2019. Stand out with a memorable swag package.
The emphasis is on the word “package.” Think of those Harry and David fruit and candy towers that magically appear at Christmas.
The base of your prize package tower is a print copy of your book. The next layer should be 1 or more useful items that evoke your genre and setting. Nothing breakable or heavy (the swag package may have to be mailed). Some ideas are:
A bath bomb in a pre-printed cellophane bag.
A scented sachet that reminds the reader of place; lavender for Provence, pine for a Christmas story, etc.
A Pandora charm of a book-related landmark like the Eiffel Tower.
Vintage theme? Find napkins or handkerchiefs from an antique store.
A book that ties to yours; city guidebook, cookbook, or craft book.
A set of art postcards or thank-you notes featuring a related motif.
A set of your mini-posters.
Cara Black, author of the Aimee Leduc mysteries set in France, recently did a book promotion in which readers won silk scarves from Paris. For The Hidden Light of Mexico City, my romantic thriller set in Mexico, my swag tower included the book, a turquoise pendant, and a notecard with a Mexican motif.
Now that I think about it, I should have asked the winner to post a picture of her wearing the necklace on my author Facebook page!
The top of your swag package is a layer of your personalized flats AND a hand-written thank-you note asking the reader to confirm they got the package (by posting a picture on your Facebook page!) Depending on your budget, wrap the entire tower in florist cellophane, place in a gift bag or box, or have totes printed up with your author logo and contact information. Don’t skip the wrap even if you mail the prize.
Ready for 2019!
Last advice for your swag must-haves:
Have a supply of promotional swag on hand. You’ll be ready for any opportunity.
Always use the same branding on your website and swag. Always include your contact information.
Be creative and don’t go overboard. Set a budget and stick to it.
Last but not least, this is your author moment. Put some swagger into it!
The Hidden Light of Mexico City
He’s fighting for his country’s survival.
She’s fighting for her own.
Will the darkness of Mexico’s drug war destroy them both?
"Dramatic tale of politics and corruption, and a man and woman from opposite ends of the social spectrum who call in love . . . An enthralling political drama." -- Literary Fiction Review
On the eve of Mexico’s presidential elections, attorney and ex-cop Eddo Cortez Castillo uncovers a deal between the country’s powerful Minister of Public Security and a notorious drug cartel leader. It’s the first clue to a shocking pay-to-play scheme to buy the presidency with drug money.
Soon targeted by the cartel and his own government, Eddo’s only salvation may be a woman whose name means Light of Mary.
Supporting her family as a maid in Mexico City, Luz de Maria Alba Mora is trapped on the lowest rung of Mexico's social ladder. She knows her only chance for a real life may be in the United States.
Sparks fly when Luz de Maria and Eddo meet in a deliberate case of mistaken identity in front of Mexico City's famed Tamayo Museum.
Neither can afford to share the truth about themselves.
But someone is watching who will.
From official corruption at the highest levels, to the families weaving the social fabric of Mexican life, to the harsh realities of the US-Mexican border and drug cartel money laundering, THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY is ripped from today’s headlines.
Written with gripping action, brutal authenticity, and political candor, it pulls you into Mexico's drug war to walk in the footsteps of those living through it.
It's a riveting ride through the darkness of Mexico's drug war, where violence buys loyalty, votes are for sale, and the odds are against survival.
Can you inherit a secret your soul doesn’t know?
She’ll find out the hard way.
After her father’s shocking suicide, University of Virginia professor Brodie Macbeth inherits a strange legacy, including a library of British history books. Soon she’s having nightmares stolen from the pages of what she is reading that send her travelling through time and place.
In her sleep, people will kill for a secret Brodie doesn’t know.
Is this grief? Or something more sinister?
When Brodie falls for Joe Birnam, an Iraq War vet with his own demons, she’s finally able to put the past behind her. But a stunning revelation comes from a colleague who isn’t what he claims to be.
The nightmares are a real and deadly game.
The prize? Joe’s immortal soul.
But Brodie doesn’t know how to play, let alone win.
From Virginia's most famous university to the Scottish highlands to a dusty road in Iraq, not even Shakespeare could have predicted the secret that will keep you up tonight.
Carmen Amato writes stylish suspense and the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series. Originally from upstate New York, Carmen was educated there as well as in Virginia and Paris, France. Her family tree includes a mayor, a Mensa genius, and the first homicide in the state of Connecticut with an automatic weapon. The perpetrator, her great-grandfather, eluded a state-wide manhunt after killing two people–one of whom was his wife. He was never brought to justice. Visit Carmen’s website at http://carmenamato.net to get a free copy of the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library. You’ll see why Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer Grady Harp wrote: "For pure entertainment and a gripping story likely resulting in nail biting, read Carmen Amato's addictive prose. She knows this territory like a jaguar!"