To Swag or not to Swag?

Oops, threads got crossed! Sorry ’bout that.

If you go to an event, should you bring author swag? If so, what should you bring? This year, the questions are a bit moot, since Cons and signings are being cancelled and postponed all over the place, and virtual swag . . . I guess you could send a file with a bookmark people could print out, fold, and use.

First – does the place allow swag, especially if you are not a featured author? Some places have a “small items from non-official guests” table or corner where you can leave business cards, postcards, and things like that. [You DO have a business card, yes? No? Why not? Get a file of one of your book covers, take it to Ye Copy Shop, and have them make two-sided business cards with the cover on one side and your info on the other. Around here, 400 runs $70 or so.] If the Con or meeting doesn’t allow that, then don’t do it. I’d still have some cards, so that if it comes up in conversation and the other person asks, you have a card on hand.

If you are the author, what sort of things should you have to give away? What about pens, coffee mugs, tote bags, tee-shirts, and other “business convention goodies?” I don’t know. My first thought on those is a tie between “Yipes! The cost! and transporting them,” and “Who doesn’t have a dozen too many coffee mugs already?” This is especially true of being at a convention that has people who travel in from a distance. Luggage weight is a consideration. Paperweights, coffee mugs . . . possibly not. A fan-on-a-stick ( also called “funeral parlor fans” in the South) could be very popular at a Con or any crowded, warm venue.

Will it sell your books and stories? Will it be remembered? Will it sell your books? Will it catch interest and hold it? Will it sell books? Will it reward readers? I think you can see the pattern here.

My recommendation would be 1) business cards, 2) cover cards – those are larger post-card sized things with multiple images and teasers on them, 3) bookmarks, 4) something linked to your story world – say, a little toy in the shape of a ring-tailed lemur for the Familiars books, or a little dragon zipper-pull for a high fantasy series with dragons, or a star-chart copy for a sci-fi first-contact , or . . .

SWAG: What To Bring to Your Author Events


And speaking of Familiars . . . Horribly Familiar is out. Leaping lemur, snarky kit fox, the travails of being a goth in summer, illusion casters who may be more than they seem . . .


  1. i’d make swag if i thought i had enough fans to make it worth it. Specifically, i’d thought of making a card model of the dropship from the story i am currently working on… just cause i know it would work and will have a 3d model for illustrations etc

  2. My kids still have several bookmarks that came ‘free’ with books we bought at the El Paso comicon almost three years ago, and love them.

    Make sure you’ve got a website where folks can find out where to buy more if you do that. (Their favorite doesn’t.)


    For freebies ideas– kids’ books and coloring pages are a good idea (the girls are hooked on Lego Elves) and someone who can do 3D model design, the stuff for 3D printers, could offer a freebie printable. (Maybe have a line of them for sale, and one freebie.) Just stuff that is COOL.

  3. I have quite a few nice (and durable) bags from various developer’s conventions I have been to.

    Way too expensive except for the big companies, of course. (But I got an image of Weber/Ringo/Flint giving one away if someone buys the whole Honorverse/Aldenata/Ring of Fire series. Chiropractor fees not included…)

    1. The second aspect of this is very important– I’ve got a lot of companies that I associate with cheap and flimsy because I got a really cool looking bag from their swag table…and it ripped before the day was out.

      A really strong white plastic bag would’ve been less expensive and made a better impression, plus you can put a bunch of promo stuff in it.

  4. The most interesting of advertising/reminder I’ve encountered in some time is of perhaps limited use, but brilliant all the same – a lens cleaning cloth with name/logo/etc. on it. It’s useful and not what everybody else is/has been doing (so far).

    1. Well, my swag bag collection is much more extensive than my lens cleaning cloth collection, but I do have a number. I’d say think who is coming to the show. Also, many companies make you “earn” the swag, e.g. by providing your contact information.

      My favorite swag?
      Good pens. Not fancy looking pens with crap refills, but pens that write well, such as Uni Signo 207’s or Pilot Frixxion Ball 05 (looking at a blue one from Optex FA and a black one from NEC/Tokin). I’ve very happy that the prevalence of good pens has been increasing.
      T-Shirts. My collection is mainly from Thor Labs.
      Good quality bags, from many companies. I especially love the heavy duty ones with pockets.
      Snack Packs. Mostly “Photon Food” from MKS. Of course, with the help of my kids, those don’t last long.

      1. Oooh, cute one I saw– they printed out a bunch of stickers with basically the business card logo information and put them on cookie packs.

  5. The best swag we did was after somebody in this household accidentally one-click ordered 250 bouncy balls. A fever may have been involved, and good cold meds.

    Either way, we printed cards with the book cover on one side, blurb and QR code on the back, and I sat at the dining room table bagging them with a bouncy ball each. (Hey, they were swirled, looks kinda like a gas giant. Deductible marketing expense, okay?)

    They were a hit with the under-15 crowd, and fortunately the con organizers didn’t kill us as the kids went rocketing around playing some interesting multiple-bouncy-ball variant on Calvinball. Also, they did boost sales.

    This doesn’t work as well in conventions that are heavily greying, and I don’t recommend trying the patience of the con organizers two years in a row. But it was amusing.

  6. Swag. Interesting idea.

    I looked at doing swag bags for a retail thing. Nice ones, like Lulu Lemon. Turns out that those bags cost about $1.50 each unless you order a huge number, like over 10,000. You can’t order less than 1,000 because minimum print run. Setup costs, die cut, print plates, all of that.

    If you do single-use plastic grocery store shopping bags it is ~$0.25-$0.50 each, also minimum order, one colour, etc.

    Here’s a company that does it.

    T-shirts are really expensive. We gave up on that immediately.

    Bottom line, the outlay for even really basic swag items is going to hit your profit hard, unless you are selling an awful lot of items at a nice chunky markup.

    Selling the bag is a nice idea, but now you are not in the author business, you are in the bag business. Hope you have a hot item or you’ll be stuck with 990 custom printed bags.

    My experience of selling books thus far is I’m pretty glad I don’t have a print run of paperbacks sitting in my shed. E-books mean never having to keep inventory or pay shipping.

  7. Thanks so much for linking to our post on swag at Writers in the Storm! We appreciate it. I always love to hear about what people choose for their swag – they are so creative.

  8. As a reader, business cards are a must. I rarely buy anything in con-type venues (avoiding impulse purchases is a thing for me). However, that does not mean I’m not interested. Something easy to carry that reminds me I was interested is perfect.

    I haven’t read a paper book in ages (five years?), so bookmark is not very appealing. However, I have a business card drawer in which they will fit just fine, so I view them as large business cards, not bookmarks.

    I would certainly use free pens, but I would probably never look at any information printed on one, so it’s a functional win but a marketing loss. I definitely do not want any more coffee cups or any sort of cup, glass, tumbler, chalice, etc… I have plenty already – and usually in matched sets so one-offs don’t fit in. A tote bag? Maybe, but I already have a pile of those, too (both cloth and plastic) – one is for a local bookstore, though.

    I like the idea of digital swag. A book cover reformatted for 16×9 monitor wallpaper, for example. Just be sure that it’s not too busy because most people have a lot of icons, which need to be discernible, on their desktops. That’s also quite bit of reformatting since it’s almost the exact opposite layout of a normal book cover. There used to be a company that did calendar backgrounds with the calendar just being a ribbon across the bottom. I really liked those, but it does mean one per month, which is probably why that company no longer has them, but putting the calendar ribbon overlay on some image file could be automated. If you are trying to get new readers, there’s no reason you couldn’t use the same images year after year with different ribbons slapped on them.

    Maps might be a workable idea. I’ve long since given up on them. My visualization from description NEVER matches and it’s far too much bother to keep referring to the map in the front of the book whenever the characters move around. Having a somewhat detailed digital map available (background or not) might be really handy for some readers, though, since Kindle maps are basically useless (most of them).

    The virtual speak-easy idea from the link is brilliant, but the cost looks non-trivial and seems less likely to attract new readers than to attract existing fans. Do you really need to? I will not be any more or less likely to buy the next Wine of the Gods book if Pam creates a virtual tour of Ash. It would be kind of neat, but I’m going to buy the book, regardless. I will admit that I’d be interested in some “photos” from the Cooking with Fire book. I don’t know if I’m interested enough to buy one though. If nothing else, after looking at it, what would I do with it? (I’m picking on Pam because I just left a review of Fancy Free so she’s on my mind [go read it!!!].)

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