So… you’re thinking maybe you need a little something to say “Hey! I’m an author!” Maybe you’re thinking of creating an author business card you can whip out to add legitimacy to your title. Or possibly a book card you can drop from airplanes to litter parades with the grandeur of your book and get that title out there. Or maybe you are thinking bookmarks. Branded pens. Shirts. Bags. Water bottles.
You really need to think this through. Not just about the cost. But where and how you are going to use these promotional items and what their true purpose is. I have seen so many people (and corporations) spend money on something they either never use or on something that fails to do the job.
First off, a lot of author swag (swag–stuff we always get) is very cool to the author who created it, but it is very easy for it to become sorta cool junk for the receiver. (Sorry.) We, as authors or writers, see others doling out branded goodies like they’re Santa Claus and feel like we should have something too. That’s natural. But sometimes it’s wrong.
Breaking Down Author SWAG
Let’s start here: Who is your author hero?
Got one in mind?
Okay, now say you were going to win something from them. What would you want? A cheesy t-shirt that likely doesn’t fit you right (one size does not fit all in an attractive manner) and has an image of their book or their tagline? A cheap water bottle with their name on it where the cap doesn’t thread right after you’ve used it three times?
I say this in good faith. I say this as the wife of a man who works as a career counselor (among many other jobs within his real job) and who attends many conventions in a year. You would not believe the swag he brings home. At first it was cool. FREE STUFF! But now a LOT of it gets tossed or given away because it is really cheap junk. Yes, junk. The water bottle story is typical. It was a “thing” a year or two ago and it has been replaced by bags that aren’t functional and break so easily you may as well not bother to use them. And, at the end of the day, you can only use so many crappy magnets that aren’t strong enough to hold a piece of paper to the fridge…
Do you get where I am going with this?
So think again of that author you idolize. Wouldn’t you rather have something special that is directly related to why you like them? (Hint: Their books.) So what about a signed copy of their book? Or maybe a signed bookmark? Or a chance to chat with them through Skype? Yeah, you’d probably feel pretty special with that rather than a bag where the handle tears off once you load it with three books. Your signature means something to them. Something special. It is unique. Not everyone gets one–or could create their own if they are desperate.
As an author it is easy to get swayed by price point and what is cool and trendy. But you have to remember if you are handing out cheap stuff (like magnets that can’t hold a sheet of paper to the fridge) how does that reflect on you and your brand?
So, let’s start at the beginning…
Why Are You Creating Author SWAG in the First Place?
What is your purpose for handing out swag? Chances are they are one or all of the following:
- create a memory of you
- connecting with others
- promotion–get them flaunting your brand while they go about their daily business
If you work it right, you can use your promotional material to hit on all of these bases.
Author Business Cards or Author Bookmarks–The Purpose of an Author Business Card
Because I just made some author business cards, let’s take a look at these cheap and easy multi-functional cards. First off, don’t think of them as a business card. Business cards are for lawyers. We’re authors. Our cards can be SO much more–especially since your readers don’t need to know where to find your office (in my case–a couch). So a business card becomes something more than just information. It becomes something that you can use to brand, sell, and connect. All in one.
Let’s break it down.
Branding–What is your author brand? Who is your audience? What impression (that your card will make) is most in line with your books? Answering these questions will help you figure out the style of card you want. For example, if you write dark paranormals you aren’t going to want the pink card with the wedding script writing because it doesn’t fit and build on the impression you are striving to create.
Selling–What are you selling? Hint–it isn’t you so much as your products (your books!). Use your latest book cover–not your face. We don’t want to see your face. Okay, I don’t want to see your face. Being able to recognize you in a crowd isn’t going to make me buy your book, recognizing your book cover when I am book shopping is going to make me buy your book. (If you don’t have a book yet, then your face might be okay. Or possibly skip the image altogether and feature something like your author tagline or a related image (make sure you have the rights to use it) that is uniquely you and your brand.)
Note: Don’t use a stock image provided from the printing company. You know how many business cards I’ve seen with the same tree printed on it? That does you no favours and does not help you stand out, be unique, or make you memorable. No picture is better than using a common one that someone else might have–can you image swapping cards with someone and discovering they are visually the same? Ouch.
Back to selling. Maybe you are using a free book as bait to gain a readership? Add the cover to your card. That will be useful for years. Or possibly you are selling a feeling–use your author tagline. (Mine is: Read, Dream, Laugh, and Love.) Or maybe if you are using a book’s cover you will want to include the book’s tagline. (Mine is: One woman. Two men. One meddling small town.) You want your card to create a feeling. It isn’t just information on cardstock. It can be so much more!
NOTE: Many of online printing companies have free templates online where you can personalize or upload your card designs. As well, Canva–a free online design company that I happen to adore–has free business card templates on their site that are easy and look professional and are simple to brand as your own.
Connecting–Where can people find you? What do you want them to do? I don’t care if this is a card for your street team announcing your latest release. Connect. Give them a URL so they can follow you. Make the cards about more than just this one book. (Make them evergreen as much as possible that way you can still use them. You hand them over and say, this is an old card from my book release, but this is where you can find me online–and you point to your website’s URL. Bam! You used up an old card, shared some of your work while providing your contact info.
BUT don’t provide every place someone can find you online. Pick the most effective (we’ll get into this in a bit) and share those links/addresses. They don’t need your phone number–they aren’t going to call you (and in that rare instance that they are, you can write it on the card). They don’t need to know where you live. They need your online stuff. Even if you are connecting with agents, they want your email, not your mailing addy.
My hope for my own cards is that they will be cross-over cards. A little something I can give a fan–the card tells them how to sign up for my newsletter. Or I can hand it to someone who needs my email address. Or to that someone I’m chatting with who is trying to remember my book title (you can see them struggle when they are doing this). Or is wondering where I blog. My cards cover all of that without being crowded.
Take it Further–I took my cards further and added a QR code on the back. I also used a QR code that used the cover art from my book in it for further branding. What does the QR code do? It hooks you up with my mailing list. You may note in the picture of the card (above) that I also shared the URL that the QR code goes to (I used the Pretty Link plugin (free) for WordPress to make the link short and nice) in case people don’t have a QR code reader. (QR Code readers are a free app on a smart phone that can read the black code using the phone’s camera. That takes them to a URL you’ve set up for the code. In my case, my mailing list sign up page.)
Effectiveness and Personality. The other big thing about author swag is personality. What is in your nature? Are you someone who will hand out business cards? (Or will you chicken out at the last minute like I did yesterday?) If not, then don’t buy them. (You may not know until you have them in hand, of course.) Are you someone who will go to a lot of conferences and want to add your bookmark to the author’s bookmark table? Then make bookmarks. Check your actual needs and your actual opportunities to get these branded promo items out there and take it from there.
My author business cards have extra space (they were cut wrong–serves me right for going ultra cheap) at the top right where I can add a signature should I use them to hand out at speaking engagements or to add to prize packages I send out. (Remember–your signature makes it special!)
SWAG Amounts–the more you buy, the cheaper the individual item cost. BUT will you use them? Will you find a way to hand out 50 t-shirts? 250 business cards? Start small. Figure out what you need. Experiment. There IS a learning curve and you don’t want it to be that you’ve purchased too much of a product because you thought it was saving you money. And hey, you might discover that at the end of the day, buying a prize winner a $10 egift card is easier and cheaper than trying to mail them a water bottle (which they don’t need) across the world. It might also make you look more generous. Who knows.
Your takeaway: Before you create author book cards, author business cards, and all that author swag, start small. Figure out who your audience is, what they like and need, as well as who you are, and where you are going to use your promotional author items. And most of all–are these products going to send the message you want about your brand AND will they pay off? (All promotion should pay off in some way, right?)
And for bonus marks, Google “Author business cards.” You’ll see some really great examples of boring cards that tell you nothing about the author and their works.
How about you? What do you think about author swag–both from a writer’s point of view and as a reader (or a receiver)? Share your thoughts in the comment section and help other writers.
P.S. Speaking of swag, did I tell you author Talli Roland is holding a giveaway on my other blog today? Go check it out.
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