Author Business Cards, Book Cards, and General Author Swag

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.


Please. Stop.

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 It was a phase a year or two ago and it has been replaced by bags that aren’t functional and break so easily you may as well not bother to use them.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:

  • branding
  • create a memory of you
  • prizes
  • connecting with others
  • promotion–get them flaunting your brand while they go about their daily business
  • sell

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 multifunctional 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.

This is the mock-up of my author business cards. What do you think? Did I manage to brand, sell, and connect?

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!

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.

Find this helpful? Click to tweet this post and help other writers: Your author business cards should brand, sell, connect, and be a reflection of you.

Posted in tips for authors Tagged with: author business cards, author promotional items, author swag, book promotion swag, how to brand your business cards, what is swag
36 comments on “Author Business Cards, Book Cards, and General Author Swag
  1. jwtroemner says:

    I have to say, this is really good advice, and it brings to mind the most successful business cards I’ve seen to date: They were for an artist, and one side had her information, while the other side was a snippet from one of her gorgeous abstract paintings. She left the business cards on the desk of our bookshelf, and we could barely hold on to them, because they were so pretty to look at. Those were the kind you didn’t just keep and use as a bookmark, but showed it to friends and family later.

    • jeanoram says:

      JW that is beautiful! A card that people want because it is so gorgeous is exactly what you want.

      Further on that theme if you have the time and skills to not use a template I think people can really put something beautiful together. I wasn’t able to take the blue squiggle out of the template I used and it annoys me!!

  2. E.F. Jace says:

    Great post! Here’s my thing with Author Swag, 9 times out of 10 it’s cute but really impractical–as you said.
    I’ve not been to many conferences or book signings but I see a lot on twitter about author swag and it usually boils down to bookmarks or cute cards. I really have a dislike for the author bookmark. As a reader, I can read up to 3 books at once. But not everyone does that. You can be a voracious reader but still only devour one book at a time. And if you ARE a voracious reader, chances are you already have your favorite bookmark, so really, what’s anybody going to do with one that’s book or author specific? Even for my 3 book at a time ventures, I have a bookmark scale (believe it or not). I have my favorite and some back ups.
    What makes all the difference with swag is personality and uniqueness. Author V.E. Schwab is giving out some trading-cards for the characters in her superhero themed book debuting later this summer. What makes them different is that she designed and drew them herself. And their limited. AND it ties into the theme of her book. Not every book will call for trading cards but this is a book geared toward fans of superheroes and villains and those type of universes. So trading cards is pretty cool.
    I think one of the best things to do before going to a conference and creating all sorts of useless swag to connect to your audience, connect to your audience first. Likely, the people going to see you, already know where you are, that’s how they found out you’ll be there! Poll them, find out what they’d like. Keep a stack of signed arcs for anyone who just happens to come across you.
    (Pens are pretty cool swag. Terri’s publisher had a whole bunch at her launch party and I still use them.)
    Long comment is LONG, yeesh! I don’t really have anything to say in response to your notes on author business cards except that I’m bookmarking this to come to later when I start to really consider making my own!

    Great post! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • jeanoram says:

      Thanks EF. You made some great points about swag.

      I love the theme with trading cards. I’ve heard of authors tying recipe cards to the book’s theme. I think the more creative you get the more likely you are to stand out.

      I didn’t mention pens but we have a great selection at home. They are always a hit with us.

      As for your point about polling your audience–that is sheer brilliance. Every audience is different and the only sure way to know is to ask. Brilliant!

    • Amy says:

      Thanks for a great write up! I tried to incorporate these ideas. I did a bookmark for my first book (A Year of Disney), which I’ve handed out to many people I’ve met on trips to Disney World. With my 2nd book published, it seems like a good time to go ahead and do some cards as well.

      Would it be possible for me to post a link to a photo of a draft of the cards I am working on here to ask for some feedback from this group?

      Again, thanks for a great article. It’s been extremely helpful.

      • jeanoram says:

        Hmmm. I’m not sure–can a photo be posted in the comment section? You are welcome to try. You can also check out specific author forums such as AgentQueryConnect where there is regular traffic and conversations.

        I love that you are specifically targeting your audience in a fresh way.

  3. Jemi Fraser says:

    Good advice! I love your cards and having your book – and not your face! – on the cards ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Yes indeed. I recently bought business cards for EBP, but I’ve not yet gotten bookmarks for exactly the reasons you state: I haven’t had places to distribute them yet. Eventually, we should, but there’ll be time enough later for such expenditures. That’s what they are, business expenses. My advice: Think like a business owner, not as a proud parent.

    • jeanoram says:

      Yes, and those expenses add up Matt (EBP) so they have to count (they don’t save us that much on taxes). ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Jean I have to say i’ve been to a lot of conferences and at first it’s like cool free stuff like you said, then I have to cart it all home and then what do I do with it. Now I don’t even go to the free stuff except when I want chocolate. But I couldn’t tell you which authors had it as part of the their giveaway. But I love your card and I see now I’m going to have to have two cards. One for my non-fiction where I do actually need to give out my phone number and another for fiction. Thanks for the great advice.

    • jeanoram says:

      Thanks, Kathy.

      They are giving away chocolate! I’m in! Good point about not knowing who it is from.

      I like the idea of having a card for nonfiction and one for fiction seeing as your two brands are so different.

      • I may have to think this through further as I have my non-fiction then my children’s books and now my fiction that will be coming out shortly.

        • jeanoram says:

          Kathy, quite possibly you could have your children’s fiction on one side of the card and your other fiction on the flipside?

          • I debated that, but can’t decide if that’s what i want to do as I’m going to slightly change my name for the fiction. Use my initials and last name to avoid confusion on the fiction and the children’s books.

          • jeanoram says:

            Hm. You could end up with a multiple personality, two-faced business card!

            It’s hard juggling multiple identities. I suppose it depends on your purpose as yours aren’t cut and dried.

          • It is. Will have to give it some thought. Would be easier if they were all more similar. Good blog though because it’s gets me thinking about how to manage this.

    • DB Jones says:

      I hadn’t thought about having two cards but that makes so much sense to me since I write in two genres. Thank you for the information.

  6. Great article and very timely as I am working on my branding and considering business cards. I love the QR code idea.

    I have a collection of bookmarks that I never use because 98% of the books I read are ebooks.

    • jeanoram says:

      Maybe one day bookmarks will be like dust jackets were in Back to the Future II. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Glad this came at a timely time for you. Hm. Timely time? I think my next post should be on redundancies or poor phrases.

  7. Carol Guchek says:

    I have a business card for my children’s books but now I am starting to research a pictorial history book for possible publication. There is a publisher that is interested. I will be visiting many historical societies, museums, libraries, etc. I’m thinking I should have a business card for that since I will be meeting many people. What should I have on this card? I have a website for my children’s books but I don’t have a website site yet for this proposed new book.

    • jeanoram says:

      Hi Carol. Good question. And I suppose that brings us to more questions, the biggest one in my mind being: What information do you think they will need from you? In other words you will be leaving a card with them because ______________. So: Why will you be leaving a card and what do you want them to do with it? Is it so they can contact you about something? To help publicize your project? I think answering the whys of this may help you determine what you want on this card.

      And in this case, you may want to have your personal photo on the card as this is a networking card. Since you will have met these people in person and chatted with them, the photo of you will be a visual reminder of who you are and thus prompt their memory into gear about what you are about, etc., when they look at your card. It is a calling card in this case more than anything else–or so I am guessing based on your description.

      What do you think?

      • Carol Guchek says:

        Ok. So they will need to have my contact information because I want them to purchase books, once they are published, to place in their historical society library, municipal library, resale in independent bookstores, other retailers. This is a photographic regional history book that I think the historical societies, libraries and local stores would like to have since it will be of interest to many towns and cities in my state. I want them to be able to contact me for book signings and fundraising events.

        • jeanoram says:

          That does make it trickier, doesn’t it Carol? How do you promote something you don’t have yet? Your working title could even change once a publisher is involved. Hmmm. You might need to set up a website ahead of time. Something very simple where you have a blurb about the project along with the progression of it. (What stage it is at for that month.) You almost need to come back and talk to everyone once the book is out. But in the meantime… The business card…

          What might work would be a QR Code where you can change the destination URL. So at first it might link to a back page on your current blog with some project info, and later it might change to the project’s own website or book sale page. If you use a QR Code be sure you can go back and change the URL as well as mention on the card that you can scan it for current updates. (So many codes don’t mention what they are for!) Then again, your historical audience might not have the equipment to ‘read’ a code. You know your audience best and in this case it sort of sounds like you may need a specific contact (traditional) business card.

          I hope that helps!

          • carolguchek says:

            Thanks so much for your help. I’ve decided I’m going to set up a blog on WordPress and have business cards made using Historical Research as my title. That should work for now. If and when this book gets published, I’ll revise the blog and create new cards. Right now I need to keep it simple.

          • jeanoram says:

            Sounds like a good and easy plan which can be tweaked as you go. Good luck, Carol!

  8. Well, your card and the word “free” got me to download your book. Also love the tagline. That really did it for me! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’ve just bought new cards for two of my books. I put the book cover and book description on the front (with QR code pointing to the Ammy page) and (oops!) my picture on the back with an excerpt from a review (and a QR code leading to my author website). My author photo does have a cat in it, though. So (I think) that makes it kind of special. He was a pretty cat!

    I’m going to a book signing this weekend and wanted to have something to take with me. It’s not my signing – it’s a good friend’s – but she said she would hand out the cards for me. One of the cards actually uses a review she did of one of my books, with the attribution: Fran Yoakum Veal, bestselling author of FINDING MY ESCAPE. I thought that was smart marketing. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • jeanoram says:

      Yay for free! Thanks for letting me know ‘free’ and the tagline worked for you Witty.

      Photos are okay! I guess I was a little harsh on them. I just see some authors using those as the focus. They make sense on a realtor’s business card but not quite as much on an author’s card. The fact that you have managed to get cover art and a QR code on your cards is awesome. A photo is a little extra personal branding which works–and is good if you meet a lot of people face-to-face. (I don’t meet people face to face as much.) And yes, bonus points for sneaking a cat picture into your pic!

      That’s cool that your cards have a quote from her and you are going to share them at her event (with permission). Nice friend! I hope the signing went well/goes well.

  9. Anthony Kocur says:

    I’m in the process of creating business cards for my novel Tetragrammar, and I found your advice very helpful. It just reaffirmed all the right things to do and how to go about it. Thanks

  10. Ok I seriously “squeed” out loud when I saw your author card and the cover of your book on it. Your book is currently in my kindle app! Im very visual and while I didn’t recognize your name when I clicked on this blog post link I INSTANTLY recognized your book cover. Because I’m TERRIBLE at remembering names but great at remember IMAGES and recognized you as a writer I already enjoy. I loved your book. Seriously if this moment doesn’t prove your whole point I don’t know what will.

    I’ve been researching swag ideas lately and I’ve always loved the idea of bookmarks because they’re pretty and practical for both the author and the reader. Not yet sure how I feel about Cover Cards.

    • jeanoram says:

      LOL Stephanie. I’m glad my card ‘worked’ for helping you recognize me. ๐Ÿ™‚ I know I am better at remembering covers than author names, too. Very cool to see it in action via your reaction!

      I use my cover cards as a little something to add to prize packs, because on their own–big deal, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. val says:

    Hi Jean, I found this post both informative and humorous. I have published a children’s book and will incorporate your ideas onto my business card. Thanks!

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