There are many things to juggle when you are a debut author – final edits, copy edits, pass pages, social media presence, online promotion (blog tours, Instagram tours), pre-order campaign. The list can sometimes feel like it goes on and on. In addition to all this piling up, there’s also a decision to be made about promotional items.
When I started to think about promotional items aka “swag”, I looked at what previous debuts had created for their own pre-launch campaigns. It seemed like the typical swag items produced were: bookmarks, postcards, and bookplates. Some other debuts had gone further creating custom enamel pins and/or commissioning character art.
After doing some research, I decided I wanted to do the traditional items, as well as have an illustrator create images of my two main characters. These I would turn into stickers. One other thing I chose to do was create canvas tote bags (with my cover design) to use as a giveaway.
Looking back now over a year later, I’ve learned my lesson about swag. It’s really easy to think you’re going to use every item to promote your book, but I found that while certain pieces of swag were useful, others were a waste of money.
To be fully transparent, below I’ve shared what I spent on promotional items for my debut. In the paragraph following, I’ve shared what promo items I thought were worth the money, and others that were not.
Bookmarks, Bookplates, Postcards: $145
Illustration/Commission Fees: $100
(fee included all license and usage rights)
Total Design Costs: $245
Bookmarks: 4-color/double-sided (1,000): $58.50
Bookplates: 4-color/double-sided (1,000): $66.25
Postcards: 4-color/double-sided (100): $39.88
Character stickers – 4 color (200): $117.50
Canvas Tote Bags – 4 color (3): $35.52
Total Print Costs: $317.65
Here is what my final printed swag looked like (minus the postcards and tote bag):
The two best things I spent my money on was bookmarks and postcards. Bookmarks went fast at conferences, festivals, and school visits. A lot of people think postcards are not worth the money, but I sent them to every middle school and high school librarian within a 25 mile radius of where I lived. I also sent to the youth/teen librarians at every public library in the metro Phoenix area. These postcards resulted in several school visits, as well as public library events. They were definitely worth the money if only for the connections they helped me make.
One item I regretted spending money on was bookplates. Besides my pre-order campaign, I never used them. There are about 750 still sitting in a box in my closet. As for my character stickers, they were expensive to print but were very popular at festivals and school visits, especially with teen readers. I would also not spend money again on the tote bags. While they were fun to hand out to raffle winners at events, and as online giveaways, that money could have been better spent in other areas.
One quick tip if you’re hiring a designer to create your swag. Ask that they make two templates for you. One with pre-release details (ISBN number, on sale date, etc.), and then another one for after your release. I didn’t do this and ended up paying an additional design fee to have my release date removed from my bookmark and postcard designs. Also, order fewer quantity than what you think you’ll need. It’s better to run out and have to reorder then to over order and never use.
Navigating your debut year can be stressful. Take your time to really think about what swag items will help best promote your book. Others around you may be going all out, but only create what you think is best for your own promotion and marketing plan.
Please feel free to leave questions in comments.