Swag Blog — Kim Harrison


            I’ve been lurking on Magical Words for months, seeing the advice and techniques of four excellent authors, not to mention the industry experts.  When Faith asked me to guest blog, I was at a loss.  What could I bring that no one had already touched upon?  Until I thought of one of my favorite parts of being a writer—bringing the books to life, not on the page, but through an object, right in the reader’s hand where they can touch, collect, and show off their love of the world that we, as writers, can give them.  What I’m talking about of course, is swag.

            I’d not heard the term swag until a recent Romance Writers of America conference where swag, basically freebies touting an author’s latest book, were strewn on huge tables to hopefully convince you to buy the book.  But not all swag is created equal.  What makes one author’s basket of goodies languish, and another’s snapped up?  Is it the tidbit attached?  A bribe to our sweet tooth or our need for fresh breath?  Or is it because you just broke a nail and need a new file?  Or, hopefully, is it that the swag has done its job, tickling our curiosity and desire to know more?

            I could talk for hours on what makes good swag, but in the interests of space and time, I’m going to confine myself to the short and sweet of it.  Good swag has a website, publisher, and/or blog on it to give your work street cred and a place to find more information about you and your book.  If enough room exists, a five-second blurb is perfect.  Good swag is cheap, no more than ten to fifteen cents per unit, because you will be paying for it.  Good swag takes only one first-class stamp to mail.  You want to give these away, and asking a reader to send more than a SASE is a mistake.  Good swag is unique.  No bookmarks, nail files, bottle openers, or piece of chocolate with a business card attached.  Attaching breath mints will get your offering to the reader-gods picked up, but it will land in the trash, blurb unread.  Unless . . . and here’s the kicker, the breath mint, nail file, or bottle opener is something that you have plucked from the body of your story, something that’s going to make the reader’s experience that much more real.  A mint because the main character has a quirk about his breath.  A nail file with the name of the salon where your protagonist works.  The bottle opener from the bar where your detective hangs out.  Make it pertinent.

            My editor unknowingly got me started developing swag by printing up thumb handcuffs having a tag with information about the book.  It was perfect.  Handcuffs to give a flavor of the writing, and the tag had all the contact info.  Sexy, fun, and quirky.

            Armed with that, I tried my hand at swag, having limited success.  Wooden nickels, I thought, printed up to look like bus tokens from my protagonist’s city for The Good, The Bad, and The Undead.  The readers loved these, delighting in having a piece of the book come to life, and every time they touched or showed them off, they remembered Rachel’s frustrating bus rides and could relate.  Unfortunately I failed to put information about the book on the other side.  (Bad, Kim—try again.)  It was effective only if you had read the book.  But I can’t tell you how many people wanted more than one to give to a friend.  Bam!  The power behind the word-of-mouth-sales was realized.  Just so you know, I did print more with the sales info on the other side.  Live and learn.

            I used the wooden nickels again for my fourth book, A Fistful of Charms, making a mock up of one of the amulets used in the story, one side an amulet, the other with sales info.  I’ve used poker chips to a similar effect for Every Which Way But Dead, drawing on a pivotal scene in a casino to make the readers go “oooh, I want.”

            One of my favorite swags are the toe-tags, one side filled out with my protagonist’s death, the other having a five second blurb for the book.  This was for A Few Demons More, and the readers loved it, sending me pictures of them actually wearing them.  You want to talk about word of mouth?  They were showing them off!  And you know the conversation ended with, “You’ve got to read it.”  My latest release, The Outlaw Demon Wails, had a mourning armband to recognize the demise of a favorite character.

            This year was my most ambitious attempt to date, taking six months to find a printer that could keep within my budget, and six months of me putting the photo-ready artwork together.  My publisher helped me out in the end, wanting a piece of the action here.   I’m giving away tomato seed packets mocked up as the dreaded T4 Angel tomato that wiped out half of humanity in my created universe.  The reverse side has the ten-second blurb to sell the books to new readers.  I’ve already had readers tell me they are going to send me pictures of their plants.  They will be thinking of the books for the entire summer, talking to people about them.  I plan on having a contest in my slow summer months so readers can show off their plants.  Who grew the biggest T-4 Angel?  We’ll find out.

            Do the ideas come easy?  Absolutely not.  I start thinking about swag when I begin writing the book, incorporating bits and pieces of cheap, easy to mail objects into the books that I think might make a good presentation.  It’s frustratingly hair-pulling, but when it all comes together, and you see the delighted smile on a reader’s face as they hold a piece of their imagination in their hand, it’s totally worth it.


Kim Harrison
White Witch, Black Curse.  One day laydown date, February 24


24 comments to Swag Blog — Kim Harrison

  • For those of you who try to go to the website — Miz Kim’s server is down until 1 pm-ish. If it were me, I’d be pulling out my hair (or theirs), but she is most gracious.
    So, talk to her here! *grins*

  • Beatriz

    I’m giving away tomato seed packets mocked up as the dreaded T4 Angel tomato that wiped out half of humanity in my created universe.

    That’s BRILLIANT!

    Great post, Kim. Wonderful examples of swag that gets readers talking about your book. I kept thinking “I want that!” as I read your post.

  • Kim, thanks so much! Swag is such a great marketing tool, yet so easy to overdo. Before my book, I kept looking at neat ideas that were going to cost a lot, so I appreciated your wisdom on how to choose an appropriate item and how much to spend.

    I need to show off here… I have a Kim Harrison toe tag that serves as my “good” bookmark. 😀

    I hope we can get together for tea sometime soon!

  • As a reader I always appreciate a nice bookmark. Since I own hundreds upon hundreds of books and yet only about 4 bookmarks, those are always in need, especially as I’m usually reading multiple books.

    Last weekend I went to a book signing and came away with (besides buying 10 books) a couple of bookmarks. Also, Patricia Bray had these cool lizard key chains that tie into the lizard design on the chapter header pages in her Chronicles of Josan books. And considering the tail was shaped so it functions as a bottle opener as well makes it something that will see actual use!

    As far as sending things out in a regular envelop, another author recently sent out a map of her current trilogy’s world to those who requested it. Things like that are pretty awesome as well, coming from a huge Tolkien fan and reader who always looks to see if there’s a map in a book.

    And, as someone who hopes to join the ranks of published genre authors someday, a very fascinating article about some of the things I wouldn’t really even think to consider (except for the website/blog).


  • Gail

    Hi Kim, Great to see you visiting here at MagicalWorlds:-) I never realized the chotchke were actually called swag. I love chotchke/swag. I get to share it with friends and when I rode the train to work, a whole conversation would start up with the toe tag. LOL
    Last year Kristen and I wore our tour t-shirts to your signing, we had a couple of men stop us and ask if we were with a rock band;-) we took the opportunity to tell them all about the Hollows. Whatever you call it, swag, chotchke and t-shirts is a great promotion and we as fans love the stuff! Thank you for being so inventive and sharing with us.
    Good luck getting your site up and running! Have a great weekend.

  • Hi, Kim! [Waves] Hoping we can meet in person at some point….

    Great post. I have postcards and bookmarks, but I love the idea of making swap from something that would actually appear in the book — wonderful idea. And toe tags!! Brilliant!

    I’m going to have to think about this for my next series…

  • That was supposed to be “swag” not “swap.” –Sigh — It’s going to be a long day….

  • I have one of those toe tags (from your reading/signing at UW Bookstore in Seattle). You were even kind enough to give me a couple extra since I was sending a signed book to a friend in Maine. I still have the toe tag hanging up on the bulletin board next to my desk.

  • Excellent post! I’ve picked up many a butterscotch at conventions without any idea later where the candy came from.

    Short blurbs definitely help. I come home with piles of swag, and I sometimes can’t remember which postcards belonged to books I was actually interested in and which simply had that longed-for breath mint attached. I also tend to get carried away, thinking I might be interested in EVERYTHING. It’s helpful if I can look through the pile later and catch blurbs without having to go to a website.

    I love your ideas. So unique! And it’s true, as much as a stick of incense might entice me, the name of the book isn’t ingrained – so I won’t remember tomorrow when I’m burning it (another problem – it goes away!) and I can’t pass it around to show my friends. Great advice, thanks!

  • Kim Harrison

    Thanks, Faith! The website popped up about eleven so we’re good now. Yay!

    Tea sound fun, Misty. 😉

    Hi, David. I’d love to run into you at a conference. I hear you’re a bird watcher like me. (grin)


  • Jerica

    Hey Kim, Awesome ideas on the SWAG. Now here is the important question, – where can I get the toe tags, bus tokens, thumb handcuffs, wooden nickels, poker chips, and others? I have the T4 Angel tomato packets and absolutely love them. I frequent your website (KimHarrison.net) and think you are fantastic, by far my personal favorite author. I still can’t believe you take time out of your busy schedule to converse with all your fans… WOW! And as a reader, I appreciate all the little extras!

  • Great ideas Kim! Thanks for the great advice!

    I never really thought about making my book “swaggelicious” as I wrote it, but it something to keep in mind.

  • Kim Harrison

    Hi, Jerica,

    Ah, the beauty of swag is that it’s here then gone. I only make enough to get me to the next release, so everytihng is gone. Sorry!

  • The tomato packets and toe tags are very collectible, which increases their appeal beyond the usual self promotion. Who knows, maybe in ten years you’ll see them for sale on eBay. I know I can’t wait to see what you have in the works for the next book.

  • I can’t wait to plant my tomato seeds! You did get them from a reputable place, right? I called the Department of Health, and they have never heard about a t4 Angel vaccine. I told them they would find all their answers in “White Witch, Black Curse”, and a second later the line went dead.

  • A.N.

    I love all your freebies. They are witty. Now that I know how much thought you put in it I appreciate them more. The information about the author and the book is very important. When I show the item that is what people want to know. And believe me I have people dizzy because of how much I talk about you around here. (grin) Be Happy!

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter

    Really neat ideas. Wish you’d said just a tad more about how/where you give them away.

  • Kim Harrison

    Magaly, you should hear me laughing. You are so wicked!
    ps. They are actually beefstake tomatos, and admit to that on the back.

  • Kim Harrison

    L.Jagi, you are totally correct. I did fail to tell you where you can get them. Just send me a SASE at
    Kim Harrison
    PO Box 36653
    Rock Hill, SC 29732.

  • What about publisher swag? Compilations of excerpts, free books, stuff to basically get a person to take a look at the publisher’s products and get them to purchase more.

  • Speaking of Kim Harrison books…

    Kim’s books have a certain type of cover, one that features a fem fatale in a three quarters rear shot. Just for the fun of it, how about an ogre hottie in slinky clothes instead? By ogre I’m thinking of a humanoid creature who stands 12 feet tall and is one ton of solid muscle.

    Blood Sipper Joe winced as his regenerating jaw twitched and settled back into place. “No,” he said, “She can’t kill you. But after the third time she’s hit you you’re looking for ways she can.”

  • Graham

    How intriguing.

    In Australia, a swag is basically all your worldly belongings rolled up in your bed-roll. The classic, (for Australians) – “Waltzing Matilda” by Banjo Patterson, is about a a swagman, an iconic Australian identity that wandered the land, with his swag over his shoulder.


    Just thought I’d put an antipodean perspective on this. 🙂

  • Yes Graham that was my first thought when I read Kim’s post, but it can also mean a bag of goodies that you’ve snagged at a shop or a bunch of freebies.
    Kim now you’ve got me thinking about how I’m going to be able to shrink down little seals for my Selkie novel. I love the tomato seed idea, you’ve hit the jackpot on that one I reckon.
    Thanks so much for sharing all your tidbits, I’m definitely going to keep this in mind when I’m writing.

  • Kim Harrison

    Thanks, everyone. 😉 It was my pleasure to talk to everyone here.