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