Sunday, May 18, 2014

Author Swag

Saturday's "Lemonade Social" at RT2014 reintroduced me to a subject I haven't thought much about lately: author swag.

As I watched my fellow authors stake out their places behind the venue's high tables and begin spreading out their bait--I mean swag--I realized, Oh, dear; I only brought myself (and a few paltry old business cards). Back in the day, authors who printed up bookmarks were thought to be going the extra mile (full confession: I've never made bookmarks). But in this ebook age, who wants bookmarks? I'm told even postcards and rack cards are rather passe (so many end up in the trash that some conferences have outlawed "paper swag"). Today's cutting edge authors spring for personalized lip balm, magnets, buttons, sunscreen, pens, first aid kits, chocolates, key rings, sewing kits, mugs; you name it, some author has probably $$$$$$$plattered her name/book cover across it. I even heard of one erotica author giving away samples of personal lubricant emblazoned with her book cover (I am not making this up).

So my question to you is, Does this stuff really work? I mean, just because I pick up Judy Author's sunscreen does not mean that I will buy one of her books. Readers might eagerly scoop up chocolates, but the author's special wrapper is quickly thrown away and forgotten. I have a magnet on my fridge that I picked up at RWA2001 because I thought the cover was pretty; it's still there, yet I never bought the book and couldn't even tell you the author's name unless I went and looked at it. I do wear a Robicheaux Dock and Bait Shop baseball cap that Steve gave me, but he gave it to me because I'm a fan of James Lee Burke, not the other way around. And Steve has a BAD MEN T-shirt that John Connolly gave him, but then Connolly is a friend.

I do see a place for postcards and rack cards, which can basically serve as oversized business cards. I struck up a conversation with one author and took her rack card so I'd remember her name. The entire experience motivated me to spend hours today at Vistaprint designing new business cards and rack cards (that I'll probably never do anything with!). And I must admit it would be rather fun to make up some of their stuff as giveaways to readers I knew actually wanted it. In fact, I'm seriously thinking of ordering this mouse pad for myself...
But the merchandise that isn't junk is not cheap, and giving it away in the hopes someone will buy one of my books strikes me as desperate to insane. Your thoughts?


Lynne said...

No, please, not the mouse's that hat again. But gosh, Candy, I rather like the t-shirt. Judging from your article it appears that just like everything else, the publishing world is pretty aggressive and tacky. (I was truly shocked by the erotica writer's little gimmick ...and I'm not easily shocked at my age.) I'm not sure any of that stuff matters but if I were at the convention as a visitor a business card or postcard would probably last longer after the visit than anything else.

Elaine P said...

I really don't know if I would want a fancy mug or any of those other items if the author was unknown to me and frankly those things probably would not entice me to buy a book any more than a postcard or bookmark would. I often see people at grocery stores gobbling up the free samples but I wonder how many of those people actually buy the product. On the other hand, I would love a novelty item featuring an author or book that I was already a fan of.

Suzanne said...

I am with Lynne and Elaine. I would only buy the stuff relevant to authors/books I am already a big fan of. For example, I have a collection of mugs from theatre shows such as Phantom and Miss Saigon, but not one of them is from a production I either haven't seen or didn't thoroughly enjoy.

The business cards or postcards sound like a good nice idea. If they were free I would probably take one of those and read it before making up my mind whether I would read the book or not. But the more expensive items I wouldn't buy unless I was already a fan.

cs harris said...

Lynne, brace yourself, but it's the same model in the same on the WHO BURIES THE DEAD cover! I get the feeling authors are desperate to stand out somehow, and the results of that are never good.

Elaine, I'm so picky about things like pens and mugs, it would just be clutter to me. But it's true that for some reason, most people go nuts over "free stuff."

Suzanne, I gather some authors sell the more expensive items, but most give it away. I can't imagine buying a book just because someone gave me a mug, though. And since the mugs cost the author $2.50 and her royalties on a paperback are about 50 cents, how does that make sense?

Lynne said...

I'm going to buy a plain white cover for all the books going forward so I don't have to see that guy and that damn hat...sorry, Candy, the retired retailer in me can't handle ill-fitting anything. Agh!!!

Helena said...

As a reader and buyer of books, I don't think author swag works. But it seems to have become self-perpetuating, in that some conference attendees expect it and would be disappointed if it wasn't available even if they then do nothing with it and their buying decisions are unaffected. In those circumstances, when authors feel they must have something to give away, economics dictate that they shouldn't spend much and so the swag gets even less desirable.

I wish someone would cut this Gordian knot and stop the whole thing!

cs harris said...

Lynne, I'm still working on getting them to put gloves on him.

Helena, I get the impression a lot of authors think they MUST have this stuff. It didn't occur to me that readers have come to expect it. I can see the postcards/rack cards, which are basically advertising materials. But the rest.... That said, I have a neat old leather card case that some trucking company gave my grandfather 50 years ago, so swag has been around a long time.

Anonymous said...

c- So my 2 cents. I buy these things when I travel. T-shirts, mugs, and hats, magnets, and tote bags things to remind me of the great times I had (hopefully!!) The chocolate, lip balm, key rings, etc., for author swag does not impress me. And your right anything worth having, baseball cap, t-shirt, tote bag - are pricey to give away. I know some people do a once a month give away but 12x a year is hardly a way viable way to really spread the word. For me if there is an author I am interested in reading for the first time, I love to find an e-book cheaply. Like on amazon they have .99 cent and $1.99 deals. That’s how I experiment a lot. I don’t add more clutter to my very small apt and the price its right. And if I like it – I am happy to spend full price on another book. I discovered Sebastian because a friend gave me her copy of Why Mermaids Sing. Then I went out and got whatever books in the series were available. And now I count the days till the next book. I don’t this helps at all now that I re-read it but oh well. Best, Ali

mk said...

I agree that the swag will not influence me to buy the current book. Might it subconsciously make me lean toward getting future books by the author, especially if I see their name on a pen over and over again in my pen up on my desk? Who knows! But I don't want swag.
If I want a tiny light, I'll go buy one that I've picked out that is plain and does just what I want, not use a freebie that I picked up somewhere that sort of does the job. I always throw out the postcards and bookmarks that come with contest books that I am mailed. The bookmarks are too thick and slippery to work well for me. I think. You should save your money, and don't buy the schlock to give out.

JustWingingIt said...

I have no idea what a rack card is. I wouldn't be interested in the swag for books or authors that I'm not interested in, and those things alone would never make me interested. Word of mouth works best for me in that regard. If I know that friends who have similar reading tastes to mine have read and loved a book then I will give a try. That said, I would totally gobble up any swag from an author about a series that I love. I'd happily grab anything with Sebastian stuff on it, be it t-shirts, mouse pads, coffee mugs, etc. I'd take notable quotes (coupled with some atmospheric graphics) from our favorite characters on the items, however, as opposed to photos of what the characters are supposed to look like. That is very hit or miss, as we all know.


cs harris said...

Ali, thanks for your input on this; I was really stunned by all the things I saw at RT. And thank your friend for me!

mk, that's interesting about the bookmarks being too thick. I wonder if they're not actually meant to be used?!

Veronica, I didn't know what a rack card is, either! (It's one of those 4x8 cards you see on the racks at tourist bureaus as advertisements for bed&breakfasts, museums, etc). I must admit I'm toying with the idea of ordering myself a set of mugs, one with each of my different Sebastian book covers on it (minus HEAVEN!). Perhaps that's part of why authors get sucked into making that stuff--because it's fun to see your bookcover on things?

Charles Gramlich said...

It doesn't work at all on me. I pick up bookmarks at times because I use them, And maybe a pen or two. But I use them without noting the author. Other stuff actually probably turns me off a bit. Too much of it and I move on thinking I'm looking at a case of style over substance.

Beth said...

I don't like swag to speak of. More junk to get rid of.


cs harris said...

Charles, I suspect it is more common in the romance genre, don't you think?

Beth, I'm with you; my house is so crowded I don't want any more STUFF.

Anonymous said...

OK, the subject has been thoroughly discussed, but you know me - I have to chime in anyway. I agree with everyone. No swag. Doesn't sway me one way or the other. Would only pick up something if it was an author I was already in love with (unless I happen to need a bookmark or chap stick). Totally with Ali on the .99 cent books at Amazon. So much more wisely spent $$. I will often try those out if the summary catches my eye (or if it is in the "you'll like this if you liked that" recommendation. Sabena

Lynne said...

I love it when you get us all going! It appears that non of us would be influenced by this stuff and that all of us possess enough "stuff" as it is. Helena has said it nicely - cut the knot - this sounds like a self-perpetuating problem, not a solution to gaining more readers. I wonder, if a survey of readers was done, would the response would be like ours. Hmmm...

cs harris said...

Thanks, Sabena; the more input the better! And I'm already pushing my publishers to do the discount on ANGELS again next year, preferably BEFORE the next book comes out this time.

Lynne, I did get some people on Facebook who said, "I love swag!" Yet I'm told the swag left strewn around the Marriott after the RT conference was horrifying.

Anonymous said...

So there are people who pick up a book just because they got free stuff? Ive always thought that the swag was intended for the hardcore fans, not to pick up a new reader. Just meeting a favorite author would be enough for me, but I don't have much room in my life for crap I don't need, and lots of room for experiences. I know a couple of favorite authors who give it away, but although I love them and their books, I do not want that stuff. Maybe it's me, but if I was going to a convention I would go for the authors, not for the bookmarks.
Also, if you have to pay for this yourself? Spend the money on more coffee or tea so I can get another book more quickly. That seems a better use of funds and I don't have to dust it or find room for it.

cs harris said...

Molly, that's always been my thinking on it, too. I'd rather spend the money on somebody to mow my lawn for me!

vp said...

As someone who attends a number of book related conferences every year, I would add that you see more swag at RT than you might at other conferences. RT has a reader's con feel and the swag is sort of expected. Also, many of the writers attending are not signed with major publishers and many are self-pubbed. The swag serves as a way to market their books/brands. As to whether it works or not, I doubt it has much real impact. When writer pals ask what kind of giveaways work best, I usually suggest books. I know that writers hate giving their work away, but I feel almost obligated to read books that people give me and that often leads to me buying and reading more by that writer.

If you have a popular series, I do think that using someplace like CafePress to make up t-shirts and/or mugs, etc. can be fun for your readers, as well as providing some nice publicity for your series. I notice that some mystery writers have added a merchandise element to their websites, specifically James Lee Burke and Craig Johnson come to mind. It is nicely done and fun for their fans. And I own (and love) the Robicheaux cap as well. In pink.

cs harris said...

vp, thanks for your input. To be frank, after spending a day organizing dozens of boxes of books in my storeroom, I would be happy to give some of them away! Too bad I didn't think to bring some with me on Saturday. And that's a good idea about Cafe Press. I'd have to order everything myself, first, to make sure the quality was good. I ordered a lovely iPhone cover last year, but it has not held up well at all.

Sisker said...

I'm a member of a romance reading book club and we are--delightfully!--on several publisher mailing lists. At meetings, we pass the mail around and take the bookmarks which appeal to us as reminders to look more closely at the book. New author or familiar, it doesn't matter.

As an indie author, I can't see spending what little money I make on swag other than bookmarks. Having said that, I'll be at RWA in San Antonio and have elected to be in the self-published giveaway room. This means, I have to give away 48 copies of my romance novel, be it download or physical. It's a gamble, but I picked up free books last year as an attendee and shared them with my reading group.

As a way to reach a new audience, it worked.

Kerry-Ann McDade said...

I <3 swag! I have a collection of book marks and postcards which I am obsessed with that have been sent from all different authors.. :) I use them for giveaways on my blog etc and keep certain ones in a box :)

cs harris said...

Sisker, interesting; thanks! I suspect you're right: getting a book in the hands of potential readers works better than anything else. And does RWA require Indie authors to give away 48 books?

Kerry-Ann, thanks; so many people say bookmarks are obsolete, but obviously not.

Sisker said...

Candy: The caveat for being in the self-published giveaway room at RWA is giving away 48 copies, either print or digital. I had to sign up for it and the number of participants was limited. I'm thinking of it as the cost of doing business and a way to reach readership. I'd like to think that each copy given away will be put in many hands and they'll all seek my other books.

cs harris said...

Sisker, does that rule apply to traditionally published, too? But I do agree: nothing beats getting your book in readers' hands.

Sisker said...

Candy: It's my understanding that publishers provide the books for the traditionally published. You could always check with RWA.

cs harris said...

Sisker, they do; I was just wondering if the books are now a requirement for the goodie room. At one time they weren't. Or are we talking two different rooms? Last time I went to RWA I got out of the hospital the night before, so I was in a something of a daze.

Sisker said...

Candy: I think the goodie room rules have changed, but I haven't paid a great deal of attention since I'm not putting anything in there. I'll be in a sighing on Thursday afternoon. As you know, there are publisher specific signings every day, i.e., Harlequin, Avon, etc. where the conference attendees get a chance to meet with the authors and get a signed book. I'll be in the you're-your-own-publisher-indie signing.

Sisker said...

And that should be signing on Thursday afternoon, but I may be sighing also if no one wants a copy!

cs harris said...

Sisker, I had a signing once where NO ONE bought a book. It was beyond horrible. But maybe I shouldn't say that? Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I am reading "Why Kings Confess". This is my first of your books...not great to start at the end of the series, but better than not at all. My last name is St. Cyr. Perhaps this has been explained earlier in this series, but why does an English nobleman have a French name?

cs harris said...

Anon, there are actually some St. Cyrs in England. Are you French? We have a lot of St. Cyrs here in Louisiana. Hope you enjoy the series!

Josi Bunder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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