Carmella Van Vleet On Using Swag Effectively

Most authors will agree that the creative part of the job is where we excel, the business and marketing side, slightly less. It’s lovely when the two can meet in the form of SWAG – Shit We All Generate. I’ve invited some published authors to share with us their secret to swag… little freebies that can sell a book longer after the author is no longer standing in front of a prospective reader. In order to create great swag, you have to be crafty – in more ways than one.


Today's guest for the SWAG is Carmella Van Vleet author of the MG novel ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER. Carmella also writes a variety of children's non-fiction titles (you can see them all here) and is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Finding something that represents your book and hasn’t been played out by a million authors before is difficult. What’s your swag?

I carry a box of random things to book signings to lure unsuspecting…er…I mean to give to readers. Most of them are trinkets that have to do with my books in some way but don’t necessarily have my book titles or website info on them. (I know, I know. Bad author.) 

The trinkets include things like: plastic gold coins with dragons or hacky-sacs with the ying-yang symbol and smiley-faced bouncing balls. But I also have things with my web address, too. This include: silicon bracelets that say “Don’t Quit!,” temporary tattoos with the Egyptian eye on it, and sheets of space shuttle stickers. 

I also have bookmarks, of course. But I tried to do a little something different by making them interactive. For my middle grade novel, Eliza Bing Is (Not) A Big, Fat Quitter, the bookmarks say “I won’t quit until I - ” and then there’s a blank line for kids to fill in. I also give away a variety of scratch-n-sniff bookmarks (with my website stamped on the back.) These are a huge hit with both kids and adults.  

Something new I’m about to try are Tyvek bracelets. Those are the temporary sticker-tab bracelets you get at special events. These would be easy to transport, inexpensive, and different. I plan to have a custom design that simply says VIP Reader. Then my web address will be stamped on the back. I’ll have to keep you posted on how it works out. (I’m a little worried about the ink wearing off.)  


How much money per piece did your swag cost out of pocket?

Oh, man! You want me to do math? Grrr. 

The tattoos were - if I remember the price/quantity correctly - were around .30 a piece. 

The silicon bracelets cost roughly .30 a piece.  

The custom bookmarks were around .11 a piece.

The scratch-n-sniff bookmarks cost me .6 a piece. (My best investment!) 

And the space stickers were .25 a piece. 

The Tyvek bracelets will be about .20 a piece. 

Does your swag draw people to your table at an event or conference?

I think swag can definitely help draw people over. (But then again, it could the candy I also set out…) I’ve found that even adults like to pick up the bracelets, the temporary tattoos, and the scratch-n-sniff bookmarks. I’ve made them “generic” enough that they’re not in-your-face promo items. For example, my web address in on the inside of the bracelet. 

What do you think of big item swag pieces versus cheaper, yet more easily discarded swag like bookmarks?

I like using bigger swag items. I think they tend to get more attention. BUT  I’m not sure they make a huge difference in sales and so they’re hard to justify cost-wise. They’re mostly just for fun or for bigger, giveaway promotions.  

From my own personal preference as a reader-consumer, I’ll pick up things that are more book or reading related. For instance, a funny button or poster. If something has someone’s website in giant letters all over it, that’s a turnoff for me so I don’t do that myself. Outside of my bookmarks, nothing has my book covers. 

What’s the most clever / best swag by another author?

I know this’ll sound like I’m kissing up, but I always thought you using water bottles with custom labels for Not A Drop To Drink was brilliant! I’m sure they were a pain to drag around, though. But it was a perfect marriage between swag and book theme. 

I also got a sparkly, silver pen from Ingrid Law that said “What’s your SAVVY?” (Her book is titled Savvy and ink plays a special role in the story.) I used that thing until it ran out. Apparently I tend to like more useful or consumable promo items!

And the biggest question – do you think swag helps sell books?

Honestly? Probably not that much. But it’s fun, and it’s really nice to be able to hand a kid something even if they’re not ultimately buying your book. You’re putting positive energy out into the world and that’s always a good thing.