Shauna Holyoak On Creating Swag That Attracts Middle Graders... Hint: Have A Prize Wheel

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.

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Today's guest for the SHIT is Shauna Holyoak. She writes for kids and teens and thinks it’s kinda the best job ever. Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers is her debut novel.

First of all, thanks so much, Mindy, for having me on your blog! I think topics like these are helpful to debut authors (like me!) who often need help navigating self-promotion!

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

I’m an MG author, so I think there’s some tried and true swag that appeals to kids. Buttons, bookmarks, posters, stickers. As I try to schedule school visits pre-release, I’m hoping the lure of free signed posters at my signings helps draw kids out. And I just ordered some stickers to hand out after assemblies, etc. that will remind kids where and when to drag their parents for my books.

On my website I also offer some swag that I hope readers enjoy. I’ve written a short story about my characters that anyone can download and read. In addition to that, I’ve created a mystery packet that presents The Case of the Misplaced Tiara with puzzles and clues readers can use to solve the mystery. I’m hoping teachers and families might find it fun and educational, while also introducing kids to my characters.

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

I live in Shadow Mountain country. Shadow Mountain is a Utah-based publisher that has worked on quite a few successful middle-grade books, and they do a lot of promotion in my area. They follow a model that seems to work well in promoting their MG novels. They send their authors on a book tour that includes multiple school visits per location, following which they hold a signing at the local bookstore. They send the kids home with reminders and usually hand out fun swag like free signed posters and bookmarks at the event. I’ve had a couple of my own children beg me to attend signings for Shadow-Mountain authors after an engaging school visit, so I know they work.

I say all this to explain how I decided to spend my money on book swag, because I was hoping to apply the Shadow-Mountain model to my own attempts at self-promotion.

Here’s the breakdown:

Posters: $265

  • $230 of this covered 1K 11x17in posters of my cover from uprinting.com. This is the most I’ve paid on any one item. I plan on handing them out to everyone who comes to a signing.

  • $35 on a 16x20in mounted (on foam board) poster of my cover to display at signings and other events (also, uprinting.com).

Reminder stickers: $80

I have two local events I’m hoping to invite kids to, one bigger than the other (the second is for my launch party).

  • $34 covered 200 2x3in stickers, also from uprinting.com

  • $47 covered 1K 2x3in stickers, also from uprinting.com

Bookmarks: $70 (just ordered)

This went toward 2500 2x8 double-sided bookmarks (from gotprint.com)

Buttons: $45

Okay, so this was the first item of swag I ever bought, and I may have just been a little too excited at the prospect of being able to order something, anything! But the buttons are cute, and I’m hoping kids will like them. Although I think once they’re gone, they’re gone—not sure if I’ll invest in them again. (Although I may change my mind depending on how kids respond.)

  • $24 for 100 1.25in round buttons of my MC’s face (purebuttons.com)

  • $30 for 50 1.75x2.75in buttons of my cover (also, purebuttons.com)

Do you find that swag helps you stand out at an event? Does your swag draw people to your table at an event or conference?

I’ll have to get back to you on that, since my first event is in a few weeks. But I’m hoping it does!

One thing I’m going to try, that *fingers crossed* draws kids to my table at cons and other table-events, is a prize wheel. Kids spin that wheel and leave with their prize. Whatever they win will be promo for my book, so win, win, right? And who doesn’t like a prize wheel?!

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

I think more expensive swag might work with YA audiences, but I’m not sure it’s worth it for middle-grade readers, who tend to be hard on things anyway.

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

Personally, I adore customized enamel pins. *swoon* Character cards are cool and other types of artwork commissioned by the author. I have a friend who’s currently painting/customizing funko pops for each of the characters in her debut for her preorder campaign, so she probably wins!

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

Honestly, no. I think people who purchase a book are planning to buy it anyway, regardless of swag. There may be a small margin of potential readers swayed by swag, but I don’t think it’s enough to justify investing loads on money on it (especially, if like most authors, your publisher isn’t paying for it).

Haha! And here I just told you about the near $500 I’ve spent on swag hoping to draw kids out to signings. We’ll see if it works. But, in the end, I guess I offer swag to let readers and potential readers know I care and appreciate them taking a chance on my books.

Colleen Houck On Creating Swag That Works

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.

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Today's guest for the SWAG is Colleen Houck, whose New York Times bestselling Tiger’s Curse series has received national praise. Colleen is a lifelong reader whose literary interests include action, adventure, science fiction, and romance. Formerly a student at the University of Arizona, she has worked as a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter for seventeen years. Colleen lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and a huge assortment of plush tigers.

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

It depends on the book. I have a standard swag bag that I give out at events and at school visits. These contain the following…

• A button or pin I have purchased on Etsy. Some are of my book covers, some are just fun things for readers. Kids LOVE these. This store makes custom buttons as well as groups for various categories.

• I add whatever bookmarks my publishing house gives me until I run out. I always ask them for the file so I can print more if I want to. If they don’t make bookmarks then I ask them if they will make them if I print them. Often the answer is yes. When the answer was no, I asked my agent and his team made them.

• I also put a piece of Ghirardelli chocolate inside and match the flavor/wrapper color with my book cover and then put a book sticker on top. An example of this is a Pumpkin Caramel Square  with a sticker of The Lantern’s Ember.

• There’s a reading sampler of one of my books. My publisher made a certain number and when I told them I was doing school visits, they produced more. After they were done, I asked for the file and printed more on my own.

• There are one or two free ebook download cards. These are of my self-published novellas. Publishers might not agree to this for as many as I use, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

• Next, I add my personal business cards

• And a YA Scavenger Hunt card

• These items all fit perfectly into paper gift bags like these I bought a design that went well with my books.

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Right now, I’m working on a pre-launch party with VIP swag bags. They are getting a variety of nice things including a tiger bracelet, a cobra ring, a stuffed white tiger, a stuffed black tiger, animal crackers, a custom tote, a tiger striped scarf, a water bottle, Hoyle black tiger playing cards, and a rubber bracelet. Note: This is a paid event so I’m spending more than I normally would.

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I love doing jewelry to match my books and if you shop on Etsy or Ebay you can find almost anything or someone willing to make it at a reasonable price.

I’ve done custom perfumes before, but they are expensive and messy and don’t travel well.

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

It depends on the item. I have now become an expert on cheap. I shop at the dollar store and Oriental Trading. I check bargain bins. I find bulk items on the internet. If you’re looking for jewelry, there are lots of options on Ebay for $1.00 each or less. But be aware that most of these items ship from China and they take a month or longer to hit the states. For special swag bags I like to shop for playing cards that match my book theme. They run between $3.00-$5.00 per deck for the specialty types if you buy in bulk.

For my standard school visit swag bags, the cost for each runs about $1.25. Most of the cost is the reading sampler.

At events, I put together swag bag giveaways with a larger bag that matches the color of the book cover and then everything inside matches that color too. I can usually find a lipstick or an eyeshadow, then a nail polish, candy, lotion, popcorn, or a scarf. Usually each bag runs about $10.00 and I do a raffle. They sign up for my newsletter for a chance to win.

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Do you find that swag helps you stand out at an event? Does your swag draw people to your table at an event or conference?

I don’t know that anyone approaches because of swag but if they come up and talk to me or attend one of my panels, my standard swag bags have enough information for them to find me easily and get a taste of my writing. Having the chocolate in there is key. After I mention that, everyone wants a bag to take home. I’ve noticed that most authors just set out bookmarks on the panel table. Having a box of swag stuffed bags in the back for them to pick up as they leave works really well.

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

I have bookmarks I picked up at a conference that I still use today, but at big book conferences there are way too many bookmarks to stand out and most of them end up being tossed. Any swag, big or small, will always make more of an impact if you are the only author in the room. Having said that, you should always have something to give an interested reader. I’d recommend a stylish business card featuring your books. Beth Revis has an awesome information card that folds like a book. It has pictures of her books, a nice blurb, and her contact info. I think readers are more likely to keep that than a bookmark. As far as big swag items, I save these for my loyal fans as a sort of a reward for supporting me or coming to my event. I don’t think you need to spend your dollars offering large incentives to new readers. 

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

I think the best swag should tell you something about the book. I’ve seen an author who writes westerns give out little cowboy hats. Amy Plum had an Eiffel tower she gave that matched her book based in France. Once I spotted a vampire neckband to go with a vampire series. I’ve seen a mermaid book clip to match a mermaid book. Those types of swag aren’t cheap but they’re memorable and if mermaids are your thing, you’ll have a piece of swag you will keep as well as a potential new author to love. At big book conferences, these are the items that make you stand out.

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

I absolutely believe in having some sort of basic swag. But don’t break the bank! Decide what your annual marketing budget is, set aside the funds, and then break it down into categories. Some money you might use for ads just to remind those who already like you to buy your next book, but other monies should be set aside to find new readers, and other money to attend conferences. It’s tempting to go beyond. I’ve done it and regretted it later. Always ask yourself, “What would I want or expect as a reader being introduced to an author?” Then let your expectations guide you.

 

AftenBrook Szymanski On Finding New Ways to Stand Out With Your Swag

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.

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Today's guest for the SWAG is AftenBrooke Szymanski, author of KILLER POTENTIAL, a young adult psychological thriller with a psych ward, a murder trial and revenge.

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

I attempt to find novel ways to engage readers/writers, but honestly, the best I do is twist things to fit my personality. I’m crap at hard sale methods. Salesmanship is not my strength. I do connect with people conversationally and hate pissing people off with spammy stuff. So, I post gif games and try to have fun. I have no evidence any of my interactions lead to sales. 

But, I feel like less of a desperate loser begging readers to pay for my creative powers and more like a the everyday-loveable quirky-nerd I am, interacting with a wide range of readers (not all readers who like gif games and quizzes are going to be interested in my writing, but we can still connect with shit I generate) 😉

I bring colored gel pens to signings, attendees pick their favorite pen for me to sign with and get to keep the pen.

I also carry mini Pokémon figures in case younger kids stop by—they have to pick a Pokémon without looking because the Pokémon picks them. It’s fun for everyone and I get adults wanting to pick Pokémon all the time.

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I have a book filled with pictures of things I’ve done since choosing to pursue writing full boar, very fun things, like being haunted in a hotel for three days, flying a Cessna, running in a 200ish marathon with Mercedes Yardley, and other nuts stuff I’d never have done if I wasn’t a writer. I have the book available to flip through at events. So aspiring writers can go, ‘daaaang, I want to be a writer too!’—hahaha). I didn’t have any pictures saved on my phone. Also, plug for chatbooks. I totally use them 😉

For online swag, I’ve created a free quiz connected to my book Killer Potential. It can be accessed at anytime, not just for those who’ve read the book. And it goes through personality strength to determine an area where the persons potential can shine through in their real life. I’ve been amazed at the accuracy and responses so far.

I also created a contest for photo uploads as part of a release I have coming out next year. That contest hasn’t launched yet, but it’s going to be awesome. Based around the tag line “forget covering your butt, cover your code. Cheat Code is coming.” The early feedback I’ve seen for the contest is awesome. I will have a $100 gift card for Amazon as a prize, as well as possibly featuring winning entries during promotional run.

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

For signing event swag, it’s less than $.50 per item. I am happy to give the gifts to passers by without feeling like I’m blowing money. And I don’t offer candy unless it’s gluten/peanut/allergy free. That’s why I try to have useful swag such as pens.

Contest items are generally gift cards, because if I’m winning something, I want to spend however the blast I want and I might not want a necklace. I don’t wear jewelry other than my wedding ring and prescription glasses (my glasses count as both makeup and jewelry). For prizes requiring big actions I offer 50-100$ gift cards.

Do you find that swag helps you stand out at an event? 

I see other authors with bigger swag and bigger names. I honestly don’t see my swag as having an impact other than I appear prepared and ready to interact/aware of my audience. Even if I don’t compete with bigger names, I feel it matters that I come to events showing I care about my fans and want to demonstrate appreciation for their time. Maybe that’s quantifiable, maybe it’s not.

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

I think of gift cards and electronics as big items. I’ve seen people give away skateboards, tickets to events, and baskets of book specific items. These are more engaging than bookmarks to me. I intend to have hourly giveaways at my next launch signing, where  I’ll gift a store card at the bookstore I’m signing in, every hour. It’s fun and keeps patrons in the store, which benefits the bookstore as well

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

Things that have driven me to enter things include illustrated Harry Potter Books, big money gift cards, and tickets to events I won’t pay for myself but would attend if I won tickets (such as a comic con or concert) I also admire when authors offer to put someone’s name in their next story. So fun.

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

No. At least not directly. I think swag helps generate name recognition, author/book awareness and a connection to author/book. I don’t think it directly affects sales other than getting people talking about an author/book, which might lead to future or later sales. 

I keep all my online swag links available at my website If anyone has particular shit they’d like me to offer, they’re welcome to contact me through the website contact form. If it’s feasible, I’ll make it happen. 😊