Jennifer Salvato Doktorski On Making Swag You Can Legally Mail

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 Jen Dokstorski, who has held various jobs such as speech writer, bank teller, ghostwriter, bookkeeper in a lampshade factory, pet shop clerk, and music zine editor. At one point in her life she wrote obituaries for eight months. Her YA books HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES and FAMOUS LAST WORDS were released in 2013. Her recent release, THE SUMMER AFTER YOU AND ME was published in May 2015 by Sourcebooks Fire.

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

So true! It’s not easy to be original. For my first YA novel, HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES, I wanted to get custom-made matchbooks with the book’s cover on one side and my website on the other. However, my publicist warned me that mailing those might be an issue, so I wound up ordering pens that look like matchsticks. My second YA novel, FAMOUS LAST WORDS, was about a girl who gets a summer job writing obits at local newspaper. For that book, I purchased official reporters notebooks to include with giveaways.

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

The pens were $.79 each at Office Playground. I ordered 100 and I still have three left. The reporters notebooks came in a 12-pack for $18.75.


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

The pens gave me something to talk about because people didn’t know what they were at first. I always got a laugh when I clicked the top and showed people it was a pen. Ultimately, I think cool posters attract more attention than swag does. I had posters made for each of my books.

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

I think big item swag pieces can be fun to include with giveaways, but may not be very practical or effective for widespread distribution. I’ve made up tote bags with my book covers on either side and this past summer, I teamed up with two author friends, J. Albert Mann and Bethany Crandell, who also had summer releases. Bethany is the author of SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS and Jen Mann is the author of the Sunny Sweet middle grade series and the forthcoming YA historical novel SCAR. We held a giveaway for all three of our books and had a charm bracelet created to include with the prize package. I wound up liking it so much I had one made for myself! 


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

This isn’t swag so much as a promotional item, but the aforementioned Jen Mann, had giant decals made depicting the cover of SUNNY SWEET IS SO NO SORRY and turned her car into the Sunnymobile! Adorable and attention-grabbing.

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

Sigh. I honestly don’t believe swag helps sell books, but it can be so much fun to hand out! Bookmarks seem boring, I know, but I believe they’re a great way to get your name out there. I’ve dropped them off at libraries in my area, mailed them to libraries in other states, and handed them out to random strangers when they’ve asked me about my books. My latest YA novel, THE SUMMER AFTER YOU & ME is set at the Jersey shore and a lot of local businesses were willing to keep my bookmarks on the counter by the cash register.