Kate Karyus Quinn On 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.


Today's guest for the SWAG is Kate Karyus Quinn, an avid reader and menthol chapstick addict. She has lived in California and Tennessee, but recently made the move back to her hometown of Buffalo, New York, with her husband and two children in tow. She promised them wonderful people, amazing food, and weather that would... build character. She is also the author of ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE and (DON'T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME both from HarperTeen.

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

Hahahaha. I have done so much swag. DOWN WITH THE SHINE (available today!) is my third book (well I'm also part of the AMONG THE SHADOWS anthology so technically DWTS is my fourth) and I've tried a variety of things with all of them

I was definitely most enthusiastic with my debut, ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE. I started with the classic bookmark... and then kind of built from there. Listerine breath strips play a part in that book so I bought those and printed out teeny tiny stickers with my book cover on them to attach to the back. I also made stickers that I stuck onto little notebooks. Postcards, sell sheets, and bookplates were other easy printables.

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I DIY'd all of that stuff too. Because I am cheap. Also because I am not always good at planning ahead, so I'll realize I need something and instead of finding someone to do it and waiting for whatever their turnaround time is, I just sit down at my computer and do it. Myself. I do not have a graphic design background, so there was a steep learning curve. I also do not have Photoshop, nor do I have any interest in learning how to use Photoshop. So instead (to this day!) I make due with a program I bought called Serif PagePlus X5. It's really meant for making newsletters, but so far it's done okay for my purposes.


The last thing I did for ALP was buy some iron-ons (they sell them at Office Max) and put them on t-shirts and canvas bags.

With my second book, (DON'T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME, I calmed down a little. I made more bookmarks (of course) - ones that featured ALP on one side and DYFAM on the other. I also made a mixtape, which was kind of silly and fun and really a very very limited edition type of swag.

My big buy though were buttons, which again I designed myself and then had made by PureButtons.com The buttons were a really popular item at all the events I brought them to, but I quickly found out that A. They were heavy to travel with and B. They were also a bit pricey.


And that brings us to DOWN WITH THE SHINE. Again I began with bookmarks.

 After those were taken care of I wanted something special to celebrate the cover reveal. Since a mason jar full of moonshine is at the front and center of my cover, I thought it would be fun to do something with that. After an afternoon spent wandering around JoAnn Fabrics, I finally decided to etch my title onto a glass mason jar mug. Wow. Of all my crackheaded DIY projects, this one was definitely the most crackheaded of all. Etching glass is no joke, because the stuff you use to do it can burn through your skin. So I had to buy gloves and painters tape and stickers (to make the title) and honestly the whole thing turned out to be a lot more work than I'd first anticipated. Also, shipping heavy glass mugs is pricey. On the bright side they did turn out well. Regardless, despite still having a nearly full jar of etching cream, I doubt this is a project I'll be doing again.


I decided to return to simpler, cheaper swag and so for my next piece of DWTS swag I made collectible stickers. I made them using apps on my phone (These apps were free when I downloaded them but are probably not free now. Every week there is a free app of the week at the Apple store and I always make sure to check it out and usually download it to give it a try. They vary from games to productivity apps to photo editing apps. If you are cheap like me definitely make checking the Apple store a weekly appointment.) The apps I used were WordSwag and then Brushstroke to put a sorta fuzzy just painted filter over them. I bought the stickers through Moo.com since they allow you to print multiple designs through one order (I also used them for my business cards and they make really nice ones of those too). I am really happy with how the stickers turned out, but I haven't yet brought them to an event so I'm not yet sure how popular they'll be.

My most recent adventures in swag was putting together a big box of swag to send to RT (which sadly I was not able to also attend) for an event called: You're Never Too Old For YA. I wanted to do something fun so I bundled together a DWTS bookmark, sticker, and then disposable straws (that I bought on Amazon) along with a tag on them (made by ordering cheap business cards through VistaPrint, cutting them in half, and then cutting slits in them to put them over the straws... which at 200 pieces was actually quite a tedious bit of work) that read: Take a Sip. Make a Wish.


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

I have no idea. By DIY'ing everything I haven't had to pay for design but printing materials can still add up. The buttons were probably my priciest item per piece (I had to pay not just for the actual buttons but also the artwork I used to make the buttons which I found on Shutterstock.com), which is why I haven't done them again.

Of course, the time I spend designing or ironing things on or etching glasses while trying to keep my skin from being burned away by corrosive chemicals is time that I'm not spending writing... or with my family. So there's a cost there too even if it's not in $$$.

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

Umm... yes and no. It kinda gives me something to do when someone comes to my table at an event. I can be like, "Hey, take a bookmark/sticker/button." It almost works like an icebreaker, which if you're an introvert sitting at a table trying to sell books to strangers then that can be a really good tool to have in your arsenal. It also makes me feel like I'm being a good table hostess. And all people like free stuff so it can be a draw - I definitely saw that the most with the buttons... but it's nothing like the sample stampede you'll see at Costco on an average Saturday afternoon.

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

Eh, everything is easily discarded. I've tossed free t-shirts - or only used them for car washing day. Even nicer, pricier items can be seen as junk by someone who doesn't want/need them. I try to find the balance between swag that is relatively cheap but also kinda fun and original. With the buttons I wanted something that was more than just the book cover - something you might want to pin on your purse or jean jacket. Same with the DWTS stickers - I wanted them to be something you might stick to your notebook or locker... instead of the trash can. In the end, though, I think a lot of swag - no matter how nice - gets tossed.

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

Well I thought it was clever when Mindy McGinnis put stickers on bottled water for NOT A DROP TO DRINK. I think collectibles are really cool too and that seems to be a thing that's becoming more popular among authors.

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

Oh, hmmm... I'd say, no, not really. But also yes. I mean, I'd be pretty dumb to have spent time and money on all this swag if I didn't believe it was doing something. But I don't think swag directly leads to sales. I do, however, think it helps raise awareness. It puts your book title or cover in front of eyeballs that might not have seen it otherwise and eventually that person might be craving something new to read and they'll remember your book... all because you handed them a free bookmark one time.

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