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.


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 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,

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

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

Bookmarks: $70 (just ordered)

This went toward 2500 2x8 double-sided bookmarks (from

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 (

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

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.