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DIYDay Lesson 17: Swag

Greetings and salutations! I know you’ve all been itching for more of these lessons, so I figured the next step on our DIY journey is author swag. If you are just tuning in, I strongly suggest you check out the previous DIY posts which can be found here. There is a sort of method to my madness and it makes more sense when followed from the beginning. 🙂


And now on to swag. What is it? Swag is an industry term for promotional materials and giveaway items related to the author and his/her books. The first thing you need to know about swag is it costs money. Yes. Sadly, the old adage is true. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You gotta spend money to make money. And when you have a brand new baby book on your hands, it’s so very easy to get carried away and go on a shopping spree for swaggage.

Time is moneyBefore you even think about swag, set a budget for it. A reasonable one. Personally, I like to set aside a portion of my royalties for this. That way, I am not spending what I haven’t earned, and I don’t need to worry about not making that money back up in sales. You may have heard it said that expenses like this will help you when it comes time for taxes. Well, yes and no. Some expenses will help, absolutely. But there is no redder flag than trying to write off more than you actually made. That will get you audited faster than you can say, “TYPO!”

So now that you have some money to burn, it’s time to decide on what works best and how much of it you’ll need. Here is where I can shed some insight. Consider the questions below:

  • BooAre you an outgoing person? Do you go to events, parties, clubs, coffee houses, etc.?
  • Do you like to talk to strangers about your books?
  • Do you plan to attend any writers’ conferences or get togethers?
  • Do you plan to hold contests and giveaways?
  • Will you have a signing?

The answers to these will determine the quantity of your swag items. Please note, several of the conferences I have seen do offer goody bags to attendees and welcome author contributions to them. However, they require 400-500 pieces of each item, and several will tell you no paper items (e.g. bookmarks, business cards, etc.). Keep that in mind when shopping around.

So what works best? Whatever it is, it should relate to you or your books in a specific way. Obviously, printed books work best of all, but they are also the most expensive. 500 print copies of your book will run you into the thousands, so tread carefully. If you’re on a budget, these would be specialty giveaway/contest items, not something you order in bulk.

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Other printed materials should be carefully considered. While they are the most economical, they are also the easiest to throw away by the people who receive them. Some are staples that, if designed well, work every time. Business cards are one.  Keep it simple, don’t go overboard with contact info, and make sure the color scheme is eye-catching enough that it is artful as well as informative. If your books are digital only, printed book cover postcards are a nice way to hand out autographs. Just be sure to size it properly (borders of any kind end up looking tacky) and order a card stock that will take ink so you can write on them (I’ve been burned by this before). Stickers can be a nice touch. Bookmarks are hit or miss since they are awkwardly sized and the eReader boom has significantly impacted how many paper books people purchase.

If it’s non-paper, swag is usually considered “premium” and depending on what it is, will also fetch a “premium” price. You can go really cheap and order pens with your name on them, or you can go all out and order tote bags, t-shirts, customized jewelry, etc. Whatever you choose, however, always keep in mind that it is a promotional item and should somehow link back to you or your books, otherwise you’re just throwing your money away. This is where having a custom URL will help you a great deal. 😉 Something short and sweet that prints nicely and leads to a page with more information.


Now, I saved the best for last. Where to find affordable, customizable swag: (Fantastic for any sort of paper printing in bulk. Great quality prints, very user friendly, and always reliable. You can request a free generic sample package from them that will give you an idea of what the finished products look like.) (Paper printing, and also other photo printing such as coffee mugs, mouse pads, etc.. Somewhat pricier than GotPrint and I am not fond of their templates, but worth a look nonetheless, just for the variety.)

Staples Promotional Products (From the most basic pens to backpacks and USB drives. This site takes only simple designs, so it’s great for logos and catch phrases, not so much for photos and images.) (This site is geared toward re-selling your designs so if you are itching to start your own merchandise line, this is your site. They don’t give much of a bulk discount, though so be ready to shell out some serious dough for any promotional giveaways.) (Very much like Zazzle. Check them out for a catalog of available items and compare prices with Zazzle to see which is a better fit.)

Happy swagging!

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