There are gifted individuals out there who can sit down at a brand new task and instantly excel at it. The rest of us learn by trial and error. And if we (yes, I’m mostly speaking about myself here) insist on going it alone, there is a lot of trial and error. What I’m sharing today is the evolution one of my self-made covers has gone through. It wasn’t the only one, by any means, but it was the one with the most revision. I do this to show you that sometimes stubbornness, perseverance, and versatility pay off. Most of the time, actually. Sit back, relax, and watch me screw up.
Another late post (sorry!!) but I wanted to get this info out there ASAP.
If you’re on any form of social media and following an author, you’ve seen excerpt graphics before. They are basically pictures with text over them, sometimes info about release dates, the book cover, etc. Some are so great you look for the Buy link only to realize it’s still “coming soon!” And some you can barely read. In terms of marketing value, excerpt graphics are right up there with cover images. They make a huge first impression. I’ve done a fair number of these as well, and I’ve learned a trick or two from all the greats, the not so greats, and my own experiences. This is a quick guide on how to catch your audience’s eye.
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.
Before 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:
Are 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.
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:
GotPrint.net (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.)
Vistaprint.com (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.)
Zazzle.com (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.)
Cafepress.com (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.)
I didn’t have a DIYDay post in me this week. I don’t feel qualified to “teach” on this subject since I suck at it. But I am learning.
For example, I have learned that a well-made graphic will draw thousands of eager eyes. A graphic is like the three-second window into YOU, which has massive appeal in today’s world of overstimulation, information overload and short attention spans. We can’t help it. We’re all busy people! We no longer have 30 seconds for the elevator pitch, there are too many of them vying for our attention.
Give us something worth looking at, do a double take, and then come back to find out more. An invaluable lesson learned: A site banner will signal what kind of site you are running. A graphic advertisement will decide whether people click on it or not. An author picture will have you judged from appearances alone (so make sure it’s professional!). A book cover will make or break your book.
Now here is the problem with fantastic graphics: Where do you put them?? One side will answer, “Everywhere!” while another will say, “Consider the strategic advantages of each location and go with the one that will pack the most punch.” Yeah, that one is up to you, because I have no clue. With so many advertisements everywhere these days, people condition themselves not to look anymore. It’s not a challenge anymore, it’s a war zone and the winning side gets the business.
Networking is supposed to be a good one. Word of mouth. You’d think that would be easier than creating a graphic. And it probably is–for extroverts. Going up to someone and sparking conversation out of thin air always seems like magic to me, the kind which I don’t possess. Whenever someone comes up to me and says hi, I always look over my shoulder to see who they’re talking to. When asked what I do/write, I can never find the right words, even though I may have rehearsed them a time or ten…thousand.
But “You can write,” you say to me. “You should take it online! Network on social media. Type out your heart and people will respond to you like gees to the pied piper.” This is a concept I have heard of before and never could figure out how to implement until recently when a PR minion’s good hearted effort took my friends list on Facebook from 60 to 900. For the first few days this was happening, I sat there, watching the number rise, my jaw on the floor. And then the question became, “Now what?”
See? Back to square one. Sparking conversation out of thin cyber air. I am learning slowly, though. For example, I have business cards now. Yes, I can see why you would be making a “Huh?” face at me, but it’s true. Not that I go places where I could be handing them out, but they’re good to have anyway. A possible conversation starter (?) lol I also somehow managed to make friends with some truly amazing people who seem to want to help me out and spread the word about my books for some unfathomable reason. That must mean this networking thing really works, right?
But the biggest lesson I have learned is that for an author without an agent/publicist, marketing oneself truly NEVER stops. It’s not all book launch parties and then silence until the next release. Playing the recluse and being mysterious no longer works. Trust me, I tried. Keeping the juggernaut (whatever size it may be) going is… oh, how should I put this… a monumental pain in the backside. It forces you to be engaged in the outside world while actively trying to escape it into whatever universe you are writing at the time. If you have a full-time day job like I do, well, you do the math. There are only so many directions the mind can be stretched before something snaps loose. There is a thin line between genius and madness, and every artist or writer will walk it at one point or another for whatever length of time. Ever wonder why creative people are so eccentric? Here is your answer.
But we still have the best jobs in the world. 🙂 Write on, my friends. Write on.
Disclaimer: For the sake of being consistent, here is my marketing pitch of the day: Like me on Facebook, Follow me on Twiter, Buy my books on Amazon, B&N, Sony, iTunes
I reiterate here, if you have not read this post on Stocks and Resources, please read before continuing. This lesson is about patterns. I use them sometimes, but not very often. Patterns are basically tileable brushes you dump onto a layer with Bucket Fill rather than click by click. You can also use them in certain filters/scripts to add texture to your image. More on that later, as I have just recently discovered this.
To install a pattern is not that different from installing a brush. Patterns will be files you move to a specific folder and they will automatically populate in GIMP when you start it or refresh the screen. In Windows 7, this will be in the following directory: (C:)–>Users–>YourUserName–>gimpX.X–>patterns (substitute X.X with the latest version you have installed).
Once a pattern is installed, what you do with it is up to you. Each pattern or pattern set will be sized differently. This website offers free brushes and patterns for you to use. There are tileable squares but also high definition images which are basically details of different textures. It is a versatile website for a lot of things and it’s definitely worth checking out.
So what do you do with patterns? One cool thing to do with them is to create a background for a website. Because it’s basically impossible to predict the size of screen someone will be viewing your website on, you can do one of the following:
Use a flat color background
Use a small image positioned in a specific place and hope it shows up correctly
Use a huge image and hope it will scale as big as necessary to cover the whole screen
Use a tiled pattern background
If you’re using WordPress, numbers 1 and 4 are your best bet. Why? because some themes make the background of your posts transparent, which makes the default background for your website show through. In that case, it’s better to use a flat color background because a pattern will make your text difficult to read. There are also themes which give your posts a background of their own (either solid or semi-transparent). You can see that right here. If you’re on a full screen monitor, scroll down to the edge of my widgets on the right. Where they end, the background begins. It’s black, but my posts are on a white-ish background on their own so they are readable. In this case you are safe to use a patterned background.
In order to make a tiled background in WordPress, all you need is one square tile of your chosen pattern. Look closely at the specifications of the patterns you download and install. They should give you the size of the tile. That will be the size of your canvas. You use Bucket Fill on the canvas with your pattern (which should produce exactly one tile) and export it as .JPG or .PNG. In your WordPress Dashboard, upload your image on the background screen and set it to tile vertically and horizontally. The image will be small enough to load quickly, but it will fill the entire screen no matter what size it is. Yey for simple solutions!