RC Swag – the good, bad, and trashed

I did a swag post on the promotional items I got from GRL so it’s only fitting I compare to the swag bags from Rainbow Con.


I realize that authors put a lot of money into swag items at conventions and I’ll be honest – this concept really baffles me. I don’t understand it. I get that as a reader and convention goer, getting free stuff is cool. Every race I’ve ever done has always given away a bag of free goodies. However, what everyone enters the race to get is always the t-shirt, everything else is usually trashed. I feel like conventions are similar. You want the one good item and the rest is thrown away.

Yet authors spend quite a bit of money on things that are just thrown away, or hopefully recycled. I’m going to say it up front that I wish authors would pool together and do something more in line with one bigger ticket item that draws people in than all these smaller items that get trashed.

Ideas off the top of my head:

– Andrew Grey mentioned getting sponsored lanyards. YES PLEASE! We really needed them for the convention ids and I’d actually use them after the convention for a variety of reasons. Even obnoxious ones because I realize asking for tasteful items just isn’t going to happen, ever. So I’d use glaring rainbow colored lanyards too.

– A reusable bag that doesn’t have a naked person it. GRL gave these really great messenger type bags that were definitely something I’d use again (except the logo was a little bit too much for me) but the concept was spot on. Likewise reusable bags can always be used. Putting naked torsos on them is just going to get them trashed because while some  people will announce their reading tastes, a lot more won’t. Putting a tasteful website url will get the point across too.

– t -shirt. While I personally need no more t-shirts (especially cheap cotton ones) I know a lot of people would be on board with a convention t-shirt that had sponsors or author names on the back who contributed. Plus if authors were to sign it people could give them away on blog giveaways. Even if someone gets rid of the shirt to Goodwill or the Salvation Army (ha!) then it still spreads the author message.

Now onto the swag that we got.

so much you can't even see it all

so much you can’t even see it all

It was a bag full of stuff, but once again I’d say 80% of the swag were book cards promoting author new releases and some back titles. Let me tell you – I kept none of these.

I picked up 3 cards from the unmanned swag table – which by the way was an inspired idea! – and kept those to remember the name of the books I wanted to read. Except I got rid of them once I heard the books mentioned in various panels and wrote them down. So really the cards did nothing for me as a reader. I would have read these books anyway. I thought maybe I’d use them as bookmarks but I actually picked up some better bookmarks so the cards are getting recycled – or given away.

closer look at the cards

closer look at the cards

Then there was just.. junk. I’m not sure what else to call it. I think the ideas for the swag are good but in practice unless the person is a hoarder, there simply is no need for this stuff. It’s not practical, helpful, or in any way decorative. So what do you do with stuff like this?




And a more spread out look –

You can see there are rainbow wrist bands (again cool but who will really wear them? I’m honestly curious), crayons for the pictures we were given (cool idea but sadly not something I’d bother with), pens (trash. trash. trash), keychains (decent idea but unless I love the book cover for me that’s no), condoms (now THOSE I’m keeping), lube (heh), pins, mints, and random stuff I still have no idea what it was.


This is what I actually kept and every single thing I kept had a purpose.


reusable bags!

I actually hunted SMP down to get the little black bag. They’d sent me one years ago after GRL and I used that cloth bag as a lunch bag for YEARS before it finally wore out. It’s the perfect size and understated enough that I loved it. I even fished it out the trash once to save it. I’m using it as I write this. The Sara Alva bag was a great size and shape. I’ll definitely use that one.


I kept the illustrated comic “The 7th of London” – very cool!
Tissue packets. I’ll always use travel size tissue packs.
Condoms, those I can give out to my friends!
The little keychain flashlight
A single pen that was kind of cool and a hand sanitizer pump.
2 notepads
magnetic clip
4 bookmarks that I really liked and one small card because I adore that cover
And one laminated card that I just really liked. I need to find a use for it but it’s the one thing I just liked.
That’s it!


Out of all the swag on tables and in our bags, this is what I kept. The rest I will either recycle or try to do a giveaway if people are interested.

I keep saying that I wish authors wouldn’t use their hard earned money on things that just get thrown away, though I know there is pressure to market yourself and books in a way that people remember. I personally would have kept magnets if they were given, keychains of any Augusta Li cover (soooo pretty *touches*), and anything practical and useful. I try not to be a hoarder and so I don’t want a drawer full of book cards that I’ll never look at again. Or pens when I have 10,000 in my house, car, and office and never can find the ones I love anyway.

I would also keep discounts for books or free downloads. I’ll remember authors that involve me in some way, such as the cookie lady! Anastasia Vitsky who had an interactive table. I remembered her more for her cookies, pleasant manner, and fun table than any of her swag.

I’m curious though – what do you want to see as far as conference swag?

43 thoughts on “RC Swag – the good, bad, and trashed

  1. I’m with you on all the cards. I keep a few pretty looking ones for bookmarks but only if they are discreet, ie no explicitness or nakedness because I have kids and I can’t leave things like that lying round the house.

    My favourite swag, the stuff I actually will keep and use is:

    Lip balm – I go through tonnes of the stuff some more is useful.
    Tissues – for the same reasons you gave 🙂
    Pens or pencils – again very useful as long as it doesn’t have a picture of a naked man on it. I have several pens that I got at Yaiocon which are still in my handbag and used when needed.
    Mints/chocolates/edible stuff – jay Rookwood made little pots of jam for the uk meet last year and it was delicious.
    USB sticks
    I will occasionally keep cute stuff such as the mini sheep that Elin Gegory made for uk meet.
    Free books.

    That’s about it I think. I do feel guilty about chucking stuff or recycling when I know that many authors have paid out of their own pockets for printing etc. but then I tell myself that I didn’t ask them to include the postcards in the bag and that they will also never know that I threw it away – unless they read this of course :).

    • It’s so funny how subjective the items are! But I do agree no matter what it is, it needs to be useful and have a purpose. Almost everyone loves pens, which I don’t understand because to me they just clutter and gather in dark corners!

      I wish more people gave USB sticks! I mean if authors had a giveaway for a USB stick I’d totally vie for that. I know they’re more expensive but it has to be more worthwhile.

      I do feel bad saying I”m throwing it away but I didn’t ask for the items and usually I’m told “Take it! I don’t want to carry it home” so I’m not sure what other option there is. I at least brought it home!

  2. My favorites are magnetic bookmarks (altho now that I rarely read physical books, not so useful), usb sticks, a few pens (esp if it’s a roller ball), tissues, tasteful bags (I have that same SMP bag – it’s probably one of the few bags I have left from GRL)…

    I’m not so big on lip balm or consumables, because of celiac disease and fragrance allergies.

    • Yes! Any kind of bookmark, magnetic and regular usually get kept.

      Consumables are eh for me usually. I’m not a big cookie eater and I am picky about my lip balm *laugh*. I had one ginger snap cookie at the convention in the afternoon but I was good after that. Still it got me thinking because I had to do a quiz to get the cookie. The quiz told you which character of the author’s you were. It was a slick bit of PR.

  3. Wow, Kassa! Thank you for the mention. I ADORED having you visit my table. You were a wonderful visitor, and I enjoyed talking with you. Did I forget to give you a coupon for a free book, or did I omit giving you one because you review and get them free? I can’t remember, but please let me know if you’d like me to mail one to you.

    I liked the clips because it’s always useful to have extra bag clips. I also appreciated the pocket tissues and pens. As to the wristbands, they make great extra-strong rubber bands for various household needs.

    Some cons ban swag for exactly the reason you mention.

    • I did get a coupon which I will use. I usually buy most of the books I review for ease and I’ll definitely be using your coupon! There is at least 1-2 books I want to check out of yours. So thank you! I probably wouldn’t have known and missed out.

      I never thought of the rainbow wristbands as that. I may have uses for them! Thank you.

      I personally wish there wasn’t so much swag at cons and other events. I never use much and hate to keep it only to throw it away.

  4. I really doubt the ROI on this stuff. Even the few items I kept didn’t lead me to look at the books or writer’s websites. And truthfully, a week on, I don’t even know where this stuff is. I think having a few cards to place on the general table for people to pick up if interested is okay, but trying to produce enough for all the attendees seems to be a waste.

    And yeah, Ana’s cookies rocked!

    • YES! I’d love to know that. I can’t imagine that authors really reap the benefits of spending so much on swag. I’d love to know if authors get a big bump in readership from giving away these things. I mean sure any time your name is out there it generates interest. I’m sure I visited a bunch of author websites that I hadn’t prior to the convention but how much does that translate into sales?

      The funny thing is – I bought 4 books from an author that gave no swag. She’d had book cards on the general unmanned table but I didn’t pick them up and got no swag from her. Instead the books sounded interesting when she talked about them in a panel and I bought the entire series. Oh and because she’d discounted the first one to 0.99c for a day lol.

      As for swag? It never works with me as a reader sadly. But perhaps I’m an outlier once again.

  5. Tam says:

    I love the pens because I’m always losing pens. I should probably bring some into the office because I have no clue what happens to them. I adored the TA Chase pen that lit up. 🙂

    Even though I no longer have young kids, I’m unlikely to use a pad/pen/tape measure, etc. that has some graphic saying on it. The bag similar thing. The best bag that I still use I got from Blind Eye Books at Yaoicon. It’s got a goth little demon on it and it says “Sometimes weird is good”. It doesn’t scream “PENISES!!!!”

    I feel guilty throwing things out or sending them off to charity, but I don’t wear rubber bracelets. I do however were woven ones, those I’d like. 🙂 T-shirts not so much, I have a couple of mugs I use to hold pens, but I don’t like getting heavy things because I’m usually from far away and have to lug stuff home.

    The cards and bookmarks I keep a few of those I find particularly pretty and I don’t stress if I lose a paper bookmark, but for me pens, USB sticks (because I also lose lots of those) are really it. Maybe pads of paper if not too explicit. On the more obscure side, at GRL I got a little manicure set in one bag and my daughter claimed that and used it quite a bit and there were the Halloween socks which she wore as well.

    Oh just read Jen’s, anything edible of course. You can’t go wrong there. 🙂

    • Damn! I wish I had the TBEB bag!

      I’m unlikely to use anything with a graphic picture on it period. Whether its a naked guy or men or even a torso. I wouldn’t use a werewolf, vampire, mage, or other urban fantasy pictures either. It’s just not what I want to broadcast regardless.

      Oh the halloween socks were cute. I did use those lol. I think we got them on the cemetery tour. Worthwhile!

      I wonder what you do with the cards you keep? Do you look at them? or just put them in a drawer and throw them away eventually? Not saying you would, that’s just what happens with me sadly.

      • Tam says:

        Yes, most of them get thrown out, a few if they are nice pictures I may stick on a shelf but what do you do with these things? None of us have the space to keep amassing collections endlessly. Such is life.

  6. When I prep swag for an event, I look for what is on sale so I don’t overspend. I go for useful things – pens (people always need pens), and letter openers. I know one author does luggage tags, say they go quickly.

    One year I went in on a premium item – the six-pack sized zip cooler. Not cheap. Definitely get a group together for that sort of thing.

    I try not to do paper promo anymore for the reason you mentioned. People don’t keep them. For Authors After Dark this year, I’m trying one thing I hope will stick.

    • Oh an author, welcome! I’m curious – why do you do swag? Is it expected of you? Or do you really do see returns on the money you spend. Ie, new readers that wouldn’t have found you otherwise.

      Do you find that some swag is more profitable in terms of new readers than others? Does it matter which convention you’re at?

      Sorry to bombard you with questions, just the topic is an interesting one for me.

      Good luck with the AAD swag! that’s a fun con.

      • No worries. Thanks for replying. 🙂

        Somebody once told me that even if you don’t sell directly at a convention, a reader is likely to check up on your books several times before deciding to buy. Not sure how he came to that conclusion, but I figured if I at least had something with my name on it, a reader may pick it up one day and say oh, I should check out her books. So you could say promo is a long term investment, assuming it’s not thrown away. That’s why I like pens – people don’t toss new pens.

        I have bought ads on sites and magazines, bought tons of pens, etc. I don’t think I’ve seen the ROI I want, but I do get to write off promo as an expense.

  7. Some people collect those cards like trading cards. Depends on the person, I suspect. I would have loved to do the bags (my cover artist is Anne Cain, so my cover art is gorgeous and not porn-specific; even if someone doesn’t like my books, they still want the pretty pictures) but they’re too rich for my blood. But those and bookmarks are the only things I would personally use, so they’re pretty much the only things I’d use for giveaways, if I had the money to spend. (Bookmarks are cheap–bags are decidedly not.) And I’m not really one to wear something or carry around something with bare-chested men on it.

    Then again, I have friends who do the cards, I have friends who go nuts for lip balm, and I’m actually wearing the rainbow bracelet I got from Kindle Alexander right now. I saw lots of people around the con wearing the “The Only Women Who…” t-shirts. *shrug* I imagine it’s as individual as… well, individuals. 😉

    • I’ve seen character cards that people can collect. For example Geoffrey Knight had those of all his characters. Which was a fun idea if someone collected them.

      Yes bags are very expensive and bookmarks aren’t. I can imagine that bookmarks are probably a great idea for swag since it’s less of an investment. Someone had bookmarks made with the covers of the books on them. 2 covers per side and I really quite liked those bookmarks. I took 2!

      Yes its always different person to person. This is just my list of what I used/kept. I put it out there because there’s bound to be someone else like me and bound to be 10 more who liked more of the swag. Either way I just wish authors didn’t feel obligated to offer swag. It’s hard enough to make money writing but then having to give it away!

      • Ha! Those are my bookmarks, actually. At least I’m pretty sure they are. Or, anyway, I saw mine in your pic above of the stuff you kept. 😀 Like I said, even if someone has never heard of me or my books, Anne Cain’s art is worth keeping. (Although, quite a few people did mention that they don’t read paper books anymore and so have no use for them, so bookmarks might go away one day.)

        • YES! They are yours! *blushes and takes foot out of mouth* I knew that. *cough* Your covers are seriously gorgeous and I took two bookmarks. Plus I keep looking at the covers and thinking I need to read the books. I’ve no clue what they’re about but I want to read anything with a cover like that. I’m guessing they’re fantasy books with a japanese bent, so I’m all in!

          I’ve heard people say they rarely read paper books anymore but I still read quite a few. I read just as many paper books as ebooks (thank you library!) plus I can use bookmarks for so many things. I currently stuck one of your bookmarks in a reference book I use frequently. The other is actually in my ipad lol.

          • No, no foot in mouth, no worries. I’m never insulted when someone just wants the pretty pictures, because… well, they’re PRETTY! (Seriously–when I got the artwork, I wanted to have Anne Cain’s babies.) I’m always glad to see someone appreciate them.

            And yes, the books are rather old school, hardcore fantasy that include a m/m relationship but no conventional romance. Fantasy readers generally like them, but romance readers tend to… okay, romance readers hate them. Individual tastes and all that. 😉

            Really glad I can share the squee of the bookmarks, Kassa. Enjoy!

            • Thank you for being gracious! But you bring up an excellent point about romance readers vs fantasy readers. I just read a book (reviewed today) that doesn’t have a HEA ending and the author kept telling me she doesn’t write romance. Yet to me the entire book is clearly romance.

              So I’m wondering -why- there is some rule that romance only means traditional courting, marriage, HEA. I haven’t read your books but I definitely am getting GHOST asap and I’m even more excited to hear you say what you did. It makes me want to read it more. Clearly DSP had no problem with the unconventional romance so I’m not sure why romance readers in particular would disagree.

              Why is the genre so narrow?!

              • Er… I have a pretty long response to this. Please say you don’t mind! (I’m not *trying* to clutter up your blog–it just happened!)

                I think there’s a difference between romantic and Romance, and what one person might consider romantic, another might consider not so much. What you thought romantic in the book you mentioned is probably a nicely done love story that doesn’t necessarily follow the actual formula of Romance. It’s still romantic, it’s just not Romance. Most stories–regardless of genre–contain a love interest; they might have romantic elements, but the point of the story is not the relationship, so they’re not Romance.

                Romance, as a genre, is pretty specific: boy meets boy, boy courts boy, crisis during which boy loses boy, boy wins boy back, HEA. And Romance readers want their formula. They like the structure to be predictable, but the details–characters, settings, plot devices, etc–to be new and original. It’s a preference, like everything else.

                Let me see if I can better illustrate some of the differences, using my experiences with some reader responses to my own books, as briefly as possible:

                ~The first strike is usually the glossary. It’s quite common in speculative fiction, but when a reader who doesn’t normally read spec fic is presented with a glossary, they generally assume it’s there because the author hasn’t properly explained the world and is using it as a crutch. That’s not how it works. Or, at least, that’s not how it works in spec fic. It’s really just a courtesy from the author and a “safety blanket” sort of thing for the reader, and if the author’s done their job, readers never even have to look at it. Romance readers aren’t usually presented with a glossary, so when they are, they assume the author hasn’t done their job before they even get to chapter one.

                ~The first book of Wolf’s-own is told in alinear chronology (people keep calling the backstory exposition “flashbacks”, which is a technicality, but it makes me wince because THEY’RE NOT FLASHBACKS OMG!); alinear chronology is a pretty typical convention of speculative fiction (and anime, which the story attempts to evoke), but if a person doesn’t read spec fic, or watch anime, they’re not used to it and don’t like it.

                ~The story is told from multiple points of view, which, again, is pretty typical of spec fic, because you generally have more involved plot and worldbuilding, and it’s not always possible to fully expose a complex plot or world through one POV. Romance readers basically want to hear from the two protagonists, and that’s it. Exposition through other characters is “just noise”, whether it contains key plot elements or not. It’s kind of like “Who are these people and why are they talking when I want to see the two guys get together?”

                ~It’s got a very involved, complex plot, requiring the reader to pay attention, and though the relationship between the two protagonists is very important and supports the plot, the overarching plot would have survived without the relationship. In other words, I could have told a similar (but, in my opinion, not as rich) story without the two main characters getting together. Again, with a Romance, the whole point is the characters getting together; the plot is just a way to get them there.

                ~Cliffhangers, OMG. There is hardly a fantasy series out there that doesn’t contain cliffhangers at the end of each book, but there’s no such animal in Romance. And if there were, Romance readers would kill it and saute it in a nice cream sauce for lunch.

                I’m sure there are more, but I stopped looking at reviews two years ago and don’t go anywhere near Goodreads anymore. Sanity! 😉 But the point is, if a Romance reader wanders into my books looking for what they’re used to getting, they won’t be any happier than a spec fic reader who wanders into a Romance looking for gods and magic.

                You make a good point about Dreamspinner, and I have to take responsibility for people assuming my books are romance, since they come from a romance press. But I’m kind of stuck between genres, because I either go to the m/m side where everyone expects romance, or I go to the spec fic side where I’m open to “Ack! Gay!” And I never wanted to be somewhere I’d have to put up with that. A m/m press provides a certain insulation from it; a comfort level.

                (Dreamspinner is unique, though, because, as you said, they don’t just seek romance–they seek any good story of any genre at all where the two main characters are male and gay. In fact, specifically because some of the books they publish get the kind of reception I’ve described above, they will be doing something come fall I’m not sure I’m supposed to talk about in public yet, but it should do the trick in steering my books–and others’–to their actual target audience, which is basically spec fic readers who won’t go all gaggy because the two guys get it on now and then. I’m quite optimistic and excited about it, and waiting impatiently to see how it all shakes out.)

                So, Romance *is* a pretty narrow genre, if we’re going with the technical story-structure aspects of it, and some readers do, just like some spec fic readers won’t venture out of their preferred reading corner. That’s not to say that everyone who enjoys the genre has narrow preferences, though some of course do; it’s just that everyone has comfort levels and individual wants and moods, and some comfort levels just don’t play well with others, especially when what they expect is nowhere close to what they get.

                (So, so sorry for the length!)

                • That was a great comment about so-called romance titles. Dreamspinner has published 20 of my 23 books, and one more will be out in a few days. I’ve always felt that my books were a bit stigmatized by being associated with a self-professed publisher of romances, because to put it bluntly, I don’t write romances. Love stories, yes, but not romances in the generally accepted sense of the word. There’s too much angst in real life, and I seldom write about it. People read to escape, and who wants to escape into an angst-ridden world. Fully half of my books don’t even contain any descriptive sex scenes. The characters talk about it, but we don’t follow them into the bedroom most of the time. Everybody knows what happens between two men in bed, and their imaginations should suffice. Soapbox mode: off.

                  • I really need to change how the comments nest so they show up all skinny like that. So I apologize!

                    That said… I’m going to respond to both Carol and Etienne because while I respect what you both say about romance needing a HEA – I’m going to also disagree.

                    I’ve read many many many books where there is no HEA and even no sex scenes. I don’t think either one defines the book as romance.

                    To me a romance simply means the relationship between two characters (or more!) is the main driving force in the book.

                    I do agree you can romantic elements in a book – such as spec fiction which I read a TON of and know extremely well – but if the romance is not the driving purpose of the story then it’s not a romance. However if the relationship IS the driving force and without that relationship there is little to no story, then it’s a romance regardless of graphic sex scenes and ending.

                    I think readers have been beaten over the head with labels and genre definitions, told over and over that it is the only kind of romance acceptable. However, I also feel the authors perpetuate this more than anyone else. Yes readers love knowing things work out in the end (no real scary investment!) but that doesn’t always preclude them from liking the book anyway.

                    Not to mention graphic sex scenes used to be considered erotic romance but now it’s merely mainstream. There’s nothing wrong with no graphic sex and often I feel there is too much sex in books now to the point it hinders the plot. Although that’s a whole ‘nother tangent that can we can debate forever.

                    As for the other plot issues – oh god. I could go on and on about them! But I think that’s an entirely different post.

                    • If I said that romances MUST have HEA endings, I didn’t intend to. On the other hand, what’s so wrong about that? Like many (most?) people, I read to escape, and who wants to escape into an angst-filled universe. I really, really like James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux, but I grow weary of poor old Dave having to run to an AA meeting from time to time to escape his personal demons.

  8. That is a wonderful post and, speaking as an author, I couldn’t agree with you more. In a former life (before I became an author) I used to attend conventions regularly, and as an attendee, I would return to my hotel laden down with swag. Most of which was left behind in the hotel. That pretty much sums it up.

    • I am just one reader with my specific preferences. So there is that. Most conventions I attend I throw away almost everything, regardless of origin (ie. author vs. corporate). I don’t really care if a big company wants to spend money on things I throw away. I do, however, feel bad for authors.

    • Going to reply to the above comment here so it doesn’t nest crazy anymore! Oh you didn’t imply that but I wanted to address Carol who had. I don’t find anything wrong with romance having a HEA, after all I read for that as well. Though I personally have no problems with angst. I like angst! At the same time I don’t think romance needs to be limited to -only- HEA is all. It’s a great element like anything else. I just don’t think its a requirement for romance. But that’s me.

  9. My swag is usually a magnet of my book cover. I go to a lot of conventions as a reader and yes I picked up a lot of swag. I come home and analyze it. I have a kindle so I never use book marks. Postcards that have cover pictures, not something I keep a lot of. If it is cool then i make a collage out of them. It can’t be graphic because i have teens. Ink pens are nice but once it is empty it is trashed. Now something had made, keychains and magnets i keep.

    • Magnets are always good! If they’re sturdy enough. If I can’t use them to hook paper or something more sturdy then I don’t bother. This time there were a few magnets in the group – playing card size- but so flimsy I didn’t bother to keep them.

      I think as long as things are useful people will keep them. At least for a time. I guess most people use pens whereas I couldn’t be bothered.

  10. suebrownstories says:

    Swag makes my heart sink. Authors go through heartache trying to get the ‘right’ swag, and to be honest, some of us can ill-afford anything decent. Bills or swag? You know what wins. Last year for the UK Meet I gave out Maltesers and packets of tissues, wrapped up with a business card. So it wasn’t personal, but the chocolates got eaten and the tissues used.

    • Again, I think anything useful does get used. I think small tissue packets or even candies like that are great ideas. Candy seems to be a treat that most people like. I’m beyond weird (like that’s not obvious already?) and don’t like chocolate but I think most goers would appreciate some candy. I remember someone had a heart shaped keychain with some hershey kisses in one of the gift bags. I bet people liked that.

      Mostly anything cost effective I’d think.

  11. Grace says:

    I’m very happy to see my tissues in there! That made me all sorts of happy!

    I want to give a slightly different view of it. There is discussion above about return on investment with swag. (And someone does point it out somewhere, but I’ll be a little more wordy here.)

    You don’t go to a con with the thought that you will make back your expenses in sales. Swag is the same thing. You don’t buy and give out swag with the idea that you’ll make back even from THAT book, what you spent. Swag, like the con appearances, is a long term investment. It’s about getting your name out there and getting it recognized. It’s along the same lines as “brand recognition.” No, someone may NOT remember exactly what Choices is about. But they will (hopefully) put my name with the tissues they’re pulling out of their purse/backpack. Or with the pretty coaster they set their coffee mugs on. Or with the little plastic bowl they keep their mints/paper clips/whatever in. And when they’re sitting at Amazaon with a shiny new gift card and my name comes up, they’ll *remember* that name. And, even if they don’t know what my books were about to begin with, that name recognition may just be enough for them to pick MY book over someone else’s. And then, if my books are good enough, they will be enough to bring someone back for more.

    Swag for returning readers is more of a reward than advertising–a tiny bit of a thank you for stopping at my booth, for talking with me, etc.

    I gave away a LOT of swag at RainbowCon, very little of it because I said I didn’t want to take it home. I actually had NO problems taking the paper swag back home with me (it was the smallest and most portable). What disappeared was the longer-lasting stuff and the consumables. I had coasters out (sturdy ones, not throw-aways), tissues, little plastic bowls with chocolate, notebooks, hand sanitizer and lip balm – almost all of which disappeared. The notebooks, coasters, plastic bowls and lip balm did go entirely. Only most of the hand sanitizer, but I know I wasn’t the only one with it out, so I’m sure part of it is people not wanting to take too much of that, especially if they were flying. (liquids *sigh*).

    Personally, I collected a lot of pens. I know some people don’t want them but I can’t get enough. I think that might be a writer thing. I know a lot of them who have so many they can’t count them all. I keep loads – in my purse, backpack, on my desk. I have a box full of them that I just keep adding to. It’s like notebooks. But again, I think that’s an author’s thing.

    Sorry, kind of went on here… oops. >.>

    • Hi there and thank you!! That’s an excellent explanation of why spending on money on swag may be worthwhile. It’s just another type of marketing. I do recognize that and support the concept of branding for authors. Absolutely!

      I also think you probably have a very successful and long range view of your expenses and what swag is successful for you. Giving away things like coasters (which I missed but would have taken if tasteful enough for table display) and potentially notebooks – you’re right. They remember your name time and time again. If you remember a name enough then the person goes to check out the author. I do agree swag is essential for name recognition. It’s also why I do posts such as these because for one solitary reader (me!) so many of the items were trashed and thus I never remembered the name of the authors.

      For me I don’t necessarily remember the name of the author for the stuff I grabbed. Not right away – however – and here is where your thinking is spot on. When I reach for those bookmarks and tissues I will remember it. I remember that someone had boxes of rainbow colored bandaids (AWESOME!) that said open in the event of a werewolf attack. So clever and it’s an item I totally use. I’d never heard of the author but I keep looking at the names so it sinks in.

      That said – I do think swag should be effective marketing. If you’re spending a lot of money I think it’s not about immediate return but how many people will eventually remember your brand and make the marketing effective? it’s the same with advertising so it’s helpful to know what works with people and what doesn’t. At least that’s my thinking.

      I do think I’m probably the minority with the pens. Most people are disagreeing with me hehe. So I guess everyone ignore that I hate pens. The cheese stands alone on that one. 😀

  12. Thank you for this post Kassa! 😀 It’s been making the rounds so I thought I’d check it out. I’m agreeing with all of the writers here that it isn’t so much a ROI but it’s a long term investment. It’s all about branding, because authors are as much of a ‘product’ as Coca-Cola is. No author is ever a runaway bestseller. No one is ever an overnight sensation. It’s all marketing, it’s all slow and steady. After all, Coke hasn’t become the iconic brand it is today in one felled swoop. It takes a lot of time, money, and the devotion to our craft of making the best books we can for awesome folks like you to read. 😀

    And it is true, you can fully expect going to a conference and expect to lose money. You can also expect it to take a chunk out of your writing schedule (especially if you get the con crud!)

    I have a friend in the comics industry and she once gave advice on doing artist alley tables at conventions. She had been doing tables since she was 15, it isn’t until NOW as an adult she’s started turning a profit at cons. And her thing? It isn’t even comics. It’s custom tea blends with Adiago Teas with her art on the label. Some things just click.

    As for the swag, yes, I absolutely agree with things that are affordable, tasteful, and useful! I am a pen addict, I burn through them every two weeks I write so much in longhand. So yes. I will always need pens. But I also love the quirky item. Last GRL Angel Martinez had stress toy cows. They were freaking adorable. I have one. And what I loved about her cows is she had set up a little story about them that went with her books at her table instead of like ‘Here are these random cows.’ I haven’t read her books yet, and at the time I didn’t know of her that well, but you can imagine I’m going to check her out!

    One of the items I had at GRL last year was hand sanitizers from Bath and Body Works and in scents that were mentioned in my books. Or scents inspired by the characters. I only had 100 of them. They were gone as soon as the swag room was open.

    One of the items that was a surprise hit was I’m an artist as well, and I had done a postcard sized print of the main characters of the Checkmate series myself. Readers actually wanted MY PRINT over the postcards of my covers by Paul Richmond. So this year, I have a trading card set I drew of 20 cards–the worst is just the guys in their underwear but nothing too too racy. I have fans that are minors and I’m aware of that so I don’t want to get in trouble with their parents.

    I’m also commissioning other artists I’ve been long time friends with and are popular on various con circuits for cards of their take on my characters. 😀 I’m also doing a very limited run of these cards. Because they are expensive, and I do want to make them a more exclusive item.

    And to make a spammy comment even more spammier, for me as an author… I think while yeah, part of it is branding, but I honestly enjoy seeing a reader’s eyes light up when I give them something to remember me by. Win or lose, I see thoughtful swag as a way of giving back to readers because without them I know for sure I’d be nowhere. 😀

    • Thanks for stopping by! I didn’t realize it was making the rounds so .. fun!

      I do think swag is an intensely personal thing as well. Not everyone likes the same things. This of course is just one reader’s preferences on swag. I dislike collecting things in general unless they have a real purpose so I’m not the target audience for things like prints or character cards. I’ve never really gotten into that stuff and collecting hasn’t really been my thing. My mom has drilled the whole “no clutter!!” mantra into me too much to ever get things just because they’re pretty. But that’s just me. Other people, lots actually, LOVE pens so clearly that’s a winner even though I just give them away or throw them away.

      I do realize that swag is about branding and not necessarily ROI for a particular con or even cons in general. However, for the branding to be successful I think the brand has to be marketed in a way that readers remember. Giving away character cards is more – as you said – of a reader treat than anything else. New readers probably won’t recognize the characters so the cards don’t mean as much to them.

      Getting your name and brand out there has to be in a way that readers will connect with. I personally kept swag but didn’t (at the time) remember the author name. Hell I kept a bookmark that I really quite loved but didn’t recognize the author’s name at first when she commented. Granted I am horrible about details like that (I need new running socks and I’ve literally forgotten 4 days in a row to order more.. how?! So clearly memory is not my strongest attribute). So putting me aside as an outlier I still think that having a memorable experience goes farther for brand marketing than just items.

      For example the stress cow tying to the books. That’s a cute idea and I’d check the author out. Or something interactive – for example find a certain author at a con and tell them your favorite eye color on men (or something, whatever) and get a short story. Or something that gets the reader to connect the name with something tangible they had to work for. It’s not enough work to turn a reader off, promotes interaction, and likely the reader will remember the author even if they never redeem the coupon for the book. And if they do- even better.

      I’m all about marketing for authors and I need to be marketed to in order to remember authors in this saturated world. That said, I write these posts because I like to see more productive swag if that makes sense.

      • Erm, I might’ve contributed to the “making the rounds” bit – I included the post in linkity last Friday, and also included a link to it in a GRs status update. 🙂

      • Well said! 😀 And yes, the cards are definitely more of a limited thing. I had people that weren’t even my readers want the print from GRL, because it was unusual. I had people try to commission me for sketches on the spot or covers later, I actually had to decline. So I figure this way is testing the waters of that.

        And I agree that the trading cards that people get run off of their covers is kind of a hit and miss with me. I’d like to see something more handmade, artistic, and had thought behind it. Handmade swag to me is the bees knees because people took the time out to make them and many of them are very lovely. Those are definite treasures and I’ll remember them.

        And getting handmade swag typically involves talking to the author, because they definitely don’t want to leave them unattended. So definitely interactive right there! 😀 It should be standard that high ticket items (like Gus’ cellphone charms which are amaaaazing!) should have to be rewarded/earned (neither of these words are good, but you know what I mean) by author interaction.

        The MOST unusual (and useful!) piece of swag I ever got, which was tied in PERFECTLY with the context of the setting was a tire gauge from a NASCAR race. It was branded with Target logos to promo their Cartwheel program. Also Target sponsors one of the drivers. I actually use it! If writers could come up with something as sensationally useful and memorable as that? You bet I’d be buying their books!

  13. I’m late to the party, but…

    You know I loved spending time with you at RC, Kassa, and I can’t wait to do it again next year! This time, come up to the hospitality suite sooner. 😉

    Swag. Yeah. We’re definitely doing things differently swag-wise next year.

    1. We will be offering USB space to registering authors and sponsors. It will be $25 for 25MB, and the author/sponsor can put WHATEVER they want on it (though we will suggest free books, cover art, coupons, etc.). But, for $25, they can reach every attendee with their digital swag and it will be a lot easier for the attendees.

    2. The bags will be smaller. XD We plan to do bags around the size of the old SMP bags, maybe a bit bigger. (SMP will also be doing similar bags again with our new logo!) But, reusable, smaller bags with that year’s graphic logo and the con’s name. No nakedness. 😉

    3. We will actively discourage paper promo, but we won’t refuse it as we understand some authors simply can’t afford anything else but still want to promo themselves. We’ll definitely be posting a list of suggested promo items such as pens, tissues, hand sanitizer, lip balm, tasteful reusable bags, mini flashlights, post it pads, notepads, and the like. Useful items that 99% of the people tend to like.

    4. Welcome bags will be given out at time of registration sign in.

    But, it’s posts like these (and the comments) that help us make a list of suggested items when authors inevitably ask, ‘What can I donate?’

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