By Nate Hoffelder
It is our pleasure to welcome back guest author Nate Hoffelder. You can find Nate’s last post, Authors: Take these Five Basic Steps to Secure Your WordPress Website Today! here and be sure to leave any questions in the comments.
When it comes to marketing material, many authors get flyers printed, a lot also get bookmarks, but few authors will invest in swag to give away or sell to fans at book fairs and conferences.
And that is a shame, because authors are leaving money on the table. When done right, swag can give your readers a strong connection to your work – one that fans will pay for.
Yes, they will pay. An author’s most avid readers are fans, and if there’s one thing I know from SF fandom it is that fans love buying merchandise related to their favorite show, book, movie, etc. If you can identify the swag that your fans will covet you can sell it on your site or at book fairs.
In the past 8 years authors have gone from the disreputable fringes to competing with the big boys. Best-selling authors have learned all the tricks of the major publishers; they now hire pro assistance, including cover designers, editors, and marketers, and a lot of best-selling authors are even buying adverts.
Investing in swag to sell to fans is the next big step. Yes, some already are, but this is still a new concept to a lot of authors.
1. Cheap is bad
When you go to order swag you will usually find a vast number different options in just about any category. You’ll find as many as a hundred different pen options, dozens of folders and notepads, and more water bottles than you can shake a stick at (just to name a few).
Whatever you do, don’t choose the cheapest option. This might be obvious to some, but I had to learn the hard way that choosing the cheapest option on the page was a waste of my money. I threw my money away on merchandise that no one was going to use for more than a hot minute, and that completely defeated the purpose of the exercise.
My very first piece of swag was pens. I ordered five hundred pens with my tagline and brand name, but when they arrived I realized I had made a terrible mistake. The pens were so flimsy that they lasted maybe two days in your pocket before breaking, and they looked so cheap that you would think a used car salesman was giving them away.
2. Know your goals
When I started writing this post, I approached it from the mindset of a tech who wants to sell website services, and so I wrote the first draft under the assumption that one orders swag to give to potential customers. That is a perfectly valid position, but authors might have a different goal in mind.
Authors might want to use swag not to attract readers but to reward existing fans. They also might want to order swag to sell at conferences and book fairs. It is important that authors understand their goals because this will drive their decisions on how much they will invest on swag and what they order.
3. Know your audience
Before you buy swag, take a few days or weeks and figure out what your potential audience would like as a gift. The best type of swag are items that your potential audience will use again and again. You want them to see your name over and over so that they will one day search for your name and visit your site.
While you are at it, be sure to choose swag that ties in with your books. When it comes to the more common types of swag, pens are always good, and so are notepads and t-shirts.
But if you wanted to get inventive, a fantasy author might give away sword-shaped letter openers while an SF author might give away custom spaceship figurines modeled after ships in the author’s books. Or, you could choose swag that ties in with your main character; if your main character has a temper, perhaps you could give away branded stress balls.
Warner Brothers, for example, is selling this Hobbit-inspired sword:
I didn’t put that much thought into my second piece of swag, which was an order of lanyards. Yes, I got branded lanyards for a local conference before I realized that almost no one keeps lanyards around, and most of the people who do keep all their lanyards are hoarders of one kind or another.
Like sunscreen in Seattle or a scarf in Arizona, lanyards are one of those things your audience will only see once before tossing it aside. If you are lucky they might stick it in a drawer, only to find it years later, but there is a good chance they will toss your swag in the trash as they are cleaning up their hotel room before they check out.
By the way, if you do have one of my lanyards, I’ll give you a discount on your website.
4. Samples are good
Merchandise retailers want you to know what you are buying before the credit card charge goes through. Their websites included high-resolution photos and detailed specs which will give you a good idea what you are buying, but there’s still something to be said for holding a product in your hand before making a decision.
That is why many companies that sell the usual selection of branded swag will ship you sample products. Some will charge for shipping, but others will send the samples for free. While it won’t have your logo on it, the free samples will still give you a chance to hold the items and make a decision.
The rule about free samples mostly applies to companies that supply the more standard types of swag. If you want something custom-made, or if you are working with a niche supplier, you will probably have to pay for that sample.
And that can be worth the cost; if you order multiple samples, you can show them to friends and colleagues and find out which one is the most popular.
My third piece of swag is a post-it note folder with my logo on it. It looks great, but before I placed the order I ordered samples of 3 different folders (but only two were shipped). They each had a different selection of sticky notes and a different case, and for about a week and a half I carried them around and asked everyone what they thought.
CLICK TO KEEP READING