Swag: “everyone” wants it, does anyone use it?
This past few days, a major debate’s been taking place on Facebook about swag, and the swag room at one of the major literary conventions I visit every year. The organizers are thinking about a change to the swag setup and authors struggle to keep up and readers worry to lose their swag.
First, if you don’t know what swag is, here’s a definition: Swag is free branded stuff that people give away. Things like pens or other little trinkets with the logo of the giver. Swag is a HUGE industry and they think it’s all a no-brainer:
“If your company has ever considered in-person, on the ground marketing on college campuses, then you know that free swag is a major player.”
So says an article by Built in Chicago. And I tend to agree, it is a major player, even in the book industry, and authors all around the world struggle with it. Imagine being part of an event with over 100 authors, and you have to try and come up with something that stands out… Good luck! Many conventions hand out the swag in a bag at registration (the bag being swag, too) and when you come home, you’ll realize that most of what you have in that bag goes straight into your round archive (i.e. the trash can.)
Candy, bracelets, loads of paper stuff which didn’t survive the handling of being in a bag or a suitcase, and all the worthless stuff that people come up with. Here’s an image of what I brought home from one of the events (not saying which, because I know that people try very hard to come up with decent swag):
Can you spot my swag in the pile? Probably not. Anything that attracts your attention? I’ll grant you that we are different as individuals, and we use different things and find different things useful. Problem is, in a bag of that size, it’s difficult to stand out, and in order to make swag affordable, it has to be cheap. Cheap is normally the antipode to quality. Say you spend US 50c on a piece of swag. Say you need 500 for two conventions. That’s a whooping US $250, plus start-up costs and taxes.
Will that sell you any books? NO! If you sell your books at an average of $3.99, you need to sell 125 books just to recover your cost (I’m assuming a 50% margin on the books.) So for the vast majority of us, swag isn’t worth it, yet we still feel compelled to do it.
- Readers expect it?
- Everyone else does it?
Yes, some readers would be very disappointed if they didn’t get their swag. I’ve overheard conversations from readers who are totally infatuated with the swag. I haven’t really focused on asking them details about what they use and how, but anecdotal evidence suggests that they like to keep the swag of authors they like. Are they representative for the majority of readers? In all honesty, I don’t know. Based on what I hear, they’re not. Most readers will gravitate toward the useful stuff and disregard “junk”… However, question remains: what is junk? What is useful?
The second point is much stronger, and if you look at the pile above, it’s really difficult to come up with something that actually stands out. Something that readers will want to keep. In a totally unscientific discussion with fellow author friends, we all agreed that “swag that lasts” has to be useful, which means it needs to have a lasting value. Pens are a good example, or screen wipes, etc. But if you end up with 100 pens in a swag bag, we’re back to square one.
I recall the discussions I had with my supplier last year with regards to author swag. We also wanted to make sure the swag tied into being an author (pens? book marks?) but in the end we decided that too many were doing it. Now, I would agree that book marks are a thing of the past, mostly, because well, most of us read e-books, and those who don’t, they get five to ten book marks at every con. I saw no reason to add mine to the pile. Again, to create a really nice bookmark that people will actually use (and throw away the others), it’ll cost.
What did I do last year? I ended up producing a few postcards and a business card (paper is generally not a good swag item) for those who needed links and info about my books, mostly e-book readers. I did NOT include those in any swag bag. Lesson: I needed far less of each printed item than I had anticipated. Business cards I can re-use, post cards not so much. 10% of what I printed is enough.
I also created a key chain (useful? Don’t know, but I needed one, and it turned out pretty great) with my “branding” on. Thing is, that the branding of the key chain is great, but it’s very “out there” in terms of using it in public. Sadly, just as many LGBT people still need to come out, so do the readers of our books. Many of them don’t tell anyone (not even their husbands) that they read gay literature (even if they’re as straight as a fiddle) and so any and all swag that might insinuate anything won’t be used. I have a hunch that while I got good feedback on my keychain, very few are actually in use.
The same can be said about my button, which I created to support my web shop. Turns out that my web shop was more costly than it brought in revenue, and I closed it down at the end of 2015. The button is now useless, as funny as it may have been…
For 2016, I have two advantages: a logo (see top of page) and more knowledge. The knowledge I’m passing on freely here, you will have to work on your own branding. Here are the lessons for me:
Don’t fret about swag. If you can afford it, get some. If not, you won’t lose any sales on it, as little as you’ll gain readers for it. So why do swag in the first place? I think it’s about prolonging the memory of you in people who have already met you!
- Don’t produce too much.
- Business cards are a must, include purchase links and/or a QR-code to help readers find your web site and/or web shop quickly and easily.
- Post cards for your books are a good thing to personally hand to someone you’ve spoken to, particularly those who buy e-books. It will help them remember you. But don’t just put it into a bag. It’ll look awful by the time they unpack it!
- Go for useful swag. Pens, mugs, markers, wipes, chap sticks etc. Things people use will ensure that your name, your logo, is put in front of a lot of people and stays in the view of your readers in a good way. Fewer items for a select audience is what I’ll do.
- Make sure your swag can be used in public… (I recall one author last year creating “panic sets” consisting of a condom, ass wipes (no joke!) and lube for clean & safe gay sex, at a con visited by mostly women. It was borderline insulting for us gays (we tend to be ready anyway), and appealed more to the dirty imagination of the ladies than being useful. Not the kind of swag you’ll keep around for your friends to see…
What’s your take on swag? Have any experiences to share? If so, the comment section is open…
Have a wonderful week. See you Wednesday for the review of my friend Bru Baker’s novel King of the kitchen!
PS: Just saying, but sometimes, better than swag is to leave people with a memory they’ll never forget, such as the image below. What do you think?