Monday, June 06, 2011


One of the things I love about conferences is the swag, all the free fun stuff you get just for walking in the door. But after looking at all of the swag I got at this year's Romantic Times conference (this is just the stuff I got for walking in the door and attending one party), I have to wonder how beneficial swag is to the authors who hand it out.

For regular followers of the blog, this isn't a new conversation. Not even close. I've always wondered if all of those bookmarks, postcards, and pens really sell books. I'm not convinced they do. At least I've never bought a book based on the swag, and these days, bookmarks are even more useless. I try to save them, I try to use them, but they keep sliding off my ebook.

So I went through my swag and here's what I found:

Laptop-style work bag--love. Will definitely use
Two canvas shopping bags--added to the collection for grocery shopping
Pen--I can always find a use for another pen (especially a good one)
Ice scraper--if my kids don't confiscate it, it will be great for the glove compartment
Two fans--the hotel was so hot I added one to my purse
Notepads/notebooks--always good to have
Candy--tossed most, kept Werthers (yum)
Bookmarks--tossed without looking
Postcards--tossed without looking
Author bracelet--passed to kids
Books--definitely took those home
Chapter samples--kept both to read on the plane
Can cozy--love these. There's nothing better than watching a manly man drink beer from romance author's can cozy

Number of books bought based on swag--probably zero.

What about you? Swayed by swag or just overwhelmed by stuff?



Christine Rains said...

Swag has never encouraged me to buy a book. I do appreciate useful swag, though, like the ice scraper and can cozy. Most of the stuff I get at conventions gets thrown out. A nice author, a good review or recommendation by a friend gets me to buy a book.

Sheila Connolly said...

I'll admit I love bookmarks, and have been known to buy a book based on one (even years after issue!). I think it's the repetition that does it--if I see the cover and title often enough, I will remember it. Postcards in my opinion are a one-shot deal: you get a quick flash of the cover, and maybe you'll recognize it in a bookstore or online.

But bags! Love those things! I must have fifteen, and they go everywhere. My daughter borrows them too, so they are ongoing advertising for the event.

Laurel said...

I think what Sheila said about repetition is what it's really all about. I wouldn't buy a book because someone gave me a bookmark, but I might remember the conversation I had with that author and look up the title. Conventions are high-info places and anything you can do to help someone remember your product once you're home can't hurt.

I read somewhere that it takes an average of 11 "touches" to influence a consumer into a buying decision. That doesn't mean someone who wouldn't have bought your product but rather your target market. People are busy. They forget things. The bookmark might be one touch, then they see the title a couple of times on Twiltter, a blog review, the Amazon "customers who bought this also bought..." page.

That makes it hard to quantify which of these things is the best promotional tool. Maybe it isn't a single thing but the cumulative effect.

Alyson Greene said...

Isn't the swag not necessarily for you (the swag receiver) to buy the book, but anyone else who sees the title and author printed on your swag?

When I'm browsing for books, either at the book store or online, I'll often come across books I've heard of and pick them up. I don't remember where and when I've heard of them, but they stand out from the crowd.

I think the hope is that book buyers see the book on your grocery bag and the repetition the other commenters mentioned kicks in and someone out there might by the book because of it.

Lynn(e) Schmidt said...

Swag hasn't made me want to buy a book, but thus far it has made me look up authors. Bookmarks and postcards are fairly worthless (Sorry guys!)but bags and pens and things like that I use daily.

Some of the postcards (if they show the book cover, and I judge the book by the cover) make me want to at least -look- at the book. But at conferences, I get so bogged down with random papers and things I usually just recycle things before looking at them.

Now free t-shirts. I would be all over those. :)

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

I've never been swayed by swag. (My marketing background self is kicking me in the a** for saying that out loud.)

Sally MacKenzie said...

I have to say I'm not convinced any of my swag ever sold a book, but I'm sure I've sold pens for the person whom I buy pens from. (Other authors like my pens and ask me where I get them.) And people do enjoy my Naked buttons. So, to keep from losing my mind, I like to think I'm just spreading a few smiles through a world that desperately needs a laugh some days.

I like bookmarks as a way to make contact with passersby at a large book signing, as a form of business card, and as personal advertising at conferences--I wear them in my name badge. I've also found that bookstores actually are usually happy to have them.

Of course, we usually never know if any of our advertising "works."

Beth said...

I love swag! The things that are the most swaying are sample chapters and books.

Daryl Wood Gerber a.k.a. Avery Aames said...

I have left recipes and those seem to draw new viewers to my website and blog. But there are recipes in my books, so I think that matters.

I also hear fans talking about the swag, so someone might talk up an author because of the cute swag. {Pens and pins seem to get attention.}

I still have a chapstick I was given as swag. I did buy the book. I liked it. :)

I've seen expensive swag like refrigerator magnets and wine corks and clippies for potato chip bags. No sure if any of that works.

It's all expensive and as an author, it's hard to think any of it works...for the expense of it.


ryan field said...

I think everything helps. It might sell a book or two and it's a nice, positive gesture. Everyone loves free stuff.

Anonymous said...

I'll be the first to admit, I'm a a bit of a swag junkie. However, as a librarian who has attended many library conferences and received more giveaways than I can remember, I question the value of many of these items. Neither bookmarks nor postcards have ever induced me to buy a book. And, while I appreciate the more useful items like bags, pens, pencils, etc., I'm sorry to say, they don't work either.

The only thing that has ever induced me to buy is a book excerpt or, even better, a free book. The other stuff may be good for getting your name out there, but really, how can you tell if it's successful or not?

Anonymous said...

CAN COZIES?! What a great idea! When I get my first book published, I'm going to get can cozies made up. Love the imagery of a man using a romance book cozy for his beer. (Mine will be sci-fi) I will use it for the rest of the day to keep me smiling!

tourmelinerain said...

Devil's advocate, here! I stow bookmarks in my nightstand drawer and Have some dating back 20+ years. They represent books, walpaper patterns, local choral society, a wedding memento, and on and on. And I use them!

Anonymous said...

I definitely don't need swag. I do like getting pens, though. Some of my favorite pens have been freebies from job fairs or conferences.

C. Michelle Jefferies said...

In an information intese plaqce like a conference I will take a book mark, swag or card of a book I'm interested in buying. Then once I get home I can sort out what I really want and go from there. I love the idea of bags, but I'm a bag junkie. Pens not so much because I am really addicted to a certain type of pen. If I get pens they usually go to my kids.

Anju said...

I went to the Philadelphia Writers Conference this weekend, but I left most of the stuff behind. I'm picky about what I want to carry around.

Alex Harrow said...

Swag really doesn't encourage me to buy a book, but I love to get swags for books and authors that I already love or whose books I plan to get. Somewhat of a consummate nerdy fangirl here, but that's about it. As for book marks - even though I'm an avid e-book reader as well, I like to have bookmarks at hand, especially because I'm prone to lose them as I go. Still, don't think a book mark (even one with a good blurb) would make me want to buy the book.

Rita said...

Gotta agree I never buy a book because of swag. I do buy if I’ve spoken to the author, read an excerpt or had it recommended by a friend. I also love a good canvas bag. I keep a special or unusual bookmark for friends who still read print books. I would love to see ebooks given at conferences. Soo much easier to take home.

jjdebenedictis said...

People buy books based on whether they think they might enjoy that book.

A bookmark or postcard doesn't provide enough information to sway their decision.

It might, however, be enough to remind that person to pull the book off the shelf and have a look at it next time they're in a bookstore, but that's it. The backflap copy is still what's going to convince them to buy or not.

So I'm firmly of the opinion swag doesn't work unless it provides what a book provides--an eye-catching image to draw attention and a blurb to showcase the book's content.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Sometimes that swag is a waste of space. I haven't bought a book because I received a bookmark, but I've taken one because I wanted it to remind of the book of wanted to buy.

If that makes sense.

Petrea Burchard said...

What a great post and an interesting discussion.

I wouldn't buy a book because I had a bookmark or a tote bag, but I would pull a book off a shelf and read the blurbs if I recognized the title or the author's name. With thousands of books in the store, I don't have time to look at every one. Name and title repetition/recognition are key.

If that wasn't enough, my word verification here is "swaywar."

Karen Duvall said...

Everyone needs to remember that swag is not intended to sell books but to enhance name recognition. For that to happen, the name/book title should be on items the recipient will keep around for a while. Therefore bookmarks and postcards, for the most part, are a waste of money and only add to landfills. Unless you're a collector.

I've been in marketing for over 30 years, so I know that aside from word of mouth, the most effective advertising is free product. That means giving away books or free samples from books like excerpts is the best means for selling product.

That being said, name recognition without the actual sale is still a good thing. I'd say no to the throw-away paper stuff, but pens and bags and can cozies are awesome gifts that will keep the advertiser's name in front of potential customers for the long term (relatively speaking, depending on the swag).

Tricia said...

Of all your swag gifts, it was the bookmarks I'd want the most. Doubt it, or any of the swag items, would make me buy the book.

Stephsco said...

Loved this: bookmarks are even more useless. I try to save them, I try to use them, but they keep sliding off my ebook.

I saved a bookmark that mirrors the beautiful cover of Saundra Mitchell's "The Vespertine." But other than that, I think the postcards & bookmarks are kind of useless. I think unique or useful items are more effective. I'm more apt to want swag from a book I already am familiar with and like.

Krista said...

I think it depends on the situation. It's easy to suffer from swag overload at cons. I've been on the receiving end of a mass of paper that I could barely hold -- thrust at me by an author. Did I really need a bookmark, a flyer, a postcard, and heaven knows what else was in that mess?

OTOH, I love to have little items to send to book clubs who are reading one of my books.

And BTW, all those extra bookmarks are excellent for marking favorite recipes in cookbooks!

Domestic Diva Mysteries

Anonymous said...

Depends on what it is. Pens we always use. Magnets end up as toys. Stickie notes use. It just depends. We have enough "stuff" in our house. The junk, I usually leave.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'll use the bookmarks and anything else cool I receive, but I'm not sure I've ever purchased a book solely because of the swag. If it's something I've read or want to read, I'll get more excited about it, but if it's something I've never heard of, I'll want more information before seeking it out.

Kate Douglas said...

I love bookmarks, and always get lots of requests for mine, so they must work for somebody. I tend to write series with multiple books, and my Wolf Tales bookmark with all twenty-one books and novellas listed in the order they should be read has been very popular. So has the postcard with all the book covers on it. We all go for different stuff--I love the candy but just eat it and never really remember who it's from.

I also use my bookmarks like business cards--I have handed out hundreds over the years to people in line with me at the grocery store, cab drivers and hotel staff. Anyone who shows any interest in my books will probably walk away with one.

Sheila Clover English, owner of COS productions, the company that does book trailers, actually did a video about swag. If you're at all interested, she's posted it here:

June G said...

An author sent me a T-shirt, pens and bookmarks. I gave some of the bookmarks and pens to a colleague at work (kept T-shirt!). She gave the pens and bookmarks to her daughter. The daughter went out and bought the book depicted on the bookmark. So, I have to say, yeah. I didn't buy the book myself cause I always buy this author's stuff, but I was indirectly responsible for a sale and it came from the bookmark. The kid has gone on to purchase the next book the author put out. It can get a sale, I just don't know if the impact is significant.

Lita Harris said...

Swag has never swayed me to buy a book. A good quality bag is always appreciated. If I have met the author and liked the person, I will definitely buy the book, otherwise I base my decision on reviews or recommendations.

Martin Willoughby said...

Overwhelmed and underwhelmed by it at the same time.

The Swivet said...

What, no buttons? =)