Bookmarks, fridge magnets, pens – if you can’t wait to order objects that display your cover art or announce your authorial name, you aren’t alone. “Swag,” as these tangibles are known, signals to oneself and others that an author has “arrived.”
It serves several other time-honored purposes within the publishing world:
- Can be used to reward loyal readers and contest winners.
- Forms a low-cost method of advertising. Some feel this is more important than ever as e-readers and declining bookstore space erode physical cues which would otherwise prompt a book’s purchase. (Namely, the display of cover art.)
- Provides another income stream if extended into successful merchandising. (e.g. T-shirts, aprons, and mugs.)
In this post, I want to list some of the more creative promotional applications I’ve seen, then add a few fantastical suggestions of my own using WU contributors as guinea pigs. (Click on most enclosed images to see the larger version.)
1. Business Cards:
2. Some authors use trading cards to promote characters.
This image shows one example from paranormal romance author Zoё Archer‘s collection.
Zoё reports the cards receive a warm reception at book signings and reader-oriented conventions, such as the Romantic Times.
YA author Gretchen McNeil’s debut, Possess, features a teenaged exorcist who uses a St. Benedict’s medal in the course of her work.
Gretchen commissioned these medals for promotional purposes, but some devoted readers went so far as to purchase their own from Clovis the Comely’s site on Etsy.
To celebrate the release of her Antarctica-set romance, IceBound, Carina author, Julie Rowe, commissioned this buzz-worthy handbag. (To see more examples of Lynn Price’s work, including the Writer’s Clock handbag, go to this page.)
Some of these are fun and inventive, yes? Which begets the question: What potential merchandising opportunities await the unboxed writer? Here are tongue-in-cheek ideas, featuring some of the WU crew:
- For Juliet Marillier, to commemorate the Seven Waters trilogy, a line of naturally-flavored bottled waters.
- Yuvi Zalkow: he of the pantsless or wet writerly wisdom could have a line of Wash-My-Neuroses-Away soap and shampoo. Or shower curtains! The latter would be clear except for a horizontal line of pixelated grey arranged at…er, strategic height.
- The prolific Ann Aguirre should sell bookshelves by the gross so that one never runs out of room to accommodate her fiction output.
- John Vorhaus could have a line of playing cards and poker chips.
- Jael McHenry, Barbara O’Neal, and Sophie Masson – foodies, all – could launch a line of bakeware, kitchen utensils, and cookbooks that would strike fear in Martha Stewart’s heart.
- What about Keith Cronin…? Because he’s a percussionist in his non-writing life, I considered a line of frozen drumsticks for the supermarket. I ended up dismissing the idea as a). too obvious and b). counter to the themes of identity and health which run through Keith’s debut novel. Instead, how about a Keith Cronin toaster, which accepts only whole-grain breads?
- For my part, I’m considering a line of bathroom-reader joke books, beginning with this knee-slapper:
Q: You have a half-hour of reading time and must choose between an issue of Rolling Stone magazine and a visit to Writer Unboxed. Which should you pick and why?
A: Writer Unboxed. Because the Rolling Stone gathers no Maass.
- Lastly, a line of Fire-in-Fiction products, which would cater to discerning writers everywhere. Here’s a snippet of the catalogue:
Ready to maximize your writerly productivity? Want an effortless means to return to your fictional world? Light a Fire-in-Fiction votive candle each time you write and harness scent’s ability to evoke time, place, and emotion. As an added benefit, our custom fragrances mask the odor of unwashed writer and editorial-letter-induced flop sweat.
Be sure to check out our line of sure-strike matches. Tested by unemployed editors and agents in the kettle drums of NYC’s mean streets, these are guaranteed to work under the most stringent of conditions. Serve a candlelit dinner to celebrate your publication contract, set off fireworks when your book is optioned, douse your manuscript in kerosene and dance naked in the resulting bonfire’s warmth — Fire-in-Fiction sure-strike matches will meet all your combustion requirements.
Now that I’ve alienated half my coworkers, proving I possess more efficiency than brains, I’ll turn the floor over to you. What are the best examples of swag and merchandising you’ve seen? Do you thing this kind of promo has any relevance in the digital age? And if you were going to propose some unboxed swag for the WU crew, what would you suggest for whom, and why?