by Raelene Gorlinsky
Authors often ask their editors what types of promotional items work best. Uhh, your editor is not going to know this. The people you need to talk to are those who have tried various promo items and have monitored the results - in other words, some of your fellow authors. So get on your various chat loops and ask for advice.
But first - make sure you have thought out WHY you are spending money on little giveaways and gimmicks, what results you are hoping for. Common reasons:
~ Advertising upcoming book(s) or series
~ Making readers aware of your backlist
~ Creating name recognition for you as an author
Now think about the purpose and process of using or distributing any promo items you are considering. For example, if you are at a book signing, why would you stick a bookmark showing that new title into the book when you sign it? The reader already knows about this book, they just bought it! You should be trying to make them aware of your past or future books - in hopes that they'll like this one enough to want to know what else you have out or have coming, so they can buy those too.
Pens and pencils can be nice, but can really only be used to promote you as an author overall, or maybe for one title. There just isn't space for showing book covers or listing multiple titles. Same thing applies to other objects with limited print surface.
Is the item something a person will keep around, will use, will look at more than once? You want to keep reminding them about you and your books. A one-use item has limited effectiveness. Chocolate candies with your name or title on the wrapper certainly get snatched up quickly - but then the potential reader eats the candy and throws away the wrapper, and likely won't remember ten minutes from now what that candy advertised.
Readers who are already devoted fans of yours are already buying your books - so giving them a pen or bookmark or notepad is not going to increase your sales. Distributing free swag to people already on your newsletter or discussion group won't likely increase sales. But it can build goodwill with those fans. Maybe you should consider a small supply of more expensive, impressive items that you send to those you know are your most loyal fans. Or periodic contests for a larger item.
So when you consider what types of trinkets to spend your promo budget on, think through who it would go to, and does it actually have the potential to garner more sales.
Also consider the logistics of distributing those items. At booksignings or conventions? Through the mail (to your database of newsletter recipients or such)? Given in bulk to bookstores to make available to customers? Consider size and weight of items if you have to ship them or lug them around - that can add considerably to the mere purchase price.
I'm not recommending any particular promotional tools - see first paragraph. But I do want to help authors avoid disappointment when their promo dollars don't seem to bring results.
Okay, switching hats from editor to reader/fan: Yep, I buy a lot of books, I go to booksignings and conferences/conventions, I end up with scads of those little giveaway items. So I'm going to jump in with just one reader's views here - my own. Please don't take this as any sort of official advice, as anything coming from an editor or publisher. This is just Raelene the Reader spouting off her personal opinion.
Bookmarks: As you always hear after a convention, most attendees throw away many of the bookmarks they've been inundated with. I don't like the postcard-size ones - they are the wrong shape and size to work as a bookmark. I don't like flimsy ones - I nibble on bookmarks while I read, so I like the heavy laminated ones. The ones I keep are the colorful ones displaying attractive covers. I do look at each bookmark (before tossing it) to see if I might be interested in adding that book to my TBB list, or in looking up the author's website or the book on Amazon to find out more about it. So if this is a new-to-me author, the bookmark is effective promo.
Pens/pencils: I enjoy them, but my desk drawers are overflowing with them. Unless it is something very clever or unique (and therefore likely expensive), I don't need any more.
I do like notepads and sticky notes - I keep and use those, so that means your name or title or cover are in front of my eyes often.
Emergency sewing kits, packets of elastic bandages, emery boards and other little useful items are favorites with me.
Of course, free books are always welcome!
For me, the queen of good swag is Rosemary Laurey. She's furnished my purse: I've collected a comb/mirror combo, a foldable brush, a lint brush. A tote bag and mini tote bag. Her bookmarks are sturdy and have dangly ribbons with bat charms. High quality stuff, I assume she commits a goodly chunk of cash to her promotional efforts. I love it, BUT - I was already a fan of her vampire books, without the freebies. I do regularly check for upcoming releases by favorite authors, so didn't need these promo items to give me that information. So basically she is being nice to me as a fan with these elaborate giveaways, but she isn't garnering any increased sales to me since I would have bought the book anyway.
Which is, of course, the bottom line. The best promotional item for your book is the story itself.