Promo Me, Baby

Let’s talk business, baby – it’s business time. But not that way. Seriously. I like ya’ll fine but, not in that way. I mean serious business – promotion. Putting swans and hats aside for a moment, what are your best tools for self-promotion?

I ask because after RWA and the Goody Room that was 90% bookmarks and 8% books from Dorchester (BIG OOOPS) and 2% Other Stuff, I got to thinking: what’s the best way to promote yourself with extras and goodies and random stuff?

Linnea Sinclair, at her publisher signing, told me that she’s the master of cheap or free promotion. Her secret (and I hope she’s not pissed that I give it away) is to wait for any opportunity for free postcards from VistaPrint. The postcards, cut in half, make for excellent bookmarks, and you can upload your own designs, with two bookmarks per card. So 50 free postcards yields 100 free bookmarks. Nice!

I’ve also seen mugs (though they weren’t giveaways, to be sure), candy and chocolate giveaways (which I appreciated a LOT), magnets, pens, and post-its. I’m such a sucker for post-its, it’s sad. Other promos that I have and continue to use include a RWA NJ chapter itty bitty booklight, and two chip clips from Elizabeth Keyes, who keeps my tortilla chips fresh two years after I got two of her chip clips,

I’m relatively sure, but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, that authors pay for a lot of this promo swag on their own, so I have to ask: what works?  I’m not sure it’s possible to quantify, but do bookmarks work for promotion as well as magnets? Are there some items that are just 100% fantastic and everyone wants one? What innovative cheap promo items have you seen that worked to spread the word about a book? And how do you choose and use your promo swag?


Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Becky says:

    I hate book marks and would never pick one up, unless I was VERY interested in the book and was afraid I’d forget the author’s name and/or title before I had a chance to get to the store.  I collect magnets, so they would have a better shot of going home with me.  Books would have a little better shot than at the store, but not much.  They may be free, but you still have to haul them around and get them home somehow.

  2. 2
    Molly says:

    Books are always awesome.  And if they’re autographed, that’s pretty much a gurantee of making it on to the ‘keeper’ shelf, regardless of how much the reader liked it.

    Bookmarks . . . I always have a use for bookmarks.  But, inevitably, I’ll usually wind up using a scrap of paper or something, and acknowledge a bookmark as much as I would the paper, as far as the promotional aspect goes.

    Chocolate will make an author memorable.

    Mini flashlights seem a more durable way to go; stick the author’s name on it, and the person who picked it up will remember them every time they need to pry the cat out of the crawlspace.

    Post-its are good. Little notebooks are better.

  3. 3
    belmanoir says:

    i love bookmarks and magnets…magnets will pretty much stay on my refrigerator forever.  i also love pens.  and the promo item i’ve had for like 3 years—-a Darragha Foster keyboard duster!  i couldn’t figure out what it was at first, but then someone explained to me that it’s for dusting your keyboard, it looks kind of like those brushes you apply blush with.  it is super useful.

    i’m not sure how much promo items actually influence me buying a book, but i sure love them.

  4. 4
    Jo Leigh says:

    In order to find out what works, it’s not just the freebies that matter, but does the freebie influence the person to buy the book.

    For that reason, the only thing I put out there with my name on it is my books. 

    I have never once purchased a book based on a magnet or bookmark or post-it.  I have read books I’ve been given, then gone on to buy other books by that author.

  5. 5
    Jaci Burton says:

    I do tend to have bookmarks created for almost every book I put out, but I also ship them out to booksellers, who tell me they do use them to put in books, to use for hand selling, to put on their counters, etc. So they do have their value, maybe not as free swag at conventions, but I do put them out there too.

    I love magnets. They cover my fridge and I glance at them every time I open the fridge doors.

    I love post it notes too. You can never have too many post it notes.

    And I’m a total pen whore, though I’m more likely to read an author’s name on the post it notes than on the pens I grab.

  6. 6
    L.I.Linda says:

    As a reader, I love the postcards. Usually, there my first look at the cover art, I can use them as a bookmark if necessary, and I often would get book and postcard signed at the same time. They all fit in a regular little photo album, and are a nice little momento to show off. I have received stray perfume
    samples, temp tatoos and worse as promos. My all time favorite promo was a Nora Roberts box of tissues for the McGregors. (still unused, on the bookcase.)

  7. 7
    Larissa Ione says:

    I love bookmarks! But what I find to be most effective, as in, makes me remember the author, are things I use every day, when I’m not reading.  Pens are awesome. And I love chip clips! One of the best promo items I picked up at RWA this year was Geri Krowtow’s jar-gripper.

    LOVE those.

  8. 8
    Keziah Hill says:

    I love all those crappy bits and pieces (the most useful one was a magnetised clip) but none of it makes me inspired to buy books. Good reviews and word of mouth does it for me.

  9. 9

    Dorchester made excerpt booklets for the Shomi line and I found those VERY effective to market with. They seem “more” than just a flyer or bookmark and contained actual content which would hopefully entice the reader to buy the book to get the rest of the story.

    Dorchester printed about 5,000 of them and they were given out to booksellers, in the RT bags, at RWA, and we just gave out the last 600 to attendees at Comic Con. They were extremely well received in all venues and really helped build buzz, I think. 

    Drawback? Money. I have no idea how much they cost, but I’m sure they weren’t cheap.

  10. 10
    Lola says:

    Bookmarks: I pick them up only for the genres I like.

    Magnets: I pick them up if they have cutesie sayings.

    Pens: Always

    Stickies: Always

    Calendars: Always

    Chocolate/Candy: Always

    Whether the item actually makes me order or pick up the associated book(s) is another story. I am very genre specific in my reading tastes. The promo items do help me to remember an author’s name and what they write, though. I have passed on an author’s name and book title to a friend now and then for sure.

  11. 11
    emily says:

    I think little objects are 99% a waste of time.  I always remember the advice the PTB at Loose Id gave me when it came to the best way to promote a book: write another book.

    As for promo items I actually remember.  A beaded bookmark from Resplendence Epublishing and some liquid hand soap from Alessia Brio.  I’ve been meaning to ask where she got it from because it smells amazing.

  12. 12

    With my first books, I did a lot of paper promo, shot it out to everyone, dead and alive. A year later, I’m doing that less, only buying promo that I feel will actually work for me. Pens, definitely. People hang on to pens. I also do teaser discs for signings, where I know they are going to people who were there to see the goofy writers penned safetly behind their tables.

    I have bookmarks and business cards with a label on the back of my backlist, but to my knowledge, those by themselves have gotten me nada.

  13. 13
    azteclady says:

    Personally, the excerpt booklets would be the way to go—everything else may get me the author’s name and book list, but it won’t let me experience their writing. An excerpt does that.

    And frankly, it’s the writing that matters the most.

    I keep wondering if authors writing for similar (perceived) audiences would get anywhere asking their publishers to do this a few times a year for a bunch of “upcoming books”—with back lists and web addresses, etc.

  14. 14
    Laura says:

    A couple of years ago a group of women mystery authors went on a promotional tour together, and handed out packs of Chiclets with labels advertising their books wherever they went.

  15. 15
    azteclady says:

    I just realized my comment doesn’t quite make sense—even to me!

    I mean: would a group (or groups) of authors from the same publisher, writing on similar lines, or for the same audience, be able to get out a group booklet with excerpts from those books? Not a blurb, mind, but an actual page, two page excerpt?

    Because I do think that would make a difference, but I have no clue whether it would be doable, money-wise.

  16. 16
    Wendy says:

    I lurve magnets.  Stick them on my overhanging cubicle cabinet at work.  I also love things like notepads and post-its – again because I’m always jotting down notes/ISBNs at work.

    I can’t for the life of me remember who did them now, but there were a group of authors who did one big excerpt booklet for all of their upcoming releases.  Saw them in the Goodie Room at RWA this year and thought it was very clever.

    The best promo item I ever got was from Elizabeth Boyle who back around 2002 did travel coffee mugs.  I use a travel coffee mug 5 days a week – so that thing got a ton of mileage and who knows how many people saw it over the years.  I literally mourned its loss when the lid finally broke a couple of years ago.  Don’t know how much they cost her, but dang I wish another author would do that because I’m such a travel coffee mug slut.

  17. 17
    JulieB says:

    I think the key is to get the reader hooked enough to buy the book. I like bookmarks, but an excerpt will more likely lead to a sale.
    Hell28—Hmm; I’ll have to re-read Dante to figure out how I got here…

  18. 18

    Emily said:
    >> some liquid hand soap from Alessia Brio.  I’ve been meaning to ask where she got it from because it smells amazing. < <

    I actually think that *anything* that might make a prospective reader want to contact an author (in a positive way) would be good.  Rather than advertising the book itself, promo the author—the author’s website should feature prominently on whatever item is given away as a promo.

    For myself, I hate bookmarks or any little paper-like things.  They end up at the bottom of my purse and annoy me.  On the other hand, I’ve supported authors I’ve “met” online strictly on the basis of their online interactions—they seem genuinely nice, interested in helping others, etc, so I’ll pick up their books even if they aren’t in my particular genre. 

    The only promotional item that’s ever influenced me to buy a book was picking up a book by the same author at BEA—I’d never heard of the woman and I liked her book, so I looked for more from her.

  19. 19
    Marta Acosta says:



    Yes, I thought so, too, so I sent my personal masseur, Lars, to Candy and Sarah in hopes of getting a review for my second novel, MIDNIGHT BRUNCH.  I’ve been paying his daily rate, which could cover the cost of thousands of magnets and mugs, and they STILL haven’t returned him.

  20. 20
    emily says:

    …it has yet to cause me to buy one of Alessia Brio’s books.  She writes very well but not in my preferred genres.  In the end promo can only connect you to readers who want to buy you stuff, not make them want to.  I think targetting is key.

  21. 21

    Big mistake, Marta.  They’re supposed to *want* to contact you, not *hide* from you so you don’t get your “promo item” back!

  22. 22

    Marta, would you send Lars to me when the girls finish with him?  I’d like to interview him to see if he might be good for my promotional needs.

    I’m asking purely as a professional courtesy, of course, and I’d be happy to reciprocate by sending my husband to you to sell you life insurance.

  23. 23
    Darragha says:

    I go for “durable goods.”  Things that won’t get eaten and the pretty wrapper tossed aside.  Pens, stickies, keyboard sweepers and bookmarks because I like them!

  24. 24
    Darragha says:

    Incidentally…I do have some keyboard sweepers.  If you want one, email me.  darragha @ gmail. com (no spaces).

    I would love to print up little booklets with excerpts.  I’ve not yet investigated the pricing for those, however.  And the little note pads…love them, too.

    I’m thinking “tote bags” next time ‘round.  The coffee travel mugs would be cool, too.

  25. 25
    Aroihkin says:

    If you check out the podcast it’s all about author self-promotion. Though Tee is a sci-fi/fantasy author, it’s pretty openly-applicable stuff.

  26. 26

    Darragha -

    Coffee mugs would be cool, but—just my opinion—I’d skip the tote bags. I get at least a dozen every year from conferences, etc, and I try to get rid of them as fast as I can.  They’re great to carry stuff around *at* the conference, but then they’re off to goodwill or whatever filled with old clothes, etc.

  27. 27
    Castiron says:

    The promo I remember the most:  When Duke University Press published Public Privates, a feminist study of gynecology, they handed out plastic speculuums that had stickers on them with the book specs.

    Ten years later, I remember the existence of the book, but I had to search DUP’s site to find the title, and I’ve never had the urge to read it.

    My less gruesome favorite publicity item: When Johns Hopkins University Press published The Motel in America, they handed out little plastic keychains with room numbers printed on one side and the book data on the other.  (Haven’t read that one either, but I did keep the keychain.)

  28. 28
    Darragha says:

    Good advice on the totes.  I saw an author walking around with one at my first convention and thought a “book cover tote” was kind of cool.

    Here’s the question I ask myself:

    “Where will this item be placed?  Is it something that will be kept next to a keyboard and thereby, perhaps entice said holder to visit my website or buy one of my books?”

    Will I be remembered?  Apparently so—they keyboard sweepers are still floating around, huh?

  29. 29
    P.N. Elrod says:

    For me it’s my website’s shiny new “Reading Room.” 

    After the Pixel-Stained Techno-Peasant Wretch dust-up earlier this year I put some of my out-of-print short stories and at least one lengthy excerpt from a novel up for people to check out.  More will follow when I have time.  People unfamiliar with my series characters get to meet ‘em!

    For hand outs I LOVE this bunch:

    You can get *5,000* 4X6 postcards on heavy cardstock for ***FREE*** from them. 

    Your art goes on one side and their ad is on the other, and these guys are FAST.  You can’t beat the FREE part for 5K cards.  You have to pay shipping, but it was only about 30 bucks.

    I ordered 2-sided cards a few years back with 8 books featured and am still working my way through them.  5K is a LOT of cards!

    If I’m chatting with someone and they’re curious about my work I keep a stash of cards in my purse to hand out.

    Other outlets?  Try your local cable channel to see if they have a “Book Chat” show.  Dress nice, hold your head still, and smile at the interviewer.  The camera will love you.

    At signings I have brought cakes with the cover art on top.  (It’s edible!)  Get the cake early to be sure they do a good job.  On one they were nearly out of edible ink, the cover was too faded to read, and I had to make them do it over!  The bookstore employees loved the cake and afterwards always kept my books shelved.

    One cool thing I heard at the RWA event was about signings: have the writer at one table with a few books, but stack the main stock of books on another table.  Lots of people are shy about approaching a writer.  This way they can check the book out first to see if it’s something they’d like, and not feel pressured to buy.

  30. 30

    What defines “what works”? My readers always ask for goodies. I’m happy to do it and assume they’re the ones already buying the books. That’s fine. But the real goal of a goodie is to get a NEW READER TO BUY THE BOOK, yes? So as great as the chip clips are, have they made you buy the author’s book? Or do you think that’s an irrelevant point, as it’s good will towards all readers in doing goodies? Just curious as an added part of your question (which I love and ask myself ALL the time).

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