The truth about SWAG

For a moment, let’s talk about S.W.A.G (Stuff We All Get) or rather; giveaways, at author events, conferences, and book signings. For this conversation, the term SWAG refers to author branded pens, jar openers, sewing kits, lip balm, recipe cards, bookmarks, etc. Any promotional item you can put your name on can be considered swag, and just as you wouldn’t show up at a friend’s house for dinner without a dessert or a bottle of wine, you can’t attend a signing without offering a little bit of swag.


Over the years swag has become a “necessary evil,” one that authors have poured money into in the hopes that the reader will not throw their trinkets away.  But, now, I wonder if you and I are looking at swag through the correct lens. Instead of wishing our swag a long and dust collecting life sitting on a shelf, maybe we should make the most of its short-term existence.

Pondering if I was alone in my opinions of swag, I sought help. Fellow romance author, Kim Boykin gave me her opinion of swag. She says, “For newbies like me, it’s expensive, creating stuff, postage is the real killer. It’s hard for me to tell what giving it away actually does for sales. Does it build up your brand, lots of good will? Most definitely.  But does it sell books? Probably not. I think it’s one of those tools the industry used so people do it. Everything is so price driven these days, I’m guessing readers would rather have a discount or free books rather than stuff. I’m always amazed going through the SWAG room at RWA how much stuff there is and how much of that stuff is still there at the end of the conference. Except chocolate, that always seems to go. Fast.”

To Kim’s point, I’m often baffled by the author who labors over the perfect piece of swag and tries to get it “just right,” then complains post-event that she didn’t see her book sales spike. Have you ever purchased a book because you were given a free nail file? I haven’t. This leads me to believe that we are looking at swag the wrong way. Therefore, if we must invest in promotional items, we should come together to look at swag for what it is…a tradition. Let’s And readers do not feel obligated to buy your book because they walked away from your signing table with a free bottle of hand sanitizer. Let’s admit swag is expensive and after a few years it is possible to run out of good ideas for giveaways. Let’s accept tiny bottles of screen cleaner won’t sell a book. Let’s vow, in unison, not to check sales when our supply of pens is exhausted to only suffer disappointment when the expected uptick in sales isn’t realized.

Instead, let’s do this. Let’s make a promise to carry on a tradition. That if we do invest in promotional items, we do so with the following in mind:

  • We will try to make our swag as clever and unique as we can without breaking the bank.
  • We will strive for our swag to match the tone and theme of our book, and order just enough so that we aren’t giving away author branded hot cocoa in the summertime.
  • We will aim to imprint a visual image on our swag and recognize some people are better at remembering faces and icons because we are more than just fancy script and a web address.
  • We will attempt to make the swag work for us. We vow to share our ingenious ideas with our friends and fans on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
  • We will understand it is more important to place our swag in the hands of the readers than display it on a table to await its unavoidable meeting with the trash can.
  • We vow to look at swag as a gift to the reader, not as a means to a sale.

In conclusion, dear authors, I ask you to stand alongside me to carry on the tradition of swag. Together we realize that from chocolate candy to refrigerator magnets it’s all been done before, and will be done, probably forever. Because just as readers have come to rely on a trinket given in good faith, we have come to expect to provide it. With nothing expected in return, except a smile.

5 thoughts on “The truth about SWAG”

  1. Jen, thanks for the SWAG post. This of course is ‘old hat’ as Kim pointed out. Every business uses these sometimes fun/wonderful/delicious goodies to market their product. Recipients do enjoy mugs, bookmarks (with your name in big letters of course) and chocolate wrapped in your own name wrappers. Pens are handy dandies, but those usually run out of ink and get ditched along with any identifying marks. In my own experience and careers, the best time to provide SWAG is usually after the brand has already been developed, like Nike, Coke and Capital One, to name a few. Would you believe that I have two COKE pencils from the 1940’s, I think. They were my mother’s and remind me of her, not Coke. I did enjoy reading your blog and Kim’s insight take on SWAG.

  2. Thanks for the insights, Jen. I don’t expect any residuals from giving away SWAG, so I don’t spend a ton of money on it. Having said that I think the return on investment has to be measured, as you said, in the good will you create with readers and using it to make a lasting impression. I still order bookmarks and hand them out like “calling cards”. I’m amazed at how excited YA readers are to have them and how many are still reading actual print books rather than using e-readers.

    If I run into young waitresses at restaurants who admit to being avid readers as I’m chatting with them about my books, I want to give them something to look me up by later. They are usually thrilled to have something signed by an author and I’ve definitely made a few sales and gotten a few FB followers this way.

    Writing conferences are a different ball game. Since there is so much SWAG floating around, the only way to make a lasting impression is to give something unique and useful. I also don’t see the point in dishing out SWAG to other authors. That’s what business cards are for. Unless it’s a reader-centric conference like RT, I don’t really see the point.

  3. Hello 7 Scibers! I enjoyed this post. My third book is coming out in May and I just recently got around to doing bookmarks. So I’ll admit that SWAG was never really my thing. But this time around, for my upcoming blog tour, I decided to put together some book themed SWAG packs along with my usual book/eGC prizes. Why? Purely for my own enjoyment, which I hope makes it enjoyable for readers. Basically, I took a scene from each book and ordered some cute Etsy stuff that went along with the scene. It wasn’t cheap but it was within my budget and I felt better about giving away something that was slightly creative rather than the nail file type SWAG you mention above.

    I know Casey’s had some great news lately. I hope the rest of you are doing just as well!

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