SWAG with swagger

You guys! How in the world is it already April 20th? I swear this whole month is one big blur. I've been knee deep in taxes, attending RT, and getting everything ready for the release of Rite of Redemption. It's been crazy.

But I'm back from RT and thought I'd share some observations...on SWAG.

So, this was my first RT and I was thus unprepared for the SWAG. It was absolutely everywhere. I kid you not, there were three full length novels just in my welcome bag. While I was mostly tied up in editor meetings, I did take some take to walk the author signing to get a feel for what's out there. Here's what I saw.

1. Paper swag is dead
Now, let me say that I still think having bookmarks or other easy to handle paper items are good things for authors to have. I keep a handful in my purse for when I meet new people. Whenever I get asked "What do you write?" I pull one out. It makes it easy to keep the conversation moving and puts my book in front of them without being a shmuck about it.

However, at a conference like this, almost none of the paper swag made it into my suitcase. I just don't need that many bookmarks, postcards, etc. It felt unbelievably wasteful to me and I'm sure I'm not alone there.

2. QR codes are now a thing
I've been a fan of QR codes for a while now, since we used them a lot at my last marketing job. However, authors have been a little slow to pick them up. That was not the case at this year's RT. I saw lots of codes leading to author websites, twitter accounts, etc. Also, several of the bookmarks and other paper swag had QR codes for a free download. The QR code added instant value to an item previously destined for the trashcan. So, if you're thinking about having some paper swag printed up, consider adding a code.

3. Magnets flopped
There weren't a lot of magnets in the swag bags, but the ones that were included missed the mark for me. Look, I get that as authors we LOVE our covers. We (wrongly) assume that everyone else must love them, too. I don't want a magnet of a book cover for a book I haven't read. That isn't going on my refrigerator. Also, the flat magnets aren't all that useful since most of them only have enough juice to hold up one paper at a time. So magnets went in the trash. I didn't see any button style magnets, but I think these would be a bigger hit. They cost more, but are much less likely to end up in the waste basket.

4. Buttons are still a hit
Say what you will about buttons, but they are still a major hit at conventions and conferences. Attendees love popping these on to their name badge lanyards, turning their necks into walking billboards. However, not all buttons are created equal. The teeny-tiny buttons aren't fooling anyone. I know they are a lot cheaper, but they're so small that any wording is going to get lost in the size. Also, the same rule applies about covers on magnets. No one wants a button of your book cover. Instead, the biggest hits were buttons with catchy phrases or cute sayings. If they tie into your books, fantastic. But it's okay if they don't so long as you add your website in there somewhere. My favorite button phrase of the conference: That's What She Read. I picked this one up from J. Leigh Bailey and proudly showed it to everyone.

5. Useful over relevant
Some book subjects lend themselves well to certain types of SWAG. And those of us without a natural tie in weep into our flexible rubber bracelets. But here's what I saw. A useful swag item is much more likely to make it home than one that ties into a book, but just takes up space. Example, at J. Leigh Bailey's booth (she had awesome swag), she got some color changing straws printed up with her name and website. My kids tested them out and they change from blue to purple and back again. These straws have nothing to do with her romance novels, but they will be hanging around my house until they fall apart. Other useful swag I saw included chapstick, nail files, hand sanitizer spray, and pens (a writer can never have too many pens). This is the type of item that gets tucked into a purse or pocket and used all the time, creating multiple impressions on your potential readers.

For those of you who only have eBooks, I saw some super great ideas. Several authors of eBook only books had little pamphlets printed out with the first chapter of their book. Megan Erickson had the first chapter of two different books printed back to back so each cover was included. This provided a way for readers to find these books and get a physical item signed. Just make sure you include a QR code or link so that you can direct hooked readers to where they can get the rest of the book.

Since it's conference season, I'd love to hear what great swag items you're seeing this year!