Guest Author: Juli Alexander

Today we have a special guest, Juli Alexander, author of the fabulous new YA, The Karma Beat. It’s her third release, and I was lucky enough to read an advance copy. And believe me when I say it rocks!

Not every seventeen-year-old girl works part time for the U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E., but when you’re a genie, you have obligations.  I’d rather spend my time rocking with my older brother’s band.  I’ve been waiting years to replace the last drummer.  Just when it’s looking good for me, Leo Fuller shows up, and this bad boy genie’ s after more than just my drummer gig.

Male genies are dangerous, volatile, bad-boy types, and I’m finding him way too attractive.  If we’re caught together, we could both lose our powers and be banished to the other realm.  I know helping Leo will be a really bad idea.  What I don’t know is why I’m doing it anyway.

Juli finaled in the Golden Heart in 2006 with Investigating the Hottie. Today she’s going to talk about promotional items, and how an author can use them to advantage. Take it away, Juli!


Everybody Loves Free Stuff

Like many professionals, writers have found that a career cannot be built upon craft alone.  That ugly B-word, “business,” must necessarily play an integral role.   A book, like any product, requires marketing and promotion.  Sending a manuscript into the marketplace without any support may not be much more effective than keeping it hidden away in your desk drawer.  Since the most creative (and therefore most fun) of the many marketing tools authors utilize is promo items, I conducted some non-scientific research on the topic.

The most ingenious promo item I’ve seen was for a children’s book.  The item started as a small green square of paper, mere cents to purchase.  With some value-added by the children during the author’s school visit, the paper becomes an Origami Yoda, the perfect promo item for Tom Angleberger’s book, The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda.  In the book, a main character carries one on his finger.  The Origami Yoda dispenses advice to the children at school.

What makes the yoda the perfect promo item?  The cost, value, and relationship between the item and the book.  The cost—nominal.  The value—added by the children themselves and the lesson in making it.  The relationship—do you know of any other Origami Yoda products?

While romance writers do not have a captive audience or a platform for teaching a cool new craft, we can and should strive for this perfect tie to our work.

What makes a promo item valuable to a potential reader?  A promo item can be valuable to a reader if it is Unique or Useful.

Unique items can include collectibles—trading cards, bookmarks, cover flats, and the like.  Often, the status of the author plays a role in the allure of the collectibles.

Mari Mancusi, author of the Blood Coven series and Tomorrow Land for young adults, gives these tips about schwag:

“I find bookmarks are useful in social situations. People ask what you write and you can pull out a bookmark with a full-color cover and description on it — not to mention a link to your website. It’s small enough that they can stuff it in their purse or pocket and look you up later. They’re also less expensive than things like keychains, magnets, etc. Besides, most people already have a keychain and unless they’re already a fan, yours will go in the trash. Pens are useful, but they can’t show off your cover, which is the most important sales tool you have. Ditto for things like bottle openers. Postcards are nice because they have a bit more of a keepsake value and you can put a longer book description on the back.”

My favorite “unique” promo items include:

1.  The evidence collection bag to promote mystery, thriller, etc.

2. The “Do Not Disturb” door hanger for the spicy author.

3.  Sherrilyn Kenyon’s “Bite me” buttons to promote her Dark Hunter series.  As I was preparing this article, several authors mentioned Sherrilyn Kenyon’s promo items ranging from her badges to her bookmarks to her postcards.  This New York Times bestselling author has clearly mastered  both the craft and business of writing.

“I suspect that promotional items are like books: different ones appeal to different people,” said Carolynn Carey, author of Prognosis for Happiness and My Elusive Countess.  However, she cited a unique and collectible promo item.  I’ve seen items that impressed me because they were a little out of the ordinary. Lisa Jackson once had a giveaway that consisted of a pad of Post-It notes bound with a wrap-around covering that featured one of her book covers on the front and another on the back. I still have one of those pads on my desk.”

In theory, useful items will be more effective the longer they are used or kept.  They may be used repeatedly, kept for a while before using, or used immediately and discarded.  Items that are used immediately and discarded include candy and other edibles.  Love the chocolate but unless the reader has a photographic memory, the author who provided it will be forgotten before the calories hit the waistline.

Things that may be kept for a while before use provide a better opportunity for making an impression on the targeted reader.

1.  Sunscreen, earplugs, hand sanitizer, adhesive bandages in a dispenser—Sunscreen is perfect for promoting the “beach read.”

2.  Temporary tattoos—Just awesome in their own right.

3.  Flower seeds—Perfect promotion for the gardening book or seeds for a spice garden for any cooking-related book.

price range .25 to 1.00

Promo items with staying power make contact with each use.

1. sewing kits

2. hairbrushes, compact mirrors

3.  luggage tags

4.  bottle openers or corkscrews

5.  keychain/flashlights or keychain/whistles

6. pens, pads, post-its

7.  pill cases or pill cutters

8.  stress balls

9.  measuring spoons

.25 to 1.00

The trick is getting the targeted reader to keep and use them.  Author Leanne Tyler, author of Season of Love and It’s Always Been You, indicated, “I guess the best one was from Vicki Lewis Thompson and her thermal lunch bag and sponge cellphone for Talk Nerdy to Me. I got that at RWA National Conference in 2006. I used the lunch bag to bring my lunch in at work and the sponge cellphone was a good stress reliever when you needed something to squeeze.”

If you agree with my analysis of usefulness and cost, the next step is to evaluate the connection to the product, or at the very least, the connection to the reader.

As an author of young adult fiction, I’m not exactly going to be handing out bottle openers or pill cutters.  Flower seeds, sewing kits, and luggage tags may also be misses.  I love the idea of the cd opener/key chains, but they were likely more useful before MP3 players hit the scene.

Writing a niche book?  Dance is an integral part of Amanda Brice’s Dani Spevak mysteries. Ideally, Amanda would target this niche with items that appeal to the right age range.    A dance keychain, bracelet, or bookmark should fit the bill.  Finding inexpensive dance charms shouldn’t be too hard.  And what about dance phrases?  A do-not-disturb sign that says, “Not now, I’m dancing” or the ubiquitous “Dance like nobody’s watching.”

With a little craftiness, an author can make a useful item unique.  Embellishing a bookmark with a ribbon and a charm may add value for the prospective reader and yet cost little.

Kate McKeever, author of the upcoming Crescent Moon release Caden’s Fate, experienced this firsthand.  “Promo items I had the most success with were the book thongs with my business card attached. Lots of chatter afterward and people still remember who gave them the bookmark.”  Kate’s book thongs had a great deal of value added and each of these bookmarks was unique.

The analysis of connection to the product or targeted reader may be author-by-author, book-by-book, or genre-by-genre.

Another promo item with low cost, high value, and a close link to product itself—the free read.  These are becoming increasingly popular as the distribution outlets multiply.  Author websites, blogs, downloads from Smashwords, Amazon, B&N, Apple, etc.  The free read can also be distributed at conferences and retreats in the form of a chap book.  Check it out at <<>> or search for instructions and/or a template from your software provider.

While there may be some trial and error involved, the chapbook is inexpensive and allows us to use our best talent—writing.  Printed correctly, the chapbook is one-fourth the size of a sheet of paper.  The cover can be fancier, using a color printer, or folding a postcard.  The oversized postcards from Vistaprint work well and have been running about $20 for 100 lately.  Total cost? Under a dollar.  Value? It’s a story.  What more could a reader ask for.  Connection to your book?  At the very least, it’s more fiction.  At most, a short story to accompany the novel.

[Amanda is going to interject here for a moment, since it’s topical. 🙂 Juli and I were part of a group that recently released a “free read” anthology called Eternal Spring, which is available from Smashwords for FREE! It’s got some fantabulous authors and 13 amazing stories, so go download it in the format of your choice!]

[OK, now that you’ve all grabbed some free stuff, back to Juli’s post. 🙂 ] 

If I polled readers and conference-goers on their favorite promo items, would they give me different answers?  Most likely.  Would their answers change over time, as the memory of the item faded?  And most importantly, would their answers result in sales of the books promoted?  I certainly hope so.

Mari Mancusi also has tips on the best ways to spend your money and the two types of schwag:

“There’s also a difference between promotional schwag and schwag for your actual fans. For my teen readers, I created plastic membership cards, the size of a gift card or credit card. Vampire-in-Training cards, I call them. They can stick them in their wallets and show them off to friends. It’s a fun keepsake for fans of the series. But I would never waste the money to give them out to random people who will probably throw them out.

Pretty much anything that shows off your cover and gives out your website address in a clear, professional manner, is a useful promotional tool. But I warn people not to go overboard and mortgage your house on promo items. I’d rather have a beautiful website than a thousand pens with my name on them.

As Carolynn Carey said, “Perhaps that enjoyment in providing an item is the most tangible reward we can expect to receive because I doubt anyone ever knows whether a promotional item really results in more book sales.”


What are your favorite promo ideas? Have you bought a book because of an author’s promo?


50 responses to “Guest Author: Juli Alexander”

  1. Lynn Cahoon says:

    Great promo ideas – As my first two sales were digital first and digital only, I’ve been thinking a lot about promo lately. I’m heading to a writer’s conference today and made up business cards with my website and the book’s names and release dates, along with my email.

    Not the most high concept idea, but until I get my cover, they’ll have to do.

    Do you think digital authors need different promotional items?


    • That’s a great question, Lynn! I’d love to know the answer. Because in some way I think digital books can be less ‘visible’. If you’re shopping on Amazon or the publisher website, that’s one thing. But out and about…they’re not going to be seen at Walmart or at the mall or whatever.


      • Amanda Brice says:

        Nor will you get the added promo of someone spotting your book cover when someone is reading on the train or on a park bench, etc. All anyone sees is the back of a phone or e-reader and you have no idea what that person is reading.


      • True. You can have less visibility. I guess it’s like Mari says, getting your book cover out there, any way you can, is going to be a great selling tool.


  2. Elisa Beatty says:

    Very cool, Juli! And congrats on the new book!

    Yikes! Promo items! The whole topic scares me.

    My favorite promo idea ever: Sherry Thomas’s handmade tins of shea butter with her cover image for HIS AT NIGHT printed on the lids. Gorgeous, desirable (who doesn’t love beauty products), and I bet it smelled great.

    I didn’t get to go to RT, where she was giving them out, but it made me WISH I was going.

    I believe she made bath bombs the next year.

    You can read about it all at


  3. Amanda Brice says:

    Congrats on the new release, Juli, and thanks for being here with us today!

    With conference season heating up, this is very timely. I’m sure lots of authors can benefit from this round-up.

    Lots of promo items seem like a great idea at the time but if the reader just tosses it or tosses the business card or wrapper that had the author’s name on it, what good is it? When I’m at conference, I love taking the little bags of chocolate for a sweet treat. I hate to admit it, but I generally have NO idea who gave it to me. Their cover ended up in the trash almost immediately. No staying power at all.

    I wasn’t at the conference where she did it, but I remember Crista McHugh talking about ordering a bunch of tubes of lip balm from a wholesale beauty supply company for hella cheap. She printed up labels with her name and website on it (I don’t think there was room for a book cover, unfortunately…it’s fatter than a pen but not super thick) and handed those out. Those hotels can get super dry, so it’s useful and you do end up bringing it home, too.

    Probably the promo item that I’ve used the longest was an empty notebook of blank pages that Rhonda Pollero gave out several years ago at the NJ conference (I think). I had it in a desk drawer for years, but my daughter discovered it recently and now it’s her drawing book. She’s 2, so she doesn’t draw very fast, so it lasts her a long time. Plus she’s constantly begging me or my DH to “draw Elmo! draw Dora!” for her, and she refuses to throw those drawings away, so I have a feeling this notebook with Rhonda’s name and website on it will stick around. LOL


    • Amanda Brice says:

      My brain is mush today, because I forgot to mention my FAVORITE promo item ever, from Gemma Halliday. (And the funniest part is I wasn’t even there for this one, but she told me about it and it made Barbara Vey’s blog.)

      To promote the second in her High Heels series, she handed out bookmarks of her cover. Pretty simple, right? But attached to them were coupons for a dollar off a box of Depends undergarments. What?!?! Well, you see, one of her review quotes on the bookmark said the reader laughed so hard she peed.

      (And yes, that book was THAT funny.)


    • I think notebooks of plain pages are great. And if only we could get a child to make everything special. 🙂


  4. Thanks for the great tips, Juli. I still use Brenda Novak’s baggage tags, and love them. Congratulations to you, Amanda and the other authors on Eternal Spring. Now that is probably the best promo idea of all–I look forward to reading it and finding new authors to read.


    • I still have a small canvas tote bag that Brenda Novak gave out to people who bought her book at one of the literacy signings (I think it was the Nationals at San Francisco). It’d smaller than a normal tote bag and the perfect size for carrying around a beach read.


      • It really isn’t any surprise that Brenda Novak is a master of promo items. You know, she’s doing some indie publishing now of some really great historicals.


  5. Diane Gaston says:

    My favorite promo item was one I used for A Reputable Rake, my RITA winner. We gave away tiny rakes, like you would use for houseplants, with a sticker of the bookcover on its handle. I still have one of the rakes that I kept for myself.

    My favorite promo item to receive is an emery board. Can’t have too many of those!!


  6. What a valuable blog, Juli. I got many excellent ideas. Thanks so much. (And I love your Karma Beat cover.)


  7. Tamara Hogan says:

    This is one more area where I sometimes feel quite out of step with my tribe. I take very few promotional items from any Goody Room, and those items I DO take are taken because they’re useful – such as Darynda’s great notebooks from last year, maybe a tube of lip balm, one awesome pen, maybe a miniature candy bar because I can use a sugar hit…

    But truthfully? A promo item has never caused me to buy a book I otherwise wouldn’t have purchased. Not once. That tube of lip balm? I might use it every day but never really notice whose name is on it.

    I think promo items can be fun and interesting, but I’m not at all convinced they result in book sales. That said, as an author with a June 2012 book to promote, I wouldn’t think of walking into RWA National without a promo item to put in the Goody Room or to give out at signings, because a) a lot of people enjoy them, and b) attendees have come to expect them.

    Question: is this a chick/romance thing? Do other genres’ conferences place as much emphasis on schwag as we do?


    • Amanda Brice says:

      I agree that promo items in and of themselves don’t cause me to buy a book, but they can cause me to learn about a book I might not otherwise have learned about. Once I’ve kearned of its existence, what gets me to buy it are the blurb and reviews. But I need to have heard of the book first before I’ll ever see those blurbs or reviews.

      I can truthfully say that I have gone to authors’ websites after seeing a cute promo item.But it’s the blurb, reviews, and excerpt that gets me to buy.

      As for whether it’s a girl thing, I don’t know. Probably. LOL


    • Ya’ know. Even if we aren’t taking all of those items, I wonder if they play a social function in our conferences. The children’s writers don’t seem to do much of this, and the conversations between strangers don’t seem to flow as easily either. Of course, I talk to everybody, no matter how much they wish I wouldn’t. But romance writers really have a bond that is absent in other writing groups.


      • Amanda Brice says:

        Very true. I love SCBWI conferences, but they’re not as friendly and fun-loving as the RWA conferences. They’re definitely fun — don’t get me wrong — but the air seems a bit more standoffish.

        And one thing that really stuck out the first time I went was the lack of a goody room. Not even so much as a table to leave bookmarks on. Weird.

        Anyway, I was thinking about it, and I wonder if it isn’t a chick thing. We always hear about the swag bags at fashion shows or movie premieres (and the overwhelming majority of these swag bags are aimed at women), or even just Oprah’s prizes for her studio audiences. Again, aimed at women. And maybe we’re trying to recreate that? I don’t know.

        But it’s true. You don’t see this at SCBWI. (I haven’t been to other genre conferences, although I’d like to make it to Malice Domestic some year. I mean, duh, it’s right here in DC. It would make sense.)


  8. Great post, Juli, and congratulations on your release.

    My favorite swag item is snack-bag clips. I have still have some from nearly a decade ago. They’re a lasting item with the author’s name.

    I must confess, as cute as I think some authors’ promotional freebies are and as happy as I am to collect things from the Goody table at conferences, I have NEVER bought a book because of a giveaway unless the story blurb attached to it intrigued me.


  9. Thanks, Juli, for this great post. I especially appreciate you clarifying the difference between promo items and items (keepsakes) you’d give to fans.

    I will admit that I don’t gravitate to promo items much. I find bookmarks useful, but I’m just as happy using a scrap of paper, and now that I do most of my reading on Kindle, it made the bookmark obsolete. Pens are practical and useful, as are post-it notes and the like, but still, I don’t think I would buy a book because of them.

    I guess that’s why I’m finding it hard to justify even the nominal cost on promotional items for my own books. I’d rather concentrate on just getting the next book out there.


  10. Welcome, Juli! I love how the attitude of your heroine comes across in your book blurb. She sounds fun!

    Thank you for the wonderful promo ideas…I’ve ordered some keychain flashlights that should come in the mail any day now. A friend labeled my romantic suspense as something you “must read with the lights on” and that made me think this would be the next promo item. My jar openers with an inspirational message about “success” have also been popular, but they’re more targeted toward writers. I wanted something more reader-oriented this time.


    • Inspirational jar openers. I like that a lot. And the flashlights will be brilliant with the “read with the lights on” warning. I think most anybody would hang on to a flashlight keychain. Even if you just kept it in your glove compartment. Light is always good. 🙂


  11. Great ideas, Juli, thanks so much for sharing them! I admit I haven’t done anything for promo yet. Guess I’d better get cracking!

    Love the colors on your book cover, and your blurb sounds like fun! Thank again!


  12. Thanks guys! I love mthe depends coupon. Gemma is brilliant. The flashlight keychain is perfect.

    Kim Killion did my cover and I love it!

    I’ll be able to respond to everyone tonite. I am covered up at my day job and not a single genie around to help!


  13. Diana Layne says:

    Wonderful ideas, definitely saving this.


  14. No promo item has ever induced me to purchase a book. In truth, the opposite is true. I’ve seen some seriously tasteless promo items–like condoms–and never looked at that author again. (Of course, since condoms scream erotica, you can’t beat the branding, but still, condoms? Sounds like romance to me—not.)

    Great post, Juli. Thanks for the insight. I suppose researching promo stuff will be the next item on my to-do list.


  15. Dariel Raye says:

    Glad I caught this today, Amanda! Great article, Juli. Congratulations on your new book! I personally love promo items, and one of my mentors reminds me of the importance of “always leaving something with your readers.” He says even when you’re not promoting a new release, any artist should always have bookmarks, postcards, calling cards, etc. with purchase and contact info.


    • It certainly sounds like your mentor is right. In a regular business, we’d have at least a business card. So a business card with good branding or your cover image should be a no brainer. No brainers are my specialty.


  16. The anthology that Amanda and I and Vivi Anna are in has been so much fun! The stories are truly awesome, and such a variety! Amanda and Vivi’s stories both relate to their books. Everybody should check it out when you get a chance. I’m hoping this is the first of many collaborations with those two talented women.


  17. What a great list of promotional ideas. I’d done bookmarks, pens, and chapbooks. I’ve also given away plastic horses for a horse rescue book, with tiny label paper reins that were as wide as the type needed to write my web addy. I’ve also given away golf tees for my golf murder mystery – all had my website on it. For my beach murder mystery, I’ve been handing out shells, all with my website hand inked in permanent marker on the margin.

    I think it’s good to match the marketing hook with a promo item, if possible. More tie-ins.

    Enjoyed the post!



  18. Hi, Juli! Hi, Amanda! I’m so sorry for being tardy. Juli, I’m such a fan of yours after reading ‘Stirring Up Trouble’!

    As for promo items, if they’re both useful *and* unique, I know I’ll love them! Bookmarks are great because they’re easy to carry around at conferences and they’re also a good reminder of books to buy. Having said that, I don’t buy often a book solely because I liked the promo gear.


  19. Deborah Brent says:

    Great ideas. This was an interesting blog. I’ll have to be thinking about what to use to promote my short stories, if I ever get them written.


    • Thanks for posting, Deborah! You’ll get them written. The market for short stories has changed so much with the rise of Indie pubbing. It’s a wonderful way to get your work out there and know it’s being read.


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