To Swag or Not to Swag?

SWAG=Stuff we all get or insert flashier word for “stuff”

AKA: Bookmarks, chotchkies, knick-knacks, giveaways:


As we head into the heart of conference seasons, this is an important question. There’s some debate about this, so let’s cut to the chase. All opinions are solely mine:

Q: Does SWAG sell books?

A: No.

Q: Is SWAG an effective way to get your name out there?

A: No, not really.

Q: Does most SWAG get thrown away and forgotten.

A: Yes.

Then why do it, oh SWAG queen Jeannie Lin with your knick-knacks and snickerdoodles and red tassels all a flutter? Why do you spend so much time coming up with cool, swagtastic promo items and schemes like the Romance Trading Card bru-ha-ha instead of writing more books?

And what’s up with this Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood playing card deck? Pretty, but did that really help your writing career? Come on!


Imagine playing solitaire with all the Ruby covers!

I will tell you this, my dirty little secret, the reason why I can justify spending so much time and energy putting swag together:

Because I LOVE it.

I love swag for swag’s sake.

What does J. Lo get for parading around in her green thing-a-majiggy? You know the one.

Does she get movie offers? Record deals? No. She might get some notice. But why does she do it? She does it because she likes strutting her stuff. In fact, I bet she LOVES it.

So now that I’ve confessed what a nutter I am, here’s my SWAG advice:

1. Don’t buy SWAG. It’s a waste of money and you don’t make a lot as a writer.

2. Ha! If rule number 1 didn’t close the deal for you, then consider this: Either don’t do it at all or GO BIG.

3. Flash your cover. If you don’t have a name, what good is “getting your name out?” Exposing people to your book cover is the best you can hope for from SWAG.

4. Dangly shiny SWAG should be there to get people to look at your cover. Look through a conference goodie bag. Which items warranted a second glance? Something with a do-hickey, right? Spend as little on your do-hickey as you can and try to make it memorable. It can be as simple as a piece of candy. It will still probably be thrown away, but that half-second glance is pretty much what you’re hoping for with your SWAG.

5. SWAG should make people feel special. Not just be another tape dispenser or nail file with your name on it. Sure those are darn useful, but they don’t set you apart or make the recipient feel like they’ve received a part of your special world. I think that’s why Romance Trading Cards were so well-received. The author puts out something above and beyond, giving readers a special sneak peek into their book.

What does SWAG do for you then if it doesn’t sell books or really get your name out?

I can only say what SWAG does for me:

1. I don’t SWAG unless I also conference. SWAG is like the bling I wear at conference to get noticed, just for a half-second. Because I don’t look as good as J. Lo in her green dress. And, you know, because I’d have to tattoo my current cover on my chest and that would hurt.

2. SWAG is me celebrating. SWAG makes me happy. I like crafts. I like organizing things and finding bargains. My SWAG is my self-indulgent reward for getting this book out. I give it out to my readers as a gift. It’s a sunk cost, just like a release party is a sunk cost.

3. SWAG gives you additional pictures to put up on Facebook and Twitter. And with that, you get a half second glance. (Seeing a trend here?)

4. Organizing SWAG and promos has allowed me to create connections with other authors. I consider those to be way more valuable than these little baubles.

5. SWAG gives me an excuse to do a giveaway.

Like this one:

Let’s talk SWAG. Three commenters will be randomly selected to receive a Ruby-Slippered Playing Card deck. 54 cards of Ruby awesomeness!


Comment and give examples of some memorable SWAG you’ve received. Or compliment us on our Ruby Playing Cards. Or tell us about some SWAG you’re considering giving out. What are you hoping to accomplish with it?


58 responses to “To Swag or Not to Swag?”

  1. Regina Wade says:

    A day before the Barbara Vey Reader Appreciation Luncheon in Milwaukee I saw a tweet by Jeannie with a picture of her swag. It was a cookie with a picture of her book cover on the front. I made a beeline to her table after the luncheon . I had to get my hands on one of those cookies! I still have that cookie sitting on my bookcase. It’s right beside my bookmark collection. I Love Swag! Oh, and I bought her book. Of course.

    • Jeannie Lin says:

      I was so happy to meet you and tickled to hear that my sugar cookie SWAG lured you over. There is perhaps no better swag than cookies. It probably won’t taste good anymore, but love that you have it still. šŸ™‚

  2. When my publishing house asked me about SWAG to hand out at BEA, I talked to my resident teen– who suggested we get lip balm–in pink, red, or purple–preferably with a nice scent/flavor. “Teens like it and we might not throw it away.”

    So that’s what we did. Berries play a minor role in my next book. We ordered berry-flavored lip balm, put the title on there in its colonial font, and put it out at BEA. It was the first thing to go.

    The playing cards are gorgeous, up close and personal!

    • Jeannie Lin says:

      Your teen was right on! I would keep a flavored lip gloss and totally use it. And the fact that it ties to your book is awesome.

      I too have looked into lip color swag as I have a way to link it to my books–lipstick and lip shaping was big in Tang Dynasty fashion–but tabled it as too spendy…for now.

  3. Piper says:


    Swag is cool. And those book marks are beautiful. I love the playing cards too! (Hopefully, I have complimented enough so that I can get a deck!)

    Farrah Rochon has made a point of advertising her swag for RWA–ereader cleaners. I am there! It’s an interesting tactic and I think that you are right, the notice is a good thing.

    A blog I follow, Seekerville, makes a big deal about their pink pens. Pens might be seen as slightly cheesy swag, but these pens are supposed to be for signing contracts, which gives them a special shine. And you have to be at a conference or signing to get one.

    Thanks for the great post. Looking forward to meeting you in Atlanta, Jeannie!

    • Jeannie Lin says:

      Contract-signing pens. That’s just genius!

      It goes to show it’s all about the spin. Farrah’s got a good idea there too–be proud of your swag. You can’t talk about your book over and over online without people glazing over, so having a little swag really gives you a different angle to present.

  4. Hope Ramsay says:

    I’m with you, Jeannie. Swag is a necessary requirement for going to any conference. I don’t think it necessarily sells books immediately, but it does get your name out there and I read somewhere that you have to expose someone to a message three times before you penetrate their consciousness. And even more times if you want to actually sell something. So I never pass up a reasonably priced opportunity to put my book cover somewhere that people can actually see it.

    I’ve got a couple of suggestions on swag:

    1) I think bookmarks are a waste of money. Everyone does them and they are cheap, I know, but I think it’s better to be a non-conformist.

    2) I love romance trading cards. I put pictures of my heroes on the back (beautiful hunky men) and readers love them. Also they are easy to carry around in my purse and I use them like business cards. I leave them everywhere — at the hairdresser, with workfriends, with strangers I meet on the street. Honestly I’m a RTC slut.

    3) Excerpt books! If you’re trying to get people to read your work, the best thing you can do is to give them a sample of it.

    4) Give special stuff to booksellers and librarians. I’ve had a lot of success buying small quantities of very special swag that is only handed out to dedicated fans and booksellers and librarians. Last year I handed out angel wreath pins that matched my Christmas book cover. This year I’m handing out working tape measures with an image of my knitting book on them. I found deals on both of these items. The pins were about 75 cents each. The tape measures 99 cents each. This is more than a bookmark costs, but you don’t need to buy gazillion. Less than a hundred will do for the bookseller and librarian events at RWA. I usually buy the minimum quantity of these items (usually 250) and that gives me enough to hand out at RWA and NJRW and to use in giveaways.

    • Jeannie Lin says:

      These are all great tips! Cover impressions are really important, much more so than just your author name. I might see a name over and over on a pen, but if I don’t think of the genre or your book specifically, it’s not going to help promote you. I hear A LOT of author names. They all sound familiar.

      I’ve also targeted booksellers and librarians at RT and RWA with nice giveaways and hope the SWAG at least makes them feel a little special.

      I used to feel the same about bookmarks, hence the romance trading card thing. I love that you’re proud to be an RTC slut! I think they totally double as business cards AND bookmarks and readers have told me they like them because after finishing the book, they can just put the card into the cover as a keeper and it doesn’t stick out.

      Then I went old-school this year and created bookmarks. I’m ashamed to say how much thought went into those bookmarks — actually I’m not. I’m kind of proud. LOL. But I researched Asian-themed bookmark designs and purposefully did rounded corners to look like those bookmarks they sell at bookstores. I added tassels because I figured you can spend less on a generic bookmark and be completely ignored, or you can put a little more effort and get noticed.

      I like getting noticed. šŸ™‚

  5. Chris Cannon says:

    My favorite piece of swag was a USB bracelet which contained an e-book.

  6. Katana says:

    Someone once told me that the purpose of swag was not necessarily to sell your book right that second–it was to make an impression so that when they see your book (on Amazon or the library or at the bookstore…wherever), they go: Oh! I’ve heard of that.
    They explained that essentially you’re trying to tap into the subconscious so that something in reader’s brains will whirr when they do see your book somewhere, stimulating a sale. But in order for that to happen–you’re absolutely right…you need to have that half-second look at either your cover or name.

    I ALWAYS keep the chapstick or lipgloss from my bags. Also, I once got a little teacup which I still use. Candles–tea and coffee (individual serving portions). I keep post-it notes because I can always find a use for them. And I love the playing cards idea!

    I am planning to have poker chips made (because my book is set in Vegas), where if they bring their chip to my table, they can trade it in for a chance to win a prize.

    • Jeannie Lin says:

      Poker chips!!! I love it!

      Hope you can get your cover on there for cheap. Let me suggest that you buy poker chips in bulk and just order round stickers to fit with your cover cropped as you like it. That may be cheaper than going to a place that customizes poker chips that may just do your logo and charge you more to etch it on.

      If you want to do playing cards, we got them at: I highly recommend them for their online app, how easy they were to work with, and how lovely the cards look!

      • Katana says:

        Yes! Exactly–the poker chips will come with a little card attached with my cover and instructions on how and where to bring them. =0) I’ll either buy the chips in bulk or maybe have them made with my website on them or something. Depends on the price. =0)

    • June Love says:

      Ooooh, I love the idea of poker chips. My husband is a poker player and my 2009 GH final was titled “Texas Hold’er”. Too bad it didn’t sell. Poker chips would’ve been an awesome SWAG for it.

      Katana, I hope your chips are a huge success. I can’t see how they wouldn’t be.

  7. Tamara Hogan says:

    Jeannie, I think you nailed the key point: as an author, do what pleases you, because no one has data indicating SWAG sells books. As a reader, I must be honest and say I’ve never bought a book due solely to a piece of SWAG. I’m brutally practical about the SWAG I pick up – I prefer it be useful, like lip balm, or a chip clip, or earplugs – and as a writer, I’m admittedly clueless, happening upon some popular SWAG items entirely through dumb luck. Previously, I’ve offered miniature chocolate bars with my cover as the wrapper, and at RT13, having just been dropped by my publisher and with no book to promote, I had some mirrored compacts made with my name and URL on them that were gone in less than an hour. /shrug/ Go figure.

    But going to the Goody Room or SWAG aisle at any romance conference is definitely part of the fun! I can’t wait to see what interesting items are there this year.

  8. This is a great post. Everyone’s take on swag is always different. Nice to see different pov’s in one place!

  9. I get swag made because readers ALWAYS ask for it. “Have you got something…?” is invariably how conversations start.

    I love to use little packs of Romance Trading cards as an intro to my covers, my characters and my voice. Lots of bang for relatively little buck. And they are easy to transport.

    Looking forward to playing the Romance Trading card games at RWA.

    Thanks for the great post, Jeannie.

    • Jeannie Lin says:

      I think it’s a good point that readers who already follow you love swag. And it’s important to keep on promoting to the converted, perhaps even more so!

      I remember a conversation with a reader who said how much she loved getting bookmarks from her favorite authors. It made me realize that readers don’t have the same feelings as writers about swag. And if you’re only thinking “RWA” where writers abound, then your vision of swag may be skewed.

      • Elisa Beatty says:

        Great point, Jeannie!!

        As a reader, I love having bookmarks from favorite authors, and I’ll probably keep my Harry Potter and Hobbit bookmarks forever.

  10. Kim Law says:

    Love this post, Jeannie. My thinking is on par with Hope’s. To me, it’s all about having someone see my name/cover/title over and over. My theory is that if they see it enough, they’ll think you’re somebody they need to be reading šŸ™‚

    I spent way too much on SWAG this year, but like you, I wanted to have fun with it and celebrate my books! For my latest book, Ex on the Beach, I had beach balls made. I didn’t put the cover on them (because it would have cost WAY TOO MUCH), but put the title and my website. I think the title of that one is catchy enough that if people see it multiple times they’ll remember it.

    I also do recipe cards to hand out. I put the cover on the front with a recipe of some food eaten during the story. And then an small excerpt on the back. These have been well received, and I’m hopeful they don’t all immediately hit the trash. I’m sure most do, but I figured it was worth a shot. And they were relatively cheap.

    I love chip clips, fridge magnet/clips, pocket mirrors, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE the cookies with the covers! I’m also considering doing some book excerpts (probably too late now for RWA) but haven’t figured out a decently priced way to do them. Feel free to offer suggestions on that if you have any… šŸ™‚

    Oh, and when sending the recipe cards to events, I put them all in a little bag with some candy and tape it closed. That way, hopefully the recipient will at least open the bag for the candy and pull out and give my cards a half second šŸ™‚

    • June Love says:

      Kim, I still have the recipe cards from previous conferences in my recipe box. I love collecting recipes, provided they aren’t too involved. lol I can’t honestly say I remember the author or book on the card, but that’s only because I can barely remember yesterday. I love recipe card SWAG.

  11. Kay Hudson says:

    Jeannie, I started reading your books because of a preview pamphlet I picked up in the Goodie Room at Nationals in 2011. Last year I even scored a free book! And I’ve bought the others, even if I’m a little (ha!)behind on my TBR piles (and that big invisible TBR shelf in my Kindle). So I can attest that SWAG has sold at least a few of your books.

    • Jeannie says:

      That’s awesome to hear! I’ve heard from other authors about excerpt booklets too. They are quite a pain to get printed though and can be pricey, but at least your cover looks nice on the front.

  12. Vivi Andrews says:

    LOVE this post, Jeannie. I’m no SWAG maven – and I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book from SWAG, but it’s like the fun party favors from conference. I love those little doodads. šŸ™‚

  13. Rita Henuber says:

    Yes you are the supreme SWAG queen. I love what you do. The RTC’s and playing cards are brilliant. Thank you forever.

    • Jeannie Lin says:

      Aww thanks Rita! And the cards are awesome because all the Ruby covers just look so good together. šŸ™‚

    • Elise Hayes says:

      Ditto to what Rita said. The cards are brilliant and fun. Thanks for all your work to make sure they came into existence!

  14. June Love says:

    Jeannie, I love your creativity when it comes to SWAG. I’ve never bought a book from SWAG and usually don’t collect it unless it is something that will be useful to me or someone I know. But, every once in awhile, there is something I’ve seen that just grabs me. My favorite that I received is a felt edged monitor sweeper/scraper. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used it. Love it.

    Great post, oh illustrious SWAG Queen.

    • Jeannie Lin says:

      The most useful swag I’ve gotten is a book of post-it flags that Kieren Kramer put out. I love using those rainbow post-its when I edit, putting blue ones where I have to strengthen the hero characterization, pink for heroine, etc. So shout out to Kieren!

  15. Nicole Laverdure says:

    As a reader, I love swags, but not all of them. Some have a special meaning for me. My favorites are a hat pin that a Regency author had chosen herself for a special event for the release of her book and a miniature hand watch (so lovely). I have a bulletin board where I post my notes for my reviews and books…so, I prefer magnets to remind me! Jeannie, I love your bookmark pin, it is so lovely! You brought up a great debate, swag yes or no! I live in Canada, so big chance of attending conference to get them.

    • Nicole Laverdure says:

      Meant to write; no big chance of attending conference to get them.

    • Jeannie Lin says:

      Thanks for chiming in Nicole! You’ve really highlighted that readers appreciate getting something special and thoughtful from the authors they enjoy.

  16. Kathleen G. S. says:

    I question whether a writers’ conference is the best place to take swag. I put a little bandaid case in the gift bags given to the women in a local golf tournament several years ago, and I am still getting name recognition from them.

    • Jeannie Lin says:


      I agree that writers are more jaded on SWAG and a writer’s conference may not be the best place for it. We discussed this among the Rubies and that’s why we decided to give out more playing card decks at reader’s events like Romantic Times than at RWA, where we are putting playing cards in the librarian goody room.

      On the other hand, you do want to network with writers and writerly support folk at a writer’s conference and swag is a good calling card for that. So your aim might be altered, but you’re still trying to present yourself well to peers and others.

  17. Elisa Beatty says:

    You always have such gorgeous swag, Jeannie!!

  18. Angelina Barbin says:

    The best swag at the last RWA conference I attended was a tealight candle.:) I do like candy, but anything that is a paper product I usually don’t pick up because I’ll just throw it away. I also agree that readers probably enjoy swag more than writers/authors do.

  19. Beth Treadway says:

    Post it’s keep authors names in front of me for extended periods of time (Kieran Kramer) as do purple pens (Valerie Bowman) & books (Alyssa Day, Lena Diaz, Maggie Toussaint, Selena Fulton, Lisa Pietsch & Abigail Sharpe). I’m still carrying the thumb drive I got @ ThrillerFest & a nice metal keychain from Moonlight & Magnolias.

  20. One of the most amusing SWAGs I’ve seen is what hubby brought home from the Boston conference he attended in May. Terri Brisbin gave out dental floss! Here’s something that’s so unusual that I saved her card (and the floss) and, when i went to my own conference last month, what did I think when I pulled out that little pack of floss? You got it.


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