A general guide to giveaways

Over her time managing giveaways and producing swag, Katie’s found a number of tricks for stretching your giveaways further. Here’s some.

#1. Extra book cards? Use them to showcase other items in the giveaway.

Katie uses her book cards as tags. She attaches them to tote bags with an embroidery floss loop, uses them as a backing card to attach earrings or buttons to, and sometimes produces them with a blank back so that the back can be written on to provide autographs, notes, or other information to help connect readers with the author. These cards are her favorite all-purpose item. Among things that can be done with them: slip them between the pages of books in your local Free Library, keep some in your wallet in case your work comes up in conversation, give them out at conventions,  use them to provide a Smashwords coupon for a free or discounted book, swap ’em with other authors to add to their giveaways and cross-pollinate your fan bases. When sending your giveaway packages, or sending signed paperbacks to your superfans, include a few of them for your favorite readers to have on hand when they’re telling your friend about your book!

#2. Cut the sticker sheets apart.

Each sticker sheet comes with many stickers, depending on the size of the stickers. Most sheets have around 20.  This can add material for a lot of giveaways, or just give you some to put on your own items or give to friends. If you prefer a few larger stickers, suitable for guitar cases, laptops, and the like, let Katie know when you’re placing your order.

#3. Branding, branding, branding.

The goal for your swag is providing something both useful and recognizable, familiarizing readers with all of the things that make up your brand: your art, your typography or series logo, etc. The more eye-catching a cover you’re starting with, the more readers will want to look at your stuff. When getting swag designed, provide your designer with the best quality files possible. Ideally, a PSD or an XCF file, but at the least, the highest res jpg you’ve got. The more work a designer spends isolating your typography from the background, and the more difficult it is to do cleanly, the less effective the swag design may be. And even if your file looks big on the computer, print is more condensed. A piece that covers your computer screen may be low-res enough to be unsuitable for a large piece like a tote bag or poster.

Layered files allow your designer to effortlessly move text around to accommodate different proportions, change backgrounds colors, etc. If your cover designer does not wish to part with the PSD, they may still be willing to provide you a PNG of the typography on a blank background, and of the background without the type laid over it. Just having those two pieces at your disposal can be a game changer when designing swag, advertisements, and basically anything that helps you develop reader recognition for yourself, and your brand.

#4. Mix and match.

The best authors are readers, too. Trade swag pieces with other authors or bloggers you know who post giveaways to cross-pollinate with their audience. Small pieces like book cards, bookmarks, or stickers are ideal for this. However, you can also team up to build larger giveaways with other authors. These are especially effective when used to promote multi-author projects, such as boxed sets or bundles, shared world series, etc.

#5. Less is more.

When writing your text for swag, remember that less is more. Bookmarks have narrow design spaces; this means that if your blurb is more than 4 or 5 sentences, it’s gonna have to be printed in a smaller type, and may be harder to read. And even if it fits, it may be overwhelming, causing the reader to skim or tune it out. You want something that will show well with a larger, bold font.

Katie suggests using text that’s no more than one or two sentences; this can be a tagline, an excerpt from a review, a general pitch for the novel. When approaching a swag designer, try to include a few alternatives so that if one thing doesn’t look right, another will. And ideally, your swag will end up with a range of texts that may appeal to different readers!

Good Text:

“A stunning dark fantasy novel from debut author Jane Doe.”

“Fans of Neal Gaiman, G.R.R. Martin, and Tolkein are sure to love this stunning dark fantasy debut!”

“Love in the dark.
Mary Sue wants to be an ordinary girl, but her fae blood is steering her toward a different future.”

Bad Text:

“Jane Doe’s first published work, the dark fantasy novel Placeholder, is a stunning book that should please readers who enjoy Neal Gaiman, G.R.R. Martin, and Tolkein. Following the trevails of Mary Sue, a half-fae girl with a secret, this book is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. When a half-dead fae crash-lands in Mary Sue’s yard, everything she knew about her long-dead family goes out the window. He says she’s a princess, the reincarnation of a queen of old… but all she wants is to flirt with the boy next door… Stay tuned for the sequel, coming June 2017! Reviewers have called Placeholder  ‘a stunning debut’ and ‘worlds of fun, with just the right amount of romance’. Don’t wait to read the dark fantasy novel that everyone’s talking about!”

The goal of swag is to make people FEEL something, and provide them with a plan of action in addressing that. Admiration for the cover’s beauty, curiosity about the book translates to the desire to snap a shot of the QR code or type the website in to read more. The goal is to pull them in to your site, your mailing list, or download a free book that might entice them to do either of those when they finish reading. It’s not to give them all the details on the swag itself. Your website or product page should do that on its own. So focus on utility, and on aesthetics. The things that will make them want to keep your swag around long after your book has released, and that may help that swag start a discussion with others that will keep your book in people’s minds long after the giveaway’s done.

#6. Function over form.

When deciding what swag is right for you, you want to consider it as though you were the one receiving the swag. Bookmarks can stick around for a long time when shoved between the pages of a book on a shelf, but cards may be thrown away sooner, and are better left for stuff with an immediate purpose, such as directing them to your site. Cards are better for getting the word out to as many people as possible in the short term, especially in situations in which the people you’re giving them to may be carrying other things, or may not have much pocket space. The goal for cards is to get them to your website, your mailing list, BEFORE the card crinkles, gets lost, gets thrown away.

The stuff that will stick around the longest is stuff like tote bags, jewelry, t-shirts, notebooks, things they can use in their day to day life. But people also don’t like feeling like walking advertisements. Katie’s found that the best way to strike a balance is to make your big-ticket items as useful, wearable, and flat-out cute as possible.  Having a striking logo, a gripping tagline, or having incredibly mysterious cover art is guaranteed to make those who see it say “where did you get that?”, leading to a natural conversation about the book it’s promoting. And while the marketing push on the item itself may be subtle or muted, if you follow #1, and attach a book card to it as a tag, that will also help give readers the additional info in a way that feels less like marketing than printing the info on the item itself.

Another crucial thing to decide is what you’re promoting. Are you aiming to reuse the designs for the whole series as more books come out? If so, a compelling series logo may be a better design choice than a mysterious first book’s cover. Or are you aiming to make a bestseller list with an individual book, where that cover recognition might be more valuable? Your swag should fit in neatly with your overall marketing plan.

#7. Leverage, leverage, leverage

In keeping with the above note about wanting your swag to line up with your marketing plans, your giveaways should do the same. A large prize can gain a lot of giveaway entrants, and give you a lot of publicity if you use tools like sharing the giveaway or book, however several smaller prizes can enable you to keep giveaways constantly present in people’s minds over a longer period. Katie often recommends a mix of both, giving away the smaller swag more plentifully, while also pushing people to share and compete for the big gift box. Different prizes may do better with different audiences, so be mindful. Similarly, while small items are great for “flash giveaways”, the big gift bag might need more time to get traction, and get enough giveaway entries to help offset the cost.

#8. Remember who you’re targeting.

Remember who you’re targeting with your giveaway. The same way that your ad graphics, book cover, and presentation should aim at the readers most likely to enjoy your book, your swag needs to be well-targeted, too.

What does this mean?

Well, consider your readers, and your genre. If you’re a sweet romance writer and you want to include a vibrator in your giveaway, you might have a harder time getting shares. Are you in science fiction or post-apoc? If so, your readers may be more mixed-gender, and a giveaway that includes makeup products, feminine jewelry, fairy figurines, and a sleep mask might be less well received than a giveaway that includes more gender-neutral items such as USB cards, keychains, a Kindle Unlimited subscription, and a liquor flask. It’s stereotyping, and may not be true of your specific readers– some of the best men Katie knows can hit the ground running talking makeup with her– but you should consider what you know of them to make sure that you’ve giving away items that will appeal to them.

On that note, try to target people a variety of ways. Several of Katie’s packages include multiple prize packs; this is because everyone has more familiarity or willingness to participate in their own particular ways. Katie has found that the best way to get different fans to participate is to hold multiple prizes that can be given at different times in different ways, for instance offering one to your mailing list before a launch, offering another at a facebook party at launch, offering one to your street team for the person who shares your cover the most, etc.

#9. Don’t be afraid to be unique.

Some of the most successful giveaways Katie’s seen have been of one of a kind items, collectors’ items, items that can not be mass produced or purchased elsewhere. One author gave away an absolutely stunning handmade quilt. Another author commissioned an honest-to-god fangirl badge that looks like a real police badge, only with her series branded on it. Her series starred a police officer. Another author had Katie design a bracelet modeled after the one her heroine wears. If your book is a cozy mystery with an animal sidekick, including something like handmaid artisan animal treats might help your giveaway stick in people’s heads.

Remember– you’re selling a feeling. An experience. So finding useful, fun, affordable things that nonetheless remind people of your story or that feel like an in-joke can be a great way of cultivating a fandom. Take, for instance, the cult following of Jayne’s orange hat with the puffball, from Firefly. Or giving away things that show your own unique talents can be a great way of making yourself stand out in readers’ eyes.

While Katie’s swag packages are designed to take some of the guesswork out of your hands, they  can also be customized. If you have an idea for that one thing, that one item, that might take your giveaway over the top, don’t be afraid to email her to see if it can be created.

Contact KatiedeLong.writer@gmail.com to order your swag pack, or visit the Paper Tiger menu to view base packages!