Swell Swag

By John Gilstrap

Up until about a year ago, I thought that bookmark swag was a waste of money and time.  I have since changed my mind.  I may have posted here before that on those awful occasions when a book signing is really just that–a table in the entryway where I wait for people to inquire why I’m there–I no longer just sit passively and wait.  I get up and wander the store, introducing myself as the visiting author, and inviting them to stop by and say hi–or buy a book–as they pass me yet again on their way out of the store.

More times than not, they’ll ask a few questions, and that’s when I hand them my bookmark. As you can see, the bookmark (designed by publisher–Thank you Kensington!) not only has contact information, but the titles of the most recent books and a bit about awards won and such.  Never once have I handed out one of these things without seeing the recipient going on to Google me.

When I was on tour for Total Mayhem back in July, I became truly shameless.  Because I dined alone, and spent a lot of time writing my next book long-hand, I knew that I was raising curiosity, so I made sure to put a bookmark in the check folder after I had signed the credit card voucher.  When you dine in the hotel where you’re staying, that can create an interesting buzz.

Business Cards

For the first time in the history of forever, I actually killed my entire supply of business cards.  As I approached the bottom of the box, I started paying closer attention to other writers’ business cards to see how they were handling what to include and what not to.  Because I pass these things out to pretty much everybody from the maitre d’ to the car mechanic to somebody I meet at a party, the information on the card needs to carry a lot of weight.

Things I considered included:

  1. Email address but no phone number or street address.  (Stephen King’s Misery continues to lurk in my head.)
  2. Standard design and style. This is one of my peccadilloes.  I get annoyed when business cards don’t fit easily into my wallet.
  3. All social media included for quick reference.  I chose not to include the Killzone Blog, however, because my every-other-week posting status would have required narrative.
  4. My entire bibliography.
  5. Had to have a clean look.
  6. Had to have space for people to write notes to themselves on the card.

I’ll let others judge the final product, but I’m happy with it.  I’m also happy with Vistaprint, which is the company I used to create and print the cards.

Special Gifts.

Most swag is intended as a kind of fan service or shameless self-promotion.  Or, merely business communication.  Sometimes, though, people can be so helpful to my research, or in their hospitality, that I offer them special gifts that I designed for just occasions.

Within military and other public service circles, challenge coins are very important.  They are a way of showing pride in one’s unit or department.  I figured that if Jonathan Grave were a real person, he’d most certainly have a challenge coin struck for his company, Security Solutions, so I did it for him.

In addition to offering them up as thank-yous, I also offer them in trade for those who offer similar coins for my own collection.  Over the years, I’ve picked up some pretty cool ones from some pretty spooky places.

So, TKZ family, what’s your swag bag look like?  What works for you as writers or fans or booksellers, and what doesn’t?

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About John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of Total Mayhem, Scorpion Strike, Final Target, Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies, End Game, Soft Targets, High Treason, Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Nathan’s Run, At All Costs, Even Steven, Scott Free and Six Minutes to Freedom. Four of his books have been purchased or optioned for the Big Screen. In addition, John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris. A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution. Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, weapons systems, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. John lives in Fairfax, VA.

9 thoughts on “Swell Swag

  1. First, I use Vistaprint also, for my business cards and bookmarks. Reasonable pricing, customer friendly. Second, you have just created a monster with this post: me. I will now be shameless in handing out these cards when I pay my restaurant tabs and other bills in places where I’ve needed to leave money or something else behind to a captive audience. Just need to make sure the tip is adequate, otherwise some servers might think, as woefully misguided as this thought would be, “Hmm. Author. Loaded,” then hopefully not suffix it with “cheap bastard.”

    • As a tipped employee I have been given many things with the bill from customers. If you tip 20% or better your card will be read. If you are under 10% not only will it be in the trash faster than your table is cleared, but you will be in the “never in a million years” file.

  2. My philosophy of the business card is that it’s like the headline in a direct marketing ad, to wit: Get them to read the copy. So I want the biz card to get them to my website. My cards have my name, website, and email address in that order, and at the bottom my tag: “The Suspense Never Rests.” I don’t want any more options. Getting them to my hub is the goal.

    I use the mini-card size from Moo. It prints five different images on one side (I use my book covers and one author photo) and the text on the other. And because it’s not standard size, it makes a unique impression.

  3. I am in IT. I see tons of swag. In reading the tweets on one conference, someone suggested swag hair ties. You would only be able to get a website on one, but just a thought.

  4. I used vistaprint for my business cards. Also ordered rectangular refrigerator magnets with the cover of my book on them.
    I used nextdayflyers for bookmarks. Not sure why I chose a different vendor, but it must have had something to do with price. 😊
    I also ordered ballpoint pens with the name of my book and my website address on them. I got them from National Pen. They were a real hit at Mt Hermon

    • I’m glad the pens worked out for you, Kay.

      I did pens from National Pen one year, but didn’t re-up when my supply ran out. The pens I could get at an affordable price point were not of very good quality. (It doesn’t help that I collect pens and am something of a pen snob.) If I recall properly, they ran close to a dollar apiece ($.85, maybe?) and I can’t make the ROI work in my head.

      • Oh – we’re supposed to make money? My approach has been a modification on Twain’s description of science. Here’s mine:

        There is something fascinating about writing novels. One gets such a trifling return of cash out of such a wholesale investment of time, money, and soul-searching agony. (But, hey, it’s fun!) 😎

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