Speed Dating and Swag

Speed Dating and Swag
Terry Odell

author swagI’m hardly a marketing guru—it’s the least favorite part of writing for me—but I made some observations at the Left Coast Crime conference and thought I’d share them.

As I mentioned earlier, Left Coast Crime is a reader-focused conference, which means it’s a place where readers come to meet authors, both familiar and new. It’s an ideal opportunity for us lesser-knowns to make connections.

Any writing conference I’ve been to, whether reader or author/craft focused, has a giveaway table where authors leave freebies—swag. With several hundred authors vying for attention, it’s important that these items entice readers (and authors are readers, too) to pick them up. Anything left on the tables after the conference closes will be trashed by the hotel staff, so you might be carting home a lot of what you brought.

The most common items are paper goods. Bookmarks dominate. How effective are they? With so many people using e-readers these days, they don’t serve the same purpose—something that the reader will encounter every time they pick up their book.

author swagI think bookmarks are more effective when handed our personally, like a business card, but even then, they are likely to end up in the hotel room wastebasket. I stopped getting bookmarks made years ago, but I do have business cards with QR codes to my website and Facebook Author Page on the back.

author swagSome bookmarks that did entice people to pick them up were dual-purpose, like these.

author swagA tradition at Left Coast Crime is their Author Speed Dating event. How it works: Tables for ten (There were 40 this year) are set up in a large meeting room. Two seats at each table are reserved for authors. The authors rotate from table to table and each has two minutes to talk/pitch/promote themselves and/or their books. They also bring swag to distribute at each table.

My observations.

The two-minute rule was enforced, which means authors had to be well prepared. Since handing out swag eats up precious seconds, authors were advised to let their partner hand out the swag while they talked. A fair number of them weren’t able to follow this simple direction. Some overran their time, ignoring the bell and finishing their prepared talks, eating up their partner’s time or having to arrive late to the next table.

The presentations varied from rehearsed and memorized speeches to stumbling or rambling attempts to summarize the gist of their stories. The best ones were those who knew their material well enough to make it sound off the cuff. Those attending are going to be listening to eighty two-minute presentations in a room that’s probably not going to have the best acoustics. Being able to be heard was challenge enough for some.

Takeaway: if you’re doing a presentation like this, adhere to the time constraints. Practice your material until it doesn’t sound practiced. If the organizers offer advice, take it.

And now, back to the swag. Handing out swag to a captive audience is better than leaving it on a giant table. But remember the purpose of the swag. To make people want to know more about you and your books.

Here are some swag items handed out at the Speed Dating event that, in my opinion, missed the mark.

author swagFrom left to right. A nice, sturdy magnet. A vial of perfume. A cute magnet. A pin-on button.

Problems with all of them: What are they about? Would you even know they were from an author? Because by the time you get home with them, you’ll have no recollection of who gave them to you. (Note: some swag was handed out in cute little pouches and may have included something about the author, but once you take the items out of the pouch, all connections are lost.) With the perfume, you’re risking the recipient not liking it. With a pin, would readers wear them? Pin them to something else?

Better ideas are things that readers will have a reason to keep and use. Every time they use them, they (one hopes) will remember the author. One author had Hershey’s Miniatures relabeled with his book cover. Great idea—until you eat the candy. Will they save the label? Maybe. I didn’t, but they worked in that I struck up a conversation with that author and did look him up.

author swagI know my lip balm is what people remember about me. Sticky notes, pens, pencils, coasters, magnets that do mention the author, and even a jar opener/gripper thing make for better swag. More expensive, yes. But if you’re spending money, it ought to be working for you.

Your turn. What swag are you likely to pick up? If you hand out swag, what’s been effective?


Available Now. In the Crosshairs, Book 4 in my Triple-D Romantic Suspense series.

Changing Your Life Won’t Make Things Easier
There’s more to ranch life than minding cattle. After his stint as an army Ranger, Frank Wembly loves the peaceful life as a cowboy.

Financial advisor Kiera O’Leary sets off to pursue her dream of being a photographer until a car-meets-cow incident forces a shift in plans. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences.


Terry OdellTerry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Aftermath of a Writers Conference

Nancy J. Cohen

Recovering from a conference can take as much time or more as preparing for one. When you get home and unpack, you’ll likely have a collection of promo items from other authors to sort through. It’s good to keep some of these, as they can inspire ideas for your swag in the future. I keep swag from other authors in a small shopping bag designated for this purpose. It helps to have samples if you’re thinking of ordering a similar item.

What impressed me at Bouchercon this year? I always like Door Hangers. I did one myself for Hanging by a Hair. I liked the little bags of chocolate covered mints. I don’t remember the author’s name engraved on the M&M sized candies, but I do remember her book title as House of Homicide. One author gave out tape measures. My Bad Hair Day combs were popular, and every one that I put out got taken. As usual, the tables were a mess with print materials, but I picked up bookmarks for titles that interested me. And coasters are always useful. I keep them on my computer desk.

Swag

It helps to sort through the business cards we receive and add relevant contact info to our address books. I’d also suggest marking the date and place where you met the person for easy recall later. You might dash off a note to people you’d met or to booksellers who carried your titles. Uploading your photos and blogging about your experience will keep the memories fresh.

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I’m still recovering from Boucheron, held in Raleigh. Here you’ll meet fans as well as other authors, plus a conglomeration of industry personnel. I have piles of materials to sort out and notes from panels attended to write up. But since I’m on the road again for another book event, these tasks will have to wait. This means I won’t be around today to answer comments, but please leave any tips you’d like to share.