Monday, March 17, 2008


Things can seem obvious, without necessarily being true. Places will sell advertising, so you might assume advertising there would be effective, right? And site reviews books, so they must have readers who look at those reviews and whose purchasing choices are influenced by them, right? In many cases, I suspect, not so much.

I think the following from Romancing the Blog might be an example, the blogger opens their post by saying:

"I think you would be hard pressed to find a romance reader who doesn’t have at least one promo item from an author."

Comments follow:

"I do like the promo items, but they are not necessary."

and then:

"I don’t buy books based on promo items..."

"I don’t have any promo items, nor does anyone I know offline. I don’t want ‘em..."

A swerve back to:

"I love receiving promo goodies"

But then:

"I don’t really like promo items like pens or bookmarks"

"I don’t have a single promo item from any author."

"When I was *just* a reader (aka, before I joined RWA) I had no idea author promo stuff existed."

"I don’t buy books based on author promo materials."

"You know, give me a good blurb and I’m there. That’s all I need, all I want."

"Before I was published, I didn’t have promo items from authors - I was missing out! Now that I’m pubbed, I like creating new things..."

"I don’t pick up–or toss if I somehow end up with them–bookmarks and pens. I have nice bookmarks that I’ve selected over the years; I’m picky about my pens. As promo, they don’t work for me. Ditto cover flats"

I am beginning to form the impression that swag is a ritual that has more to do with being an author (and doing what small press authors are apparently meant to do) or just being part of the churning online or convention-based romance community, than being effective promotion. I have picked some swag up at cons or received it from author friends. I don't recall ever buying the book after getting it. Do we really think these things work, hope they do, or just doing them for fun and need to stop pretending otherwise?


Anonymous said...

I've got buttloads of bookmarks I've made and mostly I do them for fun and every now and then something will come up to use them for. Goodie bags other authors do for signings or book fairs, things like that. But otherwise, they just gather dust and that's alright. Most I've spent on them is about 14 bucks total since I started writing professionally 3 years ago. That's acceptable to me.

Every so often someone will ask about them on the Metro, in a coffee shop etc. My co-author had someone on the bus comment on the one she was using and she gave it to them because they thought it was pretty. *smiles* I think, much like chats and loops which tend to be mostly authors promo-ing to other authors, bookmarks and other swag are not effective, but kinda fun anyway.

veinglory said...

...and like blogs, too.

Mya said...'s almost like you knew that I was going today to pick up items for my latest contest. This will be my second give away and while I like to give away stuff like plushies, duffle bags (soon) and books, I absolutely love to craft things. I have made regular bookmarks, the metal bookmarks with jewelry, cell phone dangles and will eventually offer up some real jewelry sets. Why...Not to get more readers though. Honestly. I definately want to give something back though and...its fun... I have gotten a few postcards, bookmarks and such and I use them, but the best prizes to me are things you can use.

As for the review sites, it would be interesting to see some stats on how many readers actually purchase books based on the ads.

Angela James said...

I've always been of the belief that it's not that you hand someone a bookmark or a pen and they run out and buy your book, but that it contributes to name recognition. Competing for a reader's attention is a difficult thing, and if they're in a hurry at the store and just want to take something home to buy, or browsing the online bookstore and want to try something different, people are more likely to reach for something that somehow sounds familiar--whether it's a name or a title. I've stood in bookstores and done the same thing. If I don't even vaguely recognize it, I am more unlikely to take a chance with my money on it.

I believe that "swag" is one more way to get your name out there so those readers might at least vaguely recognize your name. Of course, I can't prove that theory, but I think it would be quite difficult to disprove and it doesn't cost that much to do pens to leave on tables in restaurants or hand to store cashiers. Those are the pens that get stolen and go traveling :P

Dusk Peterson said...

I suppose it shows which side of the debate I'm on that, until I read your post, I didn't even know what promo goodies *were*.

(All right, I know, they were right there on the table that we shared at Connexions. But that just goes to show how little impact such items have had on my consciousness.)

Only one thing sells a book for me: having read the writer's work. If I can read the book at a library or preview it in whole online, I'm likely to buy it (assuming I like it). If I can get it really cheap at a used bookstore or in an electronic edition, I *might* buy it, if there's a short preview. And if I've previously read the author's works, I might be willing to buy their next book sight unseen, even in hardback.

So, from my perspective as a reader, I wish that small-press authors would put their promotional energies into writing stories that I can read online, either at their sites or at e-zines, since I'm unlikely to encounter their books at libraries.

The only exception I'd make is that booktrailers might make me seek out information on a book. I can't offer any excuse for that except that I like booktrailers as an art form. But I rarely see good ones, alas.

Anonymous said...

My old agent, Linda Hyatt, gave me some advice that's always stuck with me. The best way to sell more books and increase your readership is to write an incredible story. The rest will happen naturally, via word-of-mouth advertising. You can have your name all over the Internet and do a ton of promotional activities, but if your "product" doesn't stand out in a crowd -- and/or if you don't manage to create a buzz with your work -- you're not likely to increase your sales. JMHO.

Katrina Strauss said...

I figured out by book three that swag or contests didn't really offer much in the way of "promo" as in luring new readers. (Though I did build my initial reader base partly by giving away the books themselves.) I then looked at my bookshelf -- as in the physical one in the livingroom -- and reminded myself of how, where, or when I discovered my favorite print authors. I can tell you that I didn't start reading Anne Rice or Tanith Lee because I won bubblebath or bookmarks from them after I met them in a chatroom. Granted, the ebook industry is different and the Intratubez offers a type of author/reader interaction we old fogies didn't enjoy in the past but...

Now, I focus on "promo items" as reward for existing readers who I want to thank for showing their support, because I do appreciate that I'm in a position right now to interact with readers. I don't expect anyone to actually buy the book because ooh free postcard and chance to get a T-shirt. I want them to buy the book because ooh this sounds like a good book. The postcards and t-shirt are sent out after the fact, because readers bought the book, not the other way around. Since I've changed the way I approach giveways, my sales went up. Then again maybe that was just coincidental timing and exponents finally kicked in, but either way, I don't run contests as a marketing ploy anymore.

Anonymous said...

Angela James mentions "name recognition" and I think that is key regarding the effect that promotion efforts have on readers--whether swag or contests or blogs or what have you.

Teddy Pig said...

Well, if you all want to know my number one item in my collection then it has to be the hand worked My Fair Captain t-shirt I own.

Yes J.L. Langley had my husband whip up some and I had to have one.

Gor-jesus mantitty in eight color screens came out most wonderfully.
He's gonna do it on stretched canvas next for the big first day on the Castro at A Different Light.

Just call him if you want your cover done up by hand

Yeah press as in no we don't do eBooks. YET! I might convince him someday.

Angela James said...

Angela James mentions "name recognition" and I think that is key regarding the effect that promotion efforts have on readers--whether swag or contests or blogs or what have you.

People even vote based on name recognition. As someone said to me, it's why you hear a candidate's name ten times in one commercial. It works on the same principle. You're going to reach for what you recognize, because you assume that makes it the best.

veinglory said...

Another recent experiment showed that being told something 10 times by one person influences a person as much as being told once each by ten different people.

But how do we know that 'name recognition' itself is not a myth? I cannot say that I notice high promoters and low promoters having much different in their sales from the same press. It seems to me that 'name recognition' being as far as I can see untestable might sometimes be a way to cling to the idea something works because we want it to--whether or not it does. It removes the obligation for promotion to cause sales by inserting something rather more intangible.

Angela James said...

As I said, I can't prove it. But to flip it around, authors argue that they want a publisher who markets them and recommend those publishers to other authors. Agents work to make sure that publishers are marketing their authors.

If promotion doesn't work or make a difference, then why do authors and agents care if publishers do marketing?

veinglory said...

I think some promotion works and much doesn't. With authors who do not prusue economic proof of effectiveness being more likely to be wasting money and writing time.

As an example I had an epublisher tell me that all advertisements are effective. I reply that that was certainly not true. Strangely enough the advertisement I was being asked to pay for never went ahead.

Some promotions work, some don't, the key I think is knowing the difference rather than pushing for more, all the time. I personally have seen authors burnt out and dropping to doing none after hundreds of hours of chats, contests and hundred of dollars worth of swag resulted in first month sales under 20 copies.

I would encourage doing 1) what works and sells books and 2) what is fun and so won't burn you out.

But I am sceptical about constructions that assure an author that something, anything, everything, works--it seem to me it doesn't help them promote more effectively over time by pursue what works and deserting what doesn't.

I must also note that the best promoting advice I had, from a Loose Id editor, was to write my next book. To promote only with time 'left over' from that. her opinion was nothing sells a book more than having more books to sell. It seems to be pretty true. And i don;t think my approach has left me with a terribly low profile. (Due mainly, I guess, to being a mouthy broad with a blog--which I enjoy writing).


Anonymous said...

emily, I agree that it's pretty difficult to translate 'name recognition' (concept) into sales/numbers, but here's my anecdotal evidence:

I'm talking with a friend whose reading tastes are slightly different from mine, leaning more towards say, Urban Fantasy. She's asking for recommendations, which I can't personally endorse as I don't read that much in that genre. But I interact with both readers and writers, so I'm familiar with some names, and those are the names I give her.

On the other hand, I completely agree that a writer's first promotion tool is to write the best books s/he can.

veinglory said...

I don't doubt at all that there *is* name recognition and more than I doubt that there *is* effective promotion.

I do doubt that book marks or key chains are an efficient way to acheive it. I have picked up dozens of bookmarks over the years (often against my will) but other than authors I came to know personal, I don't remember a single name that I learned through that method.

The fact that a good outcome exists doesn't seem to me to be evidence that swag is a cost/time effective way of getting it? Just as the fact that many places will charge you for an ad (without giving as much as a hit rate to their website) doesn't mean you will every earn back that $50 through sales in perpetutiy (including the delayed effect of name recognition). I do know, as a person who has studied memory and learning, that the vaste amjority of what we see and hear is either not noticed at all or promptly forgottn.

I feel that authors need to be sceptical and either pursue proof of effectiveness and refien their method to be actually noticed and remembered (e.g. targeting, soft sell, unique approaches), or realise they aren't doing it to sell books at all, even indirectly--but for other reasons like fun, socialising, fitting in or to express a craft (making banner, beeded book marks etc), bonding with their existing readership or out of blind faith that karma will somehow reward them in some other way for a good faith effort...

Amanda Young said...

I can't say whether promotional giveaways work or not, but I've come to accept them as part of the business. I don't usually see an abnormal jump in sales no matter how much I advertise. My sales are generally about the same regardless. However, paying for the little extras to keep my name in front of people helps me keep from pouting during tax season, so it's a win win situation. Also, I think offering little trinkets to my readers is a nice bonus for them. I mail out a considerable number of pens and magnets, so someone must like them.

Anonymous said...

It would be an interesting project, I think, to try to keep track of promotional efforts for a couple of authors/books, and see how they pan out...


I feel a project coming on.

veinglory said...

We clearly think alike, look for todays post which will seek author with two backlist book available for a study during may. One for no promo, one for promo. Data to be reported as sales above baseline (defined a average month sales for the previous 5 month for steady selling back list books).

Teddy Pig said...

I am no expert on this stuff but I have watched designers come in with various promotional projects.

I think if you are actually considering being serious about talking promotion then there is a big difference between promotion of someone new and promotion of someone with some cache to their name.

Brand Development in any market (Getting your name out there to begin with.) is way different than the growth (Brand Recognition) or the continued promotion (Brand Identity) or dealing with oopsies (Brand Blindness).

That is why people go to school to learn this stuff.

Anonymous said...

About a year ago I won a big thick envelope stuffed full with cover flats which must have cost a pretty penny to ship to Europe. The thing is, however, that I don't collect cover flats or bookmarks, usually *cough* I throw them away, so I forwarded the envelope to a friend who loves all those pictures of man titty and heaving bosoms. I would honestly have preferred a book by this author whom I had never read before, because so far her blurbs didn't make me go online and order her backlist, but a book might have had that result.

Teddy Pig said...

The number one piece of swag that actually got me to buy someone's book.

A nicely done small two chapter booklet printed on very nice art paper and obviously done by hand by the author. I think she had it with a tea candle don't remember.

Got my attention. Gave a quality feel and had romantic tones but was about the writing. Gave me enough to read and get the feel of the author. Great job!

Probably did not cost as much as some of the other stuff I have seen.

Anonymous said...

*checking today's post*

Lookee there! Cool!

Anonymous said...

I think self-marketing is something that *has* to be done these days to at least get your name out there.

however, I do believe that many micropresses are using that as a reason to avoid doing any promotion from the PUBLISHER's POV other than slapping the cover up on their website. Suddenly the book's entire success is put on the author's shoulders, and is probably doomed to fail without the publisher backing him/her up by at least sending out review copies or attempting to promote it.

jmo, of course..