Book Promotions Using Swag: What You Need to Know

Updated on May 15, 2019
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a promotional products expert and author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business.


Every once in a while, I’ll run across a blog that suggests authors use promotional products (often referred to as swag) to promote their books. In theory, and as a former promotional products distributor, I say that’s a great idea.

However, it is also a costly idea, especially for self published authors. You can easily blow your entire book budget and revenues with just one order!

Here's what you need to know.

What are Promotional Products, or Swag?

Promotional products and giveaways, or swag, are physical merchandise such as pens, T-shirts, mugs, etc. that have a logo or marketing message imprinted on them. They are used to market and advertise businesses or causes.

They can be very effective marketing tools due to their staying power. Recipients might keep the imprinted item for years!

How Might Swag be Used for Books?

In many of the blogs or articles I’ve seen, there are lots of creative ways to use swag to promote a book. Custom bookmarks are common for promoting print books. Imprinting the book cover or book title on a T-shirt or mug, adhesive notes, toys... you name it.

An imprinted product could also be an incentive or package deal for a book. For example, a book could be sold with the T-shirt as a package.

Some authors may also want to use a special imprinted promotion when sending a print book to potential book reviewers to gain even more attention.

Why Using Promotional Products (Swag, Branded Merch or Whatever You Call It) Isn't Great for Book Promotions

The Drawback to Using Swag to Promote Books


The biggest drawback to using promotional products for books is cost. The items usually need to be purchased in bulk, often with high minimums in the hundreds. This doesn’t even take into consideration the cost to ship the items to you, setup and artwork charges. A single promotional product order can cost several hundred dollars.

Luckily, with many online printing companies (such as Vistaprint), low minimums for imprinted items are available, even the option of buying only one item. But the cost per item could be several times what it would be if purchased in bulk. Even then, it’s better to purchase a small quantity of a higher priced item than to get stuck with hundreds of dollars of merchandise that you’ll have to store.

It’s Physical

How will potential readers get the book’s swag? This is one of the biggest problems. If I remember right, I saw an author who considered mailing swag to his potential readers. That, on top of the high cost of the items, will drain money faster than you can imagine, not to mention the time, effort and postage required to package and ship.

True, items such as flat paper bookmarks might be easy to mail in regular envelopes. But you still have the cost of the item, the envelope, the addressing, and the postage (which in the United States as of this writing is around a half a dollar a stamp). That could still run into the hundreds of dollars.

It’s Promoting a Small Sale with Small Profit

Here’s the biggest reason not to consider promotional products for a book. The per book revenue or royalty you’ll make might be less than the total cost of the promotional item. You might end up making very little, nothing at all, or, at worst, you might sustain a loss.

Promotional products are better suited for promotions aimed at buyers who are frequent repeat customers, or who are making a large purchase (like a car). These items keep the brand name in front of the customer whose lifetime sales value could be several hundred to several thousand dollars.

It May Not Lead to a Sale

A downside of promotional products is that there are lots of people who like getting the item, but aren’t really interested in what or who it promotes. This a problem especially at events and trade shows.

People Don’t Share Swag

If potential readers think the book’s swag is cool, they’re going to keep it. That’s great, but that means that the marketing and sale stops there. They’re not going to pass that cool item along to a friend who could become a buyer. Getting a post or share about your book on Facebook from a reader or reviewer—for free!—could have more impact than that super cool item.

Check Your Ego and Your Budget Before You Check Out

Sure, seeing the title or artwork of your book on an item is an ego booster! But check your budget and your ego before you click the Buy button. Why do you want to use swag to promote your book? What do you hope to gain in total sales and royalties from this promotion? Don’t know? Don’t buy.

Consider other low cost advertising alternatives before book swag.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Heidi Thorne


    Submit a Comment
    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      9 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Flourish! Indeed, in this situation, swag is more of an ego play than any real marketing benefit. I hope some authors listen and don't waste their truly hard earned book income on it.

      Thanks for chiming in and have a beautiful day!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      9 months ago from USA

      I can't imagine that swag would be useful other than to give to family and friends. It's the ultimate in vanity publishing, as you mention. You provide excellent advice for all authors smart enough to listen!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      9 months ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, Pamela, for stopping by and adding your kind comments. Have a beautiful week!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      9 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Donna! So true that people don't realize how expensive it is until they get started buying it. The per piece pricing looks so attractive... until you have to deal with the minimums and setup fees.

      Thanks so much for adding your experience with buying swag. Have a wonderful week!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      9 months ago from Chicago Area

      Liz, indeed, some books have been the spark for merchandising mega brands. And you make an excellent point that non-celebrity authors have to give it away, whereas the celebs can sell it.

      Thanks for adding that important perspective to the discussion! Have a great week!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      9 months ago from Chicago Area

      Bill, as a former promo person, I used swag, too, for my first book. Even though I was able to get some favorable pricing due to my relationships with suppliers, it still was expensive and I haven't done it since.

      Thanks for stopping by and have a great week, too!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 months ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a very informative artcle for authors. It is interesting and it give some great advice about "swag".

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 

      9 months ago from USA

      Hi Heidi - This is a great article about buying promotional materials in general. Although I've never considered buying swag to promote a book, I have been in many meetings about buying promotional items for gift bags, giveaways, and other special events. These items are always far more expensive than you initially assume, and often the cost far exceeds the benefits. Thanks for another well written article!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      9 months ago from UK

      You give a very balanced discussion of the pros and cons of swag. The irony is that the real big selling books like for example the Harry Potter series have spawned a whole merchandising industry of their own. Successful authors such as JK Rowling make a lot from merchandise associated with the original book. It's the authors at the far end of the scale that have to give away the merchandise to raise interest in their books.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I tried it once, with my first novel. It's an expensive game to play, one I'm not willing to play going forward...great information, as always.

      Have a brilliant week, Heidi...stay safe and warm...spring is on the way, or so I'm told.


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