by Damon Suede
I love free stuff.
I come by that honestly. I was raised by an Arabic mom in the Deep South and I don’t think we ever made it out of a relative’s home or business without affectionate presents being thrust upon us: anything from food to powertools to jewelry. For Arabs, impromptu gifts are a kind of physical manifestation of love and respect, so promotional items have always made perfect sense to me. Like crazed family gifting, author swag is a kind of concrete, three-dimensional “thank you” for fans.
When I found out about the upcoming GayRomLit retreat and signed up to head to New Orleans this October, I signed up so fast that my keyboard smoked. At long last, here was a convention designed to celebrate gay romance fiction in all of its sentimental, sinewy splendor. New Orleans in the autumn with a bunch of crazed fans? Muffulettas and strippers? Hell, yeah!
Of course, committing to attend a romance conference as an author means one thing: SWAG-You’re-It! Trouble is, gay romance is not a mass-market subgenre (yet). I can understand an up-n-coming MF author ordering ten thousand laser-etched, monogrammed tongue studs for RT or RWA in June, but with the GayRomLit event cap set at 300, I knew I’d have to be smart about my favors. In the world of promotionals, 300 is miniscule. Money is an object when customizing that few items. On the other hand, crappy swag is self-defeating.
What I learned is that authors are generally cagey about swag because no one wants to get scooped. Who wants six other writers to piggyback on the cool tchotchke they’ve unearthed? I needed to get off my asterisk and suss this for myself. In a panic, I called on my Arabic relatives. These folks are old-school merchants from way back and they have been selling things and trading things since their ancestors (in what was then Phoenicia) invented this funny thing we now call the alphabet to encourage retail. Nifty gifts and friendly swag are their lifeblood.
“What,” I asked, “can I bring to GayRomLit that won’t suck?!” Rabid liberals all, they were suitably titillated by the “naughtiness” of so many ladies digging sultry man-action, natch. But after jokes about customized ben-wa balls and themed undies, they gave me some useful advice that saved my hiney; you may know some of the lyrics already, but the song went a little something like this:
Promotion is favors. It’s always who you know… Don’t be afraid to call on the people who can help you in keeping costs low and coolness high. Let people who love you help identify things that are singularly you. Ask for help and answers will come from unexpected sources.
Cheap is expensive. Be judicious about your swag because 1 keeper does more than 15 trash-bound gewgaws. As my mom always said, “You can have anything Good/Fast/Cheap, but only two at a time.” So be sure to shop smart: good and fast, fast and cheap, or cheap and good.
Less is more. Swag doesn’t have to be expensive to have impact. The goal is to make a connection and as with any gift, a simple, well-chosen item always means more. Even if you’re a zillionaire, digital escargot forks can look lame next to something thoughtful and hand-made. Decide what you want to spend and accomplish, then find the sweet spot at that intersection.
Longer is better. Make sure that your swag is something you would keep and use. Cookies lovingly iced with your web address mainly get seen by people’s stomachs. If 15 writers bring corkscrews, yours may go in the bin. Always opt for gifts that will survive longer than the event.
Memory is key. All creative careers are built upon a name. KLEOS! There’s a reason Masters signed their canvases and autographs have value. Your swag choices should reflect your brand as an author, your style and subgenres. And whether you’re giving away keychains or iPods everything must bear your mark, be it website address, cover art, or that all important name. Help them remember.
In the end, my relatives’ sagacity and humor saved me a lot of headaches and hours and money. I decided what I wanted to spend per fan, set a price cap, and identified event-appropriate swag within my budget. I talked through those options with people who care about me and know my writing and get my “brand” such as it is. They pointed me in a direction and (I think) I wound up with distinctive favors I can’t wait to bring to our genre party in New Orleans.In the swag hunt, spending our time and money wisely saves our readers time and money as well. Smart promotional items work for us… encouraging repeat custom and long-term loyalty, keeping our names gently visible, while letting us write more and nag less. Like the surprises my relatives are always tucking in my jacket as I head out to the car, good swag is a gentle reminder to come back and visit.
Copyright 2010. Damon Suede. All Rights Reserved
Originally published in the Pot of Gold (#8, Q2,
newsletter of the
Rainbow Romance Writers chapter of the Romance Writers of America
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