Promotional Items: The Good and Bad

I recently returned from the ACFW conference held in Indianapolis. This is an annual gathering of the largest membered group of Christian fiction authors. It’s a great time to connect with fellow writers and hope some of the writing genius from authors like Dan Walsh, Tosca Lee, James Scott Bell, and Frank Peretti infuses life into my writing cells.

Promo1Most conferences have a “freebie” table where writers are allowed to leave promotional items to get the word out about their product. This year I thought I’d give you my take on them. The good and the bad.

Think of a promotional item with a goal in mind. What do you want it to do for you? Consider the return on your investment and what you hope to achieve. I think most people view a promotional item as a chance for exposure. Most marketing types will tell you it takes six-ten exposures for someone to buy your product. So a good promotional item is something a person will keep and look at over and over.

I’ve determined that giving away bookmarks is not a good idea. EVERY author/writer does this and last year when I had bookmarks I ended up taking most of them home. They are not unusual enough anymore and with the advent of e-readers I think many do not need them anymore either.

One way bookmarks could work is if you are a very popular, well-known author and they are signed. But, sigh, that is not me. Yet.

RedwoodNewsletterQRMy goal was to get people to subscribe to my forthcoming newsletter. I gave out full-size Hershey Bars and packs of gum with the stickers you see on the first photo. The sticker includes this QR code that links to a newsletter sign-up form where I’m giving away a prize worth over $75.00. It includes all three books of my Bloodline trilogy, a $25.00 Amazon gift card, a $25.00 Starbucks gift card and some fun Halloween items (yes, this is still happening, so sign up!) and goes on until October 1st, 2013.

I brought 108 chocolate bars (okay, I did eat ONE) and 36 packs of gum. I didn’t have to bring any home, which was great. People were interested enough to pick them up but, thus far, I’ve only gotten about six new newsletter subscribers, making it a very expensive venture with few results. Perhaps the QR code is not intuitive for people yet.

Other promotional items and my thoughts.

promo2 promo3 promo4 promo5 promo6 promo71. Luggage Tag: This is a good idea because not only do you use it but also other people along the way can see it.

2. Small button flashlights for key chains: I’m iffy on these. The writing on one is hard to read and the light is weak. They are fun to have but I don’t know if I would use them.

3. Ribbon bookmark: I’m personally not a fan. I am a no-wrinkle-on-the-pages kind of girl and putting a large plastic paper clip on pages would wrinkle them. Plus, it was not very intuitive to me what it was at first because it was attached to a business card.

4. Pack of sticky notes: This was given out by a publisher. Nice, as most authors love office supplies.

5. A bag of tea: This one I liked because I’m a tea lover. I think this would also be more economical than what I did, as mine ran about 50-60 cents apiece. I think it’s a good tie-in for some genres (romance, cozy mystery, historical set in England) but not so much for suspense. It might not work for my books.

6. Grippie lid opener: Someone can post in the comments what the real name of this is. I like this one for its durability. It’s something I’ll keep on hand and use and therefore will expose me to this author’s name multiple times.

7. Small composition notebook: This one I’m actually giving a gold star and I’ll tell you why. I still have the one from last year in my purse. Every time I pull it out, I see that author’s name. I actually looked into doing this myself but they run (at the cheapest) about $1.00 apiece and that was too spendy for me.

What about you? Which promotional items do you like? Which do you think you’d actually pick up and keep? What have you used as a promotional item and did you appreciate the return on investment?

22 Replies to “Promotional Items: The Good and Bad”

  1. Great post, Jordyn! Since my first book was a gift book with poems, quotes, and Scriptures, I enjoy handing out postcards. And people actually mail them to their friends. I have three different designs with three different poems. And I stick them in books with purchases, hand them out at vacation spots and Christian camps. (I think the best place to purchase them is

    I also enjoy giving out pens with the name of my book and website. Although my website is my name, I had a second name connect to the same site (the name of my book: That way I only had to write one word on that particular pen:

    Another promotion tool can be unique business cards. I have several with different poems on them. You can also use Scriptures or quotes, especially if they relate to a theme of your book. It gives you an opportunity to talk about your book when you hand them out.

    And I agree with you about notebooks. I think the key is to give them to key people at key conferences during key times. Sure people use laptops and ipads, but sometimes it’s easier to scribble down diagrams, random notes, and contact information in a notebook. And then, if it becomes “important” to the recipients, they’ll want to hang onto it forever. : )

    1. Postcards— I’m glad you’re are having some good luck with them. I have them but to be honest they mostly advertise the book so I like these other ideas a lot– making them unique and useful with a recipe or poem. Then it really would be worth mailing to someone! Thanks for leaving a good site for postcards, too. I’m always looking for new resources.

  2. I’ve had some interest in my novel through bookmarks (signed, of course). I wonder if they’d be more effective with a QR code that links to the Amazon page of my book. I also use pens with my name, brand, and website. People LOVE my pens and often ask for another one because theirs walked away!

    1. That’s awesome. I’m a super picky pen type and so I don’t go for a lot of promotional pens based on that. Maybe it’s the way I write as a left-handed person but a lot of ball point pens, gel pens don’t work for me.

      It didn’t seem that a lot of people used the QR code but I want to do some more experimenting with it.

    2. Bonnie Doran’s pens R-O-C-K…I have two of them that I covet and won’t let anyone else use!

  3. SUCH a good post, Jordyn. Something I have tried to brainstorm for each event. In the last year, since I’ve been attending author events, I’ve noticed several things that seemed effective.

    I’ve seen some folks use thumbdrives, and while many people use clouds now for backup, people still pick up those usb ports it seems. I too think pens are always a good, safe bet…or Sharpies! But I happen to LOVE your candy idea. The only problem is that it’s disposable, so maybe you could attach the candy to something they’ll carry home and keep. Lisa Wingate gave away little buttons last year that were cute. And I have those jar openers in my kitchen from events gone by.

    The Southern Belles I blog with ( just returned from SIBA in New Orleans where the convention sets up a scavenger hunt. We listed our scavenger hunt item — a fan. We ordered really cute paper fans, like the traditional southern funeral fans or church fans, and had them printed with a sassy southern saying and our website, etc. Something the women liked and carried home with them. Not so true about the men, except the ones who grabbed one for their daughters.

    The other really great giveaway I noticed were music or audio cds to go along with the books. Pricey, I’m betting, but something I’d take and give a listen, just out of curiosity.

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I might try the notepad idea next! Cheers, Julie

    1. Thanks Julie for adding the promotional items you found, too. Yes, attaching to something more permanent I think is a good idea. Plus– people seemed to take BOTH the chocolate and the gum which lessened the impact and something I didn’t think about.

      It’s just so hard to know what will work and you want some return on investment. I imagine those thumb drives would be a pretty penny for sure.

      I like when people tie in with something unique– like your fans– definitely a southern appeal.

      If I could I’d do sharp knives (for suspense) with maybe some fake blood dripping off them but you know – – this is a joke ;0!!

  4. This is a great idea-starter, Jordyn. I’ve gotten rid of business cards, and use my bookmarks for that. I love the idea of a postcard with a recipe or poem or Scripture – I’m thinking I might now try a postcard with an interesting bird fact on it for my Birder Murders. Thanks everyone for your comments, too – brain-storming via WordServe is awesome!

    1. I think that would be good Jan– the bird postcards with interesting bird facts. It’s getting engagement with your brand that’s tricky– getting people excited. Hard to catch someone’s eye these days.

      I noticed I have been giving out a lot LESS business cards and I just placed an order for a bunch of new ones before I went to ACFW. I don’t think I’m well-known by any means but I think the more conferences you go to (particularly if it’s the same one) it’s like coming back to a family reunion where everyone kind of knows who you are— Oh hey– there’s my fifth cousin removed who I haven’t seen in five years.

      That kind of thing.

  5. Tote bags. Yes, I had tote bags made with the picture of my book cover, Lily, on the front of them. I didn’t want a flimsy bag, so I ordered a nice size sturdy one. Now, I have about 80 – 90 bags stored in my guest room. (My office is full of books.)

    The cost of the promotional item was $5.oo each. If the customer ordered three copies of my book, they received a free tote bag. I only received one order. I also have them available on my book table at events for $5.00 each. My cheerleaders (those who love my book and have bought several copies) have received free tote bags and I use them as give a-ways at my book talks.

    I was disappointed with my vender—I’d requested my website to be printed on the back of the tote bag and he wasn’t able to do that. I do insert my business card inside each bag. I don’t encourage others to invest in tote bags. For me it hasn’t been a cost effective promotional item.

  6. Pens. I’m always running out of pens. Luckily husband went to a conference a couple of weeks back and managed to bring back five. I’ve appropriated one, but the other four have already disappeared. I like fine-tip pens with a fairly narrow barrel, because I use spiral-bound notebooks, and a narrow pen fits in the spiral binding.

    I also like chocolate (although I get that it doesn’t last long) and sticky notes. I’ve also seen USB sticks as promotional tools – you can get very cool business-card sized ones, so they fit into your wallet or card holder.

    On the CD/DVD idea … it can’t be that expensive. When I lived in London, my husband would buy a newspaper on the way home from work, and they’d often have a free CD or DVD attached. I know newspapers print thousands of copies, but the paper only cost 35p even with the free CD. The tricky part would be royalties on whatever was on the CD.

  7. Jordyn, I love this post. I am always on the lookout for a better way to promote. I want something that people can and will use and will have my name/web address on them. That seems like a simple thing, but it’s really not. There are so many to choose from!

    I like the idea of the pens Iola had. I like what B J said about tote bags, but I agree. $5 per is prohibitive. I’m sure you can make your own, but with writing, marketing, media and life, that doesn’t really seem to be a viable option unless you don’t need much sleep.

    I found a couple things I want to try. Last year, I had magnetic calenders with recipes for each month. Those I ran out of very quickly and while I didn’t babysit my book, my sales did spike online via Amazon. It wasn’t very expensive either ~ I used MagnetsUSA.

    Another idea I had and tried with success, was recipe cards. What I did, I ordered a bunch of postcards from Vistaprint with the cover of my books (as well as those I’m working on) with a popular recipe on the back. Those went so fast I couldn’t keep them. I’d leave them on restaurant tables and the waiters and waitresses would ask if I had more. I will absolutely do that one again. It was a favorite.

    Thanks for kick-starting my creative wheels again. I love learning these new things and getting new ideas!

  8. Personally, I love the candy idea! You might not have had a lot of sign-ups, but people will remember your name.

    I’m a big fan of bookmarks – but not at writers conferences. I keep them in my purse at all times (to my teen daughter’s dismay), and whenever people ask about my books, I hand them bookmarks – then they have all they need – author, titles, website, FB/Twitter. I also send them out to interested reader/influencers. And my mom hands out hundreds to her friends.

    For giveaways, I usually do bigger-ticket items with a drawing. I have a super-talented friend who made vintage aprons with my book cover on the pocket (perfect for WWII historicals!) and really cute first-aid kits with the book cover on them (since my new series follows WWII nurses). These are great conversation starters at signings/speaking events – and lead to lots of newsletter sign-ups. They cost quite a bit more ($10-$20 each), but since I do a drawing, the cost evens out.

    1. Sarah,

      I have to say I think you’re a marketing genius. Everything you do is so creative and aligned with your brand. I am taking notes every time you put something out!

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