The problem with swag


I just don’t get it.

Do people really buy books because an author is giving away pens, bookmarks, buttons, lipbalm, charms…

I can’t imagine Margaret Atwood giving away pens or phone doohickeys to readers as an incentive to buy her latest novel.

I’ve also noticed that authors that tend to give away a lot of swag spend more time focusing their readers attention on the bric-a-brac than on the actual book.

I really don’t get the swag thing. Maybe I’m just so anti tchotchke and refuse to clutter my life with trinkets that I don’t get the need of others to collect stuff. I’ll admit I do have a scorched earth policy when it comes to clutter in my house. I could probably use a bit more sentimentality.

But I still don’t get how buttons and charms sell books.

Who thinks to themselves “hmmmm…. this writer will give me a lipbalm if I buy her book… perhaps that makes it a much better book than the one that does not come with lipbalm…. I will buy this book with the lipbal because not only do I need a book, my lips are chapped and I need lipbalm… but then if this book really was good would the writer need to offer me lipbalm to get me to buy it? Oh decisions decisions….”

I really don’t get it. I have never bought a book because of the promise of swag no matter how chapped my lips are.

Needing swag to sell a book points to one very real and credible conclusion: The book wouldn’t be worth purchasing otherwise. A book worth reading doesn’t need a charm bracelet included to create value. Just because a book has been written doesn’t mean that it’s worthy of being put out into the world for public consumption.

If I writer needs to offer pens or pins to sell their book, then that book is probably not ready to be published. Instead of putting all of the time and effort into giving away swag, focus on creating a better work of fiction. Because once that first book is out there, there is no coming back. It’s a hard place to come back from as a writer if the first work you’ve put out into the word is just a pile of poo. People remember the piles of poo. Pile of poo have a tendency to keep stinking long after they’ve turned white and blown to dust.

It doesn’t matter how many bookmarks and pens you give away – if that first book is a pile of poo that’s what the readers are going to remember. Not the swag.

I will say in the name of full disclosure that I did have book cover postcards printed. The book cover postcards allow me to do one very specific thing for my ebook readers – I can autograph them. Possibly with a ball point pen I received from another author as an incentive to buy her book…

One thought on “The problem with swag

  1. I have to agree with you here…I've never been tempted to buy a book for something that came with it (except maybe where the companion book came free in a bundle)! Magazines with free gifts and Subscription deals are another matter entirely, maybe that's where the idea sprung from? When it comes down to books and how I choose to select them, a couple of fantastic book reviews and honest feedback from readers is all the incentive I need to make me want to devour the contents.
    That said, I have to tell you…I'm almost half way through your book Bare in Bermuda and I'm loving it. It's the first of your works that I've read and your style of writing is fantastic. I couldn't help but giggle at your account of Simon shooting the snake! I seriously had tears running down my legs. Looks like this is the start of an addiction to your books and one that I will be sharing with all my friends…I wouldn't want to keep you a secret!

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