Swag and You – What’s Your Opinion?

Hi guys! Now that the madness of editing has passed (for now), I have time to sit down and address some promotional issues. One thing that keeps popping up is the availability of bookmarks, signed postcards, bookplates (basically, my signature shipped straight to you!), and other paper swag.

Now, I would absolutely love to be able to send out swag willy-nilly. I think it would be great fun. I love getting things in the mail (I love the old-fashioned nature of mail, period) – it comes from being somewhat reclusive, and from spending parts of my childhood in semi-remote areas. I just love the thrill of finding something special in the mailbox. And I love sending people little presents. So what’s the issue? Why am I not doing this as we speak?

The issue is cost. Unless they hit the big time, unless they’re really lucky, writers are not rich people. I am incredibly fortunate that my writing has gotten me to a place where I don’t have to wonder how I’m going to pay my bills each month. I can barely begin to articulate how grateful I am for that. But I’m still not rich. And all of the swag postage, all of the swag production costs – those are mine to shoulder. My publishing company doesn’t reimburse me for such things. Luckily enough, I just did my taxes, so I can tell you that I spent exactly $512.71 on postage last year (shipping out free books, swag, things for contests, etc.) and $550.85 on the production/purchase of the swag itself. That’s all out of my own pocket, and that’s without¬†advertising the availability of swag. I’m sure there are authors out there who pay much less. I’m sure there are authors out there who’d glance at these figures and tell me I’m being miserly and cheap. (I often have that fear, myself – that I’ll be seen as cheap for worrying about costs this way.)

Now, I’m ¬†happy to pay for bookmarks and to provide things for contests. I like the chance to make people happy, and it is good marketing. But there also comes a point where I begin to worry about costs, simply because – hey, I’m human. And this is the real world. This is why I haven’t yet made a program available whereby I ship out paper swag, because I’ve been trying to come up with a way to ethically balance the cost of production and shipping. Yes, ethics is a huge part of this. Personally, I never want to accept money for a signature, or money for a piece of promotional swag. That seems wrong to me. There’s also the fact that I have (thankfully!) fans the planet over, and shipping outside of the US is very expensive.

So, it’s been hard trying to come up with options. Which is why I’m turning to you guys. What are your ideas for how we could accomplish a program like this? What do you think is fair? What do you think would be absolutely unfair? Am I just being cheap?

Here are my ideas thus far:

1. A giveaway cap. Either a budget (“I can only do up to $50 a month in shipping/purchasing”) or a quota/waiting list (“I can only accept 5 US names and 2 non-US names a week for paper swag mailings”).

2. A PayPal account where people can pay for US postage per swag mailing, with me eating the cost of non-US mailings. (I don’t like this option; it feels too much like accepting money.)

3. A SASE program where people can mail a self-addressed-stamped-envelope to a PO Box, which I will return full of swag. (I think this is the best option, but it is potentially cost-prohibitive for non-US fans.)

One of the things I’m most proud of as an author is the fact that many people have told me “you are so kind and giving.” I’m always amazed when people act like I’ve gone out of my way for them, because I always feel like I’m only extending common courtesy. I want to continue that trend, and I want to make as many people happy as I can – but some icky “real life” things have to be taken into consideration, too. So I’m really looking forward to your input on this issue!

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13 Comments

  1. Alisha Blanchard
    Feb 20, 2012

    For the options that you posted, I like numbers #1 and #3. #3 I think is the best option, but you could also do #1 as a way to ensure that you don’t get overwhelmed in this venture. I like that there is the option to send a SASE because I can do that option to make it easier on myself as well as the person I’m send the mail to. I hope to look forward to the day that I will be able to do the same thing as you. I would love to be published and receive fan mail, and be able to send my fans things in the mail. Hope this helps.

  2. Haylie Langwald
    Feb 20, 2012

    After reading just the heading of your post, I had been thinking of sending a SASE. Then, as a Canadian, I realized I have no idea how much postage is for what you would send me. I would hate to be short, or put too many stamps on. After reading your post, I would prefer sending you paypal. Don’t think of it as taking money from me, you’re just buying my postage for me :).

  3. Katherine S
    Feb 20, 2012

    Options #1 and #3 both seem like great ideas. Option #3 seems like a better choice for everyone, and It would be less costly for you. I don’t think your fans/readers/bloggers would mind sending postage. Like Alisha stated, I would love to recieve fan mail and to be published. I love receiving mail.

  4. Emberchyld
    Feb 20, 2012

    Hi Lia!

    SASE was the way to go “waaaaay back when.” (I’m going to make myself sound REALLY OLD here, but I was soooo happy to get a response to a letter that I sent to Judy Blume back in the 80’s, all done via SASE to her publisher.) I’ve seen a few authors do that, and I haven’t heard anyone complain about paying for a stamp (or more, if the swag is slightly bigger. Heck, most of us are happy TO get swag!)

    That could free you up for a few non-SASE giveaways throughout the year.

    Also, never underestimate the power of rallying fans to help you with swag distribution. I’m sure there are a few fans internationally who may volunteer to deliver swag to, say, local bookstores, libraries, or book groups. Jeri Smith-Ready has an awesome “street team” of fans who help her get the word out about her books through word-of-mouth, online, and swag distribution.

    Swag is awesome, but not if it puts our favorite authors into the poor house (where there’s no plug for their laptops and then they start having to write on the back of promotional fliers, which means that we have to wait years for new books as they search out typewriters and pray that the roll of ink doesn’t run out…) I think most, if not all, of your fans will understand that!

  5. Katie @ Blook Girl
    Feb 20, 2012

    I like Options #1 and #3. Maybe you could also consider a PayPal Donate Button, where we can choose IF we want to donate and how much… but that option should be implemented alongside another option and not just by itself.

    I understand where you’re coming from, and I think your other fans will, too :)

  6. Lakeshia Artis
    Feb 20, 2012

    Hi Lia

    You came up with some great ideas in order to reach your fans. Although you do want to continue maintaining a personal connection with them, you still have to make sure its cost effective for you. Personally, I don’t mind paying for the stuff I want if its within my budget. I think #2 and #3 are great ideas. I also agree that you need to put a cap on giveaways. Lets face it, you are doing well but you don’t want to overextend yourself. I wouldn’t feel guilty about taking money from people who want your products. We paid for your book. BTW, I loved it. I would definitely start looking into setting up a paypal account site for your business.

  7. Charlene mays
    Feb 20, 2012

    I like #3 the best!!! You are so sweet to do this! I shall follow your posts and see what you end up doing.

    Love you!!! So freaking much!!!!

  8. Lori
    Feb 20, 2012

    Hi Lia! I think these are all great options and I agree with everyone on here that #1 and #3 are the best. With #3, don’t feel at all guilty about this because I know there are a lot of authors (who offer swag to fans) who ask for a SASE for the swag (even authors who’ve sold LOTS of books.) I think it’s wonderful of you to offer such great options to your fans for cool swag and your signature, and doing so in a thoughtful way is even better! You shouldn’t feel guilty about any of it because offering such great things is such a treat for us, and the least we can do is pay for a little bit of postage each. It’s a win-win for everyone. Plus, I’m sure all of your fans wouldn’t care one bit to pay for postage. As for out-of-US fans, perhaps they could check with their post office for rates of postage. I have friends overseas and I’ve asked my post office before about different postage costs (per ounce, for a postcard, etc.) and they have lists of rates for different countries. Thank you so much for being so thoughtful and kind :D

  9. Miss Habel
    Miss Habel
    Feb 20, 2012

    Thanks so much guys – this is all great input! So far I’m leaning towards #3 for anyone who cares to, foreign or domestic, with maybe a monthly giveaway – “the first ten people who sign up here get it free”-type thing. We could mix it up, like, “the first ten people who also follow me on Twitter” or “the first ten people who can answer this trivia question.”

  10. Abigail Lacandalo
    Feb 20, 2012

    Hi Lia!

    I agree with haylie langwald. I prefer paypal. Just think of it like you’re buying my postage for me. I’m from new zealand so i bet the postage wont come cheap. i wouldnt mind shouldering the postage when by doing so, i’ll probably be able to receive even just a signed bookmark from one of my fave authors. I’ll be extremely happy. :)

    All the best to you, Lia!

  11. Laura
    Feb 20, 2012

    I like #3.
    I write letters and send packages to my friend in England every other week so I understand how the funds begin to dry up.

  12. Kathy
    Feb 21, 2012

    #1 and #3 sound good! I would prefer #3 though.

  13. Alyssa Albrecht
    Feb 25, 2012

    1 and 3 Deff.

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  1. Swag and You! | Lia Habel - [...] First of all, I really want to thank everyone who weighed in on the initial post. It …

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