Free: Not Necessarily a Good Price

As a dyed-in-the-CPU geek, I’ve attended beaucoup technical conferences and I can tell you nothing fires up your average nerdy type like free stuff. We stampede the vendor hall to scavenge the giveaways. T-shirts. Water bottles. Tote bags. Orange rubber duckies.

I’ll always grab a XXL t-shirt for Curmudgeonly Husband. I’ll score a water bottle for Lovely Daughter to cart to her daily gym sessions (she just joined a Muay Thai gym…be afraid).

But the problem with most of that stuff? It’s not technical. The most successful swag, in my opinion, is something a tech person would actually use. A USB flash drive (even a piddly 1GB model…pish) beats out a water bottle by a mile. Free software body-slams the Tyvek tote bag every day and twice on Sunday. And as for the t-shirts…well, never mind. No self-respecting geek would ever turn down a free t-shirt.

The point is that swag runs the very real risk of heading directly to landfill if it isn’t a value-add, and it won’t serve its promotional purpose unless the voracious swag consumer actually holds onto the freebie and – dare I suggest it – uses the dang thing.

That’s the problem I have trying to come up with reasonable author swag. My books (current and forthcoming) are e-books. What the hell use is a bookmark when you read on a Kindle or Nook or iPad? It serves no purpose. It adds no value. Unless you are far more organized than I and keep a scrapbook filled with bookmarks and postcards and book cover facsimiles, that stuff goes straight into recycling. Why bother?

But when I attended the Portland Gay Romance Northwest meet-up in January and had the opportunity to chat with the awesome Devon Rhodes, a prolific author of gay romance, she showed me a piece of multi-author swag that actually has a life-after-conference.

GRL_BraceletDevon attended the first GRL (Gay Rom Lit Retreat) in 2011. At the author signing event there, authors who wished to participate brought along a bead that they’d selected to represent themselves. Conference attendees could chat with their favorite authors and receive a bead to string onto a leather cord. After the conference, Devon prettied hers up with a higher-end cord, added a clasp, and made herself a terrific charm bracelet, something she wears frequently. And every time she does? She remembers those other authors and the good time they had at GRL.

Now that’s a value-add. Damn. Wish I’d thought of it.


This post originally appeared at See Jane Publish. Our topic? The ever-popular, ever-horrifying, and ever-mysterious world of author marketing.