Book Promotion Giveaways: What Works?

by  Cat Rambo

As authors increasingly explore way to promote their work, one question that occurs when launching a book concerns giveaways, things like bookmarks, pens, postcards, or sometimes more complex or costly items, used to promote the book. Before I started working on giveaways for the book I just had come out, Near + Far, I talked to a number of authors about what worked, what hadn’t, and what resources they’d recommend.

The most important tip: make your promotional item something that the recipient will want to keep, as well as one associated with the book. Ignore the former specification and it’ll go in the first de-cluttering spree the recipient embarks on. Ignore the latter and, while they may keep it, it does you little good if it’s not reminding them of your book.

The most traditional promotional item is the bookmark. Certainly they’re always useful, and I’ve always got a flotilla of them floating around the house. They’re relatively easy to do, and have plenty of space to put promotional text. I’ve seen a number of people attach their own ribbons to them, and those always look pretty, but I imagine what a pain in the butt it must be to assemble them.

Posters, postcards, booklets – paper items overall are popular, particularly crafty ones. Martha Wells noted:

I’ve done two promo items I’ve really liked, and that seemed to be fairly successful. The first was a small booklet with the first chapter of The Cloud Roads, with some reviews and ordering info. I spent the money to get it done on slick paper, with color cover, and it went over pretty well, but was expensive. Second was suggested by a reader, an air recognition card (based on the WWII aircraft recognition cards) for the Fell and Raksura in the Raksura Books. It has info on the books on the back. That one seems to go over really well. Before those, I just made bookmarks, and they did okay. I think the air rec cards are the best, because they were cheaper to produce, people think they’re funny, and they can also be used as bookmarks.

A paper item I tried with my latest book was stickers. Interior artist Mark Tripp made stickers using the interior artwork from the book using, making sure that the stickers had the name of the art, the title, author name, and publishing house (in very very tiny lettering). They looked pretty nifty and were sized so people could put them on a laptop or e-reader. Cost effective? Very.

Rhonda Eudaly Simpson takes small spiral notebooks and puts stickers with her books info on them on the front cover. They stand out on a giveaway table, and who doesn’t need a notebook? Pens fall in the same camp; I still have a number of pens garnered from conventions, and I use them on a regular basis.

Moving away from paper, most people seemed to agree that buttons were fun, but not the sort of item that made someone want to go look up the book. One promotion a number of people pointed to were the sandalwood fans Mary Robinette Kowal has been using to great effect. Melissa Mead Tyler said, “I actually think my favorite swag was Mary Robinette Kowal’s fan. In fact, not only did I keep it, but when I was trying to remember the name of her book, that’s where I looked for a reminder.”

Kowal’s also used temporary tattoos to good effect — when an important line was dropped from her second book, she capitalized on the error by using tattoos supplying the missing first line. There’s plenty of companies ready to make one based on your art. My personal theory about items like this is that you want things people will show off to other people (hopefully subtly shilling for your book in the process) and temporary tattoos certainly fit the bill.

Badge ribbons are a popular item for conventions. Sandra Tayler suggested this resource,  while Elaine Isaak recommended Hodges Badge company.

Handmade items are often a winner. Elaine Isaak said:

For my first books, I made little sculpted books and cast them in metal (an off-shoot of the business I had at the time). They had a ring for hanging from a necklace or keychain. People loved that I had made them myself, and that they were metal, ie, they had weight and felt real. Years later, I was at Cat Valente’s Kaffeeklatsche, chatting with her afterward and she pulled her keychain from her pocket–where my book was still dangling.

The jewelry that Mark Tripp and I assembled to promote Near + Far was relatively simple to put together, although it took a few experimental batches before we learned the trick of working with the resin. The pendants were lovely, and I bought chains to give out with them so people would put them out and wear them around the convention I was giving them out at. I did special versions for the book blurbers and people who had worked on the book.

People really liked these, and a giveaway featuring them had led to a slight bump in traffic to my site. I used one with the Goodreads giveaway as well as some on other blogs. Photos of them as well as of people wearing theirs enlivened the book’s Facebook page, (so far the one of Nancy Kress has seen the most traffic). They were fun to do and I hope to see people wearing theirs at cons in years to come. Cost effective? Maybe.

Don’t overlook the possibilities the web offers. While you could spend a lot on a fancy website, there are alternatives that cost considerably less. M.K. Hobson mentioned two possibilities: one, make an interactive jigsaw puzzle of your cover  or two, make an interactive map of your world, including tags where story events take place.

And never underestimate the power of sugar. Danielle Ackley-McPhail notes: When we were launching Bad-Ass Faeries at Balticon back in 2006 I bought $60 worth of pixie stix printed 1/4 page flyers and had minions walking the con wearing wings I’d made. They handed out the pixie stix with the flyers. The catch phrase was Pixie Stix for Bad-Ass Faeries..Made from real pixies. Best $60 I ever spent. Sold 120 books that weekend. Would have sold more…if I hadn’t sold out.

One item I’d urge against trying is flash drives. I have never put a promotional flash drive anywhere near my computer and I never will. As a former network security professional, that makes me want to scream. Other possibilities, though, include audio CDs of book material, or excerpts on a disk.

There’s a number of things I haven’t seen tried yet. The success of bookmarks makes me wonder what source of similar things one could come up up that were e-reader based — perhaps nifty covers for them or little ornaments that could be stuck on.

In closing, I’d like to pass along the single most valuable piece of advice, received  from M.K. Hobson: “The most important lesson about promo items came from a piece I did for my day job, not for my writing. It is simply this: NEVER INCLUDE GLITTER.”


Cat Rambo’s most recent short story collection, Near + Far, appeared this fall from Hydra House. Find links to her fiction as well as her upcoming online classes on her website,