As an author, I’d love to have my publisher promote my books for me, so I can just write my next bestseller. And as a publisher, I want to do what I can to sell more books. Since I wear both hats, I can’t have it both ways. I have to figure out what actually works, so I don’t waste time or money.
One of the things authors do to promote their work is to give away promotional items at conferences or as prizes for contests they hold on their blogs, Facebook, or Goodreads. These items (bookmarks, key chains, sewing kits, candy, post cards, mugs, etc.) are labeled with the author’s website or book title and given to readers in the hope that the items will inspire the reader to buy the author’s books. The idea is that by repeated exposure the reader will be more likely to remember the author’s name or her book. It’s an appealing idea, because we all like to get free stuff, and we all want to do something to improve our sales. Giant pharmaceutical companies do this all the time with doctors, so it must work, right?
Big Pharma aside, I can only tell you what works on me as a a reader. I take home only about 10% of the bookmarks I get at conferences. I keep the emery boards and sewing kits, but I’ve never purchased a book because of them–though I did check out the author’s website. I sometimes read the free books I’ve gotten, and once I became a fan of that author’s work and read everything else she’s written.
Giving away books is an expensive proposition, and is usually the province of traditional publishers. Smaller trinkets are within the reach of the indie publisher, but they’re still not worth spending money on if giving them away doesn’t produce an increase in sales greater than the cost of the items. That’s hard to measure, some would say, because the sales might occur weeks or months down the road. Most people however, act sooner rather than later, closer in time to their initial exposure to the stimulus. (That’s why you get a new catalog from the same store every week in the two months before Christmas. They want their stuff in front of you when you decide to buy.) There may be a few people who keep a bookmark because it’s pretty and several months later finally get around to checking out the author’s website, but those will be a very small number of consumers and not statistically significant. If a promo item has an effect, you’ll see it within a few weeks at most.
I have given away postcards of my book covers at conferences, and put them on freebie tables at conventions. I didn’t see any improvement in sales from this.
Alternatively, I’ve had mugs made with the same “Romance, Mystery, and Magic” lightning logo that’s on my website and business cards, filled them with chocolate, and given them away as door prizes when I speak. In this case, I’m not trying to directly influence sales, I’m trying to create a positive association with my brand. (Who doesn’t like chocolate? :-)) Giving something away gets the attention of the entire audience even if only two people get a prize. That’s the idea, anyway. I’m not sure it’s a cost effective way to advertise, but it’s not too expensive and it’s fun to make people happy.
So how do you keep your name in front of readers without breaking the bank, especially if readers indicate that social media isn’t the answer, either? I wish I knew the answer to that, but I don’t. I’ve heard good things from other authors about using a mailing list to announce new releases, but I haven’t tried it yet myself.
The take away from this is that you should think long and hard about whether the money you spend on promotional items is going to result in improved sales. If not, you may want to spend your time and money where it will do the most good: on professional editing and covers.