Struttin’ My Stuff

I have to admit it: I am naïve. Not to mention, so far behind the times you need the Hubble Space Telescope to see me. When I think ‘swag’, I’m thinking of the bags I get at conventions and conferences where the organisers have put in things like a pen or two and a notebook and a leaflet about the company/department/charity of choice. And, if you were organising conferences for EU members during Labour’s presidency—and I was—presidency polyester ties with what looked like squashed pizzas drawn on them by artistically-challenged five-year-olds. Don’t press me on that, okay? My soul still bears the scars.

Not for the first time, I have missed out on a huge internet meme. Swag has changed its meaning. It’s now “a type of style or presence that exudes confidence and is sometimes interpreted as arrogance”. Yup. Swag has been conflated with swagger, and when I (in my usual innocent fashion) googled swag images in order to make this a brighter, prettier blog post, I was almost knocked out of my comfy computer chair when a zillion Tumblr images sprang out of the screen at me.

These days it’s this:




Which is, you know, a shame. The ganef (rascal, scallywag, rapscallion) in the stripy shirt is more my style than infants in fancy schmancy leather jackets and shades. In fact, that’s a right pretty ganef who can fill my swag— oops. Better stop right there.

Dragging myself back to the point of this post, I’m writing about swag of the old fashioned persuasion. Because although the next UK GLBTQ writers meet isn’t until next September, some of us (cough) are already planning what goodies we’re going to offer in the swag bags

It was as I was struggling to find storage space for 200 ceramic scarabs—again, it is probably better not to ask questions if you don’t want to see me cry—and wondering how on earth I was going to gild one of them, that I started to think this swag stuff through.

It’s the done thing, at conventions and so on, to hand out swag to promote your books. But you have to pitch this carefully. Some things that you’d think would be just the ticket, really aren’t. F’rinstance… ‘Writers’ conference, innit? Writers are there. Readers are there. M/M publishers are there, including mine (waves). There are more books than you can shake the proverbial stick at.

But, don’t offer bookmarks in your swag bag, because they’ll just get binned. Nobody really uses bookmarks. Not even at a conference about books.

Is that counterintuitive, or what?

You have to work around it. Think outside the box marked ‘Print’. So while I’m sourcing things like scarabs, and coffee sachets and those sweet bubble wands you blow bubbles through and really, is a post card all right if I can get a discount voucher attached to it… so, while I’m doing all that I’m ruminating on costs and benefits and what an author has to do these days to get people to read her books.

It’s a given that you have to have a website and a blog. You have to be on Facebook (grr) and Twitter and Tmblr and (lor’ lumme) on Goodreads. And if that weren’t enough of a drain on your time, right now the ‘in’ place to be is Ello. You have to join groups like LRC on Yahoo (and try not to quail every PromoMonday, when literally dozens of other books in the genre are pimped and promoted). You have to post and tweet and generally try to drum up some interest in your books and you, and dammit you have to interact and be chirpy and accessible and nice.

The big advantage of all of that, though, is that you’re just a conglomeration of pixels. It’s all virtual. None of it’s real. And it doesn’t cost you much. If anything.

But the writers’ meet? That’s real. Real people will be there. Also Galacticon next year in Seattle? That’s real, and if I manage to get there (Seattle’s a long walk from here) then I’ll be fronting a writing seminar and a panel on fanfiction for them and in return I want space to sell my books and hopefully win over a few fans to learn to love Bennet and Flynn so much, and Rafe, that they are waiting eagerly for the next books in the series. It won’t be enough to be a few sparkling pixels. You also have to have nice swag for them to take away in the hope they’ll remember you for it, later.

A nice pen, at the very least. And good luck finding those in the UK. I get mine in the US and impose on friends to send them to me in the post. Shockingly expensive, but worth it.

Something with your branding on it—you do have a brand don’t you? First rule of marketing. Get a brand. All the best people have one.

Something that gets your book titles, its cover, its existence, rammed into their faces so they don’t forget to go and buy a copy.

Anyhow, the point is (you’ll be glad to know there is one) that you merrily sit there thinking about coffee and gilding scarabs and what else you can come up with to put in the swag bag, and oh hey, you’d better buy a job lot of organza gift bags to put all your bits in so they’re all together, and while you’re at it, think up a couple of bigger giveaways that, meanly, you hope people won’t come and claim so you can keep them for yourself. And all those rainbow beads you bought… you can make something with them and the scarabs. And sweeties. Don’t forget to put in some rainbow coloured sweeties or Love Hearts or something. And the pens, of course. And hang on!

This isn’t coming on the cheap.il_570xN.196118699

I just sat down and worked out, roughly, how much each little bag is going to cost me. Couple of quid each at a minimum and, maybe more. Doesn’t sound much until you multiply it by 150. Then add in another 50 for galacticon. Then you start gulping a bit.

Because this marketing and PR malarky? It costs money. It costs you, the writer, money. You’re effectively paying people in a sort of literary barter system. “I’ll give you one pen and a postcard and two Love Hearts, and will you go and buy my book now, please? And here. Have a scarab thrown in.”

I am going to have to sell a helluva lot of books to get to break even on this deal. But given that marketing books is as crucial as writing them, it has to be done. Authors have to be seen and interact and sell themselves, and do it with smiles on their faces. And that, my friends, is the sobering thought. We’re all marketeers now so I’d better stop complaining, bite the bullet and go off and gild a scarab.

That’s gild, not geld, by the way. Life is complicated enough without gelding small skittery insects. They don’t stand still long enough for a start.




  1. I think I read once that a pretty famous author in our genre spent something like $12 K a year on marketing and publicity. Mind-boggling, eh? But sometimes it comes down to ‘it takes money to make money.’ Kind of depressing, really.


  2. I give you lots of ‘bonus’ points for gilding scarabs. Are they real scarabs or plastic? I hope plastic! LOL!!


  3. You would have to have remarkable eyesight – not to mention dexterity – to geld a scarab, I suspect. You’ve now ensured that I’ll never be able to look at your forthcoming book on my shelf without sniggering. Thank you for that.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.