3 Dangerous Book Marketing Ideas which Drain Your Bank Account

f4d6a-swag-heartbreaker-blog-hopBookmarks…jewelry…spa items…promo items in general…

You can put your book cover or author name on anything nowadays and though these items do get a lot of attention (Who doesn't like free stuff, huh?) are they a worthy investment? Are you wasting your money on these items and not seeing a large return on sales?

Here are 3 Dangerous Book Marketing Ideas which Drain Your Bank Account...followed up by suggestions on how to better invest your money, get more attention for your books and still get the write-offs.


SWAG is the bulk-purchase items – key chains, bookmarks, condoms, pens, jewelry, stress balls…you name it, you can put your book cover or author name on anything and spread those items around to advertise your books.
However, I've seen readers walking down those long aisles of goodies at conventions, with their bags open, and just dumping all the materials they can get their hands on into these bags. And I'm not talking just one or two people. I'm talking a dozen! How many of those people are really interested in your books? Not many. It's all about the stuff for these hoarders.
For book bloggers, this promo material is great for bundling and providing giveaways on their website. And I think that's great…for them and their site traffic. Though such incidents can be beneficial for an author to a certain point, a more personal engagement with those bloggers is much more beneficial. See TIP mentioned later.
But is creating all of this SWAG to dish out at giveaways and FB parties and conventions worth the money you spend? Do you get a huge return on sales or new readers? When you've come home from a convention, do you get AT LEAST one dozen readers or more contacting you saying, “I picked up your [insert SWAG item] at the [insert name of] convention and just read your first book. OMG I'm hooked and I can't wait to read more!” If you ARE getting that kind of a response, then ignore me. I don't know what I'm talking about. But if you DO NOT have such a response from your SWAG, like most of us experience, then I would highly recommend you continue reading.

High-End Promo Items

This is only slightly different that the aforementioned SWAG only in that you're not buying these items in bulk. The above items are usually purchased in 50-1000 count bundles or more. For high-end promo items, I'm talking about special items with your book cover/author name on it, like necklaces, beaded bookmarks (aka jewelry for books), cupcakes with fondant prints of your book cover, candles, mini coffins, spa items, what have you. You usually only buy a few, or no more than a dozen, because these items cost considerably more than the bulk produced goodies.
These items are fun, to be sure, and they do indeed get a LOT of response in giveaways and Facebook or other online parties. But again…are the people making all kinds of fuss because they love your books…or their name will be drawn from the comments in order to win the item? Will these people end up being faithful readers or translate into sales? Time and time again, I've personally witnessed – either through my own experience or my author friends – absolutely no bump in sales and only maybe one or two faithful readers who will sing your praises from the rooftops. The ROI (return on investment) is very little indeed.

Electronic Gift Cards

These always get lots of participation! Although you can give away B&N, PayPal or other such electronic gift cards, Amazon gift cards are the most popular because they can be used to buy just about anything on Amazon. In essence, Amazon gift cards are free money! What's not to get excited about? However, if you're not careful, you can shovel out a lot of dough with nothing to show for it!

Gifts vs. Bribes

Am I saying you shouldn't do any of the above? ABSOLUTELY NOT! What I am recommending is to consider TO WHOM you're giving away the above items. All of the above items, in my opinion, should be put into a category I call GIFTS and those should be reserved for your street teams and your faithful readers.
These are the people who already adore you, who are already invested in your books and have proven to be excited enough about your books to help you spread the word. These gifts, then, become rewards for those who deserve it – for those who go above and beyond to spread your books by word of mouth.
Also, if you give these out sparingly, you build a reputation for giving away really neat items for those exclusive people who are your “club”. These gifts show your appreciation…and are not bribes. And, in my opinion, giving away all the above items at an online party is a bribe to get people to interact or respond. Bribes don't build a genuinely interested reader base.

What to do Instead

So if you're reserving all the above items for your small group of faithful readers and bloggers, then what do you give out at online parties and at conventions to nab those new readers? BOOKS!!!!
I'm not talking print books. Those should be reserved for selling and signing at conventions and as GIFTS (described above). I'm talking eBooks. If you have an audiobook produced through ACX, then you should have some codes you can give away, too (IMPORTANT NOTE: I'll give you a valuable tip on this later). But right now, I'm talking about eBooks.
Self-published authors have an unlimited supply of free eBooks for giveaways. If you're with a traditional publisher or small press, you may have a limit on how many you can throw around, but my suggestions below should help manage some of that.
One of my author mentors and pals, VM Black, taught me this one very important marketing tip: BOOKS SELL BOOKS. Period.
If you don't know who VM Black (aka Victoria Melantha Black) is, just click on the links I've made of her name – they each go to a different page address. In short, the woman is making BANK on her books. She is living the dream. Just check out the Amazon rankings of her novels at her Amazon Page. I wanna be like here when I grow up!
As my good friend Catherine Bybee says, STALK those authors who are doing what you want to do and learn from them. Victoria knows she's being stalked…a lot. It's kinda creepy, but she's a good sport about my lurking. By the way, authors should totally check out her blog – The Digital Bootstrapper – where she gives amazing advice about the business side of self-publishing.
Anyway, just like that free sample of a product you receive at the grocery store or in the mail to promote any other kind of product, eBooks are your free samples to your readers, which will attract new customers. You'll still get the hoarders, but when you compare the cost of SWAG to eBooks, hands down, free eBooks are a MUCH better bang for your buck!

Online Parties

If you're participating in a Facebook or Twitter party (or whatever other online social media platform), eBooks and audiobook promo codes are a GREAT way to introduce yourself to new readers and you have a better chance of snagging genuine fans. You may or may not get the same endless responses a gift card or a fancy goody might generate, but who cares. The people who are responding are interested in getting your actual product – A BOOK. And that's what you really want.
So here's a list of what I like to offer at online parties, just to give you an idea of how you can conduct giveaways. And to give credit where credit is due, this was another bit of advice from Victoria Black.
And the prizes could either be a specific eBook, a bundle of more than one eBook or a choice (e.g., “One lucky winner will get their choice of any eBook from my backlist.”). Reader's choice options are always fun and benefit those readers who may already have what you're offering as a prize. Additionally, you could tack such a statement onto any giveaway: “Or your choice of my backlist if you already have this title.”
  1. Intro Post – Announce who you are, what you do, and give a link to any free eBooks you might have. Therefore, the first post you make gives people something FREE right out the gate. AND be sure to include a link to join your mailing list. If you don't have a mailing list or don't know much about them, please read my Mailing List Articles for tips and ideas.
  2. Subsequent Posts – Each time you do an additional post, you should be engaging readers to interact with you. Here are some great suggestions:
    • Tweet about the event they're at – As a form of entry into a contest, have readers tweet or share the event to help bring more people to the event. ClickToTweet.com is your friend or provide a link to something you've already tweeted or posted on your timeline to help with your metrics. Commenters will be entered into the drawing.
    • Follow you on Amazon – Ask readers to follow you on Amazon (then Amazon will send them an e-mail whenever you publish a new release) and ask them to comment when they've done that.
    • Follow you on your favorite social media venues – Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, InstaGram…whatever. This is great for boosting those social media numbers, which tend to make you look good for your author platform. Those don't necessarily lead to sale, but if you visited an author and saw they had 14,000 LIKES on their FB page, doesn't that make you think they're pretty popular? There you have it.
    • Do some kind of game – I would recommend you have the  game connected to your books in some way (e.g., if you write about vampires, then have people post their favorite vampire pictures).
    • Ask a question about what they love or hate about the genre in which you write or a facet of the genre (e.g., What is your favorite vampire ability? What vampire abilities do you like the least? What do you like most and least about paranormal romance?). Such questions actually give you insight as to what readers like and don't like – good information for when you write your next book!
  3. Final Post – For the big grand finale, you might want to give away a bundle. “One lucky winner will receive the complete collection of my series in an eBook format of their choice.” Have them do something that will really help or count – such as send out a tweet encouraging people to check out or buy your latest release (ClickToTweet.com is your friend!) OR give them the RT link and you'll get a bunch of retweets on a tweet you did, helping with your metrics.
The point of all the above ideas is to engage your readers while you let your personality shine. I love to post MAN CANDY! The more hot guys the better. Not only does it get the girls excited, but it will be very obvious that what I write is pretty hot. Obviously, if I was posting pictures for a YA series, I would using images more appealing to the audience I want to attract.
The more eBooks you have to offer, the more posts you can create for a party. And I recommend drafting your posts prior to the party so all you have to do is copy and paste. It's definitely less stressful and gives you more time to interact with the comments as they come in.


So in the situation where you want to leave effective SWAG on a table space at a convention, what do you do? THIS is where it's definitely more valuable to spend money on bookmarks and items IF you include a way for people to download a free eBook. Anytime one of those [insert SWAG item] is handed out, they have a free eBook in their hand. Here are some ways to get free eBooks on your SWAG:
  • QR CodeClick here if you don't know what a QR Code is. If you don't know how to create your own QR Code or you're looking for a free QR Code generator, click here OR here if you'd like to see a list of other QR Code Generator options. Basically, a QR Code can be scanned by someone with a smartphone (with a free app) and it will immediately take the user to a specific URL on their phone's browser – aka wherever you have your free eBook available for download. If you're doing free days on Amazon, then be sure to link directly to your eBook's page on Amazon. If you're trying to get someone to join your mailing list, where you're giving away a free eBook or story, then create the QR Code to link to that page so they can sign up. Ye ken?
  • Website Address – If you have a mailing list or reader's club that gives away freebies to members only, you might want to put that direct address on the SWAG. For example: “Get vampire FREEBIES now at www.arialburnz.com/vip-club” If you have a short link to a free eBook, use that address. To shorten a link, you can visit a number of free services, such as Bit.ly, Hootsuite.com, TinyURL.com and more. Use these links or Google “shorten url free“. Also, if your book is free for Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscribers, that would be a nice thing to include on your SWAG: Get this eBook FREE on Kindle Unlimited. Then provide the short address/link to your Amazon book or page. You could do the same for a book on permafree.
  • Coupon Code – For self-published authors who have used Smashwords to publish their books, they have the option of creating a coupon code for a specific book. Give that code to someone and they can download your book for free at Smashwords. Many of you may also do this for bloggers and reviewers. The nice thing about coupons is you can not only control the duration of the download (e.g., only the dates during the convention or some expiration date – if you wish; you could just keep it open forever, your choice), Smashwords also tells you how many times your eBook has been downloaded with that code. This helps you judge the attention your book received at a particular event. There are no limits to the number of codes you can create.
QR Code for Arial's VIP Club
All of the above can be applied to postcards, business cards, bookmarks, just about any printed item. Unless the key chain, condom wrapper or highlighter pen has enough room to put the above information, you might be limited. For example: you could put a URL or short link on a pen or even a coupon code, but a QR Code wouldn't work. Too small and it wraps around an item, so is not scanable. I would also recommend keeping coupon codes limited to print items and only do small runs for coupon codes or free eBooks that have an expiration date or are only for a limited time (e.g., free eBook days on Amazon for KDP books or 99 cent sales, etc.). You'll end up with a ton of extra items with an expired coupon. IF you plan on reusing the coupon code OR it has no expiration date, then go for it!
BLOGGER ENGAGEMENT TIP: If you want to provide a bundle of stuff to bloggers or reviewers, then I would recommend creating a sign on you promo table space that says something like: “ATTENTION BLOGGERS – Want bundles of my SWAG to give to your readers? I'd love to meet you! Contact me at [insert contact info] during the convention and I'll give you some BLOGGER PACKAGES and signed items to help promote your website.” Not only will you make a personal connection with that blogger, they're more likely to put in a good word for you and your books, or even feature you on their website. Be sure to have your blogger packages already compiled and waiting so when they contact, you have something to hand them without the, “Hold on! Let me gather everything. I'll be right back.” Either have them premade and with you or in your hotel room, ready to grab at a moment's notice.


I'm drafting an article about why you should produce your books into audio (coming soon, so subscribe to be notified when the article goes up), so I won't discuss the hows and whys here, but IF you have produced an audiobook via ACX, you should get at least 25 codes to use as promotion of your title. You can get more if you ask AND the US codes cannot be used by UK readers, so if you have readers from the United Kingdom, ACX will also give you another 25 codes for your UK readers. WARNING: If you give a US code to a UK reader, when they try the code, they will get an error AND that code will now be useless. Be sure to find out where your reader is from before you give out a code.
Now, with that being said, I HIGHLY recommend you DO NOT GIVE OUT ANY CODES! Why? Because a reader can use that code for any book they want at Audible. Giving them that code just gives them a credit they can use at Audible. It is NOT connected solely to your book. SO, here's what I recommend instead:

How to Use Your ACX Audiobook Codes More Effectively

  1. Get the e-mail address of your winning reader or blogger/reviewer.
  2. For US readers: Go to Audible.com and find your audiobook; for UK readers, go to Audible.co.uk and find your audiobook. In both cases, you can use your usual Amazon.com account login to access the Audible websites.
  3. In the search results where your book shows up, click on the GIFT AS GIFT link.
  4. This will open up a pop-up interface that will allow you to choose the purpose of your gift (e.g., birthday, congratulations, etc. – I usually choose “Congratulations”), compose a custom message, and provide the e-mail address to the winning reader or blogger/reviewer. You can also put your name in the FROM box.
  5. When you add the gifted audiobook to your cart, you can apply your code at the time of checkout (i.e., the one you would have given the reader to use at Audible)
  6. Doing so will give your account a credit and automatically apply the credit to your shopping cart item. Your balance due should then go to $0.
  7. Complete the checkout process and your reader will receive an e-mail with a link for them to download YOUR book…and no one else's.

In Closing

Most budding and unknown authors aren't making a ton of cash from their books at the beginning, and getting the word out can be expensive. My hopes are this article will help you make wiser decisions on where your promotional dollars will go AND how effective those dollars can be in the long run. So go ahead and promote your books with SWAG and goodies, just be smart about it!!
That's my two pence…

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