Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: brand-building

Signs, books for sale, and badge ribbons, bookmarks, and postcards for the taking, on Jan's Capricon 40 autograph table.

Creating S.W.A.G.

Capricon 40 kicked off my “con season” for 2020 on a high note. Time to get the rest of the reservations, plans, and itineraries in place. And time for creating S.W.A.G.

What is S.W.A.G., you may ask? It is Stuff We All Get (also abbreviated SWAG, without the periods, or spelled with lower-case letters). It’s the “freebies,” the samples, the advertising novelties that are handed out to people at conferences, conventions, and similar events. The stuff designed to help people remember our products and services later, after the event is over. 

S.W.A.G. makes a presence at every science fiction convention. And lately I’ve been handing out a lot of it. 

Jan with her autograph table display
I offered all manner of S.W.A.G. during my autographing at Capricon 40. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt)

SF conventions and sales

It’s hard to measure whether freebies actually sell books. I’ve handed out what feels like bushels of bookmarks and barrels of badge-ribbons, often to enthusiastic recipients–so there’s at least the initial impression that’s positive.

Does that sell books? Maybe. I think both convention-going in general and S.W.A.G. in particular is a brand-building effort, more than a retail opportunity. I did notice a small up-tick in my book sales after Capricon (thank you!!), but even if you count in my art show sales, the cons don’t pay for themselves by the end of the weekend.

That’s okay by me, because I go to conventions for a lot of reasons besides selling books and art. Idea-gathering, networking, seeing old friends, finding material to blog about, discovering new artists and writers, and more fill out my list of reasons. 

Best of all, for me, are the panel discussions, readings, and chances to interact with fans and readers.

"Detectives in the Wild" panel at Capricon 40
I like to participate in panel discussions at sf cons. “Detectives in the Wild” panelists at Capricon 40, L-R: Jan S. Gephardt (Moderator), Deirdre MurphyMark H. Huston, and Clifford Royal Johns. (photo by a kindly audience member who didn’t share his name).

Creating S.W.A.G.

If I’m honest, creating S.W.A.G. is fun. I undoubtedly have too many different badge ribbons, but I’ll keep giving them out (I have lots). Coming up with the slogans to put on them is a creative exercise. My sister discovered that this winter while we were creating S.W.A.G. for her.

I generally like to create three kinds of S.W.A.G.: Postcards, bookmarks, and badge ribbons. Each fulfills a slightly different function.

Postcards 

Jan's current postcard, featuring her novel, "What's Bred in the Bone."
This is my blank postcard before adding the label with specific info about my reading, autographing, and the dealer who carries the books at that convention. (Design by Jan S. GephardtWhat’s Bred in the Bone cover art © 2019 by Jody A. Lee). 

I have a generic postcard that’s been professionally printed, which I customize for each convention. Every year, each convention schedules me for different things at different times. There’s a place designed on the postcard for a label that’s printed with that convention’s specifics.

My postcards generally list when and where my reading is scheduled, when and where I’ll be signing autographs, and (if I can work out a consignment deal ahead of time) what dealer is carrying my books at that convention. 

I hand out postcards everywhere I can, especially in the early part of the convention, because if I can convince interested readers to come to those events and places, I have a better chance to sell them books!

Bookmarks

Bookmarks from Weird Sisters Publishing: back and front sides of the two current bookmark designs.
Both sides of both current bookmarks: Left for What’s Bred in the Bone by 
Jan S. Gephardt
, and right is Deep Ellum Pawn, a novelette by G. S. Norwood. (Design by Jan S. GephardtWhat’s Bred in the Bone cover art © 2019 by Jody A. LeeDeep Ellum Pawn art © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.)

Bookmarks are probably my best overall S.W.A.G. sales tool. And if I do say so myself, my bookmarks are beautiful. 

Yes, I know the vast majority of books I sell are ebooks. But people do still buy the “dead trees” versions, and when you’re reading a physical book you need a bookmark.

For a writer, artist, or other creative professional, a bookmark functions much the same way as a business card, but in a number of ways it’s harder to lose and more practical

Maybe I’m weird, but I keep a large collection of bookmarks that also are a little memory trove. Some date back decades–but the ones I tend to keep, use, and enjoy the most are ones I especially like to look at

Bookmarks aren’t just for sf conventions, either. Lately I’ve had a slew of annual checkups, etc. At most of them I’ve found someone who likes science fiction and happily takes my bookmarks. All literate people can use bookmarks. I’m happy to supply them!

Badge ribbons

5 badge ribbon designs inspired by Jan's book, "What's Bred in the Bone."
Here is this year’s crop of What’s Bred in the Boneinspired badge ribbons. (preview images courtesy of P C Nametags).

As I said above, I undoubtedly give out too many badge ribbons. They’re not exactly cheap, and not all of the designs clearly remind people what book they’re promoting.

But I get a kick out of creating them, and many people get a kick out of wearing them at conventions.

Too many badge ribbons on a badge can be impractical–but people adapt. Pro tip: Duct tape on the back can keep a long string from breaking apart. Come prepared!

Even though they’re impractical, they’re quixotic. The silky texture and varied colors are pretty. They add a touch of whimsy. Many are funny, some are cryptic, and they’re altogether fun.

Seriously! What more excuse do you need?

5 badge ribbons inspired by G.S. Norwood's story, "Deep Ellum Pawn."
Here are the badge ribbons my sister and I brainstormed, based on her story Deep Ellum Pawn. (preview images courtesy of P C Nametags).

See you at the convention?

As you see, there are lots of reasons for creating S.W.A.G., and it can be fun to use. If you come to one of the conventions I attend, look for my postcards on the freebie tables and my Art Show display. 

Then come to my reading and/or autographing session, where I’ll have ALL the S.W.A.G.!

And if you’re a creative professional, perhaps you should consider creating S.W.A.G. of your own.

Photo of Jan's autograph table display, with signs, copies of her book, along with badge ribbons, bookmarks, and postcards for the taking.
Here’s another view of my Capricon 40 autograph table display. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt).


IMAGE CREDITS: 

The photos of me with my S.W.A.G. offerings and books at my Capricon 40 autographing, and the detail-photo of the S.W.A.G. and books display, are both courtesy of Tyrell E. Gephardt. Please acknowledge him as photographer and provide a link back to this site if you re-post or reuse it. Thanks!

The photo of the “Detectives in the Wild” panel at Capricon 40 was taken by a kind audience member who did not give me his name–but whom I thank anyway! Please feel free to re-post or re-use it, too, but with an acknowledgement and link back to this post, if possible, please!

The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee

The cover art for Deep Ellum Pawn is © 2019 by Chaz Kemp

The images of the badge ribbon designs are previews generated by the P C Nametags Custom Badge Ribbons webpage. Many thanks to all!

The DemiCon 30 header identifies the Convention's name, theme (It's about time), and dates (May 3-5, 2019). The background is a wavy cityscape with a large clock superimposed on the upper right.

Why I go to science fiction conventions

I still owe you a DemiCon 30 report, but this week it’s time to get ready for ConQuesT 50. In a couple more weeks, it’ll be time for SoonerCon 28. Maybe I’ll eventually catch up with myself, but one never knows.

There are a great many Indie authors who don’t understand why anyone would go to that many science fiction conventions, much less three additional ones (SpikeCon, FenCon, and Archon), over the course of the next few months. “I always lose money,” they say, or words to that effect.

I have a working hypothesis that, in the parlance of marketing, they are seriously discounting the value of brand-building, and focusing too much on lead-generation, but never mind. I guess this summer will be a “living laboratory” to test my own hypotheses about book-marketing.

Here's a photo of Jan S. Gephardt standing next to her fantasy paper sculpture Art Show display at DemiCon 30. Photo by Lucy A. Synk.
Here’s me with my DemiCon 30 Art Show display of fantasy paper sculpture.
Photo by Lucy A. Synk.

Thing is, long before I had this book to sell, I went to sf conventions. I sold art. I even ran an art show (at ConQuesT) for three years. I have yet to sell enough artwork to break even on expenses. On the other hand, I met lots of other authors, artists, editors, and individuals in science-fiction-adjacent fields, such as astronomy and rocketry.

I met all three of the literary agents who’ve represented me, at sf conventions. I met and had good conversations or other interactions (minds out of the gutter, people!) with artists, writers, editors, and more. With people whose names you’d know, if you are interested in my genres. Not to mention finding nearly all of my closest friends there.

I remain an active member of both KaCSFFS, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, Inc., and ASFA, the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists, Inc. Eventually, I’ll probably join SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Why? Because I value their input, their wisdom-of-the-group, and their network. Most of all, my friendships within them.

I just have to admit it. They’re my peeps, and I love them. They know a lot, too. A lot of things, a lot of people, and a lot of fun stuff. They’re lovely human beings (even when they’re kinda “out there”), and over the years they’ve taught me amazing things. They’ve introduced me to wonderful new people, books, media, and ideas. My life would be much less wonderful without them.

My question to the doubters is, “Why on earth wouldn’t I go to science fiction conventions?

IMAGE CREDITS: I’d like to thank all the conventions whose headers I used: Capricon 39, DemiCon, ConQuesT, SoonerCon, SpikeCon, FenCon, and Archon. I appreciate you! Nearly all of the rest of these photos were taken by me at DemiCon 30, with the express permission of their subjects. I deeply appreciate them! The sole exception is the photo of me, standing by my DemiCon 30 Art Show display. That one was taken by Lucy A. Synk, and is used with her permission. Thanks, Lucy!

“Moving the needle” and author readings

I just wrapped up a delightful weekend at ConQuesT 49 in Kansas City, MO. Yes, it’s my “home convention,” but it was a particularly good one, this year–and I’m not the only one I heard say that.

The presentations by the amazing Elizabeth Leggett were worth the price of admission, all by themselves–Especially the big reveal of my friend Lynette M. Burrows’cover for her soon-to-be-available new book, My Soul to KeepIt was part of Leggett’s presentation on the making of book covers.

This is only a tiny glimpse of the “Book Cover” presentation by Elizabeth Leggett, featuring development of the cover for My Soul to Keep by Lynette M. Burrows, a spine-tingling alternate-history thriller soon to be released by Rocket Dog Publications.

Unfortunately, I was so busy I barely got to see half of the wonderful Dealers’ Room, and never made it all the way around the entire Art Show, though I helped hang the mail-in art. Did manage to get a photo of my own display.

Here is my before-sales display at the ConQuesT 49 Art Show. I sold several of my larger pieces!

I spent a lot of time at author readings, during the convention. I had my own reading on Saturday–and was overjoyed when I got a good audience! Thanks, everyone! 

I make a point of going to other authors’ readings, too–for several reasons. I like to know what their current projects are, and because it’s fun to find new things to read. I also like to support my fellow writers–and it’s a lot more fun to read your work aloud when there’s someone eager to listen!

Just a few of the books from which their authors selected scenes to read at ConQuesT 49: L-R, Blood Songsby Julia S. MandalaSinger’s Callby J. R. Bolesand The Alchemist’s Stone, by Kevin WohlerI either own, or will soon buy, copies of all of them.

I had panels opposite some of the authors I wanted to hear, but I did get a chance to listen to Kevin WohlerJ.R. BolesJim YeltonJulia S. Mandala, and Van Allen Plexico. I also really wanted to hear Sean DemoryLynette M. Burrows, R. L. Naquinand Rob Howell, but unfortunately I had duties elsewhere when they were reading.

One thing I did notice was that all readers are not equally audible, or intelligible. I was half-planning to create a post about “Reading Best Practices,” but Lynette beat me to it–and I don’t think I can improve on her excellent post! If you are an author who does readings–or if you know an author who does readings–give her post a close look! If you look at readings as a marketing vehicle, or if you plan to record your own audio-version, pay close attention to her advice!

It also pays to advertise, so come prepared with pre-printed information about where to find your work, and what it’s about. I’m always amazed how many authors forget to tell what the book is about, in their promotional material. Authors (especially Indie authors) sometimes think that making appearances at sf conventions isn’t worth the effort because it doesn’t normally result in an immediate jump in sales.

J. R. Boles and Sean Demory, who teamed up this winter as part of the Palookaville team, both did readings at ConQuesT 49. They came to meet fans, talk about their work, and share thoughts. That’s sold brand-building.

It also pays to advertise, so come prepared with pre-printed information about where to find your work, and what it’s about. I’m always amazed how many authors forget to tell what the book is about, in their promotional material. Authors (especially Indie authors) sometimes think that making appearances at sf conventions isn’t worth the effort because it doesn’t normally result in an immediate jump in sales.

But I am convinced that appearances at conventions are not so much about lead generation as they are about brand-buildingWhy do you think so many traditionally-published writers with established reputations still bother with going to conventions? It’s a chance to interface directly with a larger number of one’s fans, and to impress more, through your knowledge on panels, your attention, which is flattering, and your demonstrated grace. Of course–if you don’t demonstrate much grace (skip panels or readings, hide out in your room, or shy away from fans), you won’t develop a whole lot of brand loyalty!

IMAGES: Many thanks to Elizabeth Leggett’s public Facebook page, for the image of developmental stages for the cover of My Soul to Keep by Lynette M. Burrows! I took the photo of my Art Show panels; you may re-post the photo with my blessings if you don’t alter it, give an attribution to me, and link back to this post. The cover image for Blood Songs is from Amazon; the cover image for Singer’s Call is from J. R. Boles; and the cover for The Alchemist’s Stone is from Kevin Wohler. The photo of J. R. Boles and Sean Demory is from Sean Demory’s Facebook page

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