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!