Ideas for marketing your book – swag bags, mail outs, and first-class stamps!

GUEST POST by Hazel Mitchell
Your book is coming out, and it’s coming at you fast! It’s always the way, you think you’ve plenty of time and you’ll get on with planning some marketing (soon) to supplement whatever your publisher has in mind. And suddenly it’s only a few months away! As many of you will know, there is NEVER enough time.

I’ve illustrated many books as collaborator, but your first “solo” gig is pretty special. In this crowded marketplace and with publisher’s marketing budgets limited, I wanted to do my best to give TOBY a good start in life.

As well as the usual things – postcard mail-outs, book signings, giveaways, library visits, contacting local media – I decided I’d do something more to help encourage pre-orders.

I’ve always done some promotional giveaways with previous books – posters, postcards, bookmarks, stickers. I’d give away a copy of the book and prints of artwork and I’d make activity sheets and booklets to give at signings. What else could I do?
Toby (the real dog – my book is based on him) had a good following on social media, mostly Facebook. Several months before the book came out, I started up a Twitter account for him, too, tweeting about his life and his book, in readiness of the pub date. I live way out in the sticks of Northern Maine, so it made sense to utilize social media to spread the net wide.
Encouraging pre-orders was not something I’d addressed with previous books. Folks need an incentive to pre-order, and I felt that a poster or something wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted to do something special, even if it cost me a little more.

Toby Swag Bags

So I planned a pre-order “swag bag” and started to think about what I could include that would be appealing, yet within budget. My budget was fairly high per bag. If yours is too, you might want to limit the number you mail out, maybe have a ‘lottery’ of all order receipts received with the top 20 geting a big swag bag, others a signed print or stickers.
Here’s the thing – for every swag bag I sent out to someone who pre-ordered the book, I knew I could ask them to share a post or photo online.  The power of the visual is everything! With the swag bag, I included a note thanking them for pre-ordering and asking politely if they could post a review at Amazon, B&N. and/or Goodreads.
In return for these favors, I wanted people to feel excited about the Toby swag. As an illustrator with a graphic design background, I could design many items myself and print them at home. (If you are unable to design items yourself, perhaps you could barter with a designer or illustrator. You can also create things that are not image heavy and would reflect the subject of YOUR book, thereby trimming the design costs.) I’d already decided on some items that I wanted for future book signings, so I ordered larger quantities up front, which dropped the overall cost per item.

Above – 1st class collector’s stamps.

I also wanted to include a few higher cost items that the recipient wouldn’t be able to get at any other event. I decided on a ‘collector’s edition’ USPS first class stamp of Toby and a fridge magnet.

Here’s what I included in the swag bag package:

• Read to a friend poster (made/printed by me)
• Toby Treats recipe sheet (designed by Elle Jauffret/printed by me)
• How to draw Toby sheet (made/printed by me)
• Coloring sheet (made/printed by me)
• Toby bio sheet (made/printed by me)
• Postcard (7¢ each)
• Bookmark (7¢ each)
• 4 stickers (44¢ for the four)
• Button (23¢ each)
• Temporary tattoo (11¢ each)
• Fridge magnet (40¢ each)
• Collector’s edition 1st class stamp ($1 each via Zazzle)
• Signed bookplate (made/printed by me)
• ‘Hollywood’ signed Toby postcard (made/printed by me)
• Postage ($1.52)
I put everything in a good quality polythene baggie, sealed with a paw sticker, and mailed it in a good quality envelope (with a Toby sticker and rubber stamp paw print on the front).
I estimate the cost of each to me was $4.50, including S&H.
I had NO IDEA how many people might pre-order! I knew from experience that only a small percentage of people who saw my post would actually order. But many more would read about TOBY’s book. I could have limited the deal to ‘the first 20 people’ or similar or run a lottery and had a smaller swag bag for the runners-up. I also had no idea if it would make a difference!

What were the results?

I posted the swag bag deal online about 6 weeks prior to publication and people started ordering before I’d even posted what would be in it! I kept reposting the offer throughout the weeks up until publication day.
It may seem like a lot of money to spend on a giveaway that’s in no way covered by royalties per book. But that’s not the point. Here’s what it did for me:
It made lots of people instantly aware that TOBY was on the way and they shared their photos on social media. 
I sent the swag bags out a couple of weeks before the book published. People were already sharing their pictures online and helping to raise awareness of the book (dogs wearing buttons, children with swag, etc.). More people pre-ordered! When the books arrived, another slew of photographs were posted. It was wonderful to see!
In all, I sent out about 80 swag bags. It was a lot of work for sure – time spent stuffing bags, making envelopes, mailing. But I loved sending something to people who would be excited to receive them and save the goodies.
The pre-order excitement really did help with the visibility of the book – with bloggers, librarians, bookstores, and media. I invested time and effort, and roughly the cost of a small advertisement in the press, and in return increased TOBY’s visibility exponentially. I will never know the number of people the pre-order promo reached, or how many it influenced to buy TOBY. But here’s a concrete computation: TOBY went into 2nd printing after only 2.5 weeks of publication! I like to think that all of the hard work I’ve done on promotion helped toward that and I know my publisher thinks so.
Six quick tips on swag:
1) Decide on a budget.
2) Tie it in with your book. Is there a special hook or theme?
3) If you’re not an artist, find a friend who is and barter with them.
4) Search for the best deals on printing and items. Look for vouchers on coupon sites.
5) Whatever your budget, try to find a meaningful item that the reader will covet. (It could even be something homemade!)

6) Google “swag bag” online or on Pinterest for lots of great ideas.

Other things I did to promote TOBY:
1) Pretty big blog tour

2) Social media accounts for the book. Connect with others interested in your books subject online.
4) Mailout pack to bookstores in my state and to pet stores
5) Dedicated webpage(s)
6) Booksignings, library, school visits
7) Connect with businesses connected with my book ie – humane societies/pet stores/dog bloggers
8) Connect your book with holidays and events ie: National Dog Week – Adopt-A-Dog month
9) Mail postcards to libraries in your states.

How many can you think of for promoting your book? Share them in the comments. GOOD LUCK!
I am an illustrator and writer for children. Originally from Yorkshire, I now hangout in Maine, USA. Connect with me on these platforms:


  1. Hello Hazel…what a fabulous post! This kidlit community is exceptionally generous…how kind of you to share this great marketing plan…and just in time…my debut picture book pubs in March 2017…hurray!


  2. Hazel, thanks for being so generous with your marketing plan and ideas for individual incentives! Who WOULDN’T fall in love with TOBY???? Congratulations on your pooch’s newfound popularity!


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