The Swag’s the Thing

I’ve attended numerous academic conferences over the last three decades in connection with my day job. But before last year, I’d never attended any kind of Con. When I heard the 2013 Gay Romance Literature Retreat would be in nearby Atlanta, I had to go.

One glance and I knew GayRomLit would be nothing like the scholarly gatherings I’m accustomed to attending. To date, those conferences have not included an abundance of male strippers and gay porn stars. Yet another reason to love being an author.

Word of the April 2014 RainbowCon in Tampa reached me a few days after GayRomLit. Several of the writer pals I ran into in Atlanta had registered to attend, along with other guests on my blog I’ve not yet had the chance to meet. I decided to go and registered as an author.

The hardest part has been figuring out what kind of swag to bring — and I’m not talking about attitude. Swag helps the readers who attend remember me so they can find my books. Options for these kinds of promotional items run the gamut from customized pens, hand sanitizers, and little flashlights to highly creative home-made stuff.

The authors I know struggle to some extent with branding and marketing issues. We’re writers, not public relations professionals, and many of us have full-time day jobs. Some do better than others with the marketing piece. More than a few opt out to focus on writing more books. Attending events like RainbowCon helps, but even then, standing out from so many talented writers takes some doing.

When it comes to branding, Charlie Cochet is my idol. Even without my glasses on, everything she puts out is instantly identifiable as hers. I might be a wee bit biased. She’s helped me with my web site, got me over my fear of HTML coding, and in her hotel room at GayRomLit, tied me up with big red sashes. Ignore the rumors. Nothing else happened. I swear.

Since my novels have holiday titles, some kind of calendar was the first idea I rejected. A new calendar would be nice swag for a January conference — not so much for an April function. And because calendars go out of date, I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of any quantity discounts.

After scouring the internet for just the right promotional item, I stumbled across a vendor with holiday ornaments. No matter how cute some of the options were, Until Thanksgiving and Happy Independence Day caused me to reject anything too Christmasy. A heart-shaped design — for romance — with space for a picture on the front and text on the back seemed like just the thing.

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I uploaded the cutest, most adorable picture I could find. Admit it — you went “aww!” as soon a you saw Toodles. Whatever it takes, and she really doesn’t mind. On the back I wanted “Writing Stories True Enough for Government Work” under my name, with the URL for my web site. After a minute or two, the sample with my pic and info popped up and I gasped. Beautiful! Then I gasped again. Five bucks each? I need at least 300.

Armed with a clearer picture of what I wanted, I hit the internet again. I found heart-shaped keychains with everything except the picture at a reasonable price. They only come in hundreds, so I ordered the exact number I needed. They even threw in a few extras.

When Until Thanksgiving came out, I ordered a gazillion postcards with the cover on the front and the blurb on the back. I finally got around to ordering postcards for After Christmas Eve a few weeks ago. Punch a hole in the postcards, attach one of each to every key chain, and voila! Swag.

Then I found out more swag would be needed for some of the events. Crap! Since attaching each card to the key chains was going to be a bitch anyway, I decided to keep the postcards for the extra swag.

Without something else, my lovely keychains wouldn’t make much of an impression. I racked my brain and after much weeping and gnashing of teeth, finally settled on little star-studded black organza bags. The keychains looked lonely in the bags, so I decided to add some chocolate candy. Like I said, whatever it takes.

I put my bags together, somehow ending up with one less organza bag than needed. Dammit! There wasn’t time to order more, and I’d never find one to match in town. Rather than some unlucky participant leaving Tampa without my swag, I threw in an autographed keychain. Whoever gets it in their swag bag wins an autographed copy of both of my books.

To give the organizers a heads up, I sent an email describing the swag and my solution to being one short. The reply expressed concern about shipping chocolate candy to Florida this time of year. Doh! The message included several suggestions to prevent a molten mass of chocolate, organza, and keychains from reaching them–  none of which were options as I’d already put the bags together. Thanks to modern shipping options and a timely cold spell, they arrived safely.

Now to figure out what to wear…

See you in Tampa!

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