The best advertisement for your writing, is your writing.

In this day and age, would you buy a book from an author you haven’t read before without reading a sample? Neither would I. This is why excerpt booklets are probably the most effective promotional item you can give out. They’re great for promotional baskets when you don’t have a book to give away. They’re great to put out at signings, somewhere far away from your table, so that readers have the chance to look at your book and decide if they want it without facing the pressure of your desperate author gaze.

Excerpt books allow you to entice your reader with your awesome cover. You can put all the information a reader needs to know about your book right on the back. Some enterprising authors group with other authors so as to reduce costs and give out more than a booklet–but an actual book–that samples various authors. However, if you’re lacking in that sort of organization, you can make excerpt books yourself at home as long as you have a good laser printer and a long-armed stapler.

I’ll admit that my first attempt at making excerpt booklets was a complete disaster. I used a local printer with an intention of cutting costs, but in spite of the printer’s best efforts and friendly demeanor, I ended up with covers that couldn’t be used, one bad print run, and a final product that was so late I had to pay express shipping to get it to the convention on time. Next time, I’ll probably only have the covers printed and scored off-premises and do the rest of the assembling myself at home.

No, really. The best advertisement for your writing is your writing.

My early disastrous attempts at building up a platform and mailing list involved giving away big prizes. Gift certificates, jewelry, gourmet stuff. Even e-readers. This is a road paved to hell. The folks who are signing up for these prizes aren’t interested in your books. They’re interested in the prizes. And the minute you give out the prize, they’re going to leave. I’ve come to believe that trying to attract followers this way is misguided because it isn’t a real platform of fans and readers. Henceforth, the only giveaways I will be running as an author will be for books. The kind of person who wants to win my book is the kind of person who wants to read my book. That’s who I want to attract.

There are two exceptions that I might consider to this new rule. The first is when authors get together to give out one big prize at big events. The second exception might involve some tiny trinket or thematic gift that is actually a gift for readers, and not just an ethical bribe. Like Roman glass earrings or pendants and charms.

Who needs bookmarks? You do.

Because I’m always going to conventions and because I own an e-reader, I seldom need or want a bookmark. It seemed like a ridiculous idea to have bookmarks printed up because who was going to take one? But I soon learned the error of my ways. Not only do customers go into bookstores and libraries asking for free bookmarks, but bookmarks are really just a form of business-card for your book. It will often be the only literature you can hand out to people when they ask about your novel. If you don’t have bookmarks with you every time you walk out in public, you’re missing opportunities. Luckily, they’re also pretty cheap to have made. You can get a designer to make one for you–which would be the smart thing to do–but I decided to do my own with a little advice from my designer friends. An important consideration for bookmarks is that they fit nicely into envelopes. You will be making a lot of trips to the post-office. Don’t end up folding your pretty bookmarks because you chose the biggest size for them.

Size Matters.

The first thing I had to learn–the hard way–is that most promotional items are sent out in the mail. If not mailed out, the items are inevitably hauled on airplanes to various conventions. Because of this, the smallest and lightest promotional item you can find is probably your best bet unless you want to pay tons of money in shipping and handling. One of the smartest things I did in choosing promotional items was look for tiny ankh charms. I used these ankh charms to stick to my excerpt booklets as an extra incentive to pick them up and boy did that work. Moreover, tiny charms fit easily in an envelope when I’m mailing things out to readers and don’t add extra postage. Readers have written to me with appreciation for a meaningful little gift. Β On the other hand, my name isn’t emblazoned on those ankh charms, so the charm is really only useful to remind existing readers of me. I’m unlikely to be winning converts. And if I were smart, I’d be giving out pins instead of charms, because of the way writers emblazon pins on their badges at conventions.

Go utilitarian if you’re going to go at all.

Authors who give out items bearing their name will tell you that they don’t expect someone to buy their book because they gave him or her a logo-emblazoned pen or lip balm. The goal here is to put your name on some item that the reader will use frequently so that your name is embedded in their brain the next time they go shopping for books. It’s a proven fact that, faced with an overwhelming number of choices, readers will gravitate to books by authors whose names are familiar to them. Moreover, it tends to take a person hearing an author’s name five to seven times before it sticks. Consequently, giving out items with your name on it that the reader might glance at a bunch of times while writing a memo or healing their chapped lips might seem like a good idea.

So, what about the rest of you? Any tips do you have about promotional items? What questions do you have?