Author Swag Bags and Giveaways–What Do Readers Want?


As I’m starting to plan author events, a big questions looms…

What to put in the swag bag?

There are bookmarks, post cards, mugs, pens, notepads, pen flashlights, t-shirts, totes, candy, sunscreen, sewing kits.

You name it, you can brand it and add it to your author giveaways at events.

I’ve spent hours pouring over sites like and Read tons of blog posts on this.

Trying to determine how much I can get on my budget and what might be the best things to purchase.

So I thought I’d ask you for some insight. And if there’s something I’ve missed please comment and let me know.

I’m definitely going to include bookmarks, but what other item or items are essential to a swag bag/author giveaway for you?

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40 Responses to Author Swag Bags and Giveaways–What Do Readers Want?

  1. Lyra Selene says:

    Great idea! Personally, I don’t love tee-shirts as swag, but love the idea of pens/notebooks and bookmarks! I always need more bookmarks, bonus points if they’re visually exciting so it’s harder to lose them!

    • Thanks. They are a more expensive swag, so if enough people vote for other stuff, I’m happy not to make them. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think the bookmark will very intriguing to readers.

  2. jmmcdowell says:

    The poll only let me choose one item, so I put pens. But I also like notepads. One item I mentioned to Carrie Rubin was refrigerator magnets as an alternative for bookmarks. Because while many of us still like paper books, some people have switched completely to e-reading.

    I may be a statistical outlier again ( ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), but I’m a stickler for quality when it comes to tote bags and t-shirts. I want those to hold up through use, even if they’re free. I suspect quality items in those categories would cost you a significant amount of money compared to the potential return. Then again, if it’s free, some people might not care if they only use it once or twice before it falls apart. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • It will allow you vote multiple times. I’m not sure if it can allow you to select multiple items in one vote. Sorry! I do like pens and notepads a lot. Magnets are another idea to consider. I don’t think I’d do away with bookmarks but I’d definitely be open to magnets as an additional item. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I hear you. In terms of totes I was thinking more like the grocery store totes–sturdy but not expensive. I’m getting a couple samples sent to me to verify quality. I don’t want bags that break or t-shirts that are scratchy. Even if it’s swag it shouldn’t be crappily made. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Used to plan/do big events/conferences – so I’m picky.
        Is one of your goals to raise awareness and imprint the name on memory? Then you want items that will travel home – not be tossed- and be used many times after the event to reinforce that
        T-shirts: you have the problem of sizes and it they aren’t a good heavy quality, and if the design isn’t artsy and noteable, just don’t do it.
        Bags are appreciated as they help carry stuff that is gathered – and can be used later at grocery store/ transport for items to work/gym/beach. People can get too many of these, they will keep the unique ones or the ones with great designs and colors.
        Cups. I like cups as they get used during events – but they are heavy to carry on planes if you pack light. I love cups…but have to cull every so often – design quality wins ( and fav locations/speakers/events)
        Notepads – Always good!!! People keep and use them and see your name/logo each time. Don’t let them look cheap , though
        Pens, nice to have – and people are always forgetting them so are happy to get one….no need to spend a lot on them though. They will get pitched
        Well designed book marks – postcards – I’ve been happy to go visit clients and thrilled to see they kept these and put them up on bulletin boards/cubicle walls – where others can see. great for marketing.
        Magnets – A pretty one I keep those
        Candy wrappers get pitched. Some are on diets or health kicks. (But there’s something about one nice high quality chocolate elegantly wrapped…maybe…depends on budget)
        Granola bars/snackbags- ditto
        You can buy ordinary water bottles and print out personalized event labels and tape those on over the regular label – people always were surprised and read those. (and remembered the special water bottles) Everyone likes water.
        Quality and good design is important for impact.
        You can do quite well, though, with white paper party bags with items inside among colored tissue/cellophane. Top bag with colorful tissue(somehow match your book/author/season)and some thin ribbon curls tied on side of one handle. Hang an event/author tag or business card from the ribbon
        Presentation is important. Design is important. Color is important. Presentation is important ( worth saying again)
        (Sorry if this is too long – hope something helps. Good luck!)

        • Wow Karen, this is AWESOME!!!! Thank you so much for sharing your insight. It really helps as I weigh the pros and cons of different items. I think the t-shirt is out based on sizing, quality and cost. It’s just a trifecta of problems there. ๐Ÿ˜‰

          I’m waiting on samples of totes, I really like them. My cover designer is going to help lay out the design so it will be amazing. He’s worth every penny.

          I was leaning towards notepads and pens too. ๐Ÿ™‚

          Love your idea for water bottles!

          Any ideas on where to get inexpensive bags? I found 13 for 7.99 from Love the tissue paper idea and the ribbon. A thousand thank yous. This is one of the most useful comments I’ve ever gotten on this blog!!!!!


  3. Gwen says:

    Wow – I learn something with each of your posts. The number of things a self-pubbed author has to consider is staggering. For me, the poll was a toss up between pens and notepads. Both useful items, and a great way to get your brand out there without breaking the budget. Mugs are cool, but I’d imagine quite pricey to produce, even in bulk.

    Keep us apprised of your decision!

    • LOL. I’m still learning as I go. The pens and notepads seem to be very popular–pricewise they are also the least expensive so I’m loving the poll results so far. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Mugs are cool but a bit more expensive and way more breakable. Something to consider though if I had a lot of coffeehouse signings. ๐Ÿ™‚ Will do!

  4. berry says:

    They sound good

  5. I can never get enough pens or notepads! Apparently I’m not alone. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I love that you’ve selected useful items. Those are the keepers. Good luck!

    • That’s what I was thinking. I love hotel notepads and pens. Favorite freebies when I travel. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks! I may only end up ordering a few items but I wanted them to be something a person would look at over and over again. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Cat Forsley says:

    Totebag …………. for sure …………………. u smart cookie with the voting thing – remember the old days – “WHAT IS A PINGBACK ” quoting my silly self ……………. i have a ton of ideas on this K – email me at Your leisure ๐Ÿ™‚ C xx

  7. I recently read a blog post about swag and someone suggested putting candy or snacks in the bag (which can be personalized)–especially for conferences when people could be standing in long lines without something to eat. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Pete Denton says:

    So much things to think about before launching! I voted for pens as everyone needs pens. I like the idea of a toolkit though ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Seriously. My brain feels like it never stops. ๐Ÿ™‚ I like pens and they are very cost effective too. Yeah, the toolkit sounds cool, it’s just a bit pricey per kit. Might be a good door prize though. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Carrie Rubin says:

    I didn’t check any, because other than bookmarkers, I don’t know if any are essential. I purchased pens and handed them out at book signings, but I’m not sure it was that big a deal. Then again, I haven’t done any other live promotion, so I’m not sure what goes on at book fairs and such.

  10. I like Amazon gift cards!

  11. Yatin says:

    Nothing beats hard cash, but for some reason that never makes a cut for a swag! ๐Ÿ™‚ Given an option I’d prefer multi-tool USB drive or a pen flash light.

  12. winsomebella says:

    I voted tote bag……always have too much baggage to carry around ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. 4amWriter says:

    I chose notepads, although my other option would be pens as they go together and I never seem to have enough of either! While I like the idea of a tote or T-shirt, I’m with JM as far as quality. I’d want the tee to fit right, and I’d want the tote to be big enough and sturdy enough to use the way I’d need to use it!

    So, if it wouldn’t be too expensive to find a quality tote bag, definitely shoot for that. Everyone can use a tote bag!

    • I like the notepad and pen combo too. I think they are the most useful items. Totes and t-shirts are the more expensive swag. Though grocery totes are not bad at all. I’m going to get a couple samples and see if it’s a good quality before I consider ordering them. You’re right t-shirts are tricky with the sizing. They might not be the best idea. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Unless you used a one size fits all (most). Or, for a giveaway, a t-shirt or tote would be nice. I’ve thought about doing that. If you buy blanks that are 50/50 that are made by a reputable t-shirt company and have your logo, design, or whatever printed on them, they should be fine. But, they are pricey. And, it wouldn’t be feasible to do just one.

        • Those tend to be much more expensive swag. I prefer pens and smaller cost items. Since most swag has a minimum purchase requirement the cost of T-shirts is just too much for my budget.

          • If you can buy them wholesale, Kourtney, they shouldn’t be too much. I haven’t checked the price in years, so I might be wrong. Heck, you can buy t-shirts at Wal-mart, though, just as cheap-around $5. That is expensive, though. Not sure I’d want to give too many away. Maybe as a special prize or gift?

          • I generally keep my cost per swag item to under a dollar. ๐Ÿ™‚ With the T-shirts, I looked into getting a color logo/design on it and it was priced at around 6-7$ per T-shirt when you buy 25-50 T-shirts. For me, it is just too much. It makes sense as a special prize of gift, but making just 5-10 can be even more costly per T-shirt.

          • So true. You would need to be able to do them yourself.

          • Yeah, that’s outside my skill set. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  14. I voted for notepads and now see this is a popular choice ๐Ÿ™‚ Many of us readers are writers too, I think! ๐Ÿ™‚

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