The months leading up to a book release can be stressful, especially for a new author. Though bookshelves are filled with how-to guides about writing a book and getting it published, there are very few instruction manuals for promoting that book once it’s released. Aside from paying for a billboard in Times Square, it can seem as if there is very little an author can do to get mass attention for an upcoming book.

Whether you’ve chosen the traditional or self-publishing route, nobody will be a bigger champion for your book than you. In the months leading up to my own first book release, I spent a great deal of time interacting with other authors, many of whom had the same concerns I did. What should we be doing to get our books out there that we weren’t currently doing? Few authors chose to hire a publicist, since the cost was much more than we could afford with our newbie advances. Instead, I began making the book conference rounds, trying to learn as much as possible from what other authors have done to get their books in the public’s eye.

One recurring theme was creating book swag or print materials to support your book launch. I learned that bookmarks and postcards were the most the cost-effective materials a budget-constricted author could have printed in bulk, which meant I could afford to print plenty to hand away at every event and to send out to possible retail outlets.

But there are right ways and wrong ways to go about creating the ideal postcards and bookmarks for your book launch. To get you get started, I’ve compiled the most essential things I’ve learned about creating and distributing book swag after 5 (and counting!) book launches.

Quality counts

Bookmarks for Children’s Book
Bookmarks for Children’s Book by KaWolfram

As marketing experts often tell business owners, print collateral serves as the face of a business. A prospective customer or client will take one look at a brochure or postcard and make quick assessments about the professionalism of the company and its team. Although authors don’t necessarily have to create print collateral on the level of a multinational corporation like Coca-Cola, we do need to make sure our materials instill a level of confidence in the readers who will be picking them up. A professional designer will usually extract elements from your book’s cover design and incorporate them in a creative, eye-catching way that immediately sends a message about the tone of your book. If you write fun, lighthearted romantic comedies, for instance, your bookmark should be completely different from a bookmark representing a dark fantasy novel.

Brand yourself

Bookmark for Spheria by Cody Leet
Bookmark for Cody Leet’s “Spheria” by IsaDesignNet

When you think of some of the top brands in the world, often you associate their graphic design with a particular image. The same goes with your book collateral. Your bookmarks, postcards and any other swag you choose should tell readers what they can expect when they pick up one of your books. Will it be an intense read, filled with suspense, or will it take them back to an earlier time? This will become even more complex as you publish more books over the course of your career. You may find consistency is difficult, especially if you write in multiple genres, but try to ensure your swag has a common theme that becomes part of your overall author brand. This might also mean occasional redesigns of your website to match the print materials you’re handing out at events.

Know your limits

Empty chair with laptop
Via Unsplash

Remember, you aren’t a professional graphic designer, you’re a writer. (Or maybe you’re both—if so, awesome!) So, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can create your print materials yourself. Yes, you’ll save a little money, but you’ll also find that readers will skip your books because your promotional materials scream, “amateur!” I can always spot the self-designed bookmarks on the display table at writing conferences. Do-it-yourselfers lack the software and skill to extract elements from the book cover and incorporate text in a way that comes together seamlessly. And if you do happen to be a talented graphic designer with all the necessary design tools at your disposal, it still may not be the best idea to design your own book swag. One, your time may be better spent working on revisions or designing materials for others. Two, you may find that you can’t be as objective about your own book’s general image as an outside designer. Weigh the options and decide what will work best for you.

Get your print materials out there

Creative postcard
Creative Postcard by Hrvoje Milicevic

Once your promotional materials have landed on your doorstep, it’s time to start putting them to work for you. I always keep some bookmarks in the trunk of my car in case I run into someone while out running errands. Once you’ve published a book or two, you’ll find you regularly leave the house for book signings, conferences, workshops, retreats and other events. Always take along enough print materials for your latest/upcoming books to hand out. I’ve often found bookstores and libraries ask me to leave a stack for them to put on display, so don’t worry about taking too many. You should also keep an up-to-date mailing list of local libraries, book reviewers and schools, if you write for children. Used bookstores also like book swag, so make sure to include those in your mailing list. A month or two before each new book launches, I always send a postcard to every bookstore, library and elementary school within a 60-mile radius to increase the chances that my book will end up on shelves.

Web banners
Web banners for book advertisement by DesK_fl

The book swag don’ts

Here are a few things every author should avoid when preparing and distributing print collateral for a new book.

Print this list out and keep it on your desk as you prepare for your book launch!

  • Don’t design any materials yourself unless you’re a talented, professional designer. Even then, consider the benefits of handing the work over to an objective outsider.
  • Don’t order a large print run the first time. If you do, you’ll likely end up with a basement full of bookmarks. Instead order in small quantities and place a second order as you run out.
  • Don’t skimp on printing. Once you’ve invested in eye-catching design, you’ll need to order high-quality paper and request full color on both sides. Graphic designers have recommended UPrinting and NextDayFlyers for my print jobs and I’ve had great experiences with both.
  • Don’t neglect your online branding. Make sure the message you’re sending with your website and social media profiles matches the marketing message readers get from your print materials.
  • Don’t spend a great deal of money on fancy swag like T-shirts, pens and coffee mugs. If you want to design one or two for a giveaway or to keep for yourself, feel free, but the per-item cost on these items makes them impossible to distribute on a widespread basis.

Bookmarks and postcards can be a great way to get the word out about your books, both before and after their release. However, it’s important to invest in high-quality design to make the biggest impact. Find an experienced, affordable book swag designer to make your next book launch a success.

Are you ready to create some awesome book swag? We’ve got thousands of designers ready to pitch you their postcard and flyer designs!

Stephanie Faris is a freelance writer and novelist. Her children’s books include 30 Days of No Gossip, 25 Roses and the Piper Morgan series, all published by Simon & Schuster. Her freelance work has appeared on Creative Live, NYPost.com, Mental Floss and in Writer’s Digest.