Con Notes Part 3 – Swag

Not stolen, not poo, and make sure it delivers an ROI

The word swag has an interesting etymology; it’s a mafia term for stolen loot.

Do you offer swag at your author signings and such? Do you think of yourself as a fence for stolen goods?

I’m more familiar with the term tchotchkes than “swag”. Swag may be a neologism or an industryism, and it’s all the same thing; trinkets to get people to your table. If you’ve ever gone to an industry (not book industry) show and heard somebody say, “You have to go to X’s booth. They have great…” then you’ve heard a comment about trinkets, tchotchkes, swag. The word “tchotchkes” is Yiddish and can mean “an attractive, unconventional woman” or “an inexpensive showy trinket”.

So why not just call them “trinkets”? Perhaps because of tchotchkes’s other, slang usage, often by eastern European grandmothers and to describe those incredible newborn poos in diapers. Cute, maybe once, but really you just want to get rid of it.

There was a woman who called herself “The Queen of Swag”. She was on a panel about self-marketing. I’d previously seen her table.

Yes, swag she had. Flyers, notebooks, coffee cups, pens, pencils, stickynotes, bookmarks, candy, spinners, tops, dolls, keychains, flashlights, shopping bags, tshirts, necklaces and the list goes on.

I have no idea what her book was or what it was about because I didn’t see it on her table. Maybe it was a book on swag?

She knew where to get the best swag, what worked and what didn’t, how much swag to bring, how to get deals on swag, swag this and swag that. She talked for an half hour non-stop and people were busy taking notes with pen and paper, on tablets, on mobiles, they were videoing her, she was smiling, she was great.

Then I asked the rotten prick question, “What’s your ROI on all this?”

I beg your pardon?

“You told us you spent $3,000 preparing for this show. How much money do you think you’ll make from this show? How much profit?”

I won’t know that until I’m back home and…

“I understand that. You said you’ve been doing this for years. What’s your average profit?”

If people are claiming some kind of business expertise and can’t or won’t provide verifiable numbers to back up their claims, they’re not talking business, they’re talking scam at worst, idiocy at best.

I’m reminded of the fellow who offered to become my old company’s CMO for only 20% (it may have been higher, I don’t remember. I do remember his magnanimous attitude when he made us the offer). “Okay, you’ve been in a marketing consultant for fifteen years. Can you give me a list of your successes?”

Well, umm, no.

“Fifteen years as a marketing consultant and you don’t have one client who’ll come forward and say you helped them?”


Try not to let the door bruise your ass on the way out, okay?

Always, always, ALWAYS ask for verifiable statistics when someone, anyone, tells you they’re going to help you. Always.

Someone may be new and have no stats to show. Great! Excellent! Then you know that going in and can plan accordingly. Someone may be experienced with no good stats. Again excellent. Forewarned is fivearmed and again, you can plan accordingly.

A brief bit of checking on the 20% fellow and I discovered he did know lots of people, an incredible rolodex…

…of people who thought he was a baffoon. That was about the most polite phrasing used.

So swag? Sure, some. You are marketing, after all.

Just be sure ahead of time what swag makes sense for your goals.

Breathmints and water can be used anywhere. Bookmarks? If you’re going to do them, spend the money and make them something you’ll be proud of. Quality business cards are a must (my opinion) because they show you take yourself seriously. Books to sell? You’re an author, aren’t you? But don’t bring a truckload. Bring what you can comfortably carry (or even better, have them delivered to the venue. Remember, though, you’ll still have to carry the unsolds home). A bowl to collect business cards (for a giveaway and to build your email list) is nice.

One thing I do recommend that’s swaggish while not being swag is based on Fair-Exchange. You’ve heard “Give as good as you get”? Fair-Exchange turns that around to “You’ll get as good as you give”.

I ask for something valued and marketable in exchange for something valued and marketable; Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you one of my published short stories as an ebook.

No “for the chance to”, no “entered into a drawing”, no “give me something in the hope of getting something”, definitely no “take our five question survey”. A clean, simple and neat transaction; Give me a working email address, I’ll send something to that address you want.

I walk out with email lists that are smaller than most other folks’ email lists.

My email lists have valid, working emails that people check regularly.

And they’ve led to sales.