Easy Ideas for Creating Your Own Book Swag

Author, Blog

Until recently, I had never been to a book signing nor had I ever even followed an author on social media. I’ve been a book lover my entire life, but I never paid much attention to the world of publication behind the curtain book in my hands. However, with my own book launch coming soon, I have begun exploring the mysterious realm of signings, meet and greets, book festivals, and most recently: book swag—perhaps the most fun of them all.

Savvy authors promote their books with more than just sales and marketing materials. These go beyond the typical bookmarks or postcards featuring the book’s cover and a brief description. Book swag is more like bonus material: fun stuff that can be enjoyed in addition to the book, or entirely on their own. Some authors host giveaways with book swag. Some send items as thank-you gifts with their books when they send out advanced copies for early reviews. And others use book swag at book signings as a way to thank readers.

For any fellow newbies out there looking for ideas for author book swag and promos, I came up with several for my book that were all affordable and easy to put together! Honestly, brainstorming these was the most fun thing I’ve done on the advertising/marketing side of publishing. And while many of these items can be customized to match other book themes, it’s best to start with thinking about your own book.

Brainstorming Book Swag

Take inspiration from your characters, their hobbies or occupations, the story’s location, and any recurring or meaningful symbols. If coffee shops make a regular appearance, perhaps a small coffee chocolate bar would be perfect. If your lead character is an EMT, a small first aid kit would be a handy, related item.
Be sure to consider your readers, too. Curate book-related items they would enjoy and use. If you’ve got a bug collector in your story, a cute butterfly sticker might be nice, a dead beetle not so much.

Book Swag Ideas

Here are the book swag items I’m using. Hopefully they spark some ideas for you and your own unique story!


Not just promotional postcards with the book’s cover and information, but a postcard that looks like it really came from the story’s location. If you’re using a real location, this might be easier. If you’re using a fictional location, it’s still completely possible! Outside of Grace is partly set in a fictional town in Texas, based on a real coastal area. I used a stock photo from that area (free on Unsplash) and added the town’s name using Canva. Now I have a set of postcards that will be perfect for sending with advanced reader copies. I’ll write personalized notes thanking the reader on these.


You’re dealing with readers—a bookmark just makes sense! I opted for a style I personally enjoy, which is a book tracking bookmark, rather than something directly related to my book. I purchased a digital download on Etsy so that I can print as many as I need. Then I filled in the first book with my own title. Readers can add more book titles as they read. There are so many options for bookmarks though, you could easily customize a bookmark to your book, using photos, editing on Canva, or commissioning a design through Etsy or Fiverr.

Recipe cards:

Last printable, I promise. I must have been quite hungry when I wrote Outside of Grace, because there are a lot of mentions of food. Or maybe I just did a great job at getting into the head of a college male. Either way, I thought recipe cards would be a fun way to bring the book to life. Obviously, this would go perfectly with any book that features food: chefs, restaurant owners, big family dinners, characters with a sweet tooth, etc.


While I don’t have a particularly avid tea drinker in my story, I thought it was something my readers would likely enjoy and the Edinburgh branded Scottish breakfast tea helped tie in the secondary location in Outside of Grace. Plus, the scent will make a nice touch in a book box. A box of tea bags is so affordable, I think they would also make a nice signing table addition as well.

Sticky notes:

Here’s a bonus of living in the same state as my book’s location: every local grocery store has an aisle of Texas-themed items. A stack of sticky notes was only $1 at my grocery store. I grabbed a dozen to send out in giveaways or as thank-you gifts. You can print sticky notes with logos as well, which makes a handy and frequent reminder for your reader.


You can find stickers to match almost any theme! I came across these while searching for highland cow gifts. I needed a bit more Scotland in my Outside of Grace swag, plus highland cows make a couple of appearances in the story. One is on a tea towel, but ordering enough tea towels was cost prohibitive. I needed an option that could be produced en masse more easily. Amazon came through for me with a set of 50 highland cow stickers for less than $6! Again, this one is great in bulk and I plan to use it at signings.


This was another idea born out of necessity. I loved the idea of a “grace” bracelet or necklace—something anyone could enjoy that would be a positive reminder of the book’s overall message. Plus, I hope it might be something they wear or use out and about, potentially sparking conversations about the book. However, the cheapest options I could find for jewelry started at nearly $10. Again, not something I could buy in bulk. Etsy supplier BabbleCharms saved me. They sell tiny charms by the dozen, most for less than $4. Because they’re so tiny, I added an order of flower charms as well, to add some pop, and because my lead character has an affinity for floral decorations and flower arrangements. I haven’t exactly decided how to use these, but I have them on keychains for now. They could easily be added to jewelry or bookmark tassels though.

Other Ideas:

Once I got started, I couldn’t turn the ideas off. There were several others I didn’t end up using. Here’s a few more that could be customized or might spark ideas for you:

  • Photo keychains (easy to insert the book cover, a location photo, or more).
  • Notecards (empty for the reader to use)
  • Textiles: tea towels, socks, face masks, small knitted items—anything related to your book or characters. Many of these can be ordered with customized prints, or you could even add iron-on transfers yourself. Some items might need no customization if they fit your story. Got a mountain park ranger or an avid hiker in your book? A pair of hiking socks could be a cute touch.
  • Magnets: again, so many customizable options out there.
  • Larger items: these get a bit harder to mail, but if you’re willing to go the extra mile, you could include small candles, seashells for a beach read, an inexpensive watercolor set for your artistic protagonist, the options are endless.
  • More expensive items: these might be for sale, or only for special giveaways. You could create custom tote bags, t-shirts, or art prints of your cover if you have a particularly beautiful design. I think tote bags would be great for book festivals—built-in advertising as your readers browse!

Ways to use book swag:

I plan to include everything pictured to send with advance reader copies, as well as to host a couple of giveaways with the book launch. Some of the more affordable and fun ones, like the Scottish tea or the highland cow stickers, would be perfect for adding to an author signing or festival booth—free for anyone who stops by or perhaps only with a book purchase? We’ll have to see.

Most importantly, remember that this is the fun part. If the brainstorming or the cost starts to stress you out, don’t worry about it. You do not need book swag. Your story is valuable all on its own. Book swag just helps bring your story to life, and get readers as excited about it as you are.

The Day I Signed My First Book Contract


Outside of Grace officially entered a publishing contract in what was simultaneously the most monumental and mundane Monday of my life. It was a day of parenting, full of wiping noses, bottoms, and tears—in no particular order.

After preparing an afternoon snack, I checked my phone and saw an email confirming the contract and welcoming me to the publishing house. I looked up, mental confetti raining all around me, to find a very upset four year old who had dropped her orange slice in the dirt. Showing her my phone and telling her that momma was going to be a published novelist was no use. She really wanted me to wash off her orange.

That was how my lifelong dream was set in motion. After many months of writing and editing, querying and dealing with rejection (and loads of doubt and despair), it all catapulted into publication while toddlers wiped grimy hands on my legs. While the ink on my contract was still drying, my two year old set her wet sippy cup on top of it. Honestly, it was a perfect picture of what this entire process has been like. Jotting notes on my phone while we walk to the park, daydreaming while folding laundry, and working late after the kids go to bed. I frequently hear of people writing their first book in retirement. I’ve even heard plenty of advice that I should wait until then. That I should wait until I’ve lived enough to have a story to tell (and how long is that?). And yes, it’s been hard to get it all done in the 12 hours a week of childcare we have. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being a writer mama.

So I wrapped up those sticky-cheeked and tangled-hair babies in my arms and rained all that confetti on them in the form of kisses. They didn’t have a clue why, but they knew mama was happy and they were too. And God knew. He knew we had finally found a publisher who caught the vision for this story (two, actually! I got two offers within a week). He knows were it’s going next. And I know I’ll be there, signing books and bribing toddlers with lollipops. It will be wonderful.

How I Use Music in My Writing

Author, Blog

Music is essential to writing a first draft. It sets a mood, fuels creativity, and offers words when I hit a blank. But music can also be distracting and enabling. I try to be intentional about how I bring it into my writing and what types of music I use. Below, I’ve got some tips on how I balance music with my writing. Plus, my “official” Outside of Grace playlist (with some teaser info at the end)!

Moment of honesty first: sharing the music I listen to is terrifying! I discovered in college that whatever I listened to, regardless of what it was, was definitely uncool. I once had a TA do a music session in lab at the end of the semester and let everyone pick songs. My song was the only one immediately booed and voted off. (If that happens in a future book, now you know.) So I’m pretty self-conscious about my music. But whatever. My police-officer dad raised me on a steady stream of Enya. I’ll never be cool. I’m learning to be okay with that.

Set the Mood

Whether it’s a sad, reflective moment, or an upbeat, hopeful scene, music helps me get into the right headspace. As a mom of toddlers, if I’m going to quickly go from changing diapers to writing about college kids in a bar, I need the help of music. I have a playlist for each novel I’m working on, and each one features a unique style of music. The Outside of Grace playlist (above) walks through the moods of the book—ranging from Scottish ballads to house beats and more. I wonder how much of the book can be given away in that playlist alone? It should probably come with spoiler alerts!

Find the Songs

Another novel I’m drafting is more character-focused and doesn’t feature as many drastic scene changes. Rather, it develops two characters who are total opposites. Thus, the playlist for that book features songs that help me get into the character’s heads more, focusing on who I’m writing about and the way they view the world. One of them is very bohemian—and I’ve got her listening to indie songs with a nature-focus. Finding Bohemian and Christian Boho playlists on Spotify was very helpful in building my own playlist. Spotify’s suggestions were helpful for building onto a playlist once I got started.

Words or No Words?

I used to hate songs with words when writing. If I’m trying to get an academic paper just right the first time, I’m likely to stick with classical music. But for the creative process, I find that the slight distraction of songs with lyrics helps take off the pressure of a blank page. I can let loose, fill the page with words, and then come back to it for edits later.

Zone Out

I’m a shameless repeater. If I find an addictive new song, I’m likely to play it on repeat endlessly until I can hum it in my sleep. (With headphones of course, so I don’t drive my husband insane.) It becomes a background noise that helps me zone out and focus on writing; I think it keeps me from getting distracted by other thoughts.

Religious or Secular?

A quick look through the Outside of Grace playlist will reveal a majority of secular songs, which may seem odd—possibly even offensive—for a Christian novel. As a teenager, a small church I visited wanted members to only listen to Christian music. To an extent, I can see their point. Honestly, I find my mental health tends to be better when I primarily listen to Christian music. However, I think being aware of current music trends and culture can be helpful (Acts 17:22-31 is a good example of being aware of the culture). Outside of Grace deals with a lot of secular settings—bars, college campuses, etc. Pretending like Christians don’t encounter that sort of thing on a regular basis doesn’t help anyone.

In theme with setting the mood, when my main character is wrestling with her faith, my listening will reflect that. Artists like Matt Maeson, who is vocal about his experience of turning away from religion and later rediscovering it, capture the feel so well. Several of his songs filled the playlist when I was considering how to accurately represent a crisis of faith. (Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco also wrestles with topics of religion in songs like Say Amen, while offering the vibe I needed for certain scenes.)

*Let’s just take a break here to say that you’re probably thinking I’m an insane over-thinker. You would be right.

“I don’t even like the idea that there is a separation between Christian music and non-Christian music. [That designation] makes it seem less approachable… I wouldn’t label my music Christian music anyways, but it does have a lot to do with faith.” 

Matt Maeson

Reverse the Mood

When it’s time for edits, I try to challenge myself to reverse the mood. Listening to something peppy and upbeat before editing a big tear-jerker scene is a great way to test its strength. The scene must be written powerfully enough to bring me back down. And while I’ll do copy editing with music, I need silence for line editing. Once I’m ready for final edits, I do crazy person things like stand in my room, alone, and read the entire thing out loud. It’s amazing how much more you can catch when you have to speak the words and your brain can’t just auto-pilot through them.

Have Fun

Now go forth, Writer, and picture your perfect playlist as the soundtrack to your wildly successful book-turned-movie. Or, Reader and epilogue-loving Fan, find your author’s playlist and reread the scenes you loved with all the feels. Having a playlist is just plain fun.

Outside of Grace Teaser

The playlist above used to be perfectly organized with one song corresponding to each chapter. However, it’s changed a bit and recent edits have dropped an entire chapter from the book. When writing the first draft, I had a massive playlist for inspiration that wasn’t nearly as carefully curated. But the “official” one features the songs that I felt best summed up scenes. Since doing edits, I’ve messed around with it a bit and added a handful of extra songs to it. It’s still pretty representative of the book, so if you want a sneak peak, give it a listen!

Bonus: If I had to pick one song to represent the entire book, it would be Leave a Light On by the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Tom Walker. (Fun facts: they’re both native Scottish artists, because I. Must. Be. Genuine. Part of that over-thinker thing.) This song is probably not the coolest. There are bagpipes involved. But I love it and will stand by that. (Obviously 8.6 million people agree with me, so I’m not that far off.)

TL;DR – listen to that song ^

#NaNoWriMo and a Novel Update

Author, Blog, Photography

National Novel Writing Month—it’s a crazy challenge that starts November 1 and ends on the 30th, with the goal of getting at least 50,000 words under your belt. Similar to one of my favorite tools for busting writer’s block—The Most Dangerous Writing App—the idea is that if you can just get the words out, you’ll find the story you were meant to tell (and you can always go back and edit it later).

That said… I did not participate. (Bum bum bum.) At least, not in the traditional challenge. I have two novels under my belt (the first is garbage, said every author ever) so as fun as it is to write, I feel responsible to actually finish what I’ve already set out to do. So, inspired by the NaNoWriMo community and movement, November was editing month for me.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland, photo by yours truly. Representative of the giants I see ahead.

I spent the month editing my beloved second novel to prepare it for a second round of publishing submissions. This was the month to kill my darlings (read that post for some seriously good writing advice). Two entire chapters got the cut. Do you know how hard it is to trash things your own creation? Things that you were once convinced were brilliant and absolutely necessary?! Ahem. I did it, nonetheless. And honestly, it was overdue.

I finished this novel in March of this year and started submitting it to literary agents in May. Sadly, I was unable to find one. Honestly, it was crushing. I realized I still struggle with rejection. Not a good characteristic for a freelancer and author. It was frustrating too. One agent told me my genre wasn’t selling well (which I disagree with). And they all wanted platforms (I swear, that word has turned into a curse around here). I’m not an influencer and have no intention of becoming one—I happen to like being a real human who focuses on my real family, rather than forcing screaming children into coordinating outfits for the ‘gram.

So I did what every sore loser does. I got frustrated and gave up. I stuck that thing under the bed and turned my back on it for several months. I’m not very proud of this part of the story, so let’s ignore how long it lasted and continue.

Then. I was getting groceries at the beginning of the month when I heard a familiar song playing in the store. It was one of the songs I listened to repeatedly while writing the novel. Now, I certainly hadn’t forgotten the book (impossible), but I had avoided it. And it all came rushing back. When I got back to my car, I pulled up the playlist I had made for that story and listened to a few more songs. And I wasn’t frustrated, I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t disappointed. I was convicted.

The Three Sisters of Glencoe. More giants in the land. I spy my sweet little toddler in a yellow coat ❤

I don’t like to throw around phrases like “I heard from God”—no, no booming voice came from the sky, no blinding light from the heavens. But I felt it. I felt the passion I once had for that project come back and the conviction that it isn’t just my story. It isn’t just something I made that I can decide to quit on. It’s a story that was planted in my mind, totally outside of my comfort zone, for a purpose. It’s a story that someone needs. Whether a traditional publisher will take it on or not, I felt the determination to continue and to explore the possibility of self-publishing. Because this is the story of church hurts, of the pain caused by purity culture, and of the long road back to faith after walking away in college. This is a story that I am absolutely convinced someone out there needs to hear.

When I hear people say God called them to something and they struggled to follow, I’ve always thought that seemed a little silly. I mean, if you know God is calling you, why not just do it? I figured I had just never been so sure. But I was lying to myself. I know for a fact God is calling me to write—and he has been since I was about 8 years old. And yet, there I was, hiding my talents in the dirt. I was looking into the promised land and saying, “No way, God, don’t you see the giants in there?” And I finally saw how silly it was.

So that’s how I ended up spending my November editing ruthlessly. My novel is coming back out from under the bed for a second round of submissions. And I’m hoping and praying that I’ll be a little more resilient this time around and be open to self-publishing, if necessary. Because Outside of Grace deserves to be read, regardless of what the giants have to say about it.