Easy Ideas for Creating Your Own Book Swag

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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!

Postcards:

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.

Bookmarks:

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.

Tea:

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.

Stickers:

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.

Charms:

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.



15 Best Tools for Authors

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My husband and I built a swing set for our daughters last weekend. Honestly, it went pretty smoothly and quickly, all things considered. The fact that my husband has a giant tool chest with every type of wrench, drill bit, and ratchet we could need (and perfectly organized, I might add), made it that much easier. Sure, we could have possibly gotten it done with a single screwdriver and Allen wrench, but it would have taken so much longer (and been much more frustrating).

In the same way, having a full and functional toolbox for writing a novel can make the process so much easier and more enjoyable. Can you write a novel entirely in a Word document? Yes, you can. Heck, you could technically write an entire novel by hand, in a single notebook, if you’re desperate enough. But using the right tools will save you time, effort, and most importantly, sanity. If you’re in the process of building your writer’s toolbox, here are some of my top essentials for writers. (Note: none of these links are sponsored or affiliated.)

15 Essential Writing Tools

1. Scrivener

This is number one for a reason. There are a few writing softwares out there, but Scrivener makes the most sense in terms of interface, usability, and price. It’s a one-time purchase (only $50), rather than an ongoing subscription. I love organizing my chapters, being able to easily switch between scenes, compare two scenes or versions side-by-side, and move sections around as needed. The character profiles and notes sections also see a lot of use early on in my writing. I can compile research, motivations, descriptions, etc. all into one place and it’s organized perfectly in a sidebar. Anytime I meet a writer who mentions Word docs or Google Docs, there’s a 100 percent chance I’m going to suggest Scrivener to them.

2. One Stop for Writers

This website is a bit pricey in my opinion (about $10/month depending on the plan you choose), but every time I think about cutting it, I suddenly need it again. One Stop for Writers drew me in with the Thesaurus options, which offer detailed descriptions for hundreds of settings, occupations, emotions, and more. Need to describe a tattoo parlor but you’ve never been to one? OSFW has detailed descriptions of sights, sounds, smells and more. Have a frustrated character? You can get detailed physical expressions of frustration, emotions that lead to it, where it might go next, possible causes, and more. The OSFW Stacks are another fantastic tool. They walk you through creating a character, narrowing down possible wounds, resulting fears, lies they believe, and core motivations. Select a few quirks from hundreds of options, learn what types of traits they might have based on their career, and more. When I first started using it, I thought I might learn enough to outgrow it, but I haven’t yet.

3. A laptop

It’s obvious, but I have to mention my laptop. I guess you could use a computer, though I love the occasional writing session outdoors, or heading to a coffee shop when I need some people-watching while I write. Personally, I went through a couple of laptops before switching to a MacBook eight years ago, and I’ll never go back. I recently set up a home office and added a laptop riser, keyboard and mouse for a more ergonomic set up, which I highly recommend if you can swing it.

4. A good notebook and pen

While I won’t be writing a novel by hand, I love the tactile experience of jotting down notes. I’m a sucker for a notebook with a pretty cover and that lays flat when open. I’m also a big fan of bullet journals for writing notes because I like to graph out my plot points. And when it comes to pens… Well, I’ve been a journalist for seven years and there is only one pen I buy now. Zebra F-301 pens. These suckers will never skip or smear. To this point, I’ll add that you need a good note-taking app on your phone too. Because inspiration often strikes at the strangest times and places.

5. Wireless earbuds

A comfortable set of earbuds are essential for the endless hours of music you will be listening to. As a people-watcher, I can be easily distracted when I’m working in public spaces, so popping in earbuds and silencing the noise helps me focus. And I prefer wireless for those pacing-the-room moments.

6. Spotify

Endless hours of music require a good streaming service. I know a lot of Apple Music fans, but I’ve been with Spotify too long to change now. I have a playlist for each book. It helps me connect with the characters and set the mood.

7. Pinterest

I’ll do a post soon about the ways I use Pinterest as a writer, so for now I’ll keep it brief. I use Pinterest for three main things: book aesthetics, research, and writing tips. I create a board for each book, with subsections related to the characters, outfits, settings, etc. I’ll link research to a book board as well. And once you start following author-related topics on Pinterest, you’ll find lots of fun tips and tools too.

8. Thesaurus.com

I’m not above admitting my love for Thesaurus.com! When I know a word isn’t quite right, Thesaurus.com usually helps me find my way to the word I actually need.

9. A library card

The best writers are readers too. I’ll admit I don’t read as much as I should, but I still get good use out of my library card. Not to mention, my library hosts writing workshops and local author signings. I’ve also been scoping out the new fiction section lately for cover designs, back cover copy inspiration, and author bios.

10. An online community

Writing can be a lonely job. Of course, most of us are introverts, so we’re fine with that. But having some form of community is still important. We need to know we’re not the only ones who have ever wrestled with an ending or struggled with rejection. Plus, getting tips and inspiration in your inbox can help jumpstart those rough days. I’m personally a fan of Story Embers for Christian fiction, Hope Writers for Christian non-fiction, Jericho Writers for really sassy emails (and self-publishing tips), and Jerry Jenkins‘ website for writing tips.

11. WordPress

Every author needs a website. You don’t have to blog necessarily, but you need a one-stop spot for your author information, book lists, writing accolades, and contact information. I’ve used several website hosting platforms in the past, but WordPress is remains one of the easiest, most affordable, and customizable.

12. The Enneagram

Okay, this isn’t a very specific tool, it’s more like a concept. But if you’re writing fiction, I think the Enneagram is hugely helpful. Knowing your character’s personality type will help you create a consistent character with believable reactions and motivations. You can find out more about how I use the Enneagram as an author here, as well as my favorite book on the topic. If you prefer the Myers-Briggs, check out 16personalities.com.

13. Google Docs

Save the money on Microsoft Office and use free Google Docs instead. As I mentioned above, I don’t use Google Docs for my actual writing, but I do use it for the publishing process. I type up query letters, synopses, and proposals in Google Docs. And I use Google Sheets to track what queries I’ve sent, when I received a response, etc.

14. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

Yes, everybody recommends it. And I wish I had listened sooner. This book is an absolute gem. It won’t tell you how to follow grammatical rules or the magic secret to plot outlining, but it will make you feel understood as a writer. Every page has me reading something out loud to my husband as I laugh and cry with it.

15. A grammar checker

Scrivener doesn’t have a very strong grammar/spelling checker in my opinion. But as a professional editor, those aren’t tools I typically need. However, when I get stuck on an issue, I refer to my AP Stylebook (journalist here) or Grammar Girl. If you need a strong grammar checker, check out Grammarly.

Bonus: Good walking shoes

When it’s all too much, put them on and go outside. A walk around the block can do wonders for your writer’s soul.


Whether you’re a new or experienced writer, having the right programs and tools makes the job easier! Were any of my “essentials” new to you? Are there any favorites in your writer’s toolbox that I missed? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!



The Day I Signed My First Book Contract

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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.

#NaNoWriMo and a Novel Update

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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.



Flash Fiction Announcement!

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About three months ago, I was out for a run at dusk, when I came up with a creepy idea for a novel. I had the whole synopsis in my head in an instant. The only problem is I don’t write psychological thrillers. And I have another novel I’m working on publishing now, with several more planned in my head. So I turned it into flash fiction instead. To my absolute shock and joy, Fragmented Voices accepted it and will be publishing it in their autumn anthology!

They just released the cover of the book and I am so excited about it. It’s a collection of short fiction and essays from 40 authors about the complicated topic of home.

I must admit, this is going to be far from my usual writings. It’s not the Christian women’s fiction I’m currently looking to publish, but it was so fun to stretch my fiction-writing skills to a new genre and style! Also, after working on a novel for months that is now languishing in the waiting-to-be-published stage, it was encouraging to be able to put a piece together and see it progress to publishing more quickly. I’ll be sure to post it when it’s available!