Swag More, Bark Less

A good friend of mine recently became a black belt in karate.  She’s a mild-mannered, unruffled Type-B personality with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude who began taking classes after her young daughter and her husband enrolled. It began as a social excuse for her, and provided a bit of fitness and fun. Yet after four, maybe five years of attending karate classes regularly, she resigned herself to the fact that she was indeed on her way to black belt – whether she really wanted to or not, she joked.

Even though she didn’t take herself very seriously, she put one foot in front of the other, trained hard, and was awarded first degree black belt during an eight-hour test in May. After the test, she told me she felt like she had pulled off a grand hoax: how else could someone have given her – little ol’ her – a black belt otherwise?

I had witnessed some of the test, watching her fend off multiple attackers from every angle and flip grown men over her shoulder. She may not live her life as highly-driven, warrior machine like some of her classmates, but she certainly deserves to be called Sensai as much as the next guy or girl on the dojo floor. She had earned her stripes, literally.

But I understand the surreal feeling. It took me about five years to write my first novel. The writing part came easy; too easy. I felt like I must be doing something wrong. Aren’t we supposed to suffer for our art? I kept it as my little pet project, my guilty pleasure. Writing the book was my primary form of relaxation, and was always quickly relegated to the back burner should anything “more important” arise.

After showing it to other sets of eyes, I realized I must be doing something right. I was spurred on, urged to make it to the finish line. But I still found it difficult, even after the incredible high from writing THE END, to call myself a writer. I was proud of the accomplishment of starting at page one and taking the novel to completion. But come on: writer?

Less than three months to go before LOUDER THAN LOVE is unleashed on the reading public and I still have a hard time talking up myself, or the book. In less than a month, I will be surrounded by hundreds of other writers at a national conference in Atlanta. And while I won’t have to prove myself by flipping anyone over a shoulder or fending off multiple attackers should I reach for the last muffin on the buffet table, I do have to remember: I’ve put in my training time and am deserving of the rank of published author.

As I move into promo mode, creating materials to bring to the conference, I am reminded of that cute, simple bumper sticker I often see on cars: WAG MORE, BARK LESS. I’m not a dog lover but I appreciate the sentiment. I may not have the biggest bark on the block when it comes to chatting up my book. I hope the writing comes off as solid and will speak for itself. I want to stay genuinely happy with my writing and have fun with it. To that end, I’ve been having a blast creating swag to share at the conference, and with readers. Who doesn’t love swag?

My book cover hasn’t been made public yet, so I’ve been thinking of cool and creative ways to get my title out there.

Since my main male character is what I call “a heavy metal hero with a heart of gold”, I thought it only fitting to use a guitar pick as my calling card. I went to the best company I knew of, In Tune Guitar Picks, who make custom picks for tons of bands, including moe., the band I work with.

pink picks

With a rainbow of colors, gauges and fonts to choose from, I had a hard time choosing. I’ve always been a fan of the girly-grrrl Joan Jett pink-black combo, so I went with that. And some in purple matte. They’ve inspired my friend Kim at Gionis Designs to work up prototypes for some wicked cool earrings:

Louder Than Love earrings by Gionis Design

How fun is that? Can’t do that with a paper business card! They are functional, as proven by moe.’s guitar tech, Frank. Strong enough for the double-neck, and between the teeth!

Frank shows the most convenient place to carry a guitar pick is between the teeth

Frank shows the most convenient place to carry a guitar pick is between the teeth

Frank shows the most convenient place to carry a guitar pick is between the teeth!

louderthanlovepinsButton-Lab made me some über-cool pins – I suggested the Metal Lord font and the old-school red/black combination, and they worked all their shiny-metallic magic – love the way they turned out!

What’s the coolest/weirdest bit of promo swag you’ve ever seen? Would love to hear about the goodies you may have picked up at a conference or convention.

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  • AnotherCleanSlate

    The guitar pick is such a cool idea! Very creative!!

    • http://www.jesstopper.com/ Jessica Topper

      Thanks – I hear a lot of conferences are going “green’ and don’t want a lot of paper goods like bookmarks, brochures, etc. This is small and unique. :)

  • messymimi

    Those are great! Mostly i’ve seen things like keychains and pens and coffee mugs, which are nice, but these are creative and fun.

    • http://www.jesstopper.com/ Jessica Topper

      Thanks! I always like a good pen. Coffee cups are great, but costly. But I think if you can tie it in to your novel’s them (like maybe it takes place in a coffee shop, etc) it’s a cool piece o’ promo!

  • Amanda Baker Usen

    Just got inspired to go through my Lori Foster Reader & Author Get Together Goodie Bag! It’s a big bag half-filled with promo stuff. Here we go: mostly paper promo about authors and their books. Postcards, bookmarks, trading cards and a few newspaper-type things. I admired it all, and quite a few covers caught my eye. If the blurb sounded good, I put it in a check-it-out pile. If the SWAG was well-designed, I put it in a copy-this-someday pile. 😉 Next to my computer, I put a separate pile of SWAG from authors who were awesome to me at the conference. I’ll check them out first, and probably buy their books. Also in bag: compact mirror, luggage tag, charm bracelet, insulated mug, plastic cup, audio excerpt, excerpt booklet, magnets, buttons, temp tattoos, lip balm, pens, rulers, beer (lol) cozies. This stuff might get looked at more than once if it gets used. The two books went on my bedside table to be read. What really caught my eye? A couple of intriguing looking things printed to look like tickets. I wanted to know more. I might visit the sites…and am considering an ongoing contest…with tickets. A free e-book voucher from a well-known author I haven’t read. Giving books away is never a bad idea, lol! How to stand out from the herd without giving it all away is the eternal question. I try to get my name out there on something to create awareness. I think paper promo starts that process and a clever giveaway that ties in to my brand hopefully gives my books an edge in the consideration process. I will proudly wear the buttons of authors I love, and I just put Jess’s on my RWA badge! One of my characters has an orchid tattoo, so I’m giving away trading cards with the book cover and orchid temp tattoos. I’m printing up first chapter excerpts of my latest release, hoping folks who like my brand will pick it up, read it, and want to read more. As far as conferences go, I think the best promo is you. Smile, be awesome, make friends. Get yourself out there and give your work a chance to speak for itself. :-)

    • http://www.jesstopper.com/ Jessica Topper

      Wow, fabulous info and insight, Amanda. Thank you! I’ve been brainstorming what kind of digital swag could be given, something on a USB maybe? But that gets pricey. I agree, the best way to make a good impression is to be yourself, be gracious and engaging and you will be more memorable than even a beer coozie! LOL

  • http://minalobo.blogspot.com/ Mina Lobo

    LOL, “Swag more and bark less.” :-) Hey, dig the earrings and buttons! The buttons, especially, really take me back.

    I think it’s pretty cool how writing didn’t seem like work to you – I love it and it’s certainly felt arduous to me, at times. :-)

    • http://www.jesstopper.com/ Jessica Topper

      The guitar picks were a hit at the RWA National convention, and I also had fake tattoo sleeves that were snapped up like hotcakes. So fast, I didn’t even get to snap a good picture of them. I think there is an ebb and flow when it comes to the “work” like feeling of writing. Obviously my tune will change when there is a deadline looming! But I hope the magic is always there. :)