How to make business cards, bookmarks and other kickass author swag for your writing conference

I’m not a big believer in print marketing materials, nor writing/author conferences (to promote your books) because:

  1. It’s a lot of time, money and effort and requires you to manually hand out your materials (and usually to other authors, not readers!)
  2. There are much better ways to market books, for much less money.

I’ve been to lots of writing conferences full of eager authors, some with excellent print materials, and they’re all basically trying to sell each other their books.

HOWEVER, I also feel like a dumbass if I’m talking with someone about my books or my writings, and they’re asking questions, and I don’t have anything to give them.

Also, I do plan to hit up a few conferences this fall… and I was just going to make friends and not to promote, but on second thought, as long as I’m going, I might as well grab a table and set up some stuff – not only will it give me a chance to hook any readers that are there, it’ll also help build trust and rapport faster with other authors (because I’m a fellow writer, with polished, well designed marketing materials, not just some strange guy hovering around and being creepy).

So what’s the best kind of book marketing and promotional stuff for authors to bring and handout? I’ve made a list of the things to consider, the best options, and then the super best options (what I’m using myself).

Firstly, you have to sell.

It’s not enough to make cards or bookmarks that have your cover, website and some information. Everything you give to someone else should make them want to read/buy your book. That’s hard to do, on a limited space (we’ll talk about that), but you can achieve it by:

  1. Amazingly powerful sales copy (with a headline that grabs and hooks, and a description that leaves them begging for more).
  2. An amazing, beautiful book cover design and well designed materials (builds trust and credibility.)
  3. Social proof (“over ten-thousand downloads!” / positive reviews). Positive reviews are almost always better than sales copy. Use reviews that tell what the book is about.

This is the same stuff you should have figured out on your Amazon page, by the way… so if you aren’t selling, you probably already have problems with your sales description, summary, reviews or book cover (getting print materials made and going to conferences probably won’t help, unless you have a GREAT book but suck at selling it… with enough grunt work you might overcome your initial disability. But it’s easier to figure out what’s wrong and fix it, rather than spending time and money on conferences.

Secondly, you need them to take action.

You need to have an offer (free book!) and project scarcity. Don’t be desperate, make it seem like you’re giving them a limited opportunity, that they might be lucky enough to take advantage of.

Do you need your email, phone number and author bio? Probably not (more on that later).

You do need a link to your website, or better, to your signup form.

Bookmarks, postcards, business cards?!

Previously, I’ve been a big fan of postcards, because you can basically print the front cover on one side and the back cover on the other – so it’s got all the marketing material you’ve already carefully crafted and polished on your book cover, in postcard form. If your cover design is amazing, and it should be, just put the art/cover on one side and leave the details for the back.

The problem with postcards is, if you have lots of books, you’ll end up with boxes of unused postcards. Plus, they’re great for tables but a little awkward to pull out casually and hand to people. Business cards work better for that. You probably want an “author” business card, very simple, with just your name, tagline, a review or two and a website. Maybe with your amazing book cover or two. But keep it clean and simple, and it should be something you can use for years.

Bookmarks are great too, though they are common. But they’re a good in-between size.

I usually use for more stuff, especially because I like to use spot varnish (shiny bits over the text). Here are some examples I’ve made for clients; they’re design heavy and sometimes have no more than a website.

The blank white box is a place for the author to sign the cards.






lightbookmarks postcards2

Going beyond the ordinary…

The above designs well-designed, professional examples, but still aren’t really focused on selling. Plus I don’t want to have to hand out all three to everybody (people might take all three just because they’re there… which eats into your profit). Readers only really need one to remember you.

But if they got a card or postcard, even though well designed, would they really look you or your book up online later? Do they have enough information to hook their interest?

For my cards, I decided to use these images I’d made for Instagram:


Instead of a book description, I just used Amazon reviews. But you still need a reason to get them to come back to your site and follow you, so the back has my email optin offer:


“Limited time offer” sounds kind of cheesy, but it’ll probably work better than something like “Join now” – I’m giving away free books but I might not always… and I want them to take action. Over 8,000 young adult readers boosts credibility and establishes myself as a non-newbie. It’s also important when meeting other authors, so they take me seriously (as not just another author… as someone who knows how to market and build a platform).

I actually have about 12,000 young adult readers now on my list now but I need to screen some out. This would have been a decent effort, for one book, but I have several… so I made 5 versions. I was thinking of making a folding card, so I could have three books and the offer.

That would have worked, though I’m not sure how I feel about folding business cards. Instead I decided to use 2.5×2.5 “fat” square cards (they have them on “Fat” cards have increased paper weight, so they’d be like little coasters. Paper weight is an easy way to boost professionalism, if you can afford it. It won’t fix design problems, but having sturdy materials sets you apart.

In the end however, I moved away from 2.5″ and decided on square postcards, at 4.5″.

The small, mini-cards are cooler, but I was afraid the text would be too small.

I also decided to go with – they’re a bit more expensive but quality is usually better – and they have the option to swap up to 50 designs on the back… so I could order 200 cards with the offer design, but use 5 different book designs on the back (here’s a gif of the designs).

There’s a few benefits to that: I can give out different cards to different people, or let them choose (choosing gets people engaged and makes them actually think about your books or ask questions). I can also lay out six different piles of cards – showing all the faces – though I would have a sign or something that says to pick one rather than taking all six.


I could still print the little versions at 2.5″ which are a little more fun and discreet… though I think they were almost the same price as the big ones. I think I paid about $150 for 200 of these, which is actually too expensive. You need to think of your print materials as lead gen/cost acquisition… If you give out 200, how many of those will actually sign up and become readers?

You can boost conversion by using social proof, a call to action, a great offer and scarcity, and by having high quality materials, but you can’t afford to get 10% conversion if you’re paying $150 for 200 cards. Even if you’re getting 50% conversion, you’re not doing great – you could get clicks on ads for much less (which is why, again, I don’t usually do events).

But you also have to figure in the “impression” factor.

Having great print materials, at conferences, is a way to immediately broadcast your worth and jump ahead of all the other authors: you need to project yourself as a success, as someone who knows what they’re doing, which will make it easier to make friends and build relationships during the conference.

If you went in with a plan to impress or befriend one industry insider or bestselling author, that $150 investment might be worth it if you secure just one valuable relationship (note: on relationships, I never try to sell or ask for help; I try to prove my worth by not being promotional or salesy, and just being fun to hang out with and super helpful/knowledgeable).

But wait, there’s more!

The other thing I’d like to do, however, is print up mini excerpt books, maybe with the first couple chapters. That way instead of selling books at conferences (which I’m loathe to do, because we can’t travel with a big box of books), I’d have little pamphlets with the cover and back cover, and maybe 36 pages inside.

The problem is cost: you can get these made at Createspace (just upload a shortened PDF) but they cost at least $2.10 each. You can get them from, at 5.5×8.5 for $133 for 100 booklets of 32 pages.

If I went ahead, I’d probably want to get these mini booklets that are 5″ x 3″ … because they’re cooler and cuter. I could get 100 for about $80, at 32 pages… but because they’re smaller I’d probably need more pages. I’d probably get 60 pages for $120, then order one for each book and have 5 different booklets.

They’re expensive, yes, but also awesome: nobody else will have something like them. But instead of just giving them away for free, I would bring an ipad and make people sign up on my list before picking one out. And I’d have a little sign saying these are just for “serious YA fans” to discourage random strangers or people giving fake emails to get free stuff. This is also something you could volunteer or donate into a conference’s swag bag. (Which impresses everyone, but won’t convert as well).

I think the mini-booklets are more fun, but the idea is readability, so I’d have to make sure my booklets are readable (5″x3″ is about the size of the little booklet that comes with a tarot deck or instruction manual, so it should be fine… the text will just be really small). I might try to source these on as well.

Update: Got some books made!

Got a price of under $1 per 50 page booklet, ordered 400. This is what they look like.

Ideally, you really want several books printed up so they have to choose one; that gets them invested, and they’ll spend some time flipping through and reading all of them to see which one they like the most – that’s good because you’ll get them hooked, but it’s also good because you want people standing around you. Just like your website, you want to keep them there as long as you can, by giving them something to do.

Nobody wants to come up to the table with nobody at it… they want to come to the popular table where something is happening. Having a bunch of people reading your books is a great way to keep a crowd.

Giveaways and cool stuff

If I’m going to take the time to actually go to an event, I’ll want to make it even more fun with games, giveaways or cool free stuff. I printed up some stickers – again, not cheap, I used stickermule which makes great quality stickers. But you don’t want cheap stuff that gets used once and thrown away… stickers are great because people will either put them on right away and wear them (so that everyone will ask, “where did you get that?” and they’ll send more people your way) or they’ll put them on a binder or something where they could stay for years (unlike a postcard or business card which will go straight into a bag or pocket, probably forever, or be thrown out later).


Stickers were designed by Josie Jones.

The trick with stickers is to make them super cool and not promotional, at all… no website, no author name or book title… people won’t wear an advertisement. But if you give them something of quality and value that they actually appreciate, they are more likely to remember you and say nice things about you or your books.

Spending a dollar for stickers seems like a terrible deal, but you need to factor in the gift exchange value. If they really love the sticker, and it’s high quality, they’ll appreciate getting something for free and then they’ll feel like paying you back somehow… they’ll be in a position of gratitude. This is the opposite of how most authors do marketing – they only ask for favors (buy my books, follow me, support me) or give out “free” stuff that’s actually just advertising and promotional material. Even when readers take your free swag they might feel like they’re doing you a favor or just trying to be nice.

They might have good intentions but never look up your book afterwards.

Finally, I might go a step further and set up a game or contest… something interactive, like a bean toss or a pinball game (something easy and portable though… maybe tossing a pingpong ball into a clam shell). Something on theme for your brand. Something really hard, but if they get it, they win a free book. That keeps people engaged and having fun at your booth.

In summary…

High quality, well done marketing materials that aren’t strictly promotional work better than mass printing of “swag.” Find ways to make it fun and to give more than you ask. Make sure you only go to events with your ideal readers. Printing little booklets with excerpts can get them reading right away; also give them a reason to sign up to your list right away (cool shit, a big giveaway or contest, etc).

Do you have print materials or ideas you’re proud of? Share in the comments, or post pictures on the Creativindie Facebook page here.



About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

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