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Whether paper or plastic, big or small, book swag is everywhere during convention season. Apex blog asked writers, editors, and fans about their favorite book swag in a no-holds-barred, slightly last-minute roundup!

Welcome to all our participants: Miriam Weinberg, Catherine Schaff Stump, Michael Swanwick, Joe Monti, Maurice Broaddus, Jaime Lee Moyer, Shveta Thakrar, Jason Sizemore, Beth Cato, Fade Manley, Chuck Wendig, Erin Underwood, Paul Weimer, Elizabeth Bear, Natalie Luhrs, and Tina Conolly.  

(NB: This post can be viewed as a companion piece to last summer’s Bag of Holding post.)

What’s your favorite swag? Let us know in the comments.

I typically hate book swag.  The most I ever did was pens with my book cover on it.  I made enough for me.  Even bookmarks, while practical, rarely make me take notice of books (though my DS9 book mark is my second favorite).  My favorite bookmark came from Mary Robinette Kowal.  I’d provide a picture of her bookmark except it’s not my favorite book swag.  My favorite book swag was ALSO provided by Mary Robinette Kowal, heretofore known as mistress of swag,

I love book swag. I’ve collected my fair share at conventions over the years: postcards, bookmarks, pens, magnets–you name it, I’ve picked it up. I think I love it because swag helps me remember to look for and buy the associated books.
My favorite swag of all time has to be buttons with cover images or photos of the author. At one time I had a whole collection of those. I loved them, and wore them everywhere.

Photo courtesy of Miriam Weinberg

Photo courtesy of Miriam Weinberg

Miriam Weinberg, Assistant Editor – Tor/Forge (Macmillan) Usually, my favorite swag item is the TOTE. I love totes. They are multi-purpose, and often have bookish references, or PUNS (I got one at BEA today that says “Totes Books” which I think is probably a sly what-it-says-on-the-tin, but what I choose to believe is also a nod to the excitement of books+contemporary slang—as in a shorthand for “totally”). This one has Andy Warhol in florescent pink on one side, and Salvador Dalí (I LOVE HIM SO MUCH) on the other.  I also like pins, in that nostalgic punk-DIY-type deal, and I have been dying to get the pin promoting Roxane Gay’s upcoming essay collection, which I have already pre-ordered. However, my favorite ALL-TIME swag, hands-down, are the trading cards that Victoria (V. E. ) Schwab designed and printed to promote VICIOUS. There are the four main characters (Victor, Eli, Sydney, Serena), each with a catch-phrase and publication information on the back, and then she made an author card to round out the set, and there is an editor one (!!!), though that last was just for fun. Lastly, I’m including the character coasters for Greg van Eekhout’s upcoming Tor title, CALIFORNIA BONES, because they just arrived in the office and are *perfect* for BEA-week drinking.

Photo courtesy of Jim C. Hines

Photo courtesy of Jim C. Hines

Catherine Schaff Stump, Author -  Hulk Hercules (Cats Curious Press) My favorite piece of book swag of all time is the Jig the Goblin tattoo from Jim Hines. I wore mine proudly for the 2-3 days it lasted. 

Michael Swanwick, Author - Dancing with Bears (NSB) All my favorite book swag has been books.  But if you stretch that word to mean “most memorable,” I’d have to say it was the tote bag I acquired one year at the American Booksellers Association’s annual convention.  I had spent a long day wandering about, meeting people, signing books to be given away free, and the like, and somebody gave me a cloth tote just before I left. Totes are especially valued at these events because they can be used to haul the free books publishers thrust upon the booksellers, and as a result the people giving them away are reluctant to waste them on a mere writer.  But a friend who’d gotten several took pity on me and I stuffed it into my inferior plastic bag of books with (by then) rather glazed thanks. Somehow I drove the hundred miles from D.C. back to Philadelphia and arrived home safe.  Marianne’s parents were visiting, so as soon as I’d kissed her hello, I turned to my mother-in-law, who had a particular liking for tote bags and said, “I got something for you,” and unfolded the bag. Which was when I discovered that it was promoting a horror title with the slogan:  A NOVEL OF SEXUAL INVASION. Thank God, my mother-in-law laughed.

Joe Monti, Executive Editor – Saga Press (Simon & Schuster)

Easily it was the cupcake truck Penguin had in 2012 with varieties of cupcakes handed out by Sarah Dessen. A close second: Houghton Mifflin’s totebag adorned with J.R.R. Tolkien’s illustration of THE HOBBIT.


Photo courtesy E.C. Myers

Photo courtesy E.C. Myers

Shveta Thakrar, Author - “Krishna Blue” in Kaleidoscope (August 2014)

My favorite so far is E.C. Myers’ Fair Coin plastic-covered chocolate coin. Nothing like sweet treats to make a book even better!

My favorite piece of swag is a flip book ARC of Geoffrey Girard’s Cain’s Blood/Project Cain crossover novels. Think of the old Ace doubles. You finish one novel, you flip it over and read the other novel.

Cain’s Blood is an adult thriller about cloned serial killers coming to age. Project Cain is a YA thriller about a cloned teenage Jeffrey Dahmer from Cain’s Blood coming to age. Yes, Mr. Girard is a twisted individual.

He’s also a close friend. For many years, I gave him hell about never finishing his Project Cain novel. Thinking back, I’m surprised he didn’t just kick me in the shin and never speak to me again.


So, out of the blue, not only does he have one new book coming out, but two!

His publisher gave him a few of the flip ARCs and Geoff gave one to me. I’m sure he gifted me one of the precious ARCs out of friendship, though I’m certain there was a small part of him thinking “Screw you, Sizemore, here’s your Project Cain, two of them to be exact, you annoying asshole.”

As a book geek, I love the flip ARC. I’m also proud of my buddy for being able to shut me up.

That’s why my flip ARC is my favorite piece of swag.

Photo courtesy Beth Cato

Photo courtesy Beth Cato

Beth Cato, Author – The Clockwork Dagger (Harper Voyager, September 2014)

I picked up this swag at the Desert Dreams Conference in 2008. This foot-long ruler from a romance author is, for me, the best swag of all time. As long as I’ve owned it, it still makes me giggle every time I use it. Yes, I have a dirty mind.

My favorite swag is the folding wooden fan I got from Mary Robinette Kowal for Shades of Milk & Honey, but I do not think I could find it again anywhere. The snowflake book-marking clip for Without A Summer was pretty keen too. And I love bookmarks.

Chuck Wendig, Author - Under the Empyrian Sky (Skyscape)

I hate swag. I mean, I don’t hate individual pieces of it — but I kinda hate the idea of swag. Because ‘swag’ is often synonymous with junk. Junk I don’t want. Or I don’t want to buy to give away. Junk whose value in selling me or my work is dubious. Junk that often gets scooped up by swaghounds (not a monster from a dark fantasy novel, but it could be) who care about free stuff more than they care about the paid stuff from whence it came.
Here’s the one thing I figure is necessary, for my mileage, to consider with swag: is it selling the work? You’re a writer. Does it contain words? Sweet Jeebus, it must contain words. A description of the book. A funny or insightful or incisive bit of authorial commentary. A great quote or paragraph from the work. I don’t care if it’s a postcard, a bookmark, con ribbon, a stuffed dragon, a Bowie knife, a double-dildo — it better be somehow inscribed with your wordsmithy. Hell, figure out a way to give people a short story — even 100 words! — on a bookmark. Or a USB key if they’re willing to, erm, penetrate their computers with your filthy data prong.
If it doesn’t have your words on it or in it, then it better be memorable otherwise, and tied to the book. For BLACKBIRDS, I sometimes give away flocks of ravens who hunt you down and whisper the truth of your death in your ear with their clacking black beaks.

DamnedTourPoster-Medium Erin Underwood, Fan, Author, Editor Con-runner

Being a fan, a former literary assistant, a writer/editor, and a con runner, I have seen a lot of swag….piles of SWAG! Although it seems a bit odd to say that something that I created is my favorite piece of swag, I have to say, I really love the The Damned Book Tour poster that I put together for Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie. As a long time concert goer and ex-DJ, I always loved tour posters. So, when Debbie and Nancy’s new book Damned came out they decided to go on a “virtual book tour” that featured blog posts, interviews, and special content posted on some of our favorite bloggers’ websites….well, it was a natural conclusion that we needed a Damned book tour poster, and the idea took off from there. I created the poster, had them sign about 50 copies and then sent them out to the winners of the various contests that our bloggers hosted. The printed poster is pretty cool and I still have a signed copy of one squirreled away for myself. It was the first time I’d seen a book blog tour poster, and I can’t remember seeing one since.

Paul Weimer - SF Signal / Skiffy & Fanty

Image courtesy of Paul Weimer

Image courtesy of Paul Weimer

I’ve not scored much book swag in my time as a book reviewer and member of the genre community. I do not go to a tremendous number of cons. However, I do have one prize that I treasure. One of the more interesting intrusions as swag into our community from the military is the idea of a challenge coin. Challenge coins are a tangible metal coin signifying units, areas and organizations. They are a form of identification, a type of collector’s currency, and a source of pride. From their origins in the U.S. Military, they have spread to police organizations, firefighters, Nascar, and other even more unlikely places. And, they have spread to science fiction as well. A member of the armed services, himself, author Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops novels revolve around the U.S. military’s response to the eruption of magical powers in our modern world. It seemed natural to him that the military unit devoted to dealing with these magical powers would naturally create a challenge coin of their own. And so he has made the coins that exist in the Shadow Ops universe for purposes of giveaways and promotion of his novels. And thanks to the generosity of the author, he has sent me one. Our gifts, for our nation, indeed.

Photo courtesy, Elizabeth Bear

Photo courtesy, Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear, Author – The Eternal Sky Series (Tor) My favorite piece of book swag is this lizard bottle opener key chain that I was given by Patricia Bray back in 2004 or so. I think the best pieces of swag are both cool and useful–stuff you will keep around for a good long time. 

If only it had the name of the book printed on it so I could remember which project it was swag for! UPDATE: The book was The First Betrayal!
I generally find most swag, apart from bookmarks, not useful. I don’t wear branded t-shirts or hats and I have plenty of keychains.  Postcards can be used as bookmarks in a pinch and if the cover art is really something I like, I might hang on to it for that reason, but I have thrown or given away so much swag over the last decade that, at this point, I give swag a pass unless it’s something really special or if I have a personal connection with the author or work.

Tina Conolly – Author, Ironskin (Tor), Podcaster, Toasted Cake 

Most swag leaves me cold. My husband goes to tech conferences and comes home with the worst things — cheap gadgets of all sorts that are annoyingly un-recyclable. I mean, what are we going to do with yet
another plastic beer opener or blowup neck pillow that says something clever on it about the cloud?

So frankly, I’m a big fan of bookmarks. I can ALWAYS use more bookmarks. There’s space to put all your info and still have a lovely image (bookmarks are great for showing off your beautiful cover art),
you can sign them, and if the swaggee later regrets their impulse acquisition – into the recycle bin.

I also like postcards, but only if there’s actually, yanno, room on the back to write someone a message when you send it out. To use it like an actual postcard. Small Beer Press has done some neat ones with
their gorgeous covers.

I just saw Greg Van Eekhout’s swag for his new book California Bones - he’s got cardboard coasters! A collectible set, no less! This is a fantastic idea — again, I can always use another coaster by my desk
– and once it’s too covered with coffee stains — recycle bin. (And you would see it every time you sat down to write!)

I will give a shout-out here to the one piece of non-recyclable swag that I’ve seen and liked – Mary Robinette Kowal passed out delicate little fans with her first book, Shades of Milk and Honey. I kept that and used it later at a steampunk con in the middle of an August heat wave. Well done.


Fran Wilde writes speculative fiction, poetry, and things in between. Her work has appeared or will appear in Asimov’sBeneath Ceaseless Skies, and Nature Magazine. Her first novel will debut from Tor in 2015 . She tweetsfacebookstumblrs, and blogsRead her other Apex Blog articles here.

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1 Comment

  1. I guess I really enjoy the postcards most. My goal is to collect enough to create a big collage and frame it. It’s sort of neat to be able to see all these book covers as opposed to just the side on my bookshelf. I’m all about cover art.

    I don’t have that many yet but am working on the collection *cough cough* Hey Jason Sizemore, hook me up :) *cough*

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