Wednesday, August 14, 2019

All About Book SWAG + a Superlative SWAG Offer! by Eileen Meyer and Julie Phend

SWAG for The Superlative A. Lincoln Picture Book

Loot, promotional items, samples, trial products, cool items – SWAG is an acronym for “Stuff We All Get.” Authors and illustrators strive to offer attractive SWAG to boost the buzz for their latest book title.

In this blog post, we’ll:
  • Demystify SWAG,
  • Offer great examples of how fellow authors have used SWAG to creatively promote new books,
  • Share breaking news of Eileen’s superlative SWAG offer,
  • Illustrate why SWAG is an important tool to utilize for your book promotions
  • Provide the names of vendors our authors use for promotional needs.

What kinds of SWAG do most authors use to promote their books? 

Are there some more creative approaches that you might consider for your next book promotion?

Most authors like to learn about what others do to promote their books. Clever ideas can spark new thoughts for your own promotional campaigns. Besides the traditional bookmarks and postcards, what other SWAG can authors and illustrators use to spark interest in a book? 

Let’s take a closer look at what these children’s book authors have done:

Patricia Toht's Dress Like a Girl SWAG

Fashion and interesting careers are key themes in Patricia Toht’s Dress Like a Girl picture book, so why not sport a fashionable button/pin to accessorize and promote the new title? Patty reports her customized pins were a huge hit at bookstore and school events!  She spent less than $100 for more than 500 pins (20 cents per pin). Think about the advertising power of a single pin that is worn on a jacket over and over again for all to see . . . 

Leanne Pankuch's parchment map
A parchment paper map made from an illustration in her novel, Dragon’s Truth, provided author Leanne Pankuch with a unique bit of SWAG for a literary festival. The parchment maps garnered a lot of attention and provided the perfect ice breaker for conversations about her new book. How did she make these? Leanne used some leftover paper and also purchased a packet of 120 8.5x11" sheets of parchment paper on-line ($17) and printed the maps using her  inkjet printer (one ink cartridge $25). She put one map in a frame for display purposes and bought sleeves to cover rolled up maps ($18) to make it easier for festival attendees to transport and protect the map. She gave out 63 maps at the festival and used the rest at library and book signing events. They were a big hit! Supply costs for 130 maps ($60) was 46 cents each!

Sarah Aronson's magic wands

Author Sarah Aronson’s The Wish List series involves fairy godmothers, magic, sparkles and more … so attaching her bookmarks to magic wands was the perfect promo! What did Sarah learn while promoting her books? That “everyone wants a magic wand!”  Yes - we all want our wishes to come true!

Linda Budzinski's bookmarks
Linda Budzinski makes creative bookmarks for her YA novels, complete with charms and fancy stitching. She says online retailer Ali Baba has lots of options for charms to dress up your SWAG. 
Sometimes inspiration is found within the covers of your book! Authors Maritza Mejia and Danna York have had great success using coloring pages of main characters and book scenes. For a very young audience, the best approach can be to keep it simple.

Jan Godown Annino uses professionally printed and  homemade
Jan Godown Annino's bookmarks
bookmarks (created when she was running low on her regular stock.)  She found that her homemade creations attracted more attention. Stamped with the words, "Protected by a trained alligator" (author/book info on the flip side) her homemade bookmarks made for a great conversation starter with readers stopping by her table. 

Elaine Kiely Kearns temporary tattoos
Want to sport some ink? 
Author Elaine Kiely Kearns ordered
temporary tattoos for her Noah Noasaurus picture book launch. The response was incredible – everyone wanted one! Since they were a bit pricey, Elaine saves them for special events. Writer  Anne Marie Pace has also used tattoos and reports that they’re a big draw with kids. FUN - what a unique form of promotion! 

Jen Swanson & SWAG
Children's author Patricia Murphy notes that "the best SWAG specifically ties into your story for greater meaning." Science writer Jen Swanson did just that! She launched her Brain Games book with brain-shaped hand squeezies sporting her website information and the tagline “Activate your Brain!”  Jen gave them out by the hundreds and they were in demand. Her college-aged son even kept some in a bowl at his fraternity house—and his “brothers” loved them! 

Patricia Hruby Powell's book business cards

Writer Patricia Hruby Powell likes using business cards featuring her book cover as a quick and easy handout for potential buyers and readers. They’re easy to carry around, fit in her pocket for quick access, and are a colorful ad for her latest title and contact information. Author Lori Degman likes to use customized pencils (along with bookmarks and postcards) to help promote her new titles. 

Tracey Metlzer Kyle's alpaca pens

Tracey Meltzer Kyle loves SWAG and has used many promotional items over the years. She gave away alpaca pens (pictured), cards from Vistaprint, and key chains to promote Alpaca Pati’s Fancy Fleece. Most young readers LOVE to print using a fancy writing instrument, so her alpaca pens were an effective magnet to draw young readers over to her booth to hear more about Tracey's books!

Robin Newman being interviewed at a festival
Eileen noticed author Robin Newman’s creative approaches with SWAG at a recent book festival. Robin’s mystery, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, inspired her to go with a detective theme for her book promotions. Robin offered fake mustaches as giveaways to draw families to her book festival booth. Once there, kids could add a cool-looking detective hat and have their picture taken with the author. What a fun way to create some book buzz!

Eileen wants to mention a superlative SWAG offer for her new picture book, The Superlative A. Lincoln:

Preorder your copy of The Superlative A. Lincoln today and you'll be eligible to receive this Most Exciting SWAG package (see details below); package includes:

Eileen Meyer's SWAG offer
-A “Be Superlative—Be Like Abe!” youth silicone wristband
-A one-of-a-kind Lincoln cork coaster for a cup or coffee mug
-A “Be Superlative” Lincoln pencil
-An author-signed bookplate to place inside your book
-Two bookmarks featuring Dave Szalay’s awesome art
-Activity sheets only available with this offer
-A lucky Lincoln penny

HOW to get your free SWAG bag?
1) Preorder a copy of The Superlative A. Lincoln through your favorite online provider.
2) Forward your preorder confirmation showing proof of purchase and your shipping address to and you’ll receive a SWAG bag in the mail within a few weeks.
LIMITED to first 150 preorders w/ continental US addresses. Limit one per person while supplies last. (When supplies run out, it will be posted on

    So, what are the BENEFITS of using SWAG? 
WHY should I consider investing in marketing items?

Clever promotional items achieve varied objectives: 

Visual ads - Items such as business cards sporting your book cover, or a brightly colored pencil with your name on it remind the reader about YOU and your book. And when your SWAG continues to be seen on items such as pins, tattoos, bookmarks, and stickers, it helps to get the word out to a larger community. When one of Patty Toht's readers sports her Dress Like a Girl book pins, she shares the good news about Patty's book with everyone who sees her that day.

Conversation Starters - Your SWAG serves as a great ice-breaker and a way to tell someone about your book. Handing a person a colorful bookmark, a silly fake mustache, or a magic wand helps YOU start an interesting conversation with a reader of any age.

Continued advertising and gifts for key supporters - Bookmarks and postcards are relatively inexpensive to order in large quantities and are great items to leave with bookstore staff, librarians, and school media directors. Why? You're asking them to be part of your team and also thanking them for getting the word out about your book.

Creates a buzz - As we've seen, SWAG timing can vary. You can effectively use giveaways both before and after launching your book! Eileen is offering a unique and limited time "thank you" gift to buyers who place their book orders now, ahead of her launch date.

Contributes to your author brand and presence in the marketplace - When you use creative promotions, people are more likely to remember you, which helps establish your "brand." Science author Jen Swanson's "Activate your Brain!" squeezie giveaway is the perfect promo for a STEM writer!


Where should I order my SWAG?

The children’s book authors in this blog post had success using the vendors listed here, BUT be sure to thoroughly scrutinize all vendors you select to work with and inquire about customer service policies before ordering goods. (We cannot guarantee your satisfaction.) Authors in this post used:
Gotprint (bookmarks and postcards), Vista Print, Sticker Mule and Avery (stickers), Pure Buttons (pins/buttons), Alibaba (charms), Moo (stickers and postcards), StandOut Stickers, USFastprint (brain squeezies), Overnight Prints, Tattoofun, and UPrinting.

Other tips:
Wait for sales - Robin Newman used Oriental Trading, Amazon, Etsy, and Zazzle (for very small orders like tote bags and mugs). She suggests buying off-season and waiting for sales and promo days. Ordering in bulk will also cut back on shipping expenses. Websites such as Oriental Trading often have free shipping days and be sure to use their promo codes. If you don’t see a promo code, try giving the vendor a call. Customer service will often have a code available for your order.

Create an account with the vendor you want to use - You’ll receive email updates about special promotions and sales, so you get the best possible deal when you order your SWAG.

Start small - If you have the time and you are using a new vendor, it can help to order a small quantity first – then check your satisfaction with the product’s quality before making your second order for a larger quantity. (And you might get a nice discount coupon via email to use on the second order, too!)

Carry SWAG with you wherever you go - Bookmarks, buttons or stickers easily fit in your purse, backpack, or book bag and come in handy when you strike up a conversation with a reader at the grocery store, a sports event, or any place you frequent, and you want to gift them with an item to remember YOU and YOUR BOOK.  

Most of all -- enjoy your book publishing journey and have FUN creating memorable SWAG. Good luck!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Yay! It's Time for Summer Vacay!

By Leslie Colin Tribble

Hello Dear Grog Readers! The Grog Collective is taking a wonderful summer break from now until August 14.

Summer is short and reading lists are long. We're  stepping back to recharge and reconnect with friends, family and the wonders of Summer.

Eileen Meyer and Julie Phend are preparing a phenomenal post just in time for back to school visits for authors.

Stay tuned and have a stellar summer!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I've Got A Cow Called Maureen: Interview with Erin Le Clerc: Review by Kathy Halsey

Do you like fun but heartfelt picture books? Then, "moo-ve" over, and make room I've Got a Cow Called Maureen by debut author Erin Le Clerc and illustrator Tisha Almas

This picture book, which debuted spring, 2019, from Clearfork Publishing, is aimed at readers ages 5-8 or grades K-3. However, older readers and adults will identify with poor Maureen, who is teased for her name. No matter where she goes, Maureen's name proceeds he it seems all the farmers have a cow called Maureen. Maureen however, is determined to make folks change their tunes about her when she teaches herself how to Swiss yodel. The townsfolk are impressed and enter her into a radio talent show and she wins! 

The book is inspired on the true story of Erin's Nana who became Australia's Swiss Champion Yodeler, in spite of the fact that she was partially deaf. Fun, whimsical illustrations lend a fresh, folkloric quality to the story, too.

Readers will root for Maureen and identify with her stage fright, her feelings that she's not good enough, and her spunk in facing challenges. Teachers and librarians will want to this story of diversity, bullying, and acceptance that kids will enjoy and can be use for class discussions.

Chat with Erin Le Clerc

How did you begin your writing career?

Erin: It all started at three years old, when I declared to my Nana “I’m going to be a writer when I grow up.” Turns out I was precocious! And bless my Nana, she said “of course you are, darling!” It’s feels hugely special that my debut picture book is all about her!

I’ve always loved reading, and I loved entering writing contests as a kid (I nearly won a trip to Japan when I was 11!). I’ve worked in professional blogging, and always dreamed of becoming a children’s author. It wasn’t until late 2015 that I decided I wanted to take action on this goal, and signed up for a Middle Grade writing course with Children’s Book Academy. I enjoyed it so much, that I signed up for their picture book writing course shortly after, and that’s where ‘I’ve Got A Cow Called Maureen’ was born!

Tell us about your publication journey.

Erin: My journey is a little bit of an odd one, I think! One of the courses I participated in with Children’s Book Academy had a “Golden Ticket” opportunity at the end, where you pitched your story to editors and agents. My story was quickly picked up by Clear Fork Publishing in late 2017, and was officially released in April 2019, about 18 months later.

At present, I’m working on several more picture book stories and a middle grade novel, and hoping to seek an agent. I would love to have a life-long career in writing, and my hope is that having an agent will help me navigate this!

Since you live in Queensland, AU, did you have an international audience in mind as you wrote MAUREEN? Is yodeling common in Australia today? 

Erin: To be honest, when I wrote Maureen, I was just focused on telling my Nana’s story, about how she became Australia’s champion yodeler in the 1940s, as best I could. I wanted it to be humorous and heartfelt, and wasn’t really thinking about the audience! That said, later rounds of editing saw me adjust some words to make sure a broader audience could engage with the story.

As for yodeling, I think it’s a fairly uncommon style of singing here, and definitely a niche hobby! I think this is part of what makes my Nana’s story so extraordinary!  

What stories are you working on now?  

Erin: I’m working on four picture book manuscripts that are quite varied. One’s about body boundaries, another about dealing with feeling grumpy, one about how to calm yourself down, and another about a community being impacted by a catastrophic flooding event! I do find, however, that my “psychologist brain” always has an impact on my writing, because the common theme is about coping and self-care!

How do you carve out time to write with a full-time job? Advice for other busy writers?

Erin: This is something I’m still working on, truth be told. I think it’s a hard technique to perfect! 

I tend to write in dribs and drabs, and my goal is to create more scheduled time for writing. I definitely find I work best when I’m alone at home, as I find the quiet helps me to think and imagine. 

I have a lot going on in my life, so the best advice I have for other busy aspiring writers in the same position is this: write in whatever space/time that works for you, and don’t beat yourself up! Writing and self-flogging don’t make good bedfellows! I try really hard to keep writing feeling like a choice and a relative joy, rather than an obligation/punishment.

What advice do you have for querying writers?

Erin: Don’t lose hope! Publishing is a very subjective industry, and there’s a lot of work that goes into finding the right agent and the right publisher at the right time! (A large amount of hard work and dash of luck!)

If you’ve had a few rejections, don’t despair, but also don’t be afraid to stop, take a few deep breaths, and take a harder look at your manuscript(s). Whenever I’ve had a couple of weeks away from a manuscript I thought was “just right,” I find that distance helps me see where I can strengthen it, or add a bit more flair. 

Readers can find I've Got a Cow Called Maureen here:
Amazon (UK, USA, AU), Barnes and Noble  and at independent bookstores by special order.  (We found it at Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers in Columbus, OH.)

Erin Le Clerc grew up with seven siblings, three ghosts, two eccentric parents, and a multitude of animals in a crumbling abandoned hospital in the suburbs. This vastly informed her imagination! She’s also tremendously proud of her Australian “bush heritage,” which she inherited from her Nana Maureen – Australia’s Champion Swiss Yodeller in the 1940s – the subject of her debut picture book I’ve Got A Cow Called Maureen. Erin spends her “9 to 5” working as a psychologist, and her “5 to 9” writing inspirational stories filled with adventure and fun.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Sarah Aronson Writes Just Like Rube

by Sue Heavenrich

Last Friday I reviewed Sarah Aronson’s new book, Just Like Rube Goldberg over at Archimedes Notebook. It’s a biography of cartoonist – and incidental inventor – Ruben Garrett Lucius Goldberg who wielded pen with wit and also just happened to have a degree in engineering.

I loved the book so much that I bribed Sarah to join me today on GROG. Sarah – that chocolate I promised you? Welp, it never made it to the post office….

Sarah has written middle grade and young adult novels. Just Like Rube Goldberg is her first picture book, she says, “and it’s been a lifetime in the making.” Pretty much since she saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and tried to build her own breakfast machine.

As fascinated as she was with the Rube Goldberg-ishness of that idea, Sarah never saw herself as a nonfiction writer. And that meant (insert scary music here) Research! Fortunately for her, she has a mentor and friend in nonfiction writer Tanya Stone. But research wasn’t so bad, Sarah confesses. And she discovered that she likes writing things on index cards.

“I find myself becoming more organized with each book,” Sarah says. (Did I mention she’s working on a couple more?) And for anyone out there working on nonfiction, she has this bit of wisdom: write down where you find information, whether on a note card or in a footnote. 

“Doing the research was a fun exploration, and there is nothing about Rube Goldberg that doesn’t crack me up!” Sarah even discovered that she and Rube have some things in common:

  • they both follow their dreams;
  • they both work hard; and
  • they never give up!

The icing on the cake: now Sarah’s working on another book that grew out of her research.

So what was it that drew Sarah to Rube? “His story is a wonderful immigrant story,” she says, “and as a Jewish writer, I was happy to be writing about a Jewish person who came to this country.” Sarah’s relatives also immigrated to the US, so she felt a personal connection. Plus the breakfast machine….

While Sarah was developing nonfiction writing skills, she was also learning to write a picture book. And that meant thinking about page turns and how to fit a story into 32 pages. “I made lots of dummies to see how the text would fit on the page,” she says. Many, many, many dummies later, she figured she had it – and all that time spent working on Rube was totally okay because Sarah LOVES picture books!

Picture books aren’t just for little kids any more. Nonfiction picture books are often the first step for kids when they begin researching a topic. “Fourth, fifth – even seventh graders pick them up,” says Sarah. She loves seeing how teachers incorporate them into their classroom. “We built a Rube Goldberg machine out of kids!” she laughed.

Every writer hits stumbling blocks, and Sarah thinks one of the important gifts we can give kids is to talk about failure. “Writing is a practice,” she says, “and it’s never going to be easy to share your heart. Even when it’s nonfiction.”

We need to allow kids time and space to try things and fail. “I’ve got a mission,” Sarah says. “I’m a member of the 100 rejection club. And I want kids to understand that the word ‘no’ really means ‘not yet’ or ‘try again’. We have to model how we dust ourselves off and do it again.”

Moving forward, Sarah’s working on a middle grade novel and finishing two more picture books. You can find out more about her and her books at her website.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Global Read Aloud

Global Read Aloud with Padma Venkatraman
by JG Annino 

Hello this lovely Wednesday in June. We become world travelers today,
whether the trip is by story or through seagoing or air-riding.
The Global Read Aloud & one of its 2019 authors,
Padma Venkatraman  take us out into the larger community.

Do you see the kids running across a bridge on the cover, above?
They won my heart & they broke it, so many times.
Such is the power of this story, a singular MG novel about unfortunate
children. It is unusual in the way the street-living children appear naturally
with their full humanity, including humor, creativity, joy & deep intelligence.
I also love how they question each other about Faith & their various beliefs
in the goodness of people.

This month the two girls, a younger sister & an older sister & two boys who aren't
related except through the community of life on the streets,  are
front and center characters
at the annual American Library Association meeting, in Washington, D.C.

These kid characters mesmerized me and they are deservedly here there
everywhere in reading groups, classrooms, home study programs
& award considerations. 

Readers in Global Read Aloud, whether they choose one of several listed
picture books or YA,  or THE BRIDGE HOME, or FRONT DESK by Kelly Yang
(see below) connect with other young readers in creative & deep ways,
to exchange ideas about Story.
Checking out the Global Read Aloud Facebook page I found that after
summer recess, classrooms from South Africa
to North Carolina are lined up to participate with their thoughts on
THE BRIDGE HOME, as is the lucky class of Group Blog's
own Patricia Toht - who told me about this neat connection.

Some children will have a jump start at the book before school resumes
if their families are TV watchers, because
a parents Super Summer list from the popular TODAY show
gave THE BRIDGE HOME a groovy shout-out.

The creator of of Global Read Aloud has been called
out as a cool teacher by Scholastic:

Here is the Global Read Aloud website:

                               Who is the author of THE BRIDGE HOME?

                                                     photo: Highlights Foundation
                                                     Author Padma Venkatraman

Padma Venkatram, Ph.D. worked as a scientist-oceanographer,
sailing world seas researching with and directing scientists onboard
research vessels.
She left her native India, where all of her novels are set, for the UK &
later for the USA East Coast, where she lives with her young family.
She is a popular mentor at reading & writing conferences,  in the USA
& outside the country.

THE BRIDGE HOME follows four characters who form bonds during
difficult times, as children living on the streets of Chennai,
(once known as Madras,) a coastal tourism area of India.
The characters are multi-dimensional, seen as complete
feeling thinking doing youngsters.
Tears may flow during tragic scenes - they did for me -
but because of the author's skillful framing of the story,
the reader is left with great hope.

For more on Padma Venkatraman, here is a lengthy recent Q/A interview
where she discusses craft, research, family & how characters stick
with her, among reader-friendly, writer-friendly, topics.

If your reading days are more often spent among 
Picture Books or Early Readers
you will also want to know that
the talented & prolific artist/ author 
amazing Yuyi Morales
is the 2019 Global Read Aloud picture book author.

And the Early Reader Author is Angela Dominguez, who is new to me,
which is part of what this global connection is all about - finding
books & authors new to you &
outside the place or culture in which you or your students/family/friends,
At Global Read Aloud,
alongside THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman,
please meet
(if you don't already know her p.b Where's Broccoli?)
the awesome Kelly Yang, with FRONT DESK, who is knew to me.
Kelly's poignant story is inspired on her immigrant family life as a child.
If I were a school, I would select each of these MG stories - THE BRIDGE HOME &
We will be reading & hearing much about each of the Global Read Aloud Authors
for many years to come. 

A 2016 Highlights Foundation verse novel workshop brought my opportunity
to meet Padma (& other generous souls - bookstore maven Joanne Fritz, in particular,
who wrote the article linked to, just above.)
Padma asked me probing questions about my abolitionist-topic novel manuscript,
which is no where near revised enough,
but I'm glad we have stayed in touch on other topics.
                  Highlights Foundation - Padma Venkatraman,  Jan Godown Annino