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Publishers send clever merchandise with ARCs. Can authors do it, too?

Publishers send clever merchandise with ARCs to capture attention. Can authors do this, too? Absolutely. Here's what you need to know.

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Last week, Esquire reported on how some publishers send book-themed goodies – “merch,” as the Young People say – with advance reader copies (ARCs) going to TikTok and Instagram influencers.

What the Esquire essayist might not realize is that this is a long-standing practice in consumer product publicity.

Why, when I was your age…

Waaaaaaaay back when I was a publicist at what was then the world’s largest PR firm, we often sent attention-getting and relevant gifts with press kits. They weren’t extravagant, but they weren’t tchotchkes, either.

It usually worked.

And it often made my telephone follow-up calls easier.

That was the case with the bicycle horns included with a Schwinn press kit. As soon as I mentioned the horn to a journalist recipient, they’d say, “Oh yes! I remember that!”

What are publishers sending with ARCs?

This tactic works best when the gift makes sense.

In my Schwinn example, the connection between a bike horn and a well-known bicycle manufacturer was obvious.

Publishers seem to be focused on making a clear connection, too.

As “The Merch-ification of Book Publishing” notes, each influencer ARC box includes just a few gifts linked to the book’s graphics or themes.

For example, for a book set in Long Island, N.Y.’s wealthy Hamptons area, influencers received:

  • An ARC
  • A tube of pricey sunscreen
  • Sunglasses in book cover colors
  • Cookies from Tate’s Bake Shop, which started in Southampton

(Sidebar: Tate’s gluten-free chocolate chip cookies are the best I’ve ever had…link added for fellow celiacs.)

Searching for #bookmerch on Instagram, I found fiction ARC gift boxes that included:

DIY ARC gift packages

These examples are from publishing houses. What if your publisher isn’t willing to support your book this way? Or if you’re self-published?

Can you do this yourself?

Of course you can!

You can easily send clever merchandise with ARCs, especially if you don’t try to match or compete with big publisher budgets.

[novashare_tweet tweet=”You can easily send clever merchandise with ARCs, especially if you don’t try to match or compete with big publisher budgets.” hide_hashtags=”true”]

5 steps to send clever merchandise with ARCs

Here’s how to get started.

1. Keep your distribution list small.

What’s most important to your author career right now? Rewarding your most loyal super fans? Getting on the radar of a top influencer in your genre or field? Connecting with up-and-coming reviewers?

Understanding who you need to influence now will help you narrow down the list of potential recipients.

While it’s always a numbers game – the more ARCs you send, the more likely you are to enjoy some level of exposure – once you start spending money with gift boxes, less is more in the beginning.

Starting with just a handful of recipients (5? 10?) allows you to test ideas, become familiar with vendors, and gauge results.

2. Brainstorm gift ideas.

I like to brainstorm with another person who understands what I’m trying to do and can contribute ideas.

send clever merchandising with ARCs 3

With fiction, that person needs to be familiar with your book’s imagery and themes. For nonfiction, some knowledge of your book’s topic can help, although the book’s description might be enough.

If you write fiction, start by listing relevant details, including the book’s mood and tone, themes, protagonist characteristics, settings, and so on. That process could lead to a Greek evil eye key chain for a thriller set in Greece, for example.

Nonfiction authors can prep for brainstorming by listing key messages and ideas from the book along with tools used to accomplish them.

Get creative! Imagine what you’d like to receive with an ARC and apply that to ideas for your book.

Write down all ideas– don’t discard anything – before zeroing in on those you like the most.

3. Keep it practical.

Today’s readers are increasingly concerned about sustainability and waste. Tiaras are fun, but they’re a throwaway item, aren’t they?

On the other hand, if your book involves royalty, a faux crown works just fine.

send clever merchandise with ARCs 2
A friend gave me these aspirational Mrs. Robert Downey, Jr. custom-embossed pencils during the Ally McBeal days. Let them inspire you.

Here are just a few generic items you can order with custom graphics that connect with your book specifically or with books in general:

  • Tote bags
  • Note pads
  • T-shirts
  • Can koozies (neoprene beverage can sleeves)
  • Pencils embossed with your book title or bookish sayings
  • Coasters
  • Coffee/tea mug
  • Imprinted Post-its®
  • Key chains

Don’t let this list limit you. You might have bigger ideas!

4. Get it done.

The biggest challenge for me in this situation is figuring out how to execute my idea.

Here are a few resources that might help you overcome that obstacle.

  • Amazon – You can find just about anything on Amazon, and can sometimes get what you need in bulk quantities for items that include personalized pencils.
  • Etsy – Looking for personalization? You might find it here.
  • Moo – Use Moo for printed products that include stickers, labels, notebooks, and postcards.
  • Vistaprint – This is another reliable source for printed merchandise that includes notepads, stickers, labels, and note cards.
  • Zazzle – Thinking about custom t-shirts, mugs, or other items that are more expensive than key chains and pencils? This is the place to start. Create, then order.
  • CafePress – Like Zazzle, CafePress lets you create products.
  • Canva – Need a little design help for anything you’ll imprint? Design site Canva can help.

In addition, when searching online for items you’d like to be imprinted with the book title, your character’s image, or anything else, use the term “advertising specialties,” as that’s what they’re called. Adding your city and state to that phrase will help you find a local supplier if you’d rather talk to a pro than wing it on your own online.

5. Follow up.

Make the most of your investment by following up with the influencers you’ve sent packages to.

Rather than ask if they’re going to review your book, ask if there’s anything else they need from you to decide if they’d like to review it.

Not a big name? Doesn’t matter

So what if you’re not a big publisher with a big promotion budget? You can still embrace big publisher tactics that include sending clever merchandise with ARCs. Just do it on a smaller scale.

Less is more – send fewer packages, include less merchandise with each ARC.

But don’t dismiss the idea because you’re not with a big-name publisher.

My experience with this tactic as a publicist taught me that it’s effective whether you’re sending out three packages or 33.

Follow the publishing leaders and give it a try.

Not sure if this tactic fits into your book marketing plan because you don’t have a book marketing plan? Download my free Build Book Buzz Book Marketing Plan Template now! It comes with complete instructions and examples. Don’t wait!

What big publisher promotion tactic have you tried that worked? Please tell us about it in a comment!

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  1. Sandra, I like this idea but does this violate Amazon’s review policy? Amazon says authors are allowed to give a free book to a potential reviewer. They specify that offering anything else other than a free book will invalidate the review. What is your opinion on this?

    1. That’s a great question, Paula! This strategy is designed to generate social media reviews, not Amazon reviews — BookTok and Bookstagram videos and images. The readers who follow these influencers will buy (or not buy) a book based on that social media review. (Here’s more on that in case it helps: https://buildbookbuzz.com/booktok-for-book-marketing/)

      When you find an influencer who shares your taste in books, you’ll never need to look at an Amazon review again.

      Thank you for asking!


  2. Dear Sandy, Your ideas are often good, but since I live in Italy while trying to market in the USA and the UK, I need to hire local labor like through Fiverr. Have you ever used Fiverr? If so, if there anyone you particularly trust?

    1. John, I use Fiverr for specific design tasks, most recently to update the free gift I give newsletter subscribers here: https://buildbookbuzz.com. I used a different designer to create a branded PowerPoint template for my newest course for authors.

      What do you want them to do for you? The folks on Fiverr offer specific skills, so that’s what you need to search for. When I look for someone there, I use a specific search term — “PowerPoint template design” — then scroll through the options, looking at samples and reviews.

      I hope that helps.


  3. I always send out something extra for ARC readers. As a basic, I always include a personal note on a card themed to the book, a bookmark of course, and a Royal Blend tea bag from Fortnum & Mason (a posh British store that supplies the Royal family). I’m British, so that was a no-brainer. For my novel, I added a map of my fictional town in Connecticut (designed by someone at Fiverr) and some temporary butterfly tattoos, since butterflies feature in the book. I package these with the book in a mesh bag color-matched to the cover. Everything is lightweight, inexpensive, and flat, because I use book mail to send out the copies, and the cost is low. The readers tell me they love the little extras…

    1. I love this, Gabi! It’s worth noting that these are small, inexpensive items that are essentially part of the packaging, not gifts designed to serve as an incentive for a review. This is important because as Paula so wisely noted in her comment, you can’t offer readers anything as an incentive to review your book. Publishers use the merchandise strategy in this article for social media reviews, not Amazon reviews.

      Thanks for sharing this!


  4. My professional background is marketing and PR but it was not in publishing so your promotion ideas and info are extremely valuable. If I follow your advice and do a good job, I know they can provide big results!

    Note my book website is still under construction.

    1. Thanks, Thomas! FYI, your marketing and PR background should be very useful as you market your books. You understand how marketing works. Plus, lots of what works with other product categories can be applied to books, too.


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