Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

A Look Back: The Swag of 2020

This is one of the weirder posts I do anyway, with or without a pandemic in the mix. As a reviewer I will sometimes receive the swag that would normally be designated for bookstores, professional review journals, morning talk shows, etc. Swag has one very important job: To grab the attention of those folks that would otherwise just toss the galley they’re sent into the massive To Be Read pile behind their desk (or is that just me?). Swag can be edible or practical. It can be attention grabbing or funny.

When COVID-19 hit, many publishers scrapped not just their plans for innovative swag, but also plans for physical galleys themselves. As such, this list of 2020 swag is a bit shorter than usual. You can also tell how long it must take publishers to get swag orders ready since I have yet to see any mask swag as of yet. Even so, check out the ways in which publishers have attempted to grab attention during, what turned out to be, a very odd little year:

Edibles and Potables

The Candy Mafia by Lavie Tidhar

Sometimes the best approach is the most direct approach. And there are few things more direct than a small pile of decent candy sent with a book. At this point I have a small drawer filled with candy in my office. Should candy lovers come by, I have plenty to offer.

The Couch Potato by Jory John, ill. Pete Oswald

Reader, I did not eat the potato. Though I was amused to discover it, considering the fact that this is the second piece of potato-in-the-mail swag I’ve ever received (the first honor goes to Potato Pants by Laurie Keller). Spuds, man. Born for mailing.

The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol by Arthur A. Levine, ill. Kevin Hawkes

Every time a large package arrives by my desk there is a moment in time when I ask myself, “Can I eat this?” Often the answer is no. Then, once in a very great while, the answer is yes. And sometimes, if the planets are in alignment, the answer is Hot-Diggety-Dog-Yes! There is a tenuous connection between Lindt Lindsor Truffles and this book, but I’ll grasp that thread and hold on for dear life. The cover of the book already glowed gold. The truffles just help that gold to shine a little brighter.

Practical Purchases

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel

Ah yes! Commemorative swag. It can vary considerably. For example, for the ten-year anniversary of Esperanza Rising a very lovely copy of the book with the original cover and a poster were sent out. That’s a perfectly nice way of bringing attention to a title. I guess since Frog & Toad have been around longer, the publisher felt they had to up their game. Tote bags are, to librarians, a form of bibliocentric currency. To send one with unambiguously beloved characters is a true win.

Jefferson Market Branch – New York Public Library

I’m going to be a bit broad in what I deem “swag” here, but I consider totes created for New York Public Library (my previous employer) to certainly count. The Jefferson Market Branch is, to my mind, the finest of all the NYPL locations, and this bag by children’s illustrator Elisha Cooper (who’s art graces the inside of the building as well) is a stunner. Alas, I cannot find this bag for sale in NYPL’s online shop but it must be out there somewhere. Such a beauty.

Judy Moody by Megan McDonald

To be perfectly blunt, I hadn’t even heard of S’well water bottles until I received this one. I’m still sort of scratching my head over the connection between Judy’s moods and water bottles. Any ideas? Not that I’m objecting. It’s a nice bottle. Just . . . huh.

Kevin Henkes

I’ve a co-worker who is a particular Kevin Henkes fan so I left these socks in his cubby. He later confessed to me that when he first saw them he immediately assumed that they were of RBG. Who, to be fair, is visible on the logo at the top, but even so…

Socks are rapidly becoming the go-to swag these days. At the last ALA Annual I remember receiving socks in the course of things. Terrible socks, granted, but free ones! Because even bad socks are better than no socks at all. They’re clever marketing.

Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar

From the very start it was clear that all the stops would be pulled out for the latest Louis Sachar Wayside book. And this handsome lunchbox makes a fitting companion to the title, no question. I admired the elegance of its construction (and the fact that it was made out of nice sturdy metal). One of the finer swag offerings of 2020, I’d say.

The Yawns Are Coming by Christopher Eliopoulos

A sleep mask and temporary tattoo? Kinda neat. Eliopoulos broke off with a picture book entirely of his own making this year and to celebrate, this little mask was included. Had it been a face mask instead, it would have been downright prescient.

Arts & Crafts

Best Friend in the Whole World by Sandra Salsbury

This little book isn’t out until March of this year, but I received this swag back in December. Inside this bag you’ll find a pinecone, a brown pipe cleaner, and two googly eyes. I am reminded, quite a bit, of Sporky from Toy Story 4.

The Swag Box

The Case of the Bad Apples by Robin Newman, ill. Deborah Zemke

Swag boxes are complicated collections of a variety of items pertaining to the book they are promoting. These are labors of true love on the part of the publishers. In the case of Newman’s Bad Apples, Creston Books gave their swag boxes a particularly personal touch, right down to the evidence bags. An excellent example of how a small publisher can sometimes trump a large one in terms of the care and publicity of their authors.

The Mouse Watch by J.J. Gilbert

Let me let you in on a little swag secret. Sometimes the most memorable thing in your swag box is also the most unobtrusive. See that pad of yellow paper? I am here to tell you that of all the things in this box, that pad of paper has not only lasted the longest, but every time I use it I remember this book. I once received a HUGE pad of Babymouse paper and I swear it lasted me for a good decade or more. Paper, friends. It makes for great swag.

And, finally, apologies to Rob Harrell’s Wink. The swag of a guitar pick on a chain was sent very early on, and I failed to take a picture of it. Believe me, it’s nice. Incredibly incredibly specific, but nice.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I’m pretty sure I detected Captain Griswold’s tail swaggering when you mentioned his swag box for The Case of the Bad Apples. WOOHOO! Thank you!!!

  2. That is some pretty awesome swag! I did get the candy, but that was about all I got this year. Once, NatGeoKids mailed me a coconut, and there was a really cool hat box once.I do love my Alex Rider pen. I’m a little jealous, but I shouldn’t be! Swag is fun, but doesn’t really have that much to do with the book. Thanks for sharing your treasures. Kevin Henkes socks. Wow.

    • Oh, I think I remember the coconut! The best thing I ever got, bar none, was a wooden spoon. It was for Toni Morrison’s Peeny Butter Fudge and I still use it to this day.

  3. gosh. the majority of us authors + illustrators don’t get the support of our publishers to send out swag! there is so much potential and enthusiasm for this type of creative outreach… i wonder if this is a Publishing Paid Me adjacent topic

    • Oh yeah. Swag involves just a tiny fraction of all the folks out there. Most of the time authors and illustrators are told to do their own publicity (particularly if their publisher is large). That’s why I find these choices so strange. If you were to name the 10 books in 2020 that would get swag, would you have chosen these titles? What determines swag? Who makes the call? I’m just utterly fascinated by the whole strange process.