This is my third release, and my third time doing PR boxes, but boy, have I gotten a ton more questions about the boxes this time around!
In light of that, I wanted to do this blog post about how I approach my PR boxes, including what I put in them, how I source the items, who gets them, how I ship them, and more!
If you have more specific questions after reading this post, please feel free to email me!
What is a PR Box: Purpose & Goals
First, let's talk about what PR boxes are, and what they aren't. There's a lot of confusion around this area, especially when authors mistakenly think that PR boxes work similarly to other forms of social media/content marketing.
PR boxes are gifts, given typically to content creators who's audiences your book would do well with. The boxes are typically given in exchange for content, meaning the recipient is expected to post about getting the box once it arrives.
The goal of PR boxes are to build awareness and buzz around your release, by tapping into the recipients audience you might not have otherwised reached, and to build a community and relationship with those influencers in your niche area.
PR boxes likely won't translate directly into many, if any, sales. That's not their purpose.
Marketing research says a person has to see something 7 times before they'll even consider buying it. These boxes are part of that 7, and leverage those content creators who have built connections with their audiences.
Obviously, we all want the content created around the boxes to generate sales and new interest, but it's important to remember that the purpose of the boxes is ultimately building brand awareness.
Who Do You Send PR Boxes To: Finding Your Niche
Technically, you can send PR boxes to whoever you want. They're your boxes, after all. Give them to your friends, your family, Joe Friday up the street, whatever! But if you're wanting to make the most out of your PR boxes, you need to be at least a little strategic about who they go to.
I like to start by finding bookish content creators that 1) consistently post about books in the same genre as my book, 2) actually like those books, and 3) have a vibe that matches the book and/or my personal values.
I'll use Hollowed as an example. For these PR boxes, I searched through the bookish accounts I follow looking for the following:
- Do they like gothic fantasy, romantic fantasy, and/or dark fantasy? Do they post about books in these genres?
- Do they have an aesthetic that matches the book vibes?
- Do they create quality bookish content?
- Do they engage genuinely and consistently with their community?
I skewed towards influencers and content creators I'd worked with before, just because I know already that they like my books and my writing style, but I also found several new ones this time!
Once you've identified your list of possible recipients, take the time to research them all more in depth. Engage with their content, engage with them. From there, you can truly tell if asking them about PR boxes will be a worthwhile investment. Because that's what these are.
Now, you can build your contact list and craft your initial message. Start with a list of your top picks, not exceeding the number of boxes you're prepared to give out. If you message 30 people but only have 20 boxes planned, you can bet that all 30 will respond saying yes. And then what are you gonna do?
I create an initial list, and then a backup list. How you do it is your business, but that's how I do mine. Rarely do I need to go to my backup list, because I've spent the time engaging and researching to ensure that those on my primary list are good fits for what I'm giving.
If you're not planning to handpick recipients, and instead are working off a signup sheet or another type of drawing, the concept is still the same. Research the type of content they make, their engagement, and if they seem like a good fit.
The Ask: Crafting Your Initial Message
If you're selecting the content creators yourself, you'll want to craft a solid message to send to them. It's important to do your research and genuinely engage with these creators beforehand to make sure your book would be a good fit for their existing content. If you're publishing a fantasy book, don't offer PR boxes to content creators that only read and post about rom coms. You're just wasting everyone's time!
My initial messages usually follow this formula:
Obviously, you'll get some follow up questions, like what you want them to do in exchange, but this initial message is about giving them the basics, and showing them that you did your research on them.
What To Include: Curating Your PR Box
Technically speaking, you can put whatever you want to into your PR boxes. If that's just a book, or just a book and some paper items, that's totally cool! But typically, most PR boxes will include the following:
- A copy of the book (usually paperback, as they're lighter)
- Card with info about the book and the items, along with your social media handles and any tags you want them to use when posting
- Paper products like stickers, art prints, or bookmarks
- Other fun item(s) related to the book
I'll use my previous PR boxes as examples.
For The Syren's Mutiny, I included a signed paperback, bookmark, art prints, stickers, a 4 oz. candle, a glass jar of matches, bath salts, and an info card that had the book synopsis, tropes, easy hook-y quotes, my social media handles, and details on all of the items (including the artist or maker).
For Hollowed, I included a signed paperback, art prints, stickers, a 4 oz. candle, and an info card.
I learned a lot from my TSM box, and the main one was to keep your box as LIGHT as possible. Especially if you're going to be offering them to international creators.
Choosing items can be hard, but where possible, plan it out ahead of time. Get feedback from trusted friends, do a poll in your stories (but vaguely). At the end of the day, though, this is YOUR box.
Packing the Box: Sourcing All the Goods
Okay, you know what you want to include, but do you know where to find it? And what about the actual packing materials themselves?
I always try to work with bookish small businesses for at least one of the items, and that's a good way to help them out too! Packing materials can have a variety of options, but I do have some recommendations.
Let's start with the basics first, though. Boxes.
I recommend BoxGenie or UPrinting for your boxes. They're quality and on the cheaper side to get custom designs printed.
Recently, there's been some discussion on if the super pretty, fancy printed boxes are better, or if just plain boxes are better. I can say from my own experience, when I did the super pretty boxes for TSM, I had reports of 5 of them getting stolen. When I get my own PR boxes as a content creator myself, the ones in pretty boxes were more likely to get opened or stolen.
Really though, it's up to you. I did plain black boxes for Hollowed, and no one said a word about them. People won't keep your boxes. Focus on the items inside.
Padding your boxes is also personal preference. I know people use bubble wrap, air pockets, packing peanuts, paper filler, or a combo of the above. Whatever floats your boat. If you are getting shredded paper filler tohugh, I do recommend ULine. They're cheap and you can get a 10lb box for $60 and it's enough to do 30-45 boxes.
For your books, this will depend on where you publish through and what they allow as far as author copies. I recommend IngramSpark personally, but I know we all have issues with them sometimes. KDP won't let you order author copies in advance (this might be changing though, stay tuned), and you don't want to do PR boxes with books that have that ugly band through the cover. B&N Press, 48HourBooks, Bookvault, Lulu, and other POD printers are alternatives, but if you can, IngramSpark is the industry standard for a reason.
We'll rapid fire the rest:
- Info card: Vistaprint, Mixam, Smartpress or any other place that prints postcards. Do the cheapest laminate for these, they'll just get thrown away.
- Art prints: Vistaprint or Mixam (soft touch laminate is always a big crowd pleaser)
- Stickers: Stickerapp or Sticker Mule (Vistaprint is too expensive for these IMO)
- Items: typically wholesalers, try Alibaba or Faire, or see if any bookish small businesses offer wholesale orders
You can always shop around for this part, so do what makes the most sense to you personally!
Are We There Yet? Shipping Your PR Boxes
By far the biggest single expense you'll have as part of your PR box campaign is shipping. These boxes are free in exchange for content, so you've got to cover shipping too!
Speaking from a US perspective, you cannot use media mail for your PR boxes. You have items other than a book (and some tucked away stickers), and they will know, they will open your boxes, and they will send them back and make you pay additional postage. For domestic US packages, depending on the weight and size, you can typically budget between $9-$15 per box for shipping.
International is a whole different ball game. You can always limit your PR boxes to US only. With how expensive shipping is these days, everyone understands. It sucks, and you might get a few people bummed out, but they'll understand.
If you do decide to ship internationally though, you should budget between $40-$50 per box for shipping.
For international shipping, you'll also need to consider customs forms. Most customs form operate under the assumption that you're shipping merchandise that the recipient paid for. Make sure you mark "Gift" on the customs form, but understand that it may not matter.
For both TSM and Hollowed, I had some international boxes held in customs and I had to write a letter explaining that yes, it really was a free gift and there was no receipt or invoice I could provide because the recipient didn't pay for it. Some countries also charged the recipient a customs or tax fee. It's up to you if you'd like to reimburse that, but the recipients of mine very vehemently told me not to.
My one call out, and I usually don't do this. If you're shipping from the US, I would strongly encourage you to not choose any recipients from Portugal. Portgual's customs is a nightmare and I have yet to have anything, even purchased items, make it through without me and/or the recipient having to jump through 800 hoops.
Regardless of where you'll be shipping, I recommend using PirateShip to buy your shipping labels ahead of time. They'll get you the lowest shipping rates and make filling out customs labels super easy. Then you can just take it to wherever (USPS or UPS or DHL) and drop it off!
Oh! It's also very good practice to email the tracking numbers to your recipients, so they can watch out for their package!
Ding Dong! What to Expect From Recipients
It can sometimes be a little awkward setting expectations for a gift, but typically, you won't have to. Most content creators who regularly get PR boxes know the deal, and they know they'll need to make a post about the box.
In any event, I encourage you to watch the package status, and once the boxes are delivered, just shoot the recipient a quick email checking on the condition of the box (they're rough out there with these boxes guys), and asking if they have any questions. You can end it with a "I can't wait to see your post!" and leave it at that.
Be personable, and make yourself available to be helpful.
When they do post the content, make sure to engage with it! Share it, comment on it, message them and thank them again. Just like we don't want recipients to get our box and then ghost, it's rude to have them post about your box and then it's just crickets from you.
Reciprocity, my friends.
More Details on My Boxes
Despite all of the above, I know someone is still going to ask what I specifically did for my PR boxes, so let's get into it. I'm going to focus on TSM and Hollowed, because TCR was a much smaller production overall, and similar enough to TSM to be repetitive.
The Syren's Mutiny:
I worked with Shaye (@shayealexabk on TikTok) for my very first PR box. She's a marketing professional and knew what she was doing and I definitely did not. She hand held me through the entire process, and I am so grateful for her!
25 influencers/content creators chosen by Shaye from a signup interest form
- Signed & personalized paperback (printed via IngramSpark)
- 4oz custom candle (wholesale from Novel Candle Co.)
- Glass jar of matches (matches and jar in bulk from Amazon)
- Ocean Breeze bath salts (Wholesale from Bulk Apothecary)
- Bath salt baggies and heat sealer (Amazon)
- Sticker with bath salt ingredients, per regulatory guidelines (StickerApp)
- Book related stickers from StickerApp
- Foiled bookmark (wholesale from Title Pieces)
- Art prints from Vistaprint (soft touch, 4.25" x 5.5")
- Info cards from Vistaprint (matte, 5" x 7")
- Custom printed boxes (12x10x3) from UPrinting (outside only printing)
- Shredded paper filler from ULine (10lb box)
- Packing tape from Walmart
For TSM, I was in a little over my head and didn't keep as good of track of stuff like I should have, but my estimated total cost for 25 boxes was about $1,200. I also sent out an additional 30 ARCs (just paperback and 2 prints, in a bubble mailer), which added an additional $100.
Total Cost: $1,300 (approximate)
I definitely knew a little more what I was doing here, so I lightened the items and kept track of my receipts. I also wanted these boxes to feel more exclusive, so I did only 15 of them.
10 handpicked influencers/content creators. 5 randomly drawn Street Team members.
- Signed & personalized paperback (IngramSpark)
- Stickers (5) from StickerApp
- Prints (5) from Vistaprint (soft touch, 4.25" x 5.5")
- Info card from Vistaprint (matte, 5" x 7")
- 4 oz Sleepy Hollow candle from GetFictional (wholesale)
- Black gilded envelope from Amazon
- Wax seal stickers from Etsy
- Plain black mailer boxes (10x8x2.7) from Amazon
- 4 inch logo sticker from StickerApp (slapped that baby on the inside lid)
- Bubble sleeves ( to wrap the paperback in) from Amazon
- Shredded paper filler from ULine (& some reused packing peanuts from the box the candles came in)
- Packing tape from Walmart
Total Cost per box (excluding shipping): $23.78
Total Cost (including shipping): $1,098.92
Can you do these cheaper? Probably. I know I'd have saved about $300 if I didn't ship any boxes internationally. But again, going back to the purpose of these boxes, I picked the best people I could find for the book to give it the best chance of reaching its intended audience.
I know the more we see authors do, the more debut authors think they need to do these things too. You don't! I don't recommend doing these boxes unless you truly can afford it and can afford it with the expectation they will generate 0 sales.
Don't go into debt for your books, but especially not for PR boxes! People are just as happy with eARCs if that's all you can do. Send digital artwork instead of prints, give them bonus scenes or extra content. You have options!
Next Time: Lessons Learned and Ideas for the Future
The biggest lesson I think I can give you is the keep your boxes simple, and light. Less is more, and you don't have to go all out to have an effective box. The most effectiveness comes from choosing the right recipients.
One thing I'm toying with for my next release is to put the PR boxes up for sale. Let me first start by explaining that I'm the world's biggest people pleaser, and that social media is not a good place for having announcements. I posted about my PR boxes after they'd all gone out, and in the caption I even explained how I chose recipients. I still have about 10 comments and even more messages from people asking how they can get one, or how jealous they are, or how much they wish they had known, or any variation thereof.
I can't afford to send out hundreds of these boxes like big publishers do (cough, Entangled). I can barely afford 15 of them! So instead of functioning as a PR box, I would release them as a book box preorder, and that way, they can be open for everyone who wants one. And by doing a preorder for them, those people who want them can purchase them, and that will fund the purchase of the items in advance.
I'll likely still do a smaller version of the box for gifting to influencers, but I think this would be the best way to proceed to ensure that more people can get the box, and that those who want it can get it too.
I hope this helped! If you have more questions about my boxes, please drop them in the comments or shoot me an email!