For authors, a bookmark can serve as a calling card, business card, giveaway, and even as an autographable object. But what should a bookmark do? What should it look like?
At minimum, a bookmark should contain the following information: book title, author name, website, publisher name. From there, you can selectively add other items, such as the book's cover, ISBN number, publication date, tagline about book content, blurbs, awards, other titles by author, contact information, and so on.
However, the trick with bookmarks---or any marketing item---is to keep it all focused, and to do as much as possible with as little as possible. In the example here, the graphic and title and author name draw the eye in, then, a minimum of descriptors are used, plus a sales blurb from an important person, and the all-important ISBN and website are provided.
There are many ways to produce your bookmarks. You can make your own if you have the skills, design software, and home printer. Design software will allow you to place elements accurately and make the best of typography. Some software (I use BeLight's Labels & Addresses for Mac) comes with templates that will even print your crop lines. Keep the design simple and focused, without a lot of visual gimmickry. Use at most two fonts, and keep them readable. Use your book cover image, if possible. And don't use too much type and image---let white space do the work---this lessened ink coverage will also make the printing easier and cheaper. Make sure that you use a heavier index paper for printing the bookmarks---and check that your printer can handle that weight paper, and that the ink will work on it.
For those who aren't comfortable with doing design work, you can easily find professionals to help you. If you're on a budget, students in graphic design always are needing projects for classes. When working with someone else, make sure to give clear instructions, and show them comparable work, so that they know what to shoot for. (Note: designers sometimes need to be reined in, especially on readability!) Another design method is to use a template, such as those offered by online print shops. You can also pay a print shop to have their staff design your bookmark for you.
The size of your bookmark will depend on your book's needs (themes, cover design, etc.), on your tastes, and on your printing method. Too big can be cumbersome; too small can be too hard to read or keep track of. Common sizes are 2 x 6" or 2 x 8.
Professional printing will allow you to take advantage of full-color, fully inked and two-sided printing, heavyweight paper and gloss varnish in ways that would be difficult or impossible when printing at home. Printing can be done at your local print shop, office supply store, or, for lesser quality, by a photocopy shop. Online print shops are commonly used these days for items such as bookmarks and business cards. Your publisher, under certain circumstances, may be able to print bookmarks for you.
Finally, make sure to proofread your bookmark! Have others proofread it, too. It's amazing how many errors can creep in, and how much you can miss. Triple-check your web address and your ISBN numbers.
Gee, it's cheap to print 5000 bookmarks! But do you NEED that many? You want to order a quantity that you can realistically use up within a year. Otherwise, you'll be stuck figuring out clever arts and crafts project with the kids to use up the leftovers.
WHEN TO MAKE THEM?
For one friend's book, I designed a provisional (i.e. tasteful, homemade, low ink coverage) bookmark as soon as she signed the contract. I printed and cut 50 for her to use until things were further along. Was she ever glad that she didn't spring for 5,000 professionally printed ones: over the next year, the publisher, ISBN, publication date, and cover art all changed. Once the dust had settled, we worked on an "official" bookmark (i.e. full-bleed design, full-color front, BW back, on hefty stock) that she then had printed professionally.
HOW TO USE BOOKMARKS
Carry them with you, always! Hand them out, always! Give them to bookstores or library to give away. Put them in your books when you have a signing (do NOT practice guerilla marketing by putting them them in books at libraries or at bookstores without invitation; that will quickly get you banned). Provide bookmarks for bags of giveaways at conferences. Include them in your media kit. Sign them for people who have your book on an e-reader, or for people who'll borrow the book from the library.
A well-designed and well-printed bookmark can be an important part of your marketing kit. At pennies apiece, they linger for years as reminders to readers to revisit your work.
Barbara DaCosta's debut children's book NIGHTTIME NINJA, illustrated by Caldecott Award-winning artist Ed Young, will appear Fall 2012 from Little, Brown.