Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Guest Post - Book Merchandise: Advice for Authors

Melissa Chan stops by today with a note about book merchandising. Take it away, Melissa:

Have you ever considered creating merchandise for your books? Now is a great time to get started. With a wealth of new internet businesses catered towards helping you create, print, and deliver custom merchandise with just a few clicks, there has never been a better time to start creating merchandise for your books. It is now possible for every author to test the waters with little to no investment involved.
Here are a few pieces of advice for authors considering creating custom merchandise for their books. I hope it will motivate you to consider giving it a try.

Authors can and should be skeptical about diverting any time or energy away from the daily activity of writing and publishing their work. Marketing and blogging about one's books is not too dissimilar from selling shirts, pens, or other gizmos. The benefits of being even moderately successful at merchandise has rewards that few can deny. Improved outreach to fans can help authors sell more books. A few sales of branded shirts or backpacks can improve one's financial situation so that an author can spend more time writing.

Consider getting started with freebies

Who doesn't like a free item? I know I do. Even if it is something of low value that I don't have an immediate use for, I'm still likely to accept a freebie if offered to me. When the term merchandise is thrown around it can often be assumed that it is a re-monetization of the current brand or brand assets. For example, t-shirts one can buy at the end of a concert to commemorate the experience or keychains one picks up after a long day at a theme park are not free. These types of merchandise are purchased in a sale transaction. Without the time and place, ie. concert or theme park, and without the brand printed on them, the sale would never have happened. Imagine going to your favorite band's website and selecting a blank or random shirt and paying money for that. It's a scenario that just doesn't make any sense.

My first piece of advice would be for authors to consider starting with giving away free items before trying to make money selling products. In the end, merchandise is meant to promote one's book. If the point is also to make money, free items are also a great way of upselling one's writing, a win-win situation for everyone. Free items don't have to be expensive. Bookmarks, pins, and even pens can be bought cheaply and are useful items for prospective fans to hang onto. The great thing about paper items such as bookmarks, gift tags, and postcards is the ability to print high quality items at low cost and at scale. Business cards and brochures don't have the same value when given away as the previously mentioned paper goods. However they are all printed on the same machinery. This means that you find great deals when getting them printed. When someone is considering purchasing a hard copy of your book, consider offering a bookmark to go with it, perhaps a bundle deal will push a few more conversions.

Slow and steady wins the race

Merchandise can be as cheap as a two cent bookmark or as expensive as a cell phone case, jacket, or backpack. When beginning your quest in manufacturing goods, a quick search online will bring you to some fantastic looking products to get your book titles and name on. It's easy to see t-shirts and bags and think that they required some type of large costly effort to get started. With all the advanced imaging software, product mockups can look extremely realistic. For example, none of the t-shirts or tote bags available for purchase in my online store actually exist until someone buys them. After you upload your graphics, it's as if the product is real, even before it has been made. I know I have spent hours browsing the wide range of embroidered hats, duffle bags, and notebooks and imaging what type of logos and designs I could bring to life on them and how great they would all look. But don't break out your credit card just yet. Selling merchandise, even to your existing followers is by no means a get-rich-quickly-overnight scheme. It's simply another avenue to help generate revenue or promote your work and thus it must be approached with caution.

If you want to make a few freebies for your upcoming book event, try printing bookmarks on your home printer. Stop by your local craft store for a do-it-yourself set of buttons or pens. For pens to be custom, they don't need to be printed using expensive machinery so the print is applied directly onto the plastic. I've seen DIY pens where you simply slip a piece of paper inside and the graphics will show through the clear plastic. A similar effect could be achieved through putting stickers on the exterior of a pen. Remember, if you are giving away things for free they don't have to be perfect. A pack of 10 or 20 units of any free item will do just fine to begin with. Even if the cost per item seems expensive at first you will be gaining valuable information about what works and what doesn't. If the pens help upsell your book, you won't see them as nearly the same cost. The next time around you will be able to make use of bulk deals and different manufacturing options. Trying out a new means of customer acquisition and sales techniques are best done slowly and over a long period of time.

Get started quickly

This point might seem counterintuitive to what I mentioned previously about taking your time, but equipped with a long term and low budget mindset you should be looking to start as soon as possible. In just a few minutes you can try out different types of merchandise and see how your audience responds. With just a few tweets or as an addition to your email newsletter, you can see how your audience responds. No author should put off trying it out just because it seems like the process requires an excessive amount of time or money to get started.

Whatever you may have in mind, be it a t-shirt, framed picture, or keychain, don't hesitate to just dive right in and begin. It can be useful to see the types of businesses and services available on the Internet these days even if you don't decide to move forward with using any of them.

I hope these tips have impressed upon you just how simple it can be to create merchandise for your books or author brand. If you have any questions or would like any other information on the subject please feel free to reach out to me at anytime! I love hearing from authors and writers.

Melissa Chan, is the founder of Literary Book Gifts, an online shop of bookish t-shirts and tote bags. She loves designing book merchandise for classic titles and authors. If any authors are interested on going on a blog tour and are seeking a giveaway prize please get in touch with me, I would love to offer the prize to help promote your book!

Have you tried out creating merchandise for your books? Has it worked for you? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I did bookmarks, mugs, Posters, and T-Shirts for The Legend of Victor Standish and saw a modest bump in sales but really not enough to equal the cost of them. Perhaps I might try again. Great article. Happy New Year

  2. What an interesting post. I have only made book merchandise for myself and my co-author right now. I have been curious about the impact they make. Thanks for the great article- lots to think about. :)