Last month we talked about how your intellectual property rights mean that a single book doesn't have to be just a book. Today I'd like to introduce another way you can make money from your books: creating epic, book-related merchandise.
Is selling merchandise worthwhile?
At the beginning of your journey this might sound crazy. After all, merchandise costs money to create, and if you only have a dozen or even a hundred fans, how can you expect to sell anything?
But here's the thing: creating merchandise doesn't have to be expensive, especially if you have other artistic skills. You know the print-on-demand technology used to produce self-published books?
Similar technology exists for dozens of products. Companies like CafePress let you design anything from posters and T-shirts to coffee mugs and even diaper bags. You can then create an online storefront. When people purchase your designs, the items will automatically be manufactured and sent to their homes. You get paid without handling any of the manufacturing or shipping, and you don't need to buy 1,000 items you might never sell.
There's another good reason to merchandise early: your first fans are almost always your most rabid supporters. They will cheer on every success as if it's their own. They'll talk about your books to everyone who will listen. They'll do everything they can to help you be successful so you can write more books. Merchandise gives them another way to do that. If it's cool enough, merchandise also becomes a conversation starter–and the thing people will want to talk about is your book.
Your merchandise might only make you a few dollars each month, but all those dollars matter. Also, the more people you can get walking around with your merchandise or putting it up on their walls, the more you can encourage people to discuss your book. It's a win-win situation, especially if you have the skills to design cool merchandise.
Writing the next book should always be your top priority, but creating branded merchandise can be beneficial for authors at any stage of their careers. If you have even one book out, it's worth considering.
The power of custom merchandise
You can also make your early fans feel extra special by making and selling custom pieces. These can be items you make first and sell on a marketplace like Etsy, or you can allow fans to request personalized commissions. If you've got a lot of extra time on your hands (I know, it sounds like a joke, but anything's possible) you can even do both.
Custom merchandise takes longer to create but can be sold at higher prices. More importantly, it helps your readers connect with you and your story on a deeper level. Also, they make even better conversation starters.
How to make epic merchandise
There are only three hard and fast rules here:
Your merchandise needs to somehow relate to your books,
The design needs to be professional quality, and
You need to love the designs enough to sell them authentically
Note that 'professional quality' doesn't necessarily mean fine art. Your piece can be deliberately messy if that fits the content, but it needs to be deliberate. It needs to look finished.
Beyond these rules, your imagination is the only limit. Well, okay, you probably won't be able to sell branded cars. But there are dozens of other items you can brand and sell, and every new book provides opportunities for new merchandise. Just look at all the Star Wars toys based on “The Last Jedi” if you don't believe me.
Recommending specific resources is difficult without knowing exactly what types of products you'll create, but here are a few sites where you can easily design and/or sell your own merchandise:
Dianna Gunn is the author of YA fantasy novella “Keeper of the Dawn” and a columnist at Writer's Corner. She also blogs about creativity, life and books at The Dabbler.
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