You’re an author and your goal is to sell books. Right? If so, you might be wondering why you should sell another product. It’s not like you need more work; writing and selling books is hard enough! And what would you even sell?
Since this is a busy time of year, I’m going to skip right to the answer: you should offer simple, customized products through a drop shipper.
If you’re intrigued but not sure exactly what I’m on about, keep reading!
Enter The Merch Booth
Have you ever been to a live concert? If so you’ve definitely walked past a line of people waiting for the merch booth.
In their purest, most artistic form, musicians are selling their music. Right? You enjoy listening to the music they create and that leads to buying a CD, Vinyl, or digital version of their album.
But when you go to a concert, you’re buying an experience from the musician. You’re there to rock out! And if you had an awesome time or it’s your favorite band, you’re also there to hit the merch booth and get a shirt/hat/hoody/bracelet/poster or whatever the band is offering.
Musicians produce music in the form of albums. That’s the product they sell—think of it like your book. Concert goers are not at that concert to buy albums though. They’re buying an experience and some piece of memorabilia that ties them to that experience. Those avid rockers want tinnitus and a t-shirt, not a CD.
It Has To Be More Than Selling Books
Do you know how many people just write books for a living?
Hint: it’s none. Zero.
Even the most successful authors are at least selling movie or television rights. All of them. Some, like JK Rowling or EL James or Brandon Sanderson, sell a range of related products on their sites. Hell, there’s a whole portion of the Universal Studios theme parks dedicated to Rowling’s writing.
You don’t need to be aiming for that level of success to still be a working author. But the secret to the kind of success that sustains you is twofold: dedicated fans and enough products for them to buy.
I’ve talked (at length) about true or super fans. To briefly recap, a true fan is someone who will buy all or most of the products you produce. Using the true fan model is great because it lets you assign an amount you want to earn per year and work back to figure out how many fans you need and how much you need them to spend.
Where the theory gets strained (for authors at least) is the difficulty and time you have to invest in your product. Books take a long time to write, edit, lay out, and publish. Putting out more than one or maybe two books a year (that your readers will actually want to buy) is probably all that an author can reasonably do. And those books likely only earn you $5-$10 per sale.
If you want to earn a living as an author, you have to sell more than just your book.
Diversify Your Merchandise
Selling books is your business. Because you’re a writer and books are the products you produce. In an ideal world, you could just work on your books all day. Writing, editing, talking through ideas with beta readers or your peers. Just doing author stuff.
Sounds awesome, right? Here’s the thing; the road to being a full-time author is paved in OTHER products. Merchandise. Merch. SWAG.
It’s simple math; your reader only needs one copy of your book. Once they have it, there’s nothing left for them to buy until the next book rolls out. But if you add merch, you’re giving your reader (your FAN) a variety of buying options from your online store.
You’re making it easier for people who like what you create to give you money. Seriously, why wouldn’t you want to do this?
Connecting Your Work And Merchandise
Adding merchandise to your author website is relatively simple—the trick is making sure the merch you offer is closely tied to your book. It would be weird for EL James’ site to sell wizard’s hats or for Pottermore to sell whips. The products should relate to the story.
Your book(s) are still the central product you’re selling. All the other merchandise is supplemental and should point to or reinforce your book/story. But that doesn’t mean you can’t offer a variety of simple products that are branded toward your book.
For example, let’s say you are writing a series of historical romances that center around a ring—in each volume the ring passes to a new person and love follows them (all you romance writers out there, feel free to run with this). I bet you can see where I’m going with this right?
You can create this ring, both as a literal ring you can sell, but also as a logo. Use it on t-shirts, mugs, socks, koozies, notebooks, bookmarks…I could go on and on.
Find products that align with your story or that make a good medium for any art or logos associated with your story.
Selling Books And More
You’ve got your book for sale on your author website, right? Using ecommerce sites like Shopify or WooCommerce makes it easy to sell your book directly to your readers. In fact, that’s what Lulu Direct is—a simple way to connect our print-on-demand network to your ecommerce website.
Adding more products is just as easy. You can use popular print-on-demand services like Printify to create and sell a variety of merch (all customizable) right alongside your book. Creating a product usually means selecting the base (a shirt or mug) and applying styling–like colors and your own images. Since these products are (usually) made through on-demand production, you can make and sell merch with ease.
So, What Should You Sell?
I touched on this already—you’ve got to connect your merch products to your book. With that said, there’s also value in being trendy. You are trying to make money to support your writing. So you want to sell items that you know people like to buy and customize them to reflect your brand.
Which is easier than it might sound. Here’s a list highlighting 10 popular merch items:
- Home decor
- Tote bag
- Phone case
- Face mask
I doubt all these items will resonate with your readers. But some, like stickers and t-shirts, are always a safe bet. And creating most of these items is just a matter of choosing a size and adding your image.
Since you’re an author, you can add bookmarks, pens, and notebooks to that list too.
There shouldn’t really be any problem finding items you could sell; the challenge will be to find the products that your fans want to buy. Unfortunately, there’s no simple trick to solving that problem; you’ll need to get to know your audience and test out some products to see what they want.
Growing Your Author Business
Earning a living as an author will (for almost everyone), require selling more than just your books. But thanks to customizable, on-demand products and low-cost ecommerce, you can take complete control of your author business.
When you leverage the things about your book that your readers love, you’ll build a richer audience and they’ll be thrilled to wear shirts displaying their favorite characters or mugs with their favorite quotes.
All of this works in service to you and your desire to write. With supplemental products bolstering your revenue stream, you’ll have less financial stress and more time to write that next book!
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.