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Book Merch Ideas For Authors

by Dan Parsons

So, you’ve written a book, have a readership and want to take your author business to the next level. But how? Not every writer can sell their movie rights, build a theme park, produce an award-winning stage play and fill whole supermarket aisles with toys and lunchboxes. Such feats require licensing deals that are beyond the scope of most writers. However, you can still monetise your ideas even if you’re not a household name. The answer: create your own merchandise.

Merchandise, or “merch”, is just another word for products you can sell. Bands have been riding this gravy train for decades, selling anything from t-shirts and hats to tote bags and signed guitars to boost the money they make at gigs. Nowadays, thanks to the internet and the DIY maker movement, authors are also capitalising on this lucrative revenue stream, bypassing traditional licensing deals and creating their own products, which they can sell on Amazon, Ebay, Esty and their own websites.

We’re all familiar with print-on-demand technology when it comes to printing books, but did you know this same technology can also be used for merchandise? How it works is simple. You design your own images, logos and text then apply the graphics to blank products on websites like Printful, Contrado or Spreadshop.

After that, all you have to do is advertise your new sales pages using your newsletter or paid ads to notify your fans of the cool new swag they can get that feature your most popular ideas and characters. No licensing deals are required. Just like your books, you hold all creative control, and the fact that these items usually cost more than your books means that you could make $30 or more selling merchandise to a fan of your $2.99 ebooks and make a boatload of profit.

In this blog post, we will explore a few options you can consider to merchandise your books.

CLOTHING

The first thing most people think of when they hear the word “merch” is t-shirts. They’re quick and easy to produce, often requiring little effort. Despite this ease, however, they can boost your profits substantially. The great thing about clothing is its potential – as we have seen with YouTubers during recent years.

Create striking t-shirts that are high quality and fashionable and you can actually reach an audience that goes beyond your readership. For example, you might have a fantasy book about a character who leaves their village in search of adventure. His catchphrase: “There’s always time for adventure.” Create a range of t-shirts with relatable quotes like this for people who love to explore new places and suddenly you have a fantasy-themed travel brand that is loved by your readers and other people who have never even heard of your books.

Then, instead of just t-shirts, you can expand your range into backpacks, rain ponchos and socks, and sell enough POD clothing to make five figures a month without ever having to stich or warehouse a single product.

POSTERS AND PRINTS

This merchandising option is easy too, because you will already have the artwork ready to get started if you source components from your book covers, providing you hold the intellectual property rights. Again, you can apply the same principles to posters or even high-quality canvas prints, offering both economy and premium options for fans on different budgets.

You could produce a spaceship image for a sci-fi loving teenager’s bedroom, or a stylised rose in a glass jar for romance enthusiasts. Even the classic “man walking into the distance” type of image you see on many thriller novels works well with a city backdrop as a piece of standalone art. As long as you hold the intellectual property rights or can source them yourself, you can do whatever you want with these images.

STATIONERY

Notepads, pens and pencils are other options that are small and lightweight enough for you to carry to book signings and offer in bundles with your signed copies. They are also an attractive option because they require little design effort and can be offered as a subtle alternative to your more ostentatious clothing and poster options.

Think about it; not every reader will want a massive poster or a hoodie emblazoned with a dragon. They might consider themselves more conservative in their tastes, preferring black turtlenecks and pastel-coloured walls. But when it comes to creativity, these same readers might appreciate subtle reminders of the authors and characters that fuel their artistic hobbies. A pen or notepad could fill that need, inspiring them while boosting your bank balance.

DRINKWARE

This term encapsulates mugs and glasses but also coasters and flasks, all of which can be produced once and then ordered only when you need them. If you’re a children’s author, you could target kids with colourful plastic cups presenting your most popular characters. As an author targeting older readers you could produce mugs that fit in with the themes of your novels.

Got a flirty supporting character your readers love? How about printing some of her funniest tongue-in-cheek dialogue on a set of mugs. What about a suave villain that has spawned a fan club? You could make a set of stylish whisky glasses that depict his world domination plans or some of his snappiest put-downs. Keeping your products in line with the tone of your books will improve your chances of making initial sales amongst your existing fan base. After that, if they’re good, the products will attract more buyers when they get seen in the real world.

BUTTONS AND PINS

Perfect for meetups and book signings, pins are a clever way to increase your earnings every time you do an event. Why do you think charities sell millions of them and stores place them in front of their cash registers next to the chewing gum? It’s because they can be sold at a low enough price that people buy them on impulse. Pins might only sell for a dollar or two but shifting ten of them at an event, in addition to thirty signed books, can mean covering your travel costs and making a decent profit.

To make your pins more effective, you might also want to package them in jewellery boxes. They cost little if you buy them in bulk but can increase the perceived value of each pin for readers. Adding a detail that makes your fans feel like they’re a part of an exclusive club by owning them will also help your cause, fuelling word-of-mouth virality for your books. Famously, the comic book company DC did this in the run-up to the release of The Dark Knight, producing pins that said “I Believe in Harvey Dent” and staging faux political rallies for the fictional politician that took a stand against the Joker. The events were a success and even went on to win awards as part of a broader marketing campaign.

STORY-SPECIFIC ITEMS

You don’t have to limit yourself to the suggestions in this article because, when it comes to your stories, the possibilities are endless. There are some extremely creative ideas you can find on the internet and use to inspire your own brainstorming sessions.

For example, Rocky Flintstone’s comedy erotica Belinda Blinked books, which inspired the world-famous My Dad Wrote a Porno Podcast, feature the lives of ludicrous salespeople who work for a fictional pots and pans company called Steeles. Cue a line of Steeles Pots & Pans kitchenware, including aprons and metal mugs the podcast hosts offer on their website. Likewise, E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is reported to have boosted the adult toy industry by billions of dollars worldwide during the peak of its popularity in 2013.

However you choose to convert your intellectual property into merchandise, always remember to create things that you think your readers will want. Adhering first to your core fans is the key to getting early sales and recovering any time and money you have invested into this venture.

While doing this, remember that merchandise is a much bigger industry than books. Produce the right work and you could see your merchandise revenue overtake your royalties. Just look at George Lucas as an example of merchandising mastery. According to Business Insider, it wasn’t his director’s fee for the Star Wars movies that made him a financial powerhouse; it was the licensing and merchandising rights he exploited for 40 years and eventually sold to Disney. The clever decision he made to retain them has allowed him to amass a net worth of $5.1 billion!

If you want to boost your author income, creating merchandise could add rocket fuel to your career and help you achieve similar success. Even big dreams start with small actions.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the international Amazon bestselling author of eight books. His work includes The Creative Business Series for authors – the first of which was voted one of Book Authority’s Best Digital Marketing Books of All Time – as well as The Necroville Series, The Twisted Christmas Trilogy and The Canvas Chronicles for fantasy and horror readers.

For more information on growing a powerful Twitter following as a creative entrepreneur, check out Dan’s comprehensive Twitter guide The #ArtOfTwitter.