Author Merchandise Ideas to Boost Revenue

reader buying author merch online

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Thanks to the rise of print-on-demand services, many authors have started offering custom book and author merchandise on their websites. This not only adds another potential revenue stream, it also helps to strengthen and define your author brand.

But offering merch isn’t as simple as throwing your book cover on a hoodie or a mug and calling it a day. You need to put as much care into your author and book merch designs and products as you do your books if you want this endeavor to be successful.

Why should you offer author merchandise?

Before you start designing your merch and selecting which products you want to offer, consider why you are offering merch in the first place. This isn’t just a philosophical question; thinking about this will help you figure out what products to sell.

Added revenue

OK, so the first reason you will want to sell merch is for the added revenue. Most print-on-demand sites, like Printify and Printful, allow you to set your price for your merch and will deal with fulfillment to your buyers. Setting a price point where you make 40-50 percent profit is pretty standard.

In real-world numbers, typical manufacturing costs for a standard t-shirt will run you anywhere from $6-10. Assuming it costs $10, you’ll set the retail price at $14 or $15. That’s a decent profit for something that costs you zero money to make.

Build your brand

The very fact that you are selling merch strengthens your brand and confers legitimacy. But remember: Merch is also a reflection of your artist brand, so you want to make sure you’re offering good-quality merchandise from reputable manufacturers. You don’t want someone to buy a hoodie and have their first thought after unboxing it to be, “Boy, this is cheap.” So be sure to partner with a reliable vendor.

Build community

Think about the times when you’ve bought merch from your favorite musicians or authors. You’ve done so to announce to the world that you are a fan. This is what you want from people who buy your merch. Keep this in mind when designing your merch. Create a design that captures the essence of your story or series and makes readers proud to display their fandom.

Spread the word

Merch can be great for starting conversations. I have a Doctor Who t-shirt, and every single time I wear it, some random person will comment on it. Sometimes it’s a comment from a fan, but just as often it’s someone asking me what my shirt is about. That’s because my shirt isn’t merely the show logo, it says, “Vote no on Daleks. Stop extermination today!” This gets people asking me questions, and when I explain what the deal is, they very often say, “Oh, I’ve heard of that show but never knew what it was. I’ll have to check it out.”

Of course, this is the kind of situation any author dreams of happening when it comes to their merch. The key is to design your merch to make it happen. Sure, you can just post your book cover on a shirt or bag, but will that start a conversation? It’s the difference between a shirt that says Game of Thrones and one that says “Winter is Coming.” The first one doesn’t necessarily draw new people in. The second one absolutely does.

Post a quote from your main character, or if you have different factions in your book (like the houses in Hogwarts), create a banner or logo for each one. But always be thinking: What can I create that will start a conversation?

Also, keep in mind that people may be wearing your merch when posting images on social media, so make sure your designs are bold and clear.

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Hire a designer!

It’s important to keep in mind that your merch is a reflection of your brand. You don’t want to offer shoddily designed items. That will reflect poorly on you — not to mention, no one will want to buy them. Most merch sites have design tools to let you create your own products, but I highly recommend hiring a pro.

Make sure you have the rights

Before you go producing your bags, t-shirts, and hoodies, be sure you own the rights to make merch from your designs. If you or your designer used stock images to design your cover, make sure the license isn’t limited to using those elements just on books.

Making your merch

There are authors out there who like to make their own merch, but most partner with professional manufacturers. You can go the traditional route, using a company like CustomInk to print up 100 t-shirts and then fulfill your orders on your own, but I recommend using a print-on-demand vendor like the ones we’ve mentioned before. (This is not a diss of CustomInk. I’ve used them before and they’re great. But I’m an author, not a shop owner.)

6 author merchandise ideas

Free guide offer for Promote Then PublishHere are some of the most popular merch items to consider. Pick items that complement your book’s theme. Also, don’t limit yourself to a single type of merchandise. Offer a diverse range to cater to different preferences and budgets.

  1. Shirts and sweatshirts. Wearable merchandise is a fantastic way to showcase your literary creations. Although you can use your book cover, people may not want a rectangle on the front of their clothing. Instead, use the main image from your cover, or perhaps a meaningful symbol that shows up in the book.
  2. Posters. Your book’s cover art could be perfect for posters, which are great for children’s books and YA.
  3. Bookmarks. Readers adore bookmarks. Create visually appealing bookmarks featuring elements from your books. Even when your reader opens a book from a different author, they’ll be greeted by your creativity.
  4. Bags. Tote bags and backpacks offer a practical canvas for your artistic expressions. They’re fashionable and functional, providing a mobile advertising platform as your readers carry them around — especially since readers often bring tote bags to bookstores.
  5. Stickers. In the age of laptops, water bottles, and notebooks adorned with stickers, having your book-themed stickers can be a fun way for your readers to engage with your brand. Think of stickers as miniature billboards for your literary works.
  6. Mugs. A cozy companion for readers, mugs adorned with your book cover, characters, or quotes will remind your audience of the world you’ve crafted.

Limited editions

Consider introducing limited-edition merchandise to create a sense of urgency and exclusivity. For these items, you absolutely need to hire a professional designer because you want these products to scream quality.

Let BookBaby be your design team

Author merchandise is an awesome way for you to boost your brand, spread the word, and earn a little dough on the side. Keep all these tips in mind when creating your next book cover. In fact, when you’re writing, think of quotes that would make for great merch.

Of course, BookBaby has an amazing team of top-notch designers ready to design your next book cover. Be sure to tell them that you want eye-catching elements that will work on a hoodie or a coffee mug when you’re placing your order for one of BookBaby’s Complete Self-Publishing Packages.

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