Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Summary Edition

Ten posts and eleven weeks ago, we started out on this foray into merchandising together.  My original list was only five items long, but as the weeks ticked by, I realized there was just so much more to unpack––so, so much more.  There were weeks when I faced a great recurring quandary, the same quandary that every book-to-film adaptation seems to face these days: “Do I stick with the original vision for this piece, or do I split it into three shorter pieces and fill in the gaps with editorializing?”  Which is not to say I quibble with the unstoppable Hollywood machinery; in fact, it’s entirely apropos, I think, to compare merchandising to such a vast and powerful cultural institution.

Ultimately, in the end, merchandising is about making money off of your books, and making money off of books is a difficult enterprise, even when your book is published with a major traditional publishing house.  It might sound mercenary to say so, and thereby take books out of the lofty world of ideas and philosophies and re-shelve them among the lower reaches of the sticky-fingered common folk … but at the same time, we must recognize that a book which sells well spreads its ideas well.  A well-marketed book is an effective vehicle for those lofty ideas.  We cannot shy from the twin facts that merchandising is a) good for us, the indie authors of the world, and b) good for our readers, who are presented with more options, and drawn into more worlds of ideas.

There’s also a third completely parenthetical side benefit … which is to say, c) merchandising can be loads of fun.  Who doesn’t love to participate, in some small way, in the stories that taught them to dream big?  (….and I’m saying this while I wear a tee-shirt that literally glows in the dark with the schematics for the Space Shuttle.)  It might be escapism to try and keep dreams alive a little while longer––whether by slipping on a tee-shirt, or purchasing a special edition––but it may also be exactly what someone needs to forge ahead.

There’s simply no way around one fact: Merchandising can be a lot of work.  For the self-published author, it’s a daunting idea at the very least and quite possibly even a paralyzing one.  In my first post, all those weeks ago, I wrote that publishing a book does not always equate to instant success––in fact, it only very rarely catapults an author past the breaking-even point.  But merchandising, specifically, and self-publishing in general are made so much easier by the presence of a dedicated and supportive community of fellow-laborers, and hopefully by the resources that blogs like this one compile.  This series of blog posts (listed below for convenience) may only represent one feeble drop in the bucket when it comes to the resources you can turn to, but I hope that I’ve managed to find a balance between the “Big Picture” (AKA “Concise and Readable”) and some of the finer points of merchandising (AKA “I Should Probably Break This Up Into Twenty Sequels”).

SELF-PUBLISHING AND MERCHANDISING : THE SERIES

Thank you for sticking it out and being a part of this series––your feedback and suggestions have always been of such great use, dear readers.  The comments box remains open, but in the meantime, get ready to come at self-publishing from a wholly different angle starting next week Wednesday!  I’ll be examining a whole host of social media platforms and breaking down the most surprising ways in which they can be of use to you.  It’s going to be a blast!  ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Mugs & notepads & tee-shirts, oh my!

And so we come to the penultimate branch of our ever-growing merchandising tree.  The list of possible merchandising strategies just keeps on growing: first, we looked at extras and special editions; second, we examined book covers and jacket design; third, we perused the possibilities in respect to a book’s interior design; fourth, we lifted the lid on the all-important blurb; fifth, we took a wander through the basics of book reviews; sixth, we took note of how to get and give good book reviews; seventh, took tips for working with Amazon; eighth, we took a long hard look at what Barnes & Noble (still) has to offer; and ninth (but not last or least) we listed a few more publication options, including CreateSpace and Outskirts Press, for the (discerning) independently published author.

That’s quite a lot to keep in mind, I know, when setting out.  My primary goal in starting this series was not to overwhelm, or even to provide a kind of self-publishing and merchandising bible for newcomers, but rather to start asking questions.  Hopefully I’ve done that–and hopefully we’ll all keep doing that–as the weeks go by and I begin looking at other topics.  My secondary goal was to inch a little closer to my original concern in writing these Wednesday blog posts–that is, to zoom in on the book as an object, transformable and malleable, and as a product we can treat as such in addition to treating it as it deserves to be treated–as a vehicle for ideas.

It’s fitting, then, that the second-to-last post in this series would deal with other products, the objects that we purchase or acquire that mean something to us because of the books and ideas they conjure up.  Merchandising is, in a lot of ways, about nostalgia.  If we encounter a book that we absolutely love, or get wrapped up in a world of someone else’s making, we tend to want to wrap ourselves up in a little bit of the feeling that that book or world gave us.  I say this as someone sitting at her desk, wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned with the schematics for the Space Shuttle, which I got to watch leave twin trails above the mangrove swamps on its way into orbit, and which I got to listen to as it returned to the atmosphere with its signature double sonic boom.  You see what merchandising does?  It gives us a way to hold on.

In the spirit of holding on, I put together a quick list of some of the more reputable places where you can go to create merchandise to wrap your readers up in your world.  Everyone knows about Etsy, of course, which is a wonderful site (and even provides holiday merchandising guides!) but requires its users to do all of the creation/printing/manufacturing work, and merely manages the sales of things which have already been brought into being.  If you aren’t wholly confident in your knitting or screenprinting or jewelry-making skills, these websites may be more your speed:

  • CafePress has an entire Print on Demand (POD) page.  All you need is an image or slogan to upload, and you can leave the rest of the design and print work to them.  You can sell on the CafePress marketplace for no additional cost, but setting up your own “store” will cost you (and for each store you set up, you will incur an additional fee).  CafePress’ default commission is 10%.
  • Zazzle operates in much the same way, and if you know Google is willing to pour money into it, it’s probably doing something right.  It even offers customizable options, so you or your fans aren’t necessarily stuck with one unworkable design.  Zazzle offers 10-15% commissions to its sellers.
  • DeviantArt is a golden oldie of the POD merchandise market, but users who were there in its years of infancy will be happy to know it has expanded its options to include more options when it comes to printing high-quality visual files.  If you have some pictures, posters, or other visual leaving-pieces to take to a conference or exposition or reading, DeviantArt has got you covered.  The DeviantArt Prints store offers a 20% commission on retail price for its sellers.  Websites like RedBubble and FineArtAmerica are similar in scope and offerings.
  • If you’re looking to print tee shirts, specifically, websites like SkreenedSpreadshirt, and Wordans will do for you what DeviantArt and its ilk do for art prints.  (There’s also AcmePrints and Atlas Embroidery for your larger orders.)
  • Printmojo offers classic screenprinting, with minimum orders (say, 24) and a low setup fee (around $3.50).  They offer a lot of options, though, and ordering more than the minimum can have its uses–more profits for you if you sell the merchandise rather than give it away, for example.
  • If you’re looking for a web retailer that can cut you chenille letters or embroider pennants or generally make enormous things to decorate your space (say, a booth at a fair) with, check out Custom Pennant.   Their website offers a lot of really out-there stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being useful, but actually is.  Weird how that works.
  • Last but not least, don’t forget your hybrid publishing firms, which will often offer merchandising bundles among their other listings. The advantage is that you pay one lump sum, but still (often) have a hand in the design process, and you don’t have to deal with the hassle of commissions and set-up fees.

And there you have it!  If you think of any retailers I may have forgotten, let me know in the comments section below!  Next week, I’ll be taking us back to the beginning, and forward into the future.♠

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Working with CreateSpace & Others

In this, my tenth post in an ongoing series about Self-Publishing and Merchandising, I’ll be taking a close look at how you can optimize your use of the CreateSpace platform––as well as recommending a few others for your consideration––just as last week I put together a few words about working with Barnes & Noble to merchandise your work, and the week before I examined Amazon’s platform to similar effect.  (And really, these brick-and-mortar or digital retailers end up doing much of the work for you, which is lovely of their algorithm-wranglers.)  I also mentioned the fact that much of the merchandising we’ve looked at together over previous weeks takes for granted that the book is its own complete product, the sum of its parts (see: book covers and jacket design, interior design, special additions, and the blurb), and the sum of other parts, too (see my posts on the book review, as well as how to get and give blog reviews).  While retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble certainly have a head start and therefore an enormous edge over their competition, it’s still worth taking a peek at a third party or two to see what they have to offer!

CREATESPACE :

First, to clear the air: CreateSpace is an Amazon subsidiary.  Back in the days when it was known as CustomFlix, the company that is now CreateSpace was mostly known as a place to create “flix” or movies.  These days, its mission is “to profitably connect filmmakers, musicians, and authors to their worldwide audience,” a mission that has seen it rise to the top of companies offering Print on Demand (POD) books as well as Audio Books on Demand (ABOD)––a wonderful mission for readers and self-publishing writers on the whole, but not necessarily good news for those who wish to publish out from under the shadow of the giants.  If you’re looking for a platform that gives you glossy and polished POD books as well as the benefits of beautiful algorithms that will more or less take care of your merchandising for you, then keep CreateSpace on your list––and follow my directions for working with Amazon.

If you’re looking to branch out, here are a few more options for you!

  • BookBaby allows authors to distribute their ebooks through Amazon, Apple’s iStore, and elsewhere. This platform’s nonstandard payment model makes it a great fit for those authors hoping for strong sales of their books: rather than subtract from royalties, its basic package charges $99 in an initial sign-up fee and then $19 for every following year.
  • Booktango creates opportunities to convert, upload, and edit manuscripts, distributing through Nook, Amazon, and other digital retailers. Booktango claims to offer authors 100% of royalties from its own online bookstore as well as 100% of net royalties from other online retailers once they’ve sliced away their own commissions.
  • FastPencil serves as a publishing and networking service for authors and publishers by providing assistance with content, distribution, marketing, and workflow for both print books and ebooks.
  • Kobo Writing Life is the digital publishing arm of Indigo’s Kobo hardware program. It offers analytics, a learning center that helps guide new users through the (global) publishing process.
  • Lulu provides for-pay premium services, such as editing for manuscripts and promotional video creation, not to mention free e-book conversion.  In addition to commission fees charged by distribution websites like Apple’s iStore, Lulu charges an additional 10%.
  • Outskirts Press (and other hybrid self-publishing companies) offer paid publishing services for authors who are looking for entry into the self-publishing market without the hassle of taking on all of the work themselves.  The best part of choosing a hybrid self-publishing company like Outskirts is that authors get to keep their profits (thereby recouping the original expenditure of purchasing a publication package) while benefiting from professionals who really know what they’re talking about when it comes to editing, design, distribution, and––yes!––merchandising.
  • Printful + Gumroad have teamed up to create a simple payment and digital delivery system which will allow authors (or anyone else with digital products to sell) to weave e-book sales directly into their website. Websites like Sellfy, DigitalDeliveryApp and e-Junkie offer similar services.
  • Pronoun (formerly known as Vook) is currently going through a transition before it relaunches, but has a history of offering design work for both digital and print books, marketing, and distribution. It makes (made?) room for video and audio features, and polished, professional-looking POD books. Vook offered free consultations before it even provided a quote, and distributed through all major online retailers.  It also had a lovely dashboard.  There’s no reason to believe that in its next incarnation, Pronoun/Vook won’t continue to offer the same services.
  • Smashwords remains one of the largest distributors of self-published ebooks in the world, and its “Meatgrinder” program lets authors convert their Microsoft Word documents into any of the offered ebook formats for sale in any of the big online ebookstores. Authors get around 85% of net sales made through Smashwords’ online store, a bit less through other retailers.
  • Wattpad is a social writing and reading platform built for those looking to create visual design-driven projects, including interactive novels. The process begins with choosing a template, then text and images, animation and three-dimensional objects. It does not provide authors with ISBNs for their books, but those can be purchased elsewhere if necessary.

In short, if you’re looking for a new indie platform on which to launch your latest work, we’ve got you covered––or rather, the internet does, and we simply put a few words together.  We hope you take the time to explore them all––and to learn the peculiar quirks and wonderful merchandising benefits that each has to offer! ♠

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Working with Barnes & Noble

Last week, you’ll recall that I put together a few words about working with Amazon to merchandise your work.  (And really, they end up doing much of the work for you, which is nice.)  I also mentioned the fact that much of the merchandising we’ve looked at together over previous weeks takes for granted that the book is its own complete product, the sum of its parts (see: book covers and jacket design, interior design, special additions, and the blurb), and the sum of other parts, too (see my posts on the book review, as well as how to get and give blog reviews).  As a massive online retailer, Amazon happens to be one of those parts, but what about Barnes & Noble?  Is there any work to be done there, when it comes to merchandising your self-published book?

Despite the fact that Barnes & Noble seems to be losing its edge in the digital book market, it is still a juggernaut of a force to be reckoned with.  The decision whether or not to self-publish your book through Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Press ought not to be touched, yet, by rumors of the company’s eventual demise––a demise which may indeed come, but not before the retail giant sells many more books, of which yours may be one (or two, or three, or five hundred).  Instead of asking “Should I?” a better question might be, “How can I best take advantage of the service while it exists?”

GETTING STARTED :

Luckily, as with Amazon’s Kindle store, Barnes & Noble itself takes care of much of the heavy lifting for the independently published author.  The first step, of course, is to sign up for a NOOK Press account, a simple enough process, and one that is available to authors residing in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands.  With an interface not much different from that of Kindle Direct or Kobo, the NOOK Press website allows authors to publish in Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Dutch as well as the default language of English––and it allows authors to be paid in their local currencies, also, which is a nice touch.

PRESENTATION CREATION :

It is easy to upload manuscript files to NOOK Press, and while the uploaded ePub files often end up riddled with errors, the NOOK Press interface allows authors to make changes without uploading new files––a nice feature, and one that you should absolutely use, given my advice in weeks past about the importance of presenting a polished document to ensure a positive reading experience.  A beautifully formatted book is its own advertisement, after all.

The same golden rules of self-publishing applies to the Barnes & Noble NOOK Press experience as it does anywhere else––and the NOOK Press makes the upload of a book’s cover image incredibly easy.  All you have to do is access the “Cover Image” tab while creating a new project.  (It is easiest, I find, to create a new project through NOOK Press with all of the files you need already in hand, cover image included, than it is to alter an existing project or try to go back and forth between the tabs when creating a new project.)  It’s equally important to render your book ‘findable’ by entering in all of the book’s data at the beginning, including keyword-rich descriptions and summaries.  It’s best not to leave any of the fields provided by the NOOK Press interface blank, as each one generates computer code that subtly tweaks the algorithms that show your book in the NOOK Store and elsewhere online.

EDITORIAL REVIEWS

As with many other self-publishing venues, the NOOK Press interface allows indie authors to incorporate editorial reviews into their book listings, and this is an important feature to take advantage of!  It is, according to Barnes & Noble, only “optional,” but you should question the wording!  Editorial reviews may well be truly necessary to your book’s findability and salability.  Once you ensure you have the rights to publish a review, you should get to it.  You can include up to five (5) editorial reviews with each book you publish through NOOK Press, and every single one of them adds to the reputation and visibility of your book.  (And if you’re looking for more instructions, indie author Sarra Cannon has put together a detailed step-by-step guide to using the NOOK Press interface, complete with screen captures to illustrate each step.)

IN-STORE MERCHANDISING :

Unlike Amazon, a retailer which has found enormous success without a physical presence, Barnes & Noble retains a number of brick-and-mortar advantages in the book-selling market––and not least among their many resulting strengths is the company’s cadre of merchandisers, flesh-and-blood employees whose entire jobs revolve around marketing Barnes & Noble products to the eager book-reading public.  While Amazon and other companies also keep merchandisers on staff, they rely heavily if not almost exclusively on computer algorithms to group products with other products, and those who sell online through Barnes & Noble still benefit from the company’s understanding of what objects and pleasures a casual shelf-browser may find resonant with each other.

THE FUTURE NOOK :

There are plenty of reasons to be both excited and apprehensive about the future of the NOOK Press and Barnes & Noble in general.  The company is splitting, and has indeed shown quite a few fissures for years now, as its NOOK and college stores peel away from the parent company with its lasting brick-and-mortar experience.  This time, the changes run deep, down to the bone of the company.  Still, there’s no reason to expect this split to have immediate consequences for NOOK sales or ebook sales in general, even though I always recommend that the informed author should keep abreast of ongoing shifts in the hazy underworld of book-publishing and book-retailing board rooms.  The ebook market is stabilizing, not backsliding, and new overseas markets continue to open up the industry and inject it with fresh vim and vigor. ♠

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Working with Amazon.com

Much of the merchandising that we’ve examined over previous weeks has to do with the book as its own complete product, the sum of its parts (see: book covers and jacket design, interior design, special additions, and the blurb), feathered out around the edges with paraliterary addendums (see my posts on the book review, as well as how to get and give blog reviews).  But what about retailers?  Is there any work to be done there, when it comes to merchandising your self-published book?

Yes, absolutely!  Each retailer–including Amazon and Barnes & Noble–has its own built-in set of perqs and pitfalls, as well as its own custom-developed features designed to set it apart from the herd and create a better, more salable product.  I’m going to start with Amazon because it is, for better or worse, the most recognizable name in book retail and self-publishing right now.  And since it now owns CreateSpace, Amazon is even more a force to be reckoned with.  You want a starting point for launching your merchandising strategy?  Start with Amazon.

And, handily, Amazon has created a system which makes it easy to centralize all of your hard labor in merchandising.  It’s called “Author Central,” and every author gets one, whether you’re in the business of publishing physical books or ebooks or both.  Author Central allows you to create a biography, list your books, connect your blog and social media feeds, and generally create a polished platform for presenting yourself to the reading public.  Most of us know how to centralize our own personal digital presence using apps or other programs that condense down all of our different presences–Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Flickr and Goodreads and Skype and iMessage and blog feeds from WordPress and Blogger are so interconnected that a post to one will ripple out through the others without any additional effort.  Author Central allows you to centralize your public presence in much the same way.  Readers will have incredible access if you take the time to set it up right early on–take advantage!

The second feature of Amazon you can use to your benefit is the book page.  Every book you publish through or list on Amazon will have its own unique book page, and the more information you input, the more findable you will be, as Amazon’s smart algorithms scan and index them to generate their internal linkages.  (Those “If you like …. you might try …” recommendations?  They happen because authors maximize their use of book pages and Author Central, among other things.)  The book page also has the power to make or break a reader’s decision to purchase–the more eye-catching, the more polished your book page, the more likely a reader is to click a button and buy your book.  It’s never a bad idea to use high-resolution images, strongly written excerpts, blurbs, book trailers, and the like.  It’s also worth checking into Amazon’s various “deals” features, including Amazon Associates and the Kindle Countdown promotion, though you must be willing to sacrifice some revenue in the short term by running specials to do so.  Amazon also allows you to offer pre-orders on your Kindle books, which is handy for generating preliminary interest.

The long and the short of it is, Amazon sells so many books because its interface and its algorithms really, for the most part, work well.  Now, Amazon may not always be working for you, the self-published author–and especially you, the brand spanking new self-published author without a wide reading base–but for the majority of authors, Amazon is the Starbucks of the indie book world.  It works well for most people, and exceptionally well for a few why pull the right strings.  Which isn’t to say it’s an irredeemable system–after all, just as Starbucks made mostly-delicious whole-bean coffee affordable for most people, Amazon has created a mostly-viable self-publishing program and made it possible for most authors to sell books through it.  It’s well worth studying their model before you decide how else you can elevate your game!

“Thinking outside of the box” will only take you so far if you think book trailers and social media connectivity is avant-garde.  You can bet that once a feature comes built-in with a company like Amazon, it’s assumed that these are just the “done things.”  They’re no longer innovative–they’re expectations. To be truly creative in your merchandising, you’re going to have to take the box apart and play to your strengths.  Do the “done things,” yes, but also the undone things.  What isn’t everyone else up to?  There may be an unexplored opportunity there. ♠

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.