On Self-Publishing and Merchandising

You are a self-published author.  Fantastic!  And you’re a self-published author looking to boost your book sales through strategic self-promotion, and by diving into the ofttimes terrifying world of … merchandising.  You’ve written your book, which everyone told you was the hardest part of the whole writing-and-publishing process, and you’ve plugged it into a self-publishing engine like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, or BookSurge, or Xlibris, or Outskirts Press, or any one of a dozen other self- or hybrid publishing websites.  But what comes next?  For most writers, it’s not automatic instant success.  For most writers, what comes next involves a lot of hard work, and finesse.  Because for most writers, what comes next will involve merchandising.

So what is merchandising?

Simply put, merchandising is any and all practices and methods which boost product sales in a retail environment.  Once you get used to thinking of and treating your book as a retail product–which is harder than it may seem, in personal experience–the process of selling and marketing your book becomes infinitely easier.  Why is this?  Since books are more than just a piece of wood pulp and ink–because books are ideas and stories and occasionally, magnificent works of art–we understandably think about them as these things, these intangible things.  And it can seem, well, rather low-brow to treat an idea the same way that I treat a sandal or a bottle of shampoo.  Low-brow, and possibly even vulgar.  But the fact of the matter is, we want our books to sell, not just to sit all neat and pretty on our own private bookshelves awaiting discovery after we pass on.  We want–no, need–our books to sell for all sorts of reasons: the dissemination of ideas, the collection of profits, and so on.  We need to sell our books, and merchandising helps sell books.

Unfortunately, self-published authors often find themselves daunted by the notion of self-promotion via merchandising.  Authors who survive the knuckle-bruising process of traditional publication have an entire company to help them navigate merchandising, if not take it on entirely.  Self-published authors face the same fears, the same doubts, the same tangle of fine print–only, without the clout and muscle and well-fleshed-out personnel of a publishing firm at their back.  And it’s virtually impossible to know where to begin.  Do you begin with mugs and notepads and tee shirts?  Do you begin with book design or haggling with local retailers?  You may not have a publishing firm’s PR department on hand, but you do have us.  (Not to mention, your legions of fans.)  You have us, your loyal digital cheer squad and sounding board for ideas.  We’re here to help.

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to unwind a few key strategies for merchandising success, specifically in regards to self-published authors seeking entry into the world of merchandising that the privileged traditionally-published author never has to think twice about.  A few of these strategies will include:

  1. Extras & special edition releases
  2. Book & jacket design
  3. Blurbs, reviews, and blog reviews
  4. Dealing with Amazon, CreateSpace, and others
  5. (And yes, we’ll deal with mugs and notepads and tee shirts, too.)

Suffice it to say, this is a big topic.  Epically, profoundly, unmentionably big.  (Which is exactly why we’re here, reading this blog, isn’t it?)  It will take us a while to step through all of the angles, so plan on checking this space every Wednesday morning as we dive in!

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.

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