Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Extras & Special Editions

Last week, I launched a new blog series on the ins and outs of merchandising with a quick definition.  (“Simply put, merchandising is any and all practices and methods which boost product sales in a retail environment.”)  And definitions are great and all, but we’re here to talk shop.  To get under the skin of merchandising, to inhabit the world of successful merchandisers, we have to tackle each and every aspect of the process–in depth.  This week, we’ll be taking a closer look at two of these aspects: “extras,” and special edition releases of your books.

What are “extras”?

“Extras” are anything you send out into the world related to your work that is not (quite) your book.  Or at least, it’s not your book as most people know it.  They’re the fiddly bits, the sweeteners, the “guess what I got this week?” element of book marketing.  The no-frills approach to book sales is to put your book, and only your book, into the hands of your ideal readers.  But we all know the process is more complicated than that, if we want to make profitable sales.

Identifying our ideal readers is one complicated conglomerate of issues unto itself, and connecting the dots between book and reader yet another (seemingly) hopeless tangle, and transforming the market so that more readers become ideal readers is … well, you get the picture.  The creation, distribution, and controlled availability of “extras” is one highly effective way to unpick some of these knots.  Why?  Because they make your ideal readers feel privileged and affirmed in their good taste, while also serving as a siren call to new readers–a declaration that you, the author, are willing to go the extra mile to bring others alongside you, into the world of your book.  And I’m not just talking about fictional worlds, here: every good book is a world unto itself, a universe even, that enwraps its readers in a shared sense of wonder, urgency, or belief.

“Extras” come in every possible form we can imagine, and sometimes figuring out what “extras” suit our books and our needs best is the larger task.  But simply identifying them can be a challenge, too, so here is a short list of some of the more effective extras that leap to my mind:

  • creating swag, like bookmarks or postcards or tee-shirts, etc, to give away or raffle off at book readings and signings;
  • putting together a regular newsletter, physical or digital, to distribute to eager readers;
  • orchestrating giveaways, scavenger hunts, and other participatory contests to boost interest;
  • offering limited-offer “buy a physical book and unlock free digital content” sorts of specials;
  • publishing select chapters online for free, using interactive services such as WattPad; and
  • hosting quizzes, ask-and-answer sessions, or other author-centric material online using social media networks such as Tumblr.

(This is just to name a few.)  As you can see, many of these “extras” fall into two loose categories: the physical fiddly bits, and the digital fiddly bits.  It’s worth noting that, while focusing our talents into bundles that seem all of a kind–say, pairing a digital “extra” with an ebook release, or a physical “extra” with a physical book launch–may be an effective use of our time, it may not be the sole best way to boost our sales.  Many readers who are highly engaged on social media will treasure a physical book or a physical “extra,” while many readers who hold fast to their physical libraries are ready and willing to branch out and experiment, if they’re invested in you, the author, and your vision of your world.  Strategic cross-fertilization may be the best approach, so make sure you’re providing “extras” on both sides of the digital/physical divide–if possible.

Oh, right, I mentioned special editions too.

That’s right–I haven’t forgotten.  The reason I save this second aspect of merchandising for after my discussion of “extras” is simple: many of the same rules apply.  We’ve written about releasing special editions, whether ebook editions or other kinds of editions as a kind of promotional venture, before.  We’ve even written about releasing special editions for holidays and for Kindles, respectively.  The simple distillation of all of these prior posts might be to say: “The more editions we put out there, the more accessible our books, the more people who will hear of our books, and the more books we will sell.”  The parallels between special editions and “extras” are fairly clear–just substitute “extras” for “editions.”

The key to successful merchandising for the self-published author is to make our readers feel special!  We can make this happen with strategic bundles of “extras,” or by releasing new editions of previously published books.  Both of these merchandising methods are built upon creating and distributing new access points to our works.  Generating special offers that are limited in some way–in respect to time or quantity–whether on swag or giveaways or special editions–heightens the competitive edge to what we’re offering, and makes our books a topic of conversation.  We want to balance ubiquity of our works–making it is available to as many people as possible–with an urgency to acquire it in certain incarnations or circumstances.

Next week, I’ll be examining merchandising through book and jacket design.  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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