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, 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,

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