If you’re a bibliophile, chances are you’ve heard of Etsy. Chances are you’ve shopped on Etsy––or at the very least, window-shopped. There’s something so winsome about this platform that just … sucks you in and then later spins you out, dazed and simultaneously envious of other peoples’ talents at handcrafts and carefully counting your change to see if you can afford to buy something beautiful today. I’m not speaking from experience, of course.
Okay, so I am. And what’s wrong with ogling a beautiful watercolor print of one of my favorite quotes, or eyeing a delicate little charm to add to my collection, or drooling (just a little) over the “reading fox” bookends––which happen to come in at #11 on this Buzzfeed contributor’s list of perfect gifts for the bibliophile in your life who already has all of the books that he or she might ever need. There are at least a dozen other Buzzfeed articles that cover the exact same ground, and this isn’t just because Etsy is a great place to shop. It’s because Etsy is a great place to both promote and sell, including for the self-published author!
When it comes to the big social media platforms out there, nobody quite knows what to do with Etsy. Is it social media? Or is it just some form of social shopping, translated from the physical mall into the digital sphere? The fact of the matter is, most people don’t think of Etsy as a digital gathering space for people so much as for objects, and that’s a crying shame. Etsy goes out of its way to provide a friendly platform for indie and self-published authors to sell their books––and nobody seems to be talking about this very important fact! And in large part, this mass silence can be attributed to one overarching misconception about Etsy:
Debunking the Great Etsy Myth: “It’s just a glorified Craigslist for selling vintage castoffs and overpriced coasters.”
Oh man, don’t get me started. (Well, we’re already started. This rant’s on me.) Unlike last week’s post, which delved into the book-lover’s best friend Goodreads, not a lot has been written about Etsy as a community and a platform for authors––so this is all relatively new territory in respect to writing out the theory, even though Etsy has long been supportive of its self-publishing shops. Etsy has gotten lots and lots and lots of attention, however, for carving out a vital place as a launching point for entrepreneurs of all kinds.
It’s easy to throw buzzwords like “entrepreneurial” around, but Etsy has a history of being absolutely serious about improving the lives of its users, particularly its marginalized, impoverished, or otherwise struggling users. And self-published authors know all about struggle, right? Sure, you can buy stuff on Etsy––but that’s not the only thing it’s good for, and if you spend even five minutes browsing the site’s many links and means of connection, you’ll get a good taste for why I’m including it in my list of Very Important Social Media Sites You Should Join Immediately! Here are just a few thoughts to get you started.
Top 5 Best Practices:
1. Join a team … or a few. Even before you list items in your Etsy shop to sell, you should take a gander through Etsy’s “Community” tab, and hone in on its ever-expanding list of “Teams.” I know of at least two that are dedicated specifically to authors––this one, and this one––and there’s at least one more that’s given over exclusively to Etsy users who take part in the November NaNoWriMo challenge. Quite apart from the wide-open general forums, these teams will help you find “your people” in Etsy. The author groups are, for the most part, small enough to feel comfortable and large enough to provide a diverse representation of all sorts of best practices as lived out in various authors’ stores. You don’t have to be an active seller on Etsy in order to take part in the teams and forums, which is a handy thing indeed for when you’re looking to launch your store but are still searching for ways to do so successfully!
2. Work the metadata! Yes, yes, I know that my continual harping on boosting your “findability” is probably starting to sound like a broken record … but it’s as accurate in application to Etsy as it is on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Goodreads, and everywhere else you can imagine. So: fill out your seller profile page fully, and mention all of the appropriate buzzwords––”self-publishing,” “children’s book author,” “author,” and et cetera. You can even use your profile picture to feature the cover art for your latest book. Etsy’s seller profiles, along with each item’s individual listing, feed directly into indexing search engines like Google, so give those algorithms some meat to chew on!
3. If you printed and made your own book, list it. There are constraints to what you can sell on Etsy, it’s true, and this is how the website has managed to differentiate itself from big box stores and that behemoth, Amazon. Its forté is in providing specially crafted goods of limited availability, either vintage or handmade. What qualifies as “handmade” turns out to be a rather amorphous mass of flexible options, so don’t despair! The easiest book to sell is going to be one you printed and packaged yourself, and if you’ve chosen a Print on Demand (POD) option like this author (who uses a local printing company in the UK) or this author (who used a digital printing company for comics artists, Ka-Blam) then you’re most likely still in the clear. If you’re unsure about where your POD company falls in respect to Etsy policy, it’s easy to drop an email to Etsy staff to confirm or to apply to work with an “outside manufacturer.” It’s helpful to approach these occasions not as obstacles, but as safeguards––Etsy simply wants to elevate demand by ensuring an item is of high quality and limited availability. Self-published books almost always fit these criteria!
4. If your book doesn’t quite fit the category of “handmade,” think “BUNDLE” instead! You can still take advantage of Etsy by offering your book for sale with a related craft item, perhaps a themed bookmark or other object or piece of limited-run merchandise that somehow ties back to your work. For example, you might include some handwritten recipe cards if you’ve self-published a cookbook, or include an original (and signed!) piece of art if you’ve self-published a picture book. Whatever you choose, you can either make it yourself or have someone else make it for you. Just make sure the bundle carries with it a significant personal touch! Think in terms of bundles, and think in terms of gifts. What would you buy to go with that new mystery you picked up for your husband? What item would just perfectly complete your Christmas package for your bibliophile of a best friend? These are the sorts of items that will round out your bundle!
5. Go digital. Etsy’s policies allow for automatic downloads when buyers purchase digital files. This absolutely includes ebooks! Most of the ebooks for sale on Etsy are, at present, craft-related or instructional guides (as this author/seller demonstrates), but there’s a growing cadre of authors in all genres finding representation there (if you don’t believe me, check out this author, and this one, and this one). The only limitations are size (20 MB or fewer) and format (.PDF files only), but these are relatively easy constraints to work around. And as always, Etsy demonstrates its eagerness to set its users up for success by posting a thorough “how-to” page for listing and selling digital items.
Most Overlooked Feature:
As you might have inferred from what I’ve already written, I think the most fearfully neglected asset Etsy has in its favor is its tight-knit community of staff and fellow author-sellers. If someone hasn’t already asked the question in their forums, and if they haven’t already addressed a concern in their “Online Labs” (found in the “Community” section) or in their “Help” pages, and if it hasn’t been thoroughly analyzed in the “Teams” discussions, then Etsy staff will go out of their way to help you out via email. Etsy’s founders want you to succeed. Your fellow authors and sellers want you to succeed. You want to succeed. It’s literally the perfect environment for a newcomer to dive into self-publishing, complete with a resilient safety net and a genuinely interested set of supportive people to serve as your cheer squad.
I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer! If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠
||ABOUT 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.