5 Ways to Merchandise Your Book

Have you ever considered promoting your book at a local fair? What about at the library? Online? At the movie theater? No, I’m not talking about hosting events—although events are wonderful and you should certainly plan for a few of those, too. I’m talking about the perfect complement to an event—any event—and the public exposure that everything from a targeted, strategic book reading to a scattershot, spontaneous trip to the grocery store can provide.

I’m talking about merchandising.

While  you don’t necessarily need to visit a printer this instant and order a truckload of customizable key rings, mouse pads, or plastic sunglasses—although these are all good ideas if you can think of the right time and place to distribute them—you do need to dream up new ways of exposing people to your book in a tangible, and dare we even say pocketable fashion. Educators often say a person needs to receive a piece of information three different times in three different ways in order to remember it, and this is why banks always leave cheap free pens imprinted with their logos lying around: every time we fish one of those pens out of our pocket or glove box, we are reminded that that bank wants our business. And we are that much more likely to open an account. Book promotion can work the same way.

That said, here are five ideas to start merchandising your book:

  1. Make it visible. I mean literally The first and most traditionally effective weapon in your merchandising arsenal will always be the print poster. Why? Because they are so perfectly adaptable to local conditions! They can go up on anonymous billboards—pretty much every major business in a small town has one, as well as plenty of mom-and-pop owned joints in more urban spaces—and they can go up in a more official capacity, at book signings or in the windows of local businesses. Your neighborhood library might even be persuaded to put one up as a gesture of support for local talent. As a general rule, we have found that businesses generally want to help, unless there’s some specific company policy against doing so. The worst they can say is no, but you might very well be surprised at how many say yes!
  2. Make it portable. A good rule of thumb is to consider the question: would this be easy to steal? Is it the sort of merchandise that someone could slip into their pocket—like, say, a bookmark or a business card—and walk out the door without anyone noticing? Good. You literally want your merchandise to walk out the door, so make it easy! Choose only to create merchandise that will really move, and that doesn’t break the bank when it does so. Remember: the point is to sell your book, not to sell cute muffins for a bake sale. That is to say, the point is never that your merchandise be the flashiest or cutest thing in the universe. It needs to be the most portable thing in the room.  Custom bookmarks or business cards are portable AND promote your book. The best of both worlds!
  3. Make it responsive. It’s all well and good to send someone off with a postcard featuring your book’s beautiful cover, a blurb, and so on and so forth, but what’s in it for the vaguely interested potential reader? A postcard is just a pretty piece of paper unless it provides an incentive for that potential reader to become an active and engaged member of your fan base. Make sure all of your merchandise is clearly linked to your social media presence—in other words, that it features your Twitter handle, or hastag, or Facebook link, or something similar—and if possible, ramp up the engagement factor even further with reference to a discount, contest, giveaway, or some other glorious reminder so they know they ought to hang on to that pretty piece of paper and look at it again in the near future. Who knows? You might even find a great application for that QR code you’ve been considering…
  4. Make it beautiful. Look, there’s no point in making merchandise that no one will remember, and the most reliable way to make something memorable is to make it either beautiful or horrifying. And really, no one wants a horrifying bookmark or business card—unless we’re talking about promoting a penny dreadful. (Now there’s a thought.) For most authors, the best bet for making beautiful merchandise is to make it attractive and to make it out of quality materials. If we’re talking about a pen with a logo on it, you definitely want that pen to be durable enough to withstand extended use. If we’re talking about a business card, we want it to survive lengthy sojourns in that most trying of environments, the human wallet. And if eye-popping graphic design and crisp, heavy-duty cardstock isn’t in your repertoire, never fear. There is such a thing as affordable merchandise you don’t have to produce yourself.
  5. Make it work for you. The true heart of success in respect to creating and distributing merchandise is choosing the applications that work for you. If you’re not likely to have a lot of adult or computer-literate readers (say, if you write children’s picture books) maybe custom computer mouse pads aren’t the best way to go. If you live in a neighborhood with a library that doesn’t have a public bulletin board but is willing to stock some of your bookmarks, then by all means, print more bookmarks and fewer posters. Don’t buy what you don’t need or can’t make use of, but invest in the kinds of promotional merchandise that really captures the magic of your book and puts in front of the right people at the right time. (Or three right times, as it were.)

And there you have it: five parameters for creating the perfect promotional strategy using physical merchandise. Remember how we mentioned affordable merchandise that you don’t have to produce yourself? Independent of its publishing packages, Outskirts Press offers what we call the Promotional Materials Bundle which includes many of the merchandising options we’ve discussed in this blog: bookmarks, business cards, postcards, posters, and more. It’s an affordable way to jump start any promotional campaign and to do so using high-quality, beautifully-designed merchandise that requires zero late-night agonies over the operating manual for some cumbersome laser-cutter. But we’re not the best judge of what you need—you are! Take a moment to explore your options. You can always call us or find us on the web to learn more about promoting your book simply, effectively, and affordably!


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