In a self-published writer’s fight for sustainable income, your book merchandise can be a valuable tool (as well as a source of joy and pride). The issue is to create swag your readers will buy enough to justify time and money investment.
If you struggle to find interesting book merch ideas, don’t know how to approach swag in general, or want some tips on merchandise design, read along.
Do Authors Need Book Merchandise?
Do you need book merchandise? Not really; you can do just fine without merch, but that’s not the question you need to be answering.
The better question is: Do you want book merchandise?
Though you don’t need author merch to earn a living, nice swag has the potential to help you grow your career. The benefits of book merchandise include:
- Boosts your author brand
- Increases recognizability of your works
- Strengthens your passive income
- Brings you joy when you see people using your swag (that’s more of a pleasant bonus).
In addition, with create-on-demand services and access to professional budget-friendly designers, book merchandise won’t cost you much.
So, if you want book merch, and have the means to work on it, why not give it a try?
Book Merch Approach
Before brainstorming author or book merch ideas, we should answer the important question: why do people buy things? Obviously, we purchase a lot of things we need: new shoes for the winter, food, gym membership we think we’re gonna use.
But, we buy even more things we absolutely don’t need, like that cute cup with ears that’s more dangerous to your eyes than useful to your tea-drinking habit; or that huge, too heavy to hold special-edition of the book you’ve already read 3 times.
The reality is we decide what to buy following the emotional impulse, subconsciously, and then justify our decision with logic (or simply embrace our consumer irrationality). So, when deciding on your future book merch, focus on its appeal first.
Though we often buy on impulse, there are reasons that urge us to do so. According to Shari Levitin, the author of Heart and Sell: 10 Universal Truths Every Salesperson Needs to Know, these reasons include
- Need for safety
- Desire for social approval/validation
- Sense of belonging to a community/relationship
- Sense of adventure
- Sense of purpose/success
- Desire to be healthy/well
- Need for growth/education
When creating book merch, the sense of belonging to a community/relationship and the sense of adventure are the ones you want to capitalize on the most. Also, people really like keeping around beautiful stuff. We guess it fits into the “need for wellness” neatly. How can one be well without beauty in their life?
Now that we have ideas why readers may want to buy your things, let’s take a look at book merch ideas.
Book Merch Design Ideas
First, we want to mention that the shape of your author swag — whether it’s a cup, a hoodie, or a poster — doesn’t matter as much as the merchandise’s design. People will resonate with the art not with form.
So, the best you can do is to diversify your author swag. Usually, you can have your designs on the following products:
- Thermal cups
As an example, here’s a gorgeous Jenna Moreci’s hoodie
With that in mind, here are a few book merch for authors’ design ideas.
Book merch that appeals to the need for belonging
People’s drive to be a part of a community — a real or virtual one — is immense.
You can capitalize on the need of belonging and create Super-relatable merchandise that resonates with your audience on an emotional level. Here are a few ways to approach identity-based swag:
- Book merch based on book fractions
The easiest way to approach the task is to create fraction-based merchandise as it gives people the sense of belonging.
The most famous and successful example is swag based on Harry Potter’s Houses. We could only guess how many people have bought a Gryffindor coat or a Slytherin broach.
If your books have clear-cut fractions that people can easily associate with, design catchy symbols for them, strengthen their impact with a relevant quote, and let people find a reflection of themselves in your works.
Another good example of such book merch is Song of Ice and Fire houses:
- Starks with “Winter is Coming;”
- Greyjoys with “We Don’t Sow;”
- Boltons with “Our Blades are Sharp” (we do sincerely hope though there aren’t many people who want to associate with Boltons.);
- and so on.
If your stories don’t have suitable fractions, you can base your book merch on relatable characters.
Another author who has cool fraction-based merch is Britanny Wang with her faeries
With this approach, we suggest using minimalistic pleasant designs so even people who aren’t familiar with your imaginary worlds well can appreciate it.
- Lore-heavy merchandise for fans
If you already have fans of your books that’s half the job. A fandom is a powerful thing, and merch brings fans joy and strengthens their sense of connection with other fans.
With merch for a fandom, you can go all-in with your creativity and over-the-top ideas. For example, you can create
- Merchandise with the in-universe memes from your books
- Lore-based merchandise. Think maps, references to in-world events, pictures of items, buildings, artifacts from the books.
A great example is Brandon Sanderson’s merch. Here you have universe-based light-hearted memes as well as posters with an elaborate magic system.
- Merchandise based on your author brand and message
If you have a strong author brand, people who follow you likely share similar views or passions. In this case, you can lean into it and create merchandise that appeals directly to your followers through the lens of your brand.
Great example is merchandise by Bethany Atazadeh — a popular writer and coach. On her swag, you can see her cute sidekick and a sweet-sweet lie so many book lovers muttered to themselves so many times:
If you love books and dogs, it’s difficult not to vibe with this merchandise.
Book merch that appeals to the need for adventure
What are books but not adventures packed in a compact format? So, you want book merch for authors that communicates that sense of adventure clearly and loudly.
You can approach the task by appealing to your book’s genre conventions. For example, if you’re writing fantasy, make an author swag design that is so outrageously fantasy, that even fantasy fans who don’t know a thing about you could appreciate the scale and epicness of the design and feel the adventure your world promises.
As an example, here’s a poster for Dakota Crout’s LitRPG novel Rize.
Illustration on the poster by MiblArt
Another example is this breathtaking art for Meg LaTorre
Book merch that appeals to the need for beauty
If you’re particularly lost or none of the ideas resonate with you, create the most beautiful or cute merchandise you can. Even if people don’t know much about your book or your brand, they still will swoon over fine art. The author’s merch that doubles down on visual aesthetics usually doesn’t include obvious branding elements, author names, and book titles.
If you choose this approach, you can go a very cute route or simply a majestic one.
Good examples are this sticker based on Christopher Paolini’s Eragon series and a poster with a ship from his To Sleep in the Sea of Stars book.
Working on Book Merch for Authors Design Tips
After you’ve decided what kind of author merch you want, it’s time to design your future swag. The merch design process is an entirely different journey, and we have a few tips that will make it easier for you.
Book merch for authors design tips:
Do professional design. As we’ve mentioned: author merch design — not products themselves — rules the party. So, make your art as good and polished as possible to hook people. Therefore, if you don’t have design or illustration prowess, it’s better to team up with a professional. It will save you tons of time and make the final designs market-ready.
Design by MiblArt
Get merch design references. Nothing helps designers to achieve the required style and vibe as well as a couple of good references.
Obtain commercial rights to sell. If you decide to work with the designer, ensure you’ll have rights to sell designs they’d create.
Check copyrights. If you’re using third-party quotes check whether they’re not copyrighted.
Get feedback. Ideally, you want to gather feedback on your designs while they’re still WIP, so you can adjust them accordingly to the audience’s demands.
Get samples of your future merch. Author merch samples will help you see the quality of your swag and adjust anything if required. Often, images don’t look as good on a product as they do on a screen.
Price your merchandise accurately. Too low a price will make people suspicious about the quality of your merchandise. Too high a price will turn people off. You need that sweet middle. If in doubt, you can check prices on similar items with similar quality on the market to figure out your pricing.
Use your merch design extensively. After you have your merch design, you can use them everywhere: on your website, marketing materials, social media. Besides, it will help you to promote your merchandise.
As we always suggest, when working on your book merch don’t restrain yourself and feel free to express yourself and your world with the swag. Having some fun is integral to enjoying the final result. And, if you like your swag, chances that your audience will like it are much higher as well.