Diversifying Your Income Part 3: Book Merchandise

One of the best ways to diversify your income without giving yourself a whole other job is to create merchandise for your books. Your books don’t have to already be successful for this to work either. In fact, high-quality book merchandise can attract new people to your work.

In this article, I’ll explore:

  • 12 book merchandise ideas + book merch I love
  • Where to sell your book merch

When you’re finished reading, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to start selling your own book merch.

Book merchandise ideas

The first thing most authors think of is custom bookmarks. This is a great start, but there are many other types of merch you can create:

1. Buttons/pins

Buttons are a great way for your fans to display their love of your work without spending a lot of money or using a lot of space. They’re also some of the easiest and most affordable merchandise to make on your own; you can get a button maker + supplies for 500 buttons for under $500. And, at least for me, making them is quite fun.

If you want to get fancy, you can make enamel pins. These pins have a different, more official feel, and are also more complicated to make. 

2. Stickers

Stickers are possibly my favorite merch item. You can make them in any shape or size, they can be stuck to laptops and notebooks and all kinds of other things, and they’re very affordable when you get them printed in bulk. 

The flexibility of size also means you can use a wider variety of images: full-body images of your characters, landscapes, full paragraph quotes written in an artsy font. However, I like to stick with smaller stickers, since most people have a limited amount of space to use them.

3. Magnets

Let your fans display an image of their favorite character or a pithy quote from your work with magnets! 

You can make these on your own, but it’s a time-consuming process that you’ll only want to use for limited-run magnets. Having someone else make your magnets, on the other hand, is both simple and affordable: you can get 500 2”x2” magnets for under $200 from Stickermule.

4. Art prints/posters

My walls are already covered, but there are always people looking for cool prints and posters to fill their space with. You also don’t need to buy any new artwork for this: good cover art can also make a great poster. 

Poster printing can also be done in a huge number of places. Your local office supply store likely offers poster printing. You can also get this done at a local print shop or through a major online printer like Vistaprint.

5. T-shirts + sweaters

T-shirts, sweaters, and other clothes are great book merch options because people actively need these things for everyday life. 

Hoodie for The Savior's Sister by Jenna Moreci
Hoodie for The Savior’s Sister by Jenna Moreci

You can also get all of these things printed in the same place when you order them from a company like Entripy.

6. Coffee mugs

Coffee mugs are another great option because everyone needs them (well, I don’t need any more mugs, but that’s a different story) and they serve a practical purpose. This can win over customers who might not be willing to spend money on purely decorative options.

If you want to get custom mugs made, Vistaprint is a good choice.

7. Laptop and phone cases

Laptop and phone cases protect our most beloved devices, making them an easy sell. They’re also easy to get printed through sites like Vistaprint, though you might find yourself limited to certain sizes or phone models.

8. Notebooks

Weeknight Writers logo notebook
Weeknight Writers logo notebook

Notebooks might be used by a fairly small portion of the population these days, but those of us who use them are always on the lookout for quality notebooks. When we can get one with a quote from a beloved book, or perhaps an image from your book, so much the better.

You can get several types of custom notebooks, including spiral bound hardcovers, printed at Swag.com

9. Custom candles

There’s something magical about lighting some candles for an evening of reading and writing, doubly so when those candles use scents based on the book in your hands. And there are many worthwhile scents in most books: the scents of flowers or trees in a specific setting, the smells associated with a specific character.

You can get custom candles made through a company like Custom Candles Co or you can learn how to make your own with a simple candle making kit and sell them in small batches.

10. Unique tea blends

Do your characters spend a lot of time drinking tea? Maybe it’s time to create some custom tea blends based on what they’re drinking! If your story takes place in our world, you might even be able to recreate the exact tea they drink (case in point, this Uncle Iroh tea).

Uncle Iroh tea from Dollar Tea Club
Uncle Iroh tea from Dollar Tea Club

You can create tea blends through collaboration with a company like Happy Turtle Tea.

11. Plushies

Plushies may seem like something specifically for people who write kids’ books, and kids will definitely be ecstatic if they can get a plushie of their favorite character, but there are plenty of adult readers who keep a plushie collection and even sleep with stuffed animals at night (myself included).

Your plushies don’t have to all be animals, either. Human characters can easily be turned into plushies, and you can ramp up the cute factor by creating chibi versions of your characters for use in plushie design.

You can get your characters turned into custom plushies at Stuffed Animal Pros.

12. Jewelry

Are you writing about wealthy characters who often wear jewelry? Is there an order of warriors who have special jewelry that doubles as a weapon? You can either recreate those exact pieces or have something similar created and sold as merch.

Unfortunately, this one’s a bit trickier to make happen. If you want to produce a large number of jewelry items to sell online, you’re going to spend a lot of money. But there are many jewelry artists on Etsy who might be willing to create a single piece or even a few items inspired by your books. Look for creators who make items inspired by books you love and reach out!

13. Chocolate bars

Whether it’s based on a chocolate that exists in your books, something you think a specific character might eat, or a wholly different aspect of your work, a custom chocolate bar is a delicious and unique way to reach your audience. And it’s consumable, so if they like it, they’ll probably buy more than one.

Book Merchandise: Open Book Chocolates homepage
Open Book Chocolates homepage

There’s even a company dedicated to doing this specifically for books! Open Book Chocolates is a company that makes literary-themed chocolate bars made with fair trade, bean to bar chocolate.

How to choose the right merch for your books

Not sure what the best book merchandise options are for your stories? Consider the following questions:

  • Can I use existing quotes or art for this? Commissioning art gets expensive fast. If you’re working with a tight budget or you’re not sure how much merch you can sell, you’ll probably want to stick with using quotes and art you already have.
  • Does this item exist in my books? You can create a sense of novelty by choosing a more niche item that actually exists within your books. For example, if your characters like a specific type of chocolate bar, you might commission a company to create that exact chocolate bar.
  • Is this item something people can actually use? If people actually need the items you’re selling, they might be more willing to part with their hard-earned money.
  • How much will it cost me to create and sell this product? Remember to include the cost of shipping the product to yourself, shipping it to customers, and packing/carrying it with you when you go to events. This will influence whether or not you’re able to sell these products for reasonable prices and still make a profit.

You should also pay close attention to the suppliers you work with. Review their website to see the quality of the products they’ve already created. Look at reviews. Order a sample before you order it in bulk. You don’t want to end up with 200 of something you can’t sell.

Where to sell book merch

There are a few places where you can sell your book merchandise:

  • Book events. Events like conferences and conventions can be great opportunities to sell your books. 
  • Craft fairs. Often times the best place to sell your books and related merchandise is at events where you won’t be surrounded by other authors, like craft fairs and even farmers’ markets.
  • Your website. Your author website is a great place to host an online shop complete with signed copies of your books and various types of merchandise.
  • On the creator’s website. In some instances, you might be able to get the creator of your book merchandise to post it on their site.
  • Online marketplaces. You can use an online marketplace like Etsy to sell your book merchandise. Be sure to do your research first, though; these sites can come with a lot of fees that may force you to drive your prices up.
  • Third party merch stores. For a totally hands-off sales process, you can take your designs to a site like RedBubble. The trade-off is that when you don’t put in the work, you’ll typically make a lot less money, as printing costs on these sites are often quite high,

You might even find some other places to sell your book merch if you put some thought into it!

Final thoughts

Book merchandise can be a great secondary source of income for authors, especially if you get creative with merchandise options beyond T-shirts and posters.

Here are some tips to help you get started with selling book merch:

  • Go beyond the bookmarks! You can turn almost any product into book merch. All you need is some creativity, a connection to a wholesaler, and a little bit of money to invest. If you’re working with a site like RedBubble, you might not even need that last part.
  • Consider your books. Look for merchandise options that connect directly to themes or characters in your books for an added novelty factor.
  • Choose where you’ll sell your merchandise carefully. Every option has its advantages. Choose the option that makes the most sense for what you can manage right now; you can always change things later on.

So what are you waiting for? Start brainstorming merch ideas today!

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