Do Indie Authors and Merchandising Mix?

I’ve been thinking about this for months. YouTubers, gamers, mystics, fitness coaches, Indie filmmakers, and Indie bands, among others all have merchandise for sale on places like Teespring, Etsy, or Spreadshirt to name a few. I’ve bought some really cool stuff to support internet entrepreneurs I follow. Not that I’m rolling in cash, but every so often I treat myself and if it helps others earn a living, even better.

Picture of Katia in her wendigo t-shirt. The wendigo is side on in the centre of the shirt and looks like a horse head skull with sharp teeth and antlers coming out the top.
Wendigo T-shirt from Cayleigh Elise’s Teespring shop.

Check out this wendigo shirt I bought from a campaign by Cayleigh Elise for her YouTube channel.  

I wondered how widespread merchandising was among Indie authors. I found an interview Joanna Penn did in December 2016 with Melissa Addey, author of Merchandise for authors – Engage your readers while increasing your income. It pretty much sums up my thoughts and frustrations with the Indie author market and further impressed upon me the question of why over a year later, we still are not taking advantage of this additional stream of income?  You can listen to it or read the transcript here. 

Are we slow on the uptake or is it just not worth it?


I visited the top 50 Amazon Sellers in the Indie Kindle Book category and checked them out. Some of them didn’t even have a website. A couple had shops on their sites but the material for sale was limited to books and most often pointed straight back to Amazon. I can’t help but feel one of two things, either:

  1. these authors are making so much money from their book sales they don’t care about an additional income stream, or
  2. they are missing out.

Guess which one I tend towards?

I did some research on merchandising sites. A lot of them are very similar, so I’ll use Teespring as an example because I have bought from them. They have a helpful section on how they work, and it is really simple. They have an all-inclusive cost that covers goods, services, transactions and shipping. Once that has been taken off the price of the product the rest of the money is your profit. The example they give is a T-shirt selling for $24. If inclusive costs are $10, you make $14, or whatever currency you are selling in. All their merchandising products are made on order. You can read more about them and how they work here.

Online merchandise shops are like print on demand. There is no excess stock, you upload your designs, someone orders a product, the product gets made, shipped and you get paid a percentage. Even if it only generates a couple of hundred a month, it all goes into the pot and adds up. You might even find people browsing for cool stuff, find your products and then decide to buy your books. It is an equally beneficial cycle.

There are even online merchandise shops specifically designed for authors, such as Authorpackages. You can visit their site here. Although this is less of a product on demand service and more of a design and promotion facility.

What about quality I hear you scream? I can only speak about the material I have bought, but I have never had a problem when buying from a reputable merchandising store.  As an example, I’ll use the T-shirt I bought above. The first thing I did with it when I got it was to send it through the wash. It didn’t run, it didn’t fade, it didn’t fall apart, it didn’t shrink. I put it in the dryer…it came out fine, the transfer was still there, there were no loose threads, the sleeves were still intact, it didn’t deform.

On-demand retailers are just as vulnerable to going out of business for providing bad quality items as anyone else, perhaps more so because they don’t make money unless you make money. It is not in their best interests to provide sub-par goods.

But I’m not a designer! I’m not suggesting you go out and create elaborate murals and action figures of your characters. A simple logo, your web address, a character quote, even your book title with your web address under it, or a scene from your book cover can be manipulated to go on the products.

A lot of Indie authors already use Canva to create ads and posts for social media. It could equally be used to create designs for T-shirts or mugs etc. To show you how simply it could be done, I used Canva and Paint to create an image. All I did was chop out the central design of my upcoming Alastor: Spirit of Vengeance book cover using Paint, saved it as a separate file and uploaded it to Canva. Then I opened a new template in Canva and pasted the image. Next, I added the book’s tagline in text using their tools, arranged it how I wanted it, and downloaded the image. To show you what it would look like on a shirt, I pasted it into the centre of a T-shirt template I’d copied into Paint.


Image of a black t-shirt with the words How long would you search? Alastor. Picture is of stained galss windows with a ghostly figure rising up behind a floating girl.
T-shirt design made with part of a book cover, Canva and Paint.

It took about fifteen minutes. I know I’m biased, but I’d buy that T-shirt. Plus I also now have an additional graphic for promoting Alastor on social media when the time comes. All you need to do to get products available for sale is to upload your graphic to the merchandising site, choose which products you want it to appear on like T-shirts, jackets, mugs etc., and off you go. You don’t need to be a designing genius to get started, just make sure you own the copyright to any images or they are CC0.

As Indie authors, we are told we should have multiple streams of income in case one branch of the money tree drops off. It makes sound business sense, and writing is a business no matter how esoterically muse inspired or locked in our writing cave we might feel. I believe we have more to offer the market than just our words. We have whole worlds full of ideas, characters, crazy quotes, fantasy and sci-fi creatures, artefacts, tools, weapons we have created from nothing but our firing synapses. They can be put to greater use to earn for us.

Some of you might think you have a hard enough time promoting your books let alone marketing for a merchandise store. Use your books to advertise it. At the end of your book, in the same place as you might have a call to action for your mailing list, add a link to your merchandise. Imagine, someone has just been on an excellent journey with your characters, buying merchandise is a way of keeping those characters alive for the reader after they have read your book and a great way to connect with you. Include links to it on your website. If you have merch associated with a specific book, promote them together in your ads or Facebook campaigns. Put a button on your author Facebook page for that matter. Add a link to your Goodreads Author page, add links to your author newsletters or blog posts. And if your website is on your products, you have walking advertising out there in the world when people buy your goods.

To last and do well in the long term, we need to think outside the box and take advantage of all the opportunities on offer. Merchandise is just another thread that can be used to make your brand stronger. We should not shy away from it, we should embrace it.

What do you think? Would you be willing to sell merch for a profit? Do you have a merchandising store already? Let us know in the comments.

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