How to Use Merchandise Sales on your Website to Make Money and Grow Your Brand

In today’s economy, it’s a given that relying on a single stream of income is risky business. For authors, that means looking at your books as content and finding ways to slice and dice your creative work into other methods of consumption such as audiobooks, serials, or paid newsletters. 

Having multiple channels of distribution and revenue for your books is a smart start. But how can you expand and maximize your sales potential without carving too deeply into precious writing time? The answer could be the addition of a merchandise store to your website to delight your fans, expand your brand, and reliably increase your bottom line. 

What’s for Sale? 

Fans love merch. Posters, key chains, magnets, stickers, and notebooks have all become staples at Comic-Con and other public events. 

For diehard fans, it’s a way to identify themselves to one another and feel part of an inner circle. To satisfy that audience, it’s common for traditional publishers to offer mugs, hats, stickers, and other swag on an author’s website, for sale or as promotional giveaways. On Leigh Bardugo’s website, for example, you can purchase a plethora of items related to her Grishaverse like Darkling socks and Six of Crows tote bags. They often run contests for autographed and one-of-a-kind items. 

How Indie Authors Can Ride This Wave

Technologically speaking, indie authors have the same capabilities at their disposal. With free website builders like Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress, innovative authors offer a multitude of products directly for sale or download from their website like signed books, collector’s editions, downloadable chapters, free novellas in PDF format, and audio copies.

Some have expanded their ecommerce store to include branded merchandise using dropship companies like Printful and Art of Where, which allow you to create customized products like mugs, t-shirts, tote bags, stickers, mousepads, hats, keychains, and hundreds of other products. These items are displayed alongside any other merchandise you have for direct sale or download, creating a one-stop-shop for your fans.  

Let’s walk through the process of installing a shop on your site, choosing products you wish to sell, how to source the images and proper licensing rights to use on those products, and then see how it all fits together in an ecommerce store.

Platform First

WordPress is undoubtedly the website design platform that most authors use, and the WooCommerce plugin is also free to install and use to set up a basic shop. Most web hosts meet the requirements for use, which you can check here: https://docs.woocommerce.com/document/server-requirements/

Once installed, the basic setup wizard will walk you through establishing  the required pages of your shop with just one-click, including the storefront, shopping cart, checkout page and privacy policy, which you can customize if needed. Out of the box, they’ll match your current site’s theme, branding and colors. 

Beyond the basics, you’ll only need to finish configuring your tax and shipping parameters, depending on what you plan to sell. Taxes can get a little tricky, and it’s best that you check with your tax professional to confirm how to remain compliant in your own country and local jurisdiction. 

Once you’ve installed and configured WooCommerce, it’s just a matter of adding the products you wish to sell. WooCommerce comes with the ability to sell tangible products that you ship to your customer, such as signed copies of your books, and intangible products, further classified as virtual products (such as a subscription or a video meet-and-greet), and downloadable products, (as a pdf file). An e-book, for example, would be both virtual, since it’s not shipped, and downloadable. 

Merging WooCommerce and BookFunnel

If you plan to sell e-books from your website, you can configure the delivery of those files via WooCommerce. It’s a seamless transaction and easy to set up. However, the burden of support lies with you. If someone has trouble loading their file onto an e-reader, you’ll be the one answering those frustrated emails, which can be time-consuming. 

BookFunnel offers a solution. With a few additional steps outlined on their website at https://authors.bookfunnel.com/help/setup-woocommerce, you can sell from your website and pass the burden of support and delivery to them. It’s the best of both worlds—you keep the customer details for future marketing purposes, and BookFunnel handles the technical side of delivery and support requests. 

Dropship Like It’s Hot

Once you have WooCommerce configured you might choose to expand and sell branded merchandise. The easiest way to create branded products to sell on your own website store is to use a reputable dropship company. With a dropship company, you create an account and choose the products from their catalog, which are then displayed for sale on your site. When a customer places an order from your website, you take payment and then pay the dropshipping company to create the customer order on demand. 

The dropship company ships the order directly to your customer without branding. This is known as “white-labeling.” Some companies will let you upload your own logo and messaging to include on the printed invoices inside the packaging of your customer’s order. 

From the dropship company’s website you’ll choose the products you want to sell, and the images you want on those products to create a product template. You’ll also set up the payment method you wish to keep on file, because you will pay the dropship company for your customer’s order after your customer pays you, pocketing the difference. 

An Image is Worth Whatever Someone is Willing to Pay

Before you dive in and create a million coffee mugs with your own logo, take a step back and think about what kinds of products your customers will want to collect and purchase. Chances are your logo isn’t a hot collectable yet, so you’ll want to start with other images that have a better chance of being desired. Is there a quote from your novel that’s been highlighted many times? You could consider creating some word art and adding it to mugs or t-shirts. If you’ve created a fantasy world, you could commission artwork of your map.  

Once you’ve decided on what kind of artwork could be successful to sell in your shop, be sure you have the legal right to use it. You can review this article on copyright to confirm. 

Connecting Dropship Dots

If you’re using a dropship company, they ship the products directly to your customer, so you’ll want to be sure you charge your customer properly. To make it simple, many companies provide a plugin which connects a live shipping calculator and charges the customer the correct rate automatically. 

The last required setup item is how you’ll accept payment from your customers. WooCommerce currently lists 67 payment options on its website, and you can choose the one that best works for your business needs.

Pro Tip: If you currently accept PayPal for your business, this is the easiest way to accept payments without much extra work. If you keep PayPal on file with Printful you’ll have one central account for incoming and outgoing transactions, and your bookkeeper will thank you for keeping it simple. 

Plugins to the Rescue

Once you have a basic WooCommerce setup, the last piece to connect is the dropship company. Printful makes it very simple with their own plugin, which will import all the products you’ve created on their site, and will keep them updated if you add new ones. 

In addition to calculating shipping in real-time for your customer, the plugin will automatically place orders on the Printful site when a customer buys from your shop, and trigger order and shipping confirmations to the customer. 

Return on Investment

Once the store is set up, you’ll need to maintain the extra WordPress plugins and ensure they remain up-to-date. Any customer service issues will come to you and not the dropship company, but the companies we list here have a good history of delivery and few issues. 

With a little tech savvy and some creativity, indie authors can create a store to surprise and delight their own fans. Beyond that, it’s possible to create an income stream that requires minimal maintenance and expands your brand. 

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