Should You Set up a eStore to Sell Stuff to Promote your Book?

In Love by Christmas (Bloodsong 3)

In Love by Christmas (Bloodsong 3) This is actually 20" X 30", a poster mounted on a board by Costco.

After having mugs made with images of my covers on them for Christmas gifts (an adventure), and designing a calendar for my own use yesterday (arm still aches from too much computer time), and completely giving up on ordering T-shirts from one manufacturer, I got the probably masochistic idea of  starting a store on my site. I’ve been researching that possibility and wanted to ask my readers who’ve tried it if it was worth it in terms of financial reward or anything else. Satisfaction? Also,  which services are best–I’ve got some experiences to share on this.  Well, if anyone has anything to share, please do.

My experience working with some of the main “swag”–stuff used to market books or anything–providers is below. My words aren’t a comprehensive review. I’ve included links to a few sites that thoroughly evaluate more of the various POD “printing stuff”  services, including those I mention below.  All are worth studying.

Tested: Best Sources for Company Schwag Evaluates 5 of the biggies.

Printaholic.com 2015 T-shirt rankings. Interesting. T-shirts only here. The “usual suspects” are reviewed, but they don’t end up in the order you’d expect.

Printaholic.com’s overall best 2015 rankings. They review all print-related stuff: business cards, photos, brochures, T-shirts. Definitely something to look at.

Listio’s 2008 comparison of printing and merchandising Very thorough ranking of 4 top services with comparison table and screenshots of what the sites look like and how easy they are to use. It’s from 2008; don’t seem to have done one since. They rank the sites overall and talk about site useability and the market the site seems pitched at. I.e.; kids (young people) vs. adults.  Interesting rankings.

 PRINT PERFECTION: “Our platform handles the purchasing, management, and fulfillment your company’s branded swag.” Interesting to know about if you decide to go into the swag game with a vengeance. They handle merchandising and giveaways of “A wide variety of tools to help you easily run swag marketing campaigns:”

And now I hear from Valerie Douglas that YOLA.COM will set up a whole website store for you, for free, it looks like. Whoa.

You can explore these and do your own searches. I searched Google for “ZAZZLE, VISTA PRINT OTHER WHICH IS BETTER FOR MERCHANDISE STORE”

Here’s my experience with these places:

This is a handout for our "Holiday Potpourri at the Grange" I made the post on Photoshop and had reproduced as an 8" X 12" one-sheet and a big 20" by 30" image mounted on board for the sandwich board out front. CLICK THIS IMAGE: IT'S PRETTY FULL SIZE.

COSTCO PHOTO CENTER: I use this service on-line. The Photo section is separate from the rest of Costco. To get to it, sign in on your Costco account (which means you set up a password and give them your email),  and hit Costco Photo on the menu bar at top. You’ll be presented with a bewildering array of choices of stuff they make with photos.

I use them for BIG poster boards using my book covers. I display these at events and speaking engagements. (These are posters of my covers mounted to a stiff board. You can put them on easels or tripods or lean them against walls.) When I’m done speaking, I leave the big blow ups around my family room where I work. Seeing my covers writ large subconsciously reinforces that SOMETHING will come from my efforts.  We had a “literary salon”, an authors’, musicians’, and artist’s event, locally before Christmas. I made 2 of the 20 X 30″ versions of our announcement for sandwich boards outside the building. One is in my family room now. Again, makes it real.

If you want to make a poster, ask your book designer for a 16 X 20 @300 dpi version of the cover, or 20″ X 30″ if you’re feeling expansive. Some designers charge for this, others don’t. What you upload to COSTCO is what you get, so if upload a 16″ X 20″ image at 72 dpi or save a 72 dpi image at 300 thinking it will work, your image will look lousy printed, no matter who prints it.

CALENDARS AT COSTCO: They do really big, high quality calendars. I’ve ordered them for years, using the book de jour for the images. I use covers, photos of the characters and locations I’ve downloaded, new author photos, etc. This is more “Make it real”, but I love to look at my covers. A new image every month is great. Costco also allows you to customize individual days with photos and text. You can put hearts or your book’s heart-throb hero in on Valentines.  Or your real-life sweetie’s photo! Pictures of family members on their birthdays. For instance, I used a photo of my dad in uniform for Veteran’s Day. This type of customization is not particularly hard to do, just requires attention to detail.

If you do videos for your books, this is a terrific use of the images you produce for the videos. Make ‘em the photo of the month!

EASE OF USE of Costco’s photo system? Horrible. Drives me crazy. The size the COSTCO calendar I like has 14″ W X 11″ H images. What I upload has to be that size at 300 dpi to fill the calendar page. Books are typically 6″ X 9″ high, which means I have to use the high resolution poster size image and cut it down or do some fancy Photoshopping with the 6″ X 9″. Assembling the images takes forever, as does loading and arranging them on the calendar’s pages.

The way the Costco calendar system works, you create an album for each project. To upload, you click the album title and select the images. Then you have to select the album again when you upload the image(s), or it makes a new album. I forgot that second click every other time and ended up with about 8 or 9 albums, all with one or two pics in them. Took a while to figure out where my photos were, but I did. You can move the photos to the right album and delete the superfluous albums later, after you’ve found them.

So, steep learning curve. Products can be delivered to your local Costco warehouse in a week to ten days. No shipping with this option, and you don’t have to pay until you see and approve the calendar if you do this.

With all the hassle, I love my calendars and the pain of creating them fades quickly. The one I chose ended up costing $20 and change, including tax, picked up at my local Costco.

COSTCO ENLARGEMENTS: Easiest and cheapest I’ve seen. Upload at photos at home, order on line, pickup in the warehouse an HOUR later. I now use Costco enlargements of my cover images as the front of my press packets. Slick and NICE. I did an 8″ X 12″ One Sheet on Photoshop and printed it at Costco. It looks way better than one printed at a print shop: it’s a photo. Clear and distinct as clear can be.

With all it’s foibles, I love Costco, but haven’t used the other services as much. VISTAPRINT, ZAZZLE and the others also do calendars and enlargements. Maybe not big poster banners, but …

A BIG BUT–if you want to have a gallery or store from which you can sell the stuff you make, Costco doesn’t offer it. I use the calendars, etc. for my own use. Bears searching elsewhere.

ZAZZLE IS A TOP-RANKED CUSTOMIZABLE/CUSTOMIZED SUPPLIER OF ALMOST EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE PRINTED. They have lots of calendars, both to buy as is and to do up yourself. One pretty similar to the one I ordered from Costco (14″ X 11″ and customizable month image as well as special images for holidays) for $18.95 plus tax was $20.95 at ZAZZLE. It was shaped a bit differently, 11″ W X 17″ H, which is better for working with rectangular book covers. And you can mark them for sale when you design them.  And have your own store. Find out how on the site: search My Own Store. I think I’ll look into this, after plowing through all those evaluations on the sites way above. I don’t think you make much money with ZAZZLE, but set up is free and they DO handle merchandise well. How do I know?

Uh, my initial, well, my first two orders of my own stuff from ZAZZLE were a bust. Which is why I did my calendars with COSTCO rather than ZAZZLE. I ordered T-shirts for my family with my book covers on them for Christmas, having barely enough time before Christmas to get them for the holiday, my typical ordering style. ZAZZLE took the order, then contacted me a week or so later, saying they’d canceled it because I’d used copyrighted material.

Yeah, I had used copyrighted material. COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL THAT I OWNED. I hold the copyrights to the books, their covers, and everything about them.  So, what’s the problem?

“Oh,” replied ZAZZLE, “no problem, now that you explained it. Order again and we’ll make and ship your shirts.” By this time, they couldn’t produce and ship the T-shirts by Christmas. Also, when I ordered the first time, the shirts were on 40 or 50% off. The sale was over when the snafu got cleared up. They offered me 15% off the second time around. Sorry, not good enough. Got my dander up.

DOING T-SHIRTS ON ZAZZLE: I would make sure I had plenty of time to get my images together, and carefully read Zazzle’s guidelines for image quality. I couldn’t find any more than “Use 300 dpi.” Maybe there’s more. Remember: they run sales all the time, so get 40 or 50% off when you order. If you miss a sale, you can get the next one.

With my next order, I will include a statement that I own the copyrights to my book covers.  I wrote a note to ZAZZLE after they cancelled my order, proving that I had the copyrights.  I put links to my Amazon page, my websites, my blogs and offered to send them screen shots of the books’ copyright pages and documentation from my designers that I held the copyrights. ZAZZLE said that was fine and agreed to do the T-shirts. Too late. If I order a T-shirt from them again, I will include all this at the start.

You can do the same, telling them what happened to me and that you don’t want our order delayed the same way. (You do own the the copyrights, don’t you? Different designers work in different ways. Note that this order was not for sale, just for gifts. I don’t have the right to make swag with the Mogollon cover. My contract with the model/actor on the cover precludes sale of the image on secondary products.)

QUALITY OF T-SHIRTS ON ZAZZLE: I knew about the quality of custom T-shirts from ZAZZLE, having ordered a T-shirt for my husband from them. Wendy Potocki had some wonderful shirts designed her Halloweenpaloosa promotion in October.   I ordered a shirt from that promotion from ZAZZLE, and put the cover of my Vanessa Schierman PhD, WITCH, on the back. Vanessa Schierman PhD, WITCH was my long short-story contribution to Wendy’s promo. If you click Vanessa, you’ll be taken to my website, where you can download the short story I wrote for Wendy’s promo for free. It’s cool. I’m going to augment it with more short stories over the year, hopefully generating a book.

ZAZZLE did a high quality T-shirt with a great printing job.

These are the first mugs that arrived from Zazzle. Print is so bad you can't read it. Images are blurred and the wrong colors.

MUGS FROM ZAZZLE: Another painful story. Also for Christmas gifts, I ordered porcelain mugs with images from my book covers on them.

I LOVE PORCELAIN MUGS! So much lighter and more elegant than those honkin’ earthenware ones that break your arm to lift and chip if you look at them. ZAZZLE has some really pretty porcelain mugs that you can customize with your own images. If you order during a 50% off sale, they’re a great buy.

I put together an order for my family and uploaded it, Photoshopping up some images of the right size and resolution. Very quickly, THE THINGS arrived. They were my mugs, but with distorted colors, illegible print, smears in the design. The physical porcelain mugs were GREAT, but the artwork was mangled.

I complained and asked for a refund. Didn’t want to go through another round of the above, so I asked for my money back. This takes way longer than a store credit, but I didn’t want to try again.

By pure happenstance, my description of what was wrong with the mugs and why I wanted my money back specifically outlined their problems. I waited for my refund, arms crossed, toes tapping.

They sent me a whole new order and they were perfect! And in time for Christmas, too! Which made me think, “Why didn’t you do this the first time?”

If I were to order porcelain (also known as fine bone China) mugs again or ANY mugs, which I would, I’d put a note in my order: Please make sure the print is legible and colors and the design are not distorted. I’d tell the story of my first order right off. And also tell them that I had the copyrights.

I learned about design from this. My first few mugs I designed with the specified 3.25″ high X 3.25″ W image and applied it one on one side of the design area. Since book covers are 6″ X 9″, the 3.25″ corresponded to the 9″ high dimension, the reduced size graphic was narrower than 3.25″– about 2.2″ wide by the 3.25″ high.

After doing a few pieces with single images, I discovered somewhere on the ZAZZLE site that I could use a 7.25″ W X 3.25″ H image on the mug I was using. After that, I Photoshopped a 7.25″ W X 3.25″ H canvas  and put TWO images on it, pushing them to the outside of the 7.25″ canvas. Loaded, that gives you an image on the mug’s front and back, very slick. You can use the same image, different ones, or two colorways of one cover. Ultra cool.

I’d definitely use ZAZZLE for T-shirts and mugs, with the caveats noted.

VISTAPRINT is another highly rated purveyor of customized print materials. I’ve used Vistaprint for One Sheets (single one-page sell sheets) for my books and for post cards. Both were adequate. I’ve also used Tu-Vets (they’ve since retired) and SIMPLY BROCHURES. They were AMAZING… HEAVY PAPER, GLOSSY BOTH SIDES, killer color. Way better quality cost way way more than Vistaprint. Unfortunately, you had to order A LOT. Vistaprint was fine for the small jobs and I didn’t end up with 500 extra copies.

I tried to used VISTAPRINT for T-shirts after my fiasco with ZAZZLE. I found that they had LOTS of information about the graphics that should be supplied for the T-shits and templates for the images. I didn’t find these on ZAZZLE and thought that I might not have had the problem with the mugs had ZAZZLE included stuff about CMYK color instead of RGB.

Whatever. I found VISTAPRINT specified the image for the T-shirt had to be 12″ X 12″ CMYK color, and 300 dpi. OK. Book covers are 6″ X 9″. You may have a poster size you can cut down, but you’re going to have to do some major surgery, including butchering its design, to get your cover to 12 X 12. I designed one T-shirt out of about 10 that I wanted to order and gave up. It sat in my shopping cart until Vistaprint removed it. (Checking, it’s STILL there.)

Well,  having created another monster blog post which doesn’t fully cover the subject, I’m going to wind down. What was the subject?

What does having a store on one’s website or anywhere do for an author’s career? Does such a store even make sense? My interest in my book covers is likely to be higher than anyone else in the universe’s. Does a demand for T-shirts with Leroy Watches’ image on it, or Will Duane’s, or Elizabeth Bright Eagle’s exist?

Did my relatives even appreciate the mugs I gave them? Would they order calendars or mouse pads or mugs or anything else I might turn out if they didn’t know me? If they did?

That is the question, as is: Does the investment in time to get all this stuff set up pay off in monetary reward? Don’t have the answers, but if you have more experience, I look forward to hearing for you.

Ciao,
Sandy Nathan my website
my interactive website
my FB author page
my Amazon Author page

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