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Bookstores are busy with shoppers buying presents for the holiday season right now. They're buying books, but they're also buying merchandise related to those books or author brands.
Many indie authors have got to grips with producing ebooks, print-on-demand and audio, but we're only just starting to look into merchandise. In today's show, Melissa Addey will give you some ideas.
In the introduction, I talk about the implication of veteran publishing industry consultant, Mike Shatzkin's comment: “publishers can literally reach most of the customers in the world through two intermediaries, Amazon and Ingram.”
Plus Amazon Go, why you should buy Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, why I appreciate the Echo Dot (Alexa) after initial resistance, Enid Blyton as a trademark, and my limited time deal on the London Psychic trilogy. Plus, check out the next set of free webinars here.
This show is sponsored by everyone who supports on Patreon. Thank you so much for your generous support of the show! I'll keep doing it if you keep loving it 🙂 If you'd like to support the podcast, you can get access to ask questions for the extra Q&A monthly audio for less than a coffee a month. Click here to support the show on Patreon.
Melissa Addey writes historical fiction, nonfiction and magazine articles. She has a master's degree in innovation and has worked in product and packaging development as well as business mentoring. In 2016, she has been working as Leverhulme Trust's Writer in Residence at the British Library based in the business and intellectual property center and her latest book is Merchandise for Authors: Engage your readers while increasing your income.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Why merchandise matters for authors
- The difference between products and merchandise
- Mistakes to avoid with merchandise
- Where to find designers and others to help with creating merchandise
- Intellectual property issues to watch out for when creating merchandise
- Recommendations for where to get merchandise and products made
- Merchandising clauses in contracts to watch out for
You can find Melissa at www.MelissaAddey.com and on Twitter @MelissaAddey
Transcript of Interview with Melissa Addey
Joanna: Hi everyone, I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I'm here with Melissa Addey. Hi, Melissa.
Melissa: Hello Joanna.
Joanna: It's great to have you on the show, just a little introduction.
Melissa writes historical fiction, nonfiction and magazine articles. She has a master's degree in innovation and has worked in product and packaging development as well as business mentoring. In 2016, she has been working as Leverhulme Trust's Writer in Residence at the British Library based in the business and intellectual property center and her latest book is “Merchandise for Authors: Engage your readers while increasing your income.” All of which I have to put in the introduction because it's so interesting.
Melissa, why don't you start by telling us a bit more about your background and how story and business have intersected in your own history and how you got into writing?
Melissa: I spent about 15 years in the business world mostly for retailers. So Sainsbury's and M&S and people like that, first doing a lot of product innovation and packaging design and development. And then after that I was mentoring entrepreneurs for a number of years, and that was a really fun job, because I just met all these entrepreneurs and they tell me their story, and I try to find ways of helping them.
We had a grant giving program that we were doing at the time. And I think that rubbed off eventually because when I started doing more and more of my own writing I suddenly thought, “Well, yeah, let's go indie, let's do it my way.” Because I think it just rubbed off on me the way that they thought about things and the way that they treated their work as a business, and I thought that was a really interesting way of doing things.
And just at the point where I managed to go full time with two small children, so it's not very full time. But at the point where I managed to do that with the writing, I got the chance to be at the British Library which was amazing. It's been the most brilliant year.
But with them it was great because they have the business and IP center. We did this binge which talked about the twin things of storytelling for business and business for storytellers. So it was looking at writers being much more entrepreneurial and businesslike about their work, and looking at businesses trying to be more creative and trying to find a way to tell their stories better.
So, that was brilliant for me because at the point where I was moving from the business to the writing I had a chance to bring the two things together, and work with other people on it and run workshops and think through my ideas.
On the storytelling side for the businesses we came up with the storytelling entrepreneur, which is about how they can tell their stories better, but on the authorial side we came up with the book about merchandise.
Because I wondered how come all these writers aren't creating their own products, aren't doing their merchandise? When for indie filmmakers, and for indie bands that's a big thing that's something they do. So how come the writers aren't doing it?
And if you go and look at literary merchandise somewhere for example like Etsy you'll see a ton of the stuff. It's mostly for old dead writers because they're out of copyrights, everyone can make money from their work. So that's fair enough but it shows that there's a demand out there.
It shows that people who love books also like having the products that go with those books. And so I thought, okay, let's find a way of making that merchandise development interesting and easier for writers who might be new to it.
Joanna: You started to talk there a bit about why authors should consider merchandise, you've mentioned that there is a demand and that's totally true. I bought my husband some cufflinks made from the text of “Lord of the Rings.” Which actually probably is not allowed. Well, “Lord of the Rings” is still I think in copyright, but they were using the kind of cast of pages from book. So that's probably on the line of being sensible.
Give us some other reasons why authors should consider merchandise in the first place, like what are the benefits?
Melissa: In my mind I have a list of five things that you should be doing. The number one thing is it should bring in some income because all writers appreciate income. And so that's a good way of starting off to think it could bring in some income. That means that you need to check if it's gonna be profitable.
There is no point at all in you creating all kinds of fantastic products and merchandise that aren't profitable, because in that case they're just gifts, which is lovely, but you can't just be handing out gifts to everybody and interminably that's not very good business. So that's one item.
They need to add to your credibility, so they need to either draw the readers further into your world, so that's about in harnessing the reader experience. For example, if you teach creative writing, you might have something like a creative writing prompt or a book about it or something like that. So it's enhancing your credibility.
It can increase your readership because if someone comes across the product before they come across your books, they're gonna think, “Well, this is a fantastic product, so where is this coming from? Where are the books?” And so then they're going to go and find your books, so that's a way of increasing your readership.
And it can increase your visibility because it doesn't really matter if the person buying your product doesn't like necessarily your genre for example, because they become aware of you and that means they can spread the word about you. Because you don't know who they know who will say, “Oh, but I really love such and such a genre.” And they'll go, “Oh, I know this writer because I've got some of their items.” That's a way of thinking about is a piece of merchandise worth investing the time in, if it can do some and preferably all of those things, then you're onto a winner.
Joanna: That's great. And I know people listening are going, “Ah, but I'm not a designer and how do I make this stuff?” We're going to come to these things, people listening. So don't worry about that, we're just proceeding slowly.
The next question would be you mentioned to check if it would profitable. In the romance authors' space right now a lot of romance authors do a lot of what you were mentioning there would be more like gifts. Like they're doing merchandise based on their books, but it's more of a fan giveaway type thing.
Is that the difference between merchandise and a product or how are you defining merchandise and products?
Melissa: So merchandise and products. I'm gonna use the Harry Potter books because it just makes it very easy to explain.
If you create a product that's a piece of merchandise because it belongs to the Harry Potter world, and it draws you the reader deeper into that world.
If, on the other hand, J.K. Rowling was bringing out a range of notepads that's relevant to her as a writer, but it's not actually anything to do with the Harry Potter world, that's a product. It's just a product and that's fine because some people have products rather than merchandise, but that's the difference between the two.
People talk interchangeably about them as well and I do as well, but it's just worth bearing in mind what is it you want the item to do. Is it just a nice product that you're gonna sell that has some relevance to you generally as a writer? Or is it a piece of merchandise? In which case it needs to enhance the reader's feeling and connection to the world that you've created.
Joanna: That's really interesting.
What would those cufflinks be then with the text of Tolkien?
Melissa: I would say that that was leading you into the world because it's reminding you when you're looking at that it's reminding you something of that. It's reminding you that that is the text that you've enjoyed that brings you back to it.
Haruki Murakami has a diary app that is basically just a simple calendar app, but what it has in there is little references to his books, little quotes from them. He's even got some exclusive stories. So, again, that's pulling you back to him to his text to his world that he's created.
Joanna: I can see you've given us a few examples there, the wand, the notebook, the app. And again people are starting to think, “Oh my goodness, that might be too expensive”. And on the other end of the scale one thing I think is kind of pointless is so many authors seem to spend money on bookmarks, which I think of the sort of the probably the cheapest thing you can do but possibly the most useless.
What are some other examples of merchandise that wouldn't break the bank and maybe some other like really cool examples?
Melissa: The best one I've come across so far which I actually saw it was wonderful is actually in the book and it's one called Catherine J. Martin, she's an author and a speaker in America. She does a lot of talking and when she does, she has this poem that she wrote and it's about kind of time passing by, families coming and going and all sorts of things, and all sorts of reflection on life generally.
All she does is she has this copied on to really nice quality paper and she has it available when she speaks, and she says it's available for a donation $1, $3, that kind of thing. And almost everybody always gets it and sometimes they get multiple copies of it and they frame it, and they give it to friends and it's… just because it's a very heartfelt piece and it goes with what she's talking about.
Now, you think that is pence to make that item and yet people are happy to buy it for a couple of dollars. And that has gone for years and years, and years and use this poem and it's doing wonderfully well for her. And it just ties in very well to who she is and what she's talking about.
I think that is my favorite example of something that just costs practically nothing and is doing very well decade after decade, so that's that one in terms of crazy expensive, but pretty amazing stuff.
I did just see that you can buy the throne from “Game of Thrones”. It weighs 159 kilos that's like 300 plus pounds. It costs 20,000 pounds and it takes eight weeks delivery, because they've got to make it for you. But if that's your big thing, then go for it. But I did find that one quite amusing really.
Joanna: Do you know what? It can't be the throne for 20 grand. Because I'm already thinking that would be really cool. I think they must be replicas, you know, like they do replica of the one.
Melissa: I think it must have to be.
Joanna: Yeah, it has to be a replica. My husband does have a one ring for New Zealand but like all these shops selling the one ring. It's like it's not the one ring, they have lots of them.
Melisa: I think for the “Game of Thrones” you don't even have to find it or anything.
Joanna: You just get it. But that's really interesting because I'm not gonna spend 20 grand on that throne, but I bet you, they sell thousands of them.
Melissa: I bet there are some people out there.
Joanna: I think there will be people really up for that. The poem is really interesting because so many times I've said on this show poets write for love not money. What you've just given there is an example of a poet or, you know, she does other things, she's not directly only doing poetry, but using a poem in some kind of merchandise is brilliant, and actually it's how people feel. So, what she's doing is you felt something about this poem, so now you want to take it away with you.
I think creating merchandise around emotional aspects of your work is probably the way forward.
Melissa: Yes, absolutely. I think if you want to find merchandise within your own books, thinking about the feeling that you want to evoke is a very good way to start, especially for nonfiction.
For nonfiction it works really well to think what is the feeling that people are buying this book for? Are they trying to help themselves be a better something or another a parent, lover, whatever? Are they trying to feel better about themselves or are they trying to feel better about the world whatever it is? The feelings are very important especially for a nonfiction.
And then I think for fiction that can be important as well that feeling perhaps of being swept away into a new world or something. And also thinking about those senses and going through your work and thinking to yourself for each of my senses, what could draw me into the world that I've created. So, is it something you could eat, is it something you would look at, is it some sort of texture, the sounds, the smells, those sorts of things?
Joanna: That's super cool. I think we kind of use up a lot of our imagination on the book itself, and you asked at the beginning, “Why aren't more authors doing this stuff?” And I think it's almost that we assume that the words are the product like are the end of the product. And also I think we don't necessarily know what people might buy. So, you interviewed a lot of people for the book and I imagine that some of the mistakes were not checking people might actually buy this stuff.
What are some of the mistakes that people have made with merchandise?
Melissa: Yes, one, just generally not being profitable. That is a mistake just straight from the start. One lovely author, she did a really nice little kind of like a postcard with a little image thing and a map and it was really cute but she didn't package it as for sale. And so people kind of came to events that she did and then just went, “Oh that's nice, I'll just take that home then.” And she's going, “Actually, you know.” And so that was just a tiny mistake, but what she did then was find nice little like plastic bags that you could put into like a little slip cover, and put the price on it. And then immediately that becomes a product for sale rather than people just thinking it's something they can just take. So, that was an error not to make.
And another one that I liked was an author who did a beautiful coloring book, an adult coloring book based on his take on “Alice in Wonderland”, which was kind of a game book with choices and things. And the coloring book is beautiful, but the drawings were taken directly from the book, and they were too shaded in. There wasn't enough space for you to do your coloring really, it was too dark. However, that book sold so incredibly well for him. So, he's definitely doing more of them, but he's gonna have two sets of drawings done one that's not shaded in and one that is.
Joanna: Yeah, that's great. And you mentioned the sets of drawings done. And this is the point, because I know people are sitting there going, “But I am a writer, I don't do design work.”
How can people find a designer? What is the best way to do that before we get to the kind of the website you can get stuff made?
Melissa: Sure. Some writers do also illustrate and I think they've just got the merchandise kind of on a silver platter for them, so they're good. But for the rest of us that can't even draw sick people, you can do things like for example, go on Fiverr and find people who are designers, illustrators.
There's a guy who does writing maps, he's called Shaun Levin and he does beautiful maps. They open up and they've got all different writing prompts for creative writers. And he uses different designers each time and he often gets them from Fiverr and he'll look and see what kind of work if they've done already. Does it fit with his image of what those maps should contain? So that can be a really good way forward.
Obviously, they ask other people if you see someone who's had a really nice piece of illustration done for them, then that's a good way to get somebody that's recommended. But that can be a way of finding illustrations or finding illustrator as well, whose work you've seen in books and contact them and see if they'd like to do work together.
Joanna: I'll mention a previous sponsor of the show 99designs.com/joanna. Yeah, 99designs do a lot of this merchandise stuff design or graphic designers in general. So there are lots of graphic designers who are now doing book cover design, who were originally graphic designers and this is definitely an area that I would see many of the designers getting into all the time.
Joanna: Let's also talk about IP rights to the copyright of images. Obviously, if you commission something, then you're getting something original.
But what should people watch out for when using images on merchandise?
Melissa: So first of all, you need to make sure that if, for example, you've used an image from an image bank, you need to check under what conditions did you get agreement to use that. And quite often some images can be licensed. For example for your website just to illustrate something nice, but they don't actually want you to use it in a commercial way in terms of selling that image on. So that's something that you always need to check.
They do obviously have licenses as well for using it commercially. So it's just checking if you buy it from an image bank which license you bought it under. And certainly if you're commissioning someone making sure that those rights are coming to you and that you're able to carry on using them. So, it's that's worth checking.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. As writers who make money from our copyright, from our intellectual property rights, it's so important that we get this image stuff correct. I really urge people to look at your license. For example I use Big Stock Photo to get images for the website, but like you mentioned they have a license on them.
Also, sometimes the images we get for our book covers might only be licensed for say 100,000 copies and that might sound a lot but you never know something takes off.
I was talking with my designer, we used one of the images we use on a number of books is a couple running and we use that on a number of books. So, obviously if you use the same image on a number of books, you're gonna sell more and then at some point we were like, “Oh we might actually need to buy now the license for that image.”
Melissa: Yes, you might run out a lot quicker than you were expecting to.
Joanna: Exactly, so I really want people to note this as a very important fact for your website.
Another little story; a friend of mine recently had a guest post from somebody on her website and the person submitted an image with a guest post, that she assumed had been checked for the royalty free. And then she got an invoice from Getty Images for like a $1000 because this person had just taken an image off the internet. And Getty as you know, people listening is the most expensive image license out there.
Melissa: Oh, no.
Joanna: This is a big deal.
Melissa: Yeah, you do need to be careful about this kind of thing. You need to know where an image comes from and who's got the rights to it.
Joanna: Yeah, so just something really simple like a mug. I just recently did one on society6.com though I haven't actually really talked about very much or tried to sell. It has sold a couple of copies. Julie Haas, who's been on this show recommended society6.com.
What are the best places for doing this kind of print-on-demand merchandise which will cost a lot less than getting stuff made?
Melissa: Yes, I think just as we've had the print on demand with books, so people who are used to that will understand the concept that now you can have that on products.
In the book I talk about Azov and Cafe Press as two of the possible places, just because they have a lot of products available that you can have brand. I mean, they've got the guitar picks all the way through to kitchen clock, so they have a really, really wide range of things.
It's very straightforward and very simple to understand how it works and you have your own kind of little shop within their shop, which obviously you can link to from your website. So that's a nice straightforward simple one.
There are then also tons and tons of websites who do more niche products or they've got particular areas that they're interested in.
There's a lovely one called SpoonFlower and they do fabric, so you can design your own fabric. You can design a little kits for people to go and make like a pair of pajamas or a bag, and they will send out all the stuff that goes with it. So the fabric and the instructions and all the rest of it. So, there are places that specialize in particular things.
There's even a place I like going there and that's why I like talking about them called Harvey Maria. And they do vinyl flooring and you can have any image you want put onto a vinyl floor, and then they'll just send it to you ready for your bathrooms floor whatever. So I've got a little pad on my floor, but you could have the cover of your book if you are very egocentric, or something relevant to your books which might be fun.
Joanna: I think the point there is that there are more and more options for this type of print-on-demand. I've had Kevin on to talk about 3D printing and he was mentioning now that if you don't have a 3D printer in your house, you just upload the pattern to, I can't remember the website name, but then they print it and it arrives in the post.
Melissa: I know it's amazing.
Joanna: It is, so this is the thing I mean and it's funny and again people are like, “Why is Joanna Penn talking about physical products?” Because I've been so digital for years. But I think it's really interesting. Now let's take it further.
Obviously with print-on-demand as we know with print books you get lower profits. I mean, you don't have to pay upfront, but your profit is lower. So what if somebody goes, “Look, I know that I can sell 2000 mugs because I'm gonna do this particular event, or I'm gonna give them away in my ticket price for an event or something. So I want 2000 mugs done.”
Where are the places to look if people actually want to do this kind of short production run?
Melissa: If you were looking at doing something more like that, then that would be the moment to go and find a place that is actually much more specific to whatever it is that you want to have made. I know that you were asking me earlier about journals and about how you could have a really beautiful journal made for example, and there's actually a website called brandbook.de/en and they are absolutely beautiful journals, and you can have it customized however you want.
The basic ones start about 14 euros, which isn't that bad. You buy 25 of them as a minimum. But they do just 25 of them, or you can customize them beyond belief. I had quite a bit of fun adding gold to everything and all the end papers were in scarlet and I add all sorts of fancy bits to it.
The more fancy bits you add to it, the more they then go, “Okay, you need to contact us for a bespoke quote.” But the thing about that is that if you can find somewhere that really specializes in something, then they will be able to do you a much more interesting job of it, and also larger quantities for a better deal.
Joanna: That is awesome and for people listening I am really hard core considering doing a premium notebook in 2017. Like in time for the Christmas season, because I use notebooks all the time and a couple of other people I know have come out with these custom notebooks this year.
And as I've mentioned before workbooks are an obvious thing to do with your print on demand nonfiction, but yeah, I think custom notebooks for writers is a really good place to start. And a lot of people are interested in T-shirts.
Do you have specific sort of ideas on T-shirts?
Melissa: There's a big trend at the moment for having like vast quantities of text on it. So it's put like practically the whole book on one T-shirt and they look amazing.
I've seen a fantastic girl on Etsy called Ruby and she does skirts that have got… it's kind of black at the top, but then the bottom part has pieces from “Hamlet” or pieces from “Pride and Prejudice” or whatever, and I just think that was really cool to have your actual text from the book onto pieces of fabric rather than trying to find a special quote from it or something, just having lots of the texts as it looks very graphic, very… it really draws the eye.
Joanna: I think the site's called Teespring, they print on demand T-shirt, would that be right?
Melissa: Specifically for T shirts, yes, but almost all the sites that do products printed on demand will do T-shirts.
Joanna: The only thing I would say on that is like years ago I did do something through Zanzo for a T-shirt and the quality just wasn't there.
One really important point I think if you're going to do merchandise is create one and then buy one yourself.
Joanna: Before you tell anyone, you've got to get one too. I've got here on my desk my creative mug, which is quite cool. But at the moment, there are very few of them, which is awesome.
The other thing is I wanted to talk to you about was contracts and intellectual property rights since you've been in the British Library, which we're gonna be talking about much more on the show in 2017.
I have two examples of interesting people. One is David Morrell of “First Blood” or Rambo fame who came on the podcast and talks about a very important clause that made sure he has been getting a percentage of merchandise associated with Rambo since the 1970s.
And they're about to bring out young Rambo. They're about to start using his stuff all over again. David is smiling all the way to the bank.
Meanwhile, I saw just this weekend Carrie Fisher from “Star Wars” signed away the rights to her image when she was 19 doing the first “Star wars” movie, and she has not had any money from her image. Presumably all those action figures and just so much that was done wrong that there.
What other sort of horror stories or good stories have you heard about this sort of causes and what should people watch out for?
Melissa: First of all, if you're being published by a traditional publisher, you need to look at the contract and see what's happening with the merchandising because sometimes it's excluded. So it's not in there at all, so then it's yours to keep.
If it is included in there, you do need to make sure you're getting a percentage of it. If it's been included, but your publisher hasn't done anything with it for quite some time, it's worth contacting them to see if you can get it back. Because if they're not doing anything with it and you're going to create something interesting that might push the book that should be really in their interests as well.
It's worth even if they've been signed away without you realizing it's worth going back and just checking, well, what have they done with it and could you possibly get them back. So that's something worth checking, I think.
Joanna: Yeah, definitely. And if you are going to sign a contract with the publisher, I think it would depend. I've got an idea right now from a whole another series. I think mainly because of this fantastic beast stuff that's been happening with, you know, and this is a great example again, isn't it? Because it was a throwaway kind of comment in one of the books that there was a textbook this guy had written and now they've made this whole new franchise out of a textbook mentioned in the book.
Melissa: I know it's amazing.
Joanna: It is absolutely amazing. And I guess the question would be what type of publisher are you signing with? If you're signing with a small boutique press, it's very unlikely they're gonna have the size and scale to actually merchandise your book.
For example, I would love my ARKANE series to be in gaming, because it's very fighting and leveling and some missions and stuff. But a small press is never gonna do that.
Should authors consider what the publisher is doing with merchandising with other books if they're going to sign with someone?
Melissa: Yes, definitely. Just have a look, what do they really do, ask, and what do they already do. And if they're wanting your merchandise, you shouldn't tell someone what are you going to be doing with it. And if that's something that you feel it's got legs that you're happy with and that you want a cut off, and because otherwise you're gonna be cut out of it and you don't know how much that might take off.
Also look at what kind of contacts that they have and what sort of skills do they have for taking it forward. It's not good buying the merchandise, so then they're actually ever do anything with them. That's kind of pointless because you can't benefit. And then they're not gonna do anything with it, so that would be a mistake, I think.
Joanna: I think in the same way we've seen in the indie community we've seen the rise of freelancers, freelance cover design, freelance editing is the kind of basic level, but now there's lots of service companies helping people publish. I think freelance merchandising, I don't know what you would call it like a consultant or like this guy Shaun Levin you mentioned. I went on his website after I read your book and he does take pictures and basically he acts more like a project manager, doesn't he?
Joanna: For organizing merchandise and I think that's a real gap in the market. I would love to sit down with someone and say, “Here are my ideas”, and they're like, “Oh well, we could do this and this and that and the other”, and they'd know all the right sites.
Is there such a thing as a merchandise project manager?
Melissa: Not that I've seen yet, but I think it would be an interesting thing to get into. I think what you want is someone that's got a lot of contacts with the illustrators, with the providers and the manufacturers and who can bring that together in a way that works for each writer.
What I don't really like is very sort of blunt, let's all do a bookmark, let's all do something that isn't very interesting. And then it's just your name on it or something, and it doesn't really pull you into the world or really add to the interest around that author, and that's why I think it's interesting to go more bespoke with that item.
So one of the things that I talk about is if you can have experience vouchers for example that would be an amazing thing, because let's say, that your main character shoots guns a lot you can have someone go to a firing range and actually try what it's like to shoot a gun. Or if somebody goes hot air ballooning, take them on a hot air balloon ride and the link that that will bring to your world and their connection to your character is so strong.
I think that could be a really interesting way to go. And all you need to do in that case is you don't have to set up your own shooting range, you need to find a company that does experience days, and build in some kind of affiliate commission with them. So, you say, “Okay, I'm gonna direct people towards your site because I want them to buy these really interesting vouchers that you do for experiences, because they're relevant to my books. What can we do in terms of a deal? Can you give my readers a discount? Can you give me an affiliate commission?” And I think that could be a really interesting way to go, much more bespoke to a writer.
Joanna: I like that idea.
This is the thing when you actually start kind of brainstorming options there is so much, isn't there?
Melissa: There is lots of ideas, I think. If you sit there and think about what recreates your world and just go wild with your imagination, then actually there's some really cool stuff out there.
Joanna: And just one other thing on the merchandising rights and I'm including gaming in this, which may actually be a derivative right. And I'm still getting into this IP.
I recently got an email asking to have one of my characters in a game. Now, this is a board game, so that might count more as merchandise as opposed to like a digital game. So they said, “Can we have one character?” And even just a few months ago, I would have jumped to that, I would have gone, “Oh that sounds awesome, let's do it.”
But then because of what I've been learning, I learned that this entanglement. If I licensed one character to this company, it might entangle the rights to the rest of the whole world because he was a recurring secondary character. I basically said no.
Do you think I did the right thing?
Melissa: I think what you did was right in terms of you went and found out what is appropriate to that industry, and if there's an issue for them in that particular gaming industry around they want everything or nothing, then that's a good reason to stay clear of it.
If perhaps you could have said, “Okay, I'm classifying that as merchandise not as gaming rights and I want a very distinct…” Maybe a way of creating a contract that was very restrictive, if you like where they go, “Okay, you only have the rights to do this with them not to do anything else with them.”
It could be a way of testing it to say then to go to the gaming industry and go, “You know what? We've tried it on a board game and people love this character, they love the world, they love the idea of it, how about we do the whole world as a game in terms of as a gaming game rather than a board game?” So that might be a way of testing it.
But you do have to be very careful as you said that it doesn't do something that upsets that particular industry, where they would then go, “That's not acceptable within our industry.” It's always worth checking how it works in the specific industry.
Joanna: I think that is awesome and it's so funny because the more I learn about this IP stuff, the intellectual property stuff, the more I think I need to wait. The longer I wait to sign anything, the more knowledge I can gain about these things.
And there's a difference between the do it yourself merchandising, like we've been talking about, or trying to license your world to other companies who might be able to package this stuff.
For J.K. Rowling, she has a company, Pottermore, but there's no way this film and all the merchandise associate with the film are done by Pottermore. She would have licensed that to companies that could do that. And I think for indies this is where we can start thinking about making things a lot bigger.
I was thinking about this like you come from packaging originally, we have to package our world in the way that makes these companies lives easier. If you can present it in a way that they go, “Oh well, that's amazing”, then they're more likely to buy the rights.
Is that the type of thing you've seen and do you have any recommendations for packaging your world?
Melissa: I think in terms of what you're doing for example, I think having an ongoing series is a really useful thing, because that shows that it's not just they've only got scope for this one book and that's it, and then there isn't really much more of a story to tell.
If you've got an ongoing series then that gives other people the opportunity to think, “Well, okay, so that can build into different things that can go on a longer story.”
All of the J.K. Rowling items they've all done long, long books. So, there's seven in the Harry Potter which got turned into eight films and there's a coming five just from us, you said just from a textbook they are gonna have five films. So being able to see that there's that long running element to your world that you've created I think is probably a really nice part of the package.
I think being able to show that you've done some merchandising initially yourself and that there's scope for it is a nice way to show the possibilities behind it. And even the things that you've turned down, the fact that someone's coming to you and said, “Can we do this with your character?” Shows that there's beginning to be a demand to it and an interest in it, so even the opportunities that you turn down in no way help to package your world because they help when you go to make that big pitch or that someone comes to you to talk about it.
That is part of your packaging, is the things that you've turned down as well as the things that you've proven work. And also being able to have characters who are not too restricted in how many characters there are but that they've got a group around them of secondary characters who give more scope for more merchandise for more ideas.
The “Star Wars” franchise helps partly because there's an awful lot of different figurines you can make, it's not just kind of two main people. There's loads of things that you can make into merchandise.
Joanna: This is brilliant. I want to do more on this in 2017. This is an area I'm so interested in, and also just coming back to Carrie Fisher and “Star Wars”, she signed that contract assuming that that would be nothing that that film would be a throwaway film that wouldn't go anywhere. So, she signed a contract just like, “Yeah, yeah whatever.”
I want authors to remember this example because your rights are or can be incredibly valuable. David Morrell with “First Blood” as well when he invented John Rambo that character because has become quite iconic. And when I interviewed David, he was like, “Yeah, you just don't know what is going… 40 years later what's still gonna resonate.”
Melissa: Yeah, that's amazing. The longevity of that builds over time even so that's quite interesting, isn't it? Because even “Star Wars” they did the first three films and you might have thought well that was it, but now there's just more and more and more “Star Wars” works being made.
And there is a problem of course with somebody, I mean, that partly at the time I don't think people realized the sort of scope of what might happen to a film. So it's only examples like that that have made everybody else sit up and go, “Oh, think a bit more carefully before you sign the contract.”
Joanna: Yeah, exactly, wow. So, where can people find you and your books online?
Melissa: So I'm on melissaaddey.com and my books are mostly on Amazon. I do have an audio book because it was a book about 100 things to do while breastfeeding. So that was a better for audio because it worked for breastfeeding mothers. But generally, I'm online and come and have a look at the website, come have a chat.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Melissa that was great.
Melissa: Thank you Joanna.
Just wanted to say, about the ‘Getty Images invoice’, that certain large stock places have been known to issue royalty demands for images they don’t actually own (for example, images that in the public domain) just because they also happen to list them on their site. It’s a lot like those scammers who used to (and maybe still do) send letters to domain owners telling them they had to renew it at $stupidmoney when the domain was actually registered with another company and scheduled to auto renew at the usual (few dollars) price. A big name (or one that sounds like it, eg Nomanet or Domains Registry USA) on a demand doesn’t automatically make it legit. Always do your due diligence 🙂
Theophania Elliott says
Another idea: shopping bags – e.g. calico ones with a printed design. Now there’s the carrier bag charge in the UK, more people are using their own bags. You get extra points if your merchandise is a bag that folds into itself so it’s easy for people to carry wherever they go. I picked one of those up at a conference years ago, and I’m still using it, and advertising the company that was giving them out whenever I go shopping.
I know you weren’t talking about free stuff, but free does also work. A few months ago, an article crossed my desk about how much in freebies it took to change a doctor’s prescribing for three months. The dollar amount (American doctors) was absurdly small. I can probably find the article if you’re interested.
The thing with free, though, is that people will pick up anything if it’s free – and then chuck it away next week if it isn’t either a) useful or b) beautiful.
Bookmarks with authors’ names and book covers on are neither beautiful (unless they’re really stunning covers) nor useful (because most people who read paper books probably already have a lot of bookmarks). Therefore, they’re probably first in the trash.
But if you could design a really beautiful bookmark, people would probably keep that, just to look at, if it was unique enough.
Useful also counts: calendars, pens, mugs, USB sticks. Fifteen years ago, I had a pen with a company’s top-line product name on it and a happy smiley face on the clip. I used that pen till it ran out, and then I jiggered it to put a refill in. I still remember the product it was advertising.
I think for authors, obscurity is our worst enemy: if we can just get people to remember the name, that’s the first step. Give people (or sell them!) an item they can use every day, with your name on it, and they’re more likely to remember who you are. Maybe they’ll even buy a book… 🙂
Sukhi Jutla says
Such great ideas in this comment- thanks for sharing!
You’re very welcome! Let me know if you create some merchandise, I’d love to see it!
Yes, that’s a good point although if you can make something lovely AND useful that they would like to buy then you’ll add a little profit as well and that’s always helpful!
DC Harrell says
Very helpful as I’m looking at a specific jewelry tie in once the series goes live. Thanks!
You’re welcome, so glad you found it useful! Send me a picture when it goes live, I would love to see what you’ve created!
Amy Boyles says
Hi Melissa, say I want to create a very nice journal based on books in a world I’ve created with quotes and what not in them. My first question is who would I get to create it and then how do I sell it? Do I order a bunch and sell from my house or can folks order direct? Thanks so much!
If you are going to have quotes, maybe images, extracts from your books etc. then I would consider working with a good designer to create something using Create Space (or similar) and that would be print on demand. I use Streetlight Graphics in the US as my designer and they are great and of course you can look at Fiverr and 99 designs and so on to find other designers.
If you wanted to customise a journal (say with logos, colours, etc.) but without extracts then https://www.brandbook.de/en/ do some great customisation options but you need to buy a min. of 25.
Hope that helps, let me know if you create something, I love to see what people dream up!
Meg Cowley says
Great ep. Lots of food for thought! 😉
Melissa Addey says
Sue Hollowell says
Excellent show! I have had a chapter book series in mind for a while. Now I’m thinking of a companion board game. I think developing the game will enhance the story. Thank you Joanna and Melissa.
Melissa Addey says
I like the idea of a board game. Do get in touch with the British Library’s Business and IP Centre: they have a special guide to developing board games!
Alex Hallatt says
As a cartoonist, I’m so glad you covered the subject of intellectual property and licensing. If you pay a fiver for an image, you can’t expect to be able to sell merchandise with it without additional compensation for the artist.
Also, very inspired to use my illustrations for more than just my books!
Melissa Addey says
Oh I think if you are an illustrator the possibilities for merchandise are endless… wish I could draw more than stick men! I have a section on artists in the book, because they just have such huge potential. Hope to see something you create!