AUTHORS: Why You Should Have A Book Box For Your Readers & How To Do It
In January 2016, I had a wicked idea to create a subscription box for my readers. Something to hook them in and get them excited. My readership isn't the largest, so I knew I had to start small. Subscription boxes have been the best thing ever for years, but I also knew that I couldn't afford to send boxes out every month. Even though that sounded exciting as hell. Not only did I not have the money, but I had no idea what I would put in a box every month ... just for my books, you know? I couldn't imagine readers would want to subscribe to something like that.
Update: I have written a follow up to this, discussing my second experience with book boxes.
And then the idea for my Fandom Kits was born. This was back in April and I was prepping to release Asylum 54.0. I warped my subscription box idea into a reader box idea. My Fandom/Swag Kits (official name for my boxes, but they can be called anything) are boxes that I send out to my readers with every new book I release. They include a signed book by me, as well as a few custom, limited edition swag items.
In the first Fandom Kit I sent out in July of this year, I included a signed paperback of Asylum 54.0, a 4 oz. candle, a pin button, a book sleeve, a soap bar, a wire-wrapped bookmark, a drawstring totebag, a lollipop, lip balm, and a bath bomb. It was so much stuff that the boxes had to be packed extra tight and my readers wondered how it all fit. I also popped in handwritten thank you cards. My hope was that if I filled the boxes with items that my readers could use outside of my book, they would want to buy it more. And they would hopefully keep buying it with every release. For this reason, I included minimal card stock. Bookmarks and postcards are only fun to an extent. Because, honestly, readers really want the goodies, the good stuff, the oolala. They want things they can't get anywhere else. THAT is what makes them purchase a box, any box.
I sold 50 boxes, total. It was the total number of boxes I had ordered from Packlane and I wasn't really sure I would end up using all of them, but I did! After advertising them heavily on both Facebook and Instagram, I had new readers from the US, UK, Philippines, and Pakistan ordering my Fandom Kit. About a quarter of them had never read my books before, but they loved the cover of Asylum 54.0 and the items in the box, so they took a chance.
I had a "first come, first serve" sort of setup, where once all 50 boxes were gone, I didn't sell any more. I also had my mind set on only doing boxes for starter novels -- the first in a series. That way I could spread out my monies and budget them appropriately, because the custom swag items were not cheap. I repeat, NOT CHEAP.
But my readers asked for more boxes. It was such a fun and unique idea that I had to give in and try it again, which is why I now do Fandom Kits for every book I release. I also go easier on the swag items, and the boxes can be ordered anytime during the year without worry of there being none left. I brand them as "everything you need to become addicted to this fandom" and it works super well. My goal is to create a fun and loving environment/community for fanboys and fangirls to obsess and enjoy my characters. This was something I wanted because I've observed its affects on readers and their favorite authors.
Basically, it works like this: when readers join a fandom, a club, or a group, they become hardcore, lifetime fans. They will tell everyone about it, buy almost anything about it, and read everything about it. Think about some of the most popular fandoms out there right now. Think about your favorite fandoms. I'm 99.9% sure you own at least a t-shirt, a mug, or leggings as a diehard member. And when you find out that someone else is a member too, you freak out because you have someone else to obsess with.
That's also how these boxes work.
You're handing your readers a "kit" that provides them with the books and goodies they need to begin their "fandom crash course." And there is no limitation on the genre you write in. It can be romance, fantasy, dystopian, or utopian. Doesn't matter, a reader box is the way to go. And these are some things to consider before you start sending yours out.
1. THE TOPIC
I decided to create my boxes for each of the books I write in the Bionics Saga. So I'll probably be printing at least 7 different boxes by 2020. Each box matches the book and swag I ship in it, and I decided to do this to add to that "fandom" idea. The boxes themselves will become a collector's item. Something fun for my readers to have on their shelves.
However, you don't necessarily have to do yours that way. Especially if you're a romance author and don't have fandoms, per se. Or if you want to save yourself a lot of money. Some authors decide to keep their boxes similar to their logo and branding. So their box may be something simple with their name on it. This would make it easier to ship any of their books in the box, versus only being able to ship that one book in that one specific box like how I'm doing it.
I've also seen authors go with a style alike subscription boxes. You can give your box a funky-cool, branded name and advertise it like a business. The box is filled with not only your books, but maybe someone else's books or swag as well. This would be something like a "sharing" service, and you'd still send them out with a new release or order. The boxes just may not be for your books alone.
2. THE DESIGN
This is probably the most important step, so don't overlook this. I'm a little biased as a graphic designer who designs boxes, but hear me out.
YOUR BOX NEEDS TO LOOK GOOD.
If your box looks well designed, it won't matter if you've been an author for ten years or ten minutes. It won't matter if your fanbase is big or small, either. Presentation is absolutely everything. If you want readers to invest their time and money in you, you need to do the same for yourself. This is a box that carries your branding, your name, and your books. You'll be putting this in the mail for people to see, taking pictures of it, and advertising it. You want it to be the best it can be, okay? Okay. If you're not a designer who can properly design a box, find one. Or contact me (shameless plug, hehe).
If you're printing with Packlane, always go with DREAMCOAT. Not WHITE.
3. THE SWAG
Finding the perfect swag items to put in your box will probably be the most fun of times in this process. It's the time where you start thinking like your readers and putting together a plan -- a plan that will ultimately make readers want to buy your box. Like I said before, I went abstract and ordered a bunch of things my fanbase would drool over. Here is a better list of everything I included:
Custom sewn book sleeves by Bend Me Not
Wire-wrapped bookmarks & pin buttons by Stone Soup Designs
Custom lip balms & bracelets by Cassie's Crafty Creations
Custom scented 4oz. candles by Weber's Wicks
Custom bath bombs by The Nerdy Girl Boutique
Character trading cards printed with Moo
Custom bar soaps by Mermaids and Seashells
Drawstring tote bags printed with 24Hour Wristbands
Yeah. It was a lot. I did some research to find most of these, and then made sure things matched up in terms of scents and colors. I also printed sticker labels for the soaps and designed a quote for the tote bag that related to Asylum 54.0. Also: MINIMAL CARD STOCK. Finding the perfect swag for your box isn't impossible, but it can be time-consuming. Other places worth checking out are Bulk Apothecary and Etsy. ETSY. Etsy is your best friend. Two of my favorite shops are Cheap Buttons Net for pin buttons and The Book Swag Shop for charmed everything.
GENERAL RULE: You want something edible, readable, and wearable in your box. That's all you really need. The rest is just extra good fluff.
4. THE COST
Welcome to the hardest part of this process. After you've spent money on designing the boxes, printing the boxes, and gathering the swag for the boxes, you then have to figure out how much you want to charge your readers. I went with $35 a box, taking into account all that I had spent to put them together. Shipping depended on whether or not my readers were in the US. So for my US readers, I charged about $5 for shipping and shipped with FedEx. My 9x6x3 boxes from Packlane weighed between 1-2 pounds, so it was perfect. Anyone outside of the country had to pay about $20-$30 dollars more to cover their shipping fee.
At first I worried that all of this would be too much. Would people want to spend $35+ on my book? But I couldn't afford to lower it. If I had, I would have been robbing myself blind, because the swag and books just cost so much.
Though, after some more research, I saw that $35 is the average price for subscription boxes. Not just book boxes, but subscription boxes for anything. $35 was in the perfect range. You can, of course, go higher if you're putting more expensive stuff in your box, but if you're unsure of where to start, go with $35.
Look into USPS, FedEx, and UPS shipping rates after you've weighed one of your boxes with all of your items inside of it. I decided to ship with FedEx since it was just cheaper for me, but UPS or USPS may be cheaper for you. Definitely do all this research beforehand so that the printing of labels and shipping is a smooth process.
Ideally, you'll want to ship these yourself. It's not too bad to handle once you have a system down. However, if your fanbase is GIGANTIC and you're selling over 300 boxes a month -- or some crazy number like that -- look into a subscription box fulfillment company like ShipMonk, Fosdick, or Kable. If you're an international author, maybe this is something that would work better for you too. So that you don't have to ship things from home.
WARNING: You may lose money and you may not even break even. These reader boxes are a tough algorithm to crack, but it takes time and patience. This is an investment in your writing career. You don't climb from the top; you build from the bottom.
5. THE ADVERTISING
This is the last step, and can be easy or hard depending on how you look at it. If your social media footprint is large and you're interactive with your readers, then you will have no problem selling your boxes. But if you struggle with social media and finding readers, this step may be more difficult than step four.
I advertised my boxes avidly on Facebook and Instagram. On Facebook I communicate with readers and writers everyday, sharing memes and my obsession with croissants. I'm not sure how it really began, but this is what I'm now known for on Facebook: being interactive. I try to be transparent, likeable, and relatable. Especially relatable. But I never have to try hard because I'm naturally being myself all the time. On top of that, I also created a reader group on Facebook called Nadegions. A Facebook group allows me to interact with my readers in a one-on-one fashion. I can post exclusive sneak peeks, polls, and relevant images there for them to see.
Being yourself is literally the foundation of everything you do. If you reach out to people with that in mind, finding readers willing to give your book and your box a chance will be a breeze.
Instagram was, and continues to be, my favorite platform to advertise my books and boxes on, and it's all because of #bookstagram. If you know nothing about it, go into the Instagram app and search the hashtag. You will find hundreds of readers who post gorgeous photos of books. It's a community within Instagram for book lovers and an awesome tool to reach out to readers all over the world. It's like BookTube, and if you don't know what that is either, log on to Youtube and search it.
Follow these readers, message them, and begin a friendship. And at the same time, clean up your Instagram account. Take better photos, artsy photos. Allow the images to portray your creative side. And they don't have to be images all about books. They can be about traveling, about your life, or your writing process. But aim for quality photos!
This switch up on my social media really allowed me to find the right readers I was looking for. Readers in Argentina, Australia, Canada, and even Korea. Once I established a friendship with them, they were willing to help me advertise my books and boxes. Which was great, because they began telling their friends in their countries about my books, widening my audience. These types of relationships are KEY to advertising/promoting anything. It's not hard once you give yourself the chance to go out and find them.
Be transparent, be yourself. Invest in yourself.
You got this.
And if none of these steps made any sense to you, try Subscription School.