My Second Experience with Author Boxes
The last time I blogged about my author boxes, I broke down the process of how I went about creating and selling them, and threw in some helpful hints. That was a year ago, so I was very much an amateur feeling my way through something new. I've learned a lot from the process since then. When I dove into my second adventure with author boxes in July, I decided to implement important changes. So prepare yourself for a lot of pictures. If you are confused about what author boxes are and why you need them, feel free to jump back to my first post.
WHAT I CHANGED
1. The Box Design
My first author box had my logo on it and was designed to fit my branding, which was grey, black, and shades of red. It looked amazing in photos, and my readers knew who the boxes were from right away, but it said nothing about the book inside.
I could have shipped any book in them, but I realized that that wasn't my goal. I wanted a box branded specifically to one of my book series, not just me. This was also why I changed the name of the box to Fandom Kit, because I am focusing on one series fandom and I want my readers to know that as soon as they see it. I didn't want them to guess what book was inside, like with usual subscription boxes. So I ditched the old box design and went with something that resembled the colors of the book I packed inside the box, Sanctum 92. I even put the title on the box.
Something else I changed was the interior design of the box. My first box had a plain white interior, which worked great with the grey/red design, but it just didn't fit with a purple and neon green box this time. I spent a few extra cents per box (I'll talk more about this later) to print a colorful interior with Packlane. Yes, it did run up the final cost for 50 boxes, but the boxes looked visually-pleasing and professional. And for me, that's worth spending money on.
With the interior designed, I added a personal (and general) note to my fandom members and topped it off with my signature and social links. For my first box, I had written and signed 50 personal thank you cards. It was a nice touch that my readers really loved, but my wrist and fingers weren't happy about it at all. Also, slanted handwriting and mixing up the cards was a problem, and I had a few instances where I put them in the wrong boxes. When dealing with 50 Fandom Kits, writing personal cards just didn't seem plausible to do every time. But with the same note printed on every box, I saved a lot of packing time and made the entire process hassle-free. And even though the note was duplicated, it was still a personal thank you message I wanted to send out to all of my readers.
2. The Box Material & Size
Something else I changed about my box was the material and size. I printed them with Packlane, as you know, and I had no idea what was what at the time. Packlane was still new to me and their 3D uploader was a lot more complicated than it is now. So I'd randomly chosen to go with the WHITE material, thinking: why yes, I do want a white box. However, that was a big mistake. At least for the kind of box/design I was going for. The WHITE material is defined as "classic white cardboard with a refined matte finish," but it printed a lot like if someone had ironed on a sticker to a shirt, if that makes sense. The ink wasn't wet, but it appeared wet. And the colors on the box were very faded, even for a matte finish. There was nothing really vibrant about my first box. In short, I was disappointed. I didn't learn about the DREAMCOAT material until after. And, I mean, with a name like that I should have known the quality would have been better. DREAMCOAT is described as "premium white cardboard with a beautiful satin sheen." They even have the word beautiful in there! It does cost more to print with DREAMCOAT (change in price dependent on a lot of factors), but it was so worth it for me, especially since I have this crazy colorful box to work with now. I didn't want things to look faded or cheap. I wanted the best quality I could possibly get, and that was DREAMCOAT. Not WHITE.
I also changed the size of my box. The first one was 9x6x3 and the book I placed inside was a 5.25x8 paperback with about 400 pages. While the book fit perfectly, I didn't account for the size of all the swag items I had inside the box as well. As a reminder, my first Fandom Kit contained:
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
Lollipops by Kelli's Kollectibles
Drawstring tote bags printed with 24Hour Wristbands
It was a lot in one box. I actually had to pack them really tight, and all the items created a bit of a hump on the top of the box. I was surprised I had managed to close the boxes at all. So because this year I changed all the swag items, I went with box size 9x7x3.5. Just a tad bit wider and deeper. The swag items I chose were:
Custom sewn book sleeve by Mommy's Crafts by Jerilyn
Wire-wrapped vial necklace by Stone Soup Designs
Custom lip balm by Cassy's Crafty Creations
Custom bath bomb by Cassie's Crafty Creations
Custom bar soap by Cassie's Crafty Creations
2 custom scented 2 oz. candles by Weber's Wicks
Custom bath jelly by Cassie's Crafty Creations
Custom A6 notebook by Awesome Merchandise
Gem chocolates by Cassie's Crafty Creations
2 pin buttons
Custom illustrated world map poster
Character trading card
I had even more stuff this time! Everything fit in the box, but the size of my paperback was huge, nearly 600 pages. The boxes were a bit tight when I prepared to ship them. For this reason, I think I will wait until my book's page count has been finalized before purchasing the boxes. That way I can adjust the depth of the box if I need to. My point: take into account the size of the items you are putting in the box, in order to determine the size of the box. That's very important. The last thing you want is a box that is too small or too big (the bigger the box, the more you have to spend on shipping).
3. The Box Packaging
The next thing I changed was the packaging. My packaging of the first box is entirely too laughable -- it really is, guys. While the red crinkle paper was a nice touch, the swag items and the book were really just placed inside a white box, and that's it. Besides the thank you card, there was no explanation of what the different items were. I suppose I expected my readers to already know what they were since they follow me on social media? I'm not too sure what I was thinking, but the overall presentation was not pretty. Also, I was living in LA at the time and shipping from a temporary home, so the only printing labels available were these huge ones FedEx provided in plastic covers. They were larger than the box, so the VERY PURPLE (ugh!) plastic cover overlapped to the side of the box. Also add that I tapped the boxes shut with regular packing tape. It was ugly, ugly, ugly. Very amateur.
I learned quickly after ordering from a few subscription boxes, and I'm proud to say that my box presentation this time around was fifty times better. To start, I ordered neon green tissue paper to put as my base in the box. I placed in a single sheet vertically, and then added the paperback with the smaller items on top. Then I folded the green tissue paper over so that everything was covered and sealed it with a circle PEEL ME sticker I designed and printed with Moo. This looked great, but my readers didn't actually peel the stickers. They ripped through the tissue paper instead. So I would advise maybe going with something other than PEEL ME. Heh. Perhaps your logo or a "LOOK INSIDE" would be better.
I then added purple or neon green crinkle paper on top of everything. I hate crinkle paper and I know a lot of people hate cleaning up the messes they cause, but it really does look professional and prevent things from shifting around in the box. When you get ready to mail your boxes, you want to be able to shake the whole thing and not hear a single item move. Especially if you have something breakable in the box, like a mug (always wrap breakables in bubblewrap!).
After the layer of crinkle paper, I finally placed in the spoiler card I designed and printed with Overnight Prints (printed as a postcard). Spoiler cards list everything inside the box, where the swag items were made, and information like that. They are popular in subscription boxes because a lot of readers like to guess the items or the scents of candles, and then refer to the card to see if they were right. I actually didn't intend for mine to be a spoiler card. And it's quite obvious because I have "BEGIN HERE" on the front of the card. Some readers read it first, while some chose to wait until they opened everything in the box. Either way is fine, really, and I think I'll keep "BEGIN HERE" for the next box. As I continuously repeat throughout this blog post, I was looking for touches of professionalism. I wanted my readers to know exactly what was in their box so that they weren't confused by the products. These spoiler cards are also a great way to credit your small/family business swag makers. If readers really enjoy the item, they can reach out to the business and make future purchases. And helping our small/family businesses is always a goal.
Now this last change I made to the packaging really topped the boxes off. Instead of closing the boxes with packing tape, I used clear 3 inch wafer seals I found for $14 on Amazon. I discovered this was the right way to seal boxes after ordering a few makeup products from MAC. The lipsticks had come in a small, black mailer box similar in build to mine. There was only one circle sticker closing off the end where the flaps unfolded, but it held the entire box together with no incident. And judging by the reaction videos I've received from my readers, the wafer seals held up for me as well. They are super sticky, completely clear, and you only need to use one per box. Which is great since you get a roll of 500! They also look very neat on the box. The line strip of packing tape just had to go.
3. The Box Cost & Shipping
Finally, I changed the cost of my boxes and how I shipped them. After my first experience with author boxes, I asked my readers if they were comfortable paying more for my Fandom Kits. I also asked if the items they received was worth more money than they paid, because I sadly did not break even the first time around (I have a tendency to give, give, give). The sweeping majority of my readers said they would have paid more for my first Kit and that they would pay more for the second one. That was such a huge relief to me, because that told me I had chosen enjoyable items for the box, even though I didn't make a profit. So my only worry was making sure I didn't go bankrupt, and my readers had already confirmed that they were willing to pay more. So when I approached this second box, I knew I had to think smart. I had to go with enjoyable, useful items my readers would love, but I also had think better about how much the items would cost me. Because the money for everything was coming straight out-of-pocket. Once I knew how much I was willing to spend on every item in the box, and to print the box itself, I came up with a better price for my readers. My first Kit was $35 ($40 with shipping), but this new one was $45 ($50 with shipping). Since all my readers received their boxes within the last month, I did another survey to ask whether or not they felt the price was fair. Again, the sweeping majority agreed with the price change and loved the items. For this reason, I am really glad that I boosted the price of my Fandom Kits. I'll be keeping them at this price for now, but never be afraid to ask your readers what they want in the box and how much they're willing to pay for it. If they are willing to pay for it, then do what you can to provide it for them. Author boxes are really all about the experience. You should be thinking about your audience every step through the process.
The very last thing I changed was how I shipped the boxes. Last year I had to ship 50 boxes at once, but this year the shipments staggered with pre-orders, so I ended up shipping about 20 at a time. Some days only 2-5 shipped out. Instead of hauling all these boxes to the post office via the back of my car, I weighed the boxes using a handy shipping scale and printed FedEx labels on 5.5x8.5 Avery Shipping Labels. Then I stuck the labels to the very bottom of the boxes where there weren't any design elements or important text. I created a FedEx account to schedule free neighborhood pickups, allowing me to place the boxes in a safe place on my porch and watch from my window as FedEx came to pick them up. This is easily the best change I made, for sure. Waiting in line at the post office with 20+ boxes isn't ideal. Also, the US post office will place their stickers and labels wherever they want on the box and ruin your beautiful presentation. Even if you do print your USPS labels beforehand, having to drop off the boxes can still be a hassle. That's why I am firmly #TeamPickup. If you decide that it's cheaper to ship your boxes with UPS or USPS, rather than FedEx, you can still schedule a free pickup and your boxes can be mailed out without you having to leave your home. I placed my boxes on my porch because I live in a community where it's safe to do that, but if you don't, you can easily schedule a pickup for a day or time that you will be home. Then just leave a note when scheduling that the driver will need to knock or ring the doorbell for you to give them the boxes.
These changes truly made my second experience with author boxes way more of a positive one. The process wasn't flawless, but it definitely beats all the issues I had last year. So now going into my third year with boxes (2019), I will be making a change again, though it is a small one. It will be the removal of any and all edible products in my boxes. Last year I had galaxy swirl lollipops, and while they were very cute, most of them broke either by the time they got to me or by the time they got to my readers. They just didn't hold up. This year I did gem chocolates. While they stored great in my refrigerator until it was time to ship them in the boxes, some of my readers living in warmer climates, like Arizona and Florida, received a baggie of what appeared to be mud. The chocolates had completely melted. It didn't get on any of the other merchandise, but it definitely dampened the experience of the box.
Also, I had a lactose intolerant reader. They couldn't eat the chocolate, even if it did arrive unmelted. This made me think long and hard about the rule I gave in my last blog post about boxes. In that post, I had stated that your box needs something edible, readable, and wearable. I'm going to go ahead and cross out edible and replace it with DRINKABLE. This is because a reader of mine brought up a good point by stating that she doesn't like receiving food items in boxes since she never eats them. And in hindsight, I never ate the snacks that came in the subscription boxes that I was subscribed to, either. Unless, of course, it was a box specifically for snacks. But since that wasn't the case for me, I didn't want to keep putting snacks in my boxes if more readers would be inclined to either forget them, trash them, or give them away. Perhaps it would be better to focus on the wearable and the readable since that's what most would like more. Or, like I mentioned, swap out the snacks for something like loose leaf tea or coffee chews. There's less of a chance a reader would turn those down, or that a reader would be allergic to them.
With all this said, I truly hope you go forward with your author box and make the most of it for you and your readers. It's a long, calculating process, but remember to always shop SMART when it comes to swag items, and to put effort into the design of the box. The latter is very important in marketing your boxes. I recommend contacting Inkstain Design Studio during their October 20 to November 20 box design sale! Get the box branding that best suits your project and start off on the right foot.