Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Selling Your Handmade Books: The Next Two Big Decisions

Tuesday is here again! For Big Decision #1- Check out Last Week's Post

Big Decision #2- How will you track your handmade books and sales?

If you're on hobby level and never picture yourself doing anything more than that, you might just want a little photo album in which you keep photographs or even just written descriptions of your books. This might seem silly or a little over-sentimental but any good artist knows that it is important to keep a portfolio. Even if it's just to give you a reminder of all the things you've made and how far you've come. This can also come in handy when you have someone unexpectedly drop by and ask to see your work. If you only have a few books half way finished, you'll find this photo album extremely useful. Make sure to keep the detailed information such as measurements of text block, cover, material used, the amount you sold it for, maybe who it went to and how long it took you to make it.

If you're on a side income or full time income level, make sure you're keeping track of your sales in a more formal matter. Spreadsheets are one way to keep track of your sales. We'll discuss this more in depth next week as we venture into the legalities of your business. For now, if you haven't already, you may want to start keeping track of some of these things:
  • Book Description (including materials used and dimensions)
  • Hours it took to create
  • Material costs
  • Price sold at
  • Date put on the market
  • Date sold
  • Profit
  • Unexpected Costs (discounts/sales, extra shipping charge)
  • Fees (Paypal, Etsy)
You might also want to keep track of other things such as 
  • Marketing Costs
  • Correspondence time with a customer
  • Research time finding a certain material for a book
  • Time packaging a book and going to the post office
Need a good spreadsheet to start out with? You can check out Etsy's Blog Post about Inventory Worksheets. While they don't cover everything, they're at least a start. 

Another great thing to keep track of is where your books go. I find that I sell a lot of my books to Oregon and Kansas and supplies end up heading to Ontario and Texas. This information might be great to use in marketing. If those places are where I sell best, I might want to list my books/supplies according to when people might be on Etsy in those time zones. 

Next week, I'll provide more resources for you to keep track of your business. For now, you need to decide what's important to keep track of. How much information do you want about each sale and each book that leaves your hands? 

Big Decision #3 - How much you'd like to profit from selling your books

This is partly based on your first big decision (what level you'd like to sell your books at), as well as your skill and/or experience level. It's also influenced by where you'd like to sell your books. We'll talk more about locations and such in the next few months, but for today we'll just focus on selling through Etsy.

Whether you are selling your books online, in art galleries or the local farmer's market, it is very important to price your books accurately. 

Last year, after finishing a custom order, I had tallied up my hours spent on a certain book and after taking out the cost of materials, fees from etsy, paypal and shipping costs, I realized I had made a measly $2 per hour on the book. Even if you are at hobby level, you'll likely want to be making more than $2 per hour on a book. Even if you LOVE making the book (as I did). I know some of you are thinking "But I'd be willing to make my books and even give them away." I understand this, but if you want an Etsy Shop, prices that don't adequately cover time put into the book puts a pinch on those selling to make a living. So, while not necessary to do so, pricing as if you were earning a living is a courtesy to them, and, even at hobby level, you want to make back enough money to continue to feed your creative ventures. Pricing as if you were making a living, or at least pricing so as to earn minimum wage on your time, will go a long way in allowing you to do more with your hobby.

When you price your books, you have to take many things into account. 
  • Material costs
  • Paypal fees
  • Etsy fees
  • Marketing fees
  • Time in correspondence with customer
  • Time researching materials for a certain book
  • Time creating the book
  • Time packaging the book and going to the post office
If you spend 5 hours making a book and sell it for $20, you are losing money, even at hobby level. I can't stress how important it is to keep track of the hours it takes you to create an item. Don't estimate either. Not unless you have occasionally kept track of the time by writing down your hours and you feel confident that you can "guess" at the time you've spent. I'm not able to guess. What I think will take me 15 minutes, will often take 50. 

No matter where you're selling your books, online or off, make sure you take into account what others are pricing their work at. When selling on Etsy, since there are constantly new people selling and everyone is at different levels, prices seem to be everywhere. When I first started on Etsy, I found a few shops that did fairly well selling their handmade books. I looked at the materials used, the styles being made and I looked at the average price for a particular sized book. This, in addition to considering my material cost, time, and fees, etc., helped me determine how much to sell my books at. I still continue to check on this every few months to make sure that I'm still selling my books at a competitive price. This way, I'm not cheating myself. Perhaps I can sell it lower, but if I see others are selling just as well at a higher price, that's even better. More money to feed a hobby, or my family, whichever my goal. If I can't see how a seller can possibly be selling at prices that seems low to me (and the seller is either a side income or full time bookmaker), it tells me I may need to evaluate my process (to get faster) or consider new suppliers (for lower material costs).

Keep in mind the extra expenses of selling: Etsy fees and Paypal fees, and if you do free shipping, make sure you take that into account as well (it's an expense you have to account for somehow).

A good resource for determining how much you're making on Etsy is the Etsy Fee Calculator created by Ryan Olbe. I use it all the time.

For larger books, or styles requiring more skill, I charge a little more per hour to compensate for the difficulty of creating the book.

If pricing seems overwhelming to you, try what I did and do. Pick a handful of successful Etsy shops that sell similar books (in style, material and size) and compare the prices. This will help give you a range of where you might want to price your books.

I'd love to hear how you keep track (or are planning on keeping track) of your handmade book sales. 

~Karleigh Jae

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