Sunday, April 4, 2021

Selling on TPT 101: Copyright and Trademark

Selling on TPT 101: Copyright and Trademark | Apples to Applique
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this is not official legal advice. For specific questions, contact a lawyer who specializes in copyright law.

Welcome to TPT 101: Part 5! (Click on these links to find Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4!

When I have talked to other teachers about the possibility of selling on Teachers Pay Teachers, many of them are hesitant because they are afraid of unintentionally breaking copyright law. I understand that fear; it is a legitimate concern, and something to learn about before you dive into creating resources. I am by no means an expert on all things copyright or trademark, and this is NOT legal advice, but I wanted to pass along some things that I have learned over the last 6 years of creating.

1. Many things are copyrighted or trademarked that you would not assume, and you cannot use these terms/characters/images without express permission from the owner. That means you cannot use them at all. You cannot refer to them in your title, description, or product. This includes specific curriculum!

2. Websites like Trademarkia are your friend. If you are unsure about a brand or term, type it into their search bar and see if there is a live trademark on it.

3. Don't trust what you see other TPT sellers doing. You will find thousands of copyright violations on Teachers Pay Teachers. Sadly, TPT does not vet their products and will only take products down if they receive a cease and desist letter. I believe this takes away from the legitimacy of the site as a whole, but they claim they cannot take on this responsibility. It is up to us as sellers to ensure the quality of the site by taking extra care that our resources do not violate copyright and trademark; this helps all of us by enabling buyers to trust that our resources are ethical and legitimate.

Again, just because you see something on TPT does not mean it is not a violation of copyright. Some sellers have gone through the proper channels to receive permission, others are simply innocently unaware, and, disappointingly, some have decided it is worth the risk. I am here to tell you it is not; some companies do frequently go through the site and issue cease and desist letters and TPT can offer refunds on all of those sales, which come out of your earnings. The company can also take legal and financial action against you, so just don't go there. It isn't worth it!

4. Always do your own research and do not blindly trust secondhand research from others, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid common characters and brand names. Use generic terms in place of brand names. Just avoid referring to children's characters all together; these companies simply do not grant permission for their use by entrepreneurs, so don't even waste your time trying. 

I actually have a personal anecdote on this one that also serves as a warning: when I was first starting on TPT, I purchased some clip art featuring some popular children's book characters which stated it was for commercial use. I thought I was in the clear, but I was not. The clip artist had merely saved images from an internet search, packaged them together, and resold them. Of course the seller didn't care if they were used for commercial purposes; they didn't have the rights to them in the first place! Thankfully I realized the error before that particular company did a sweep of TPT (which they do frequently) and I deleted the products. But had I done more research on copyright and trademark, I would have avoided the situation in the first place.

5. Try not to be discouraged by this post! I do not want to scare you away from creating products! Just make sure your work is your original creation and that any clip art you purchase is the original work of the seller. Most clip artists do only sell their own work, and as long as they are not a replication of a familiar character, and they state that you are allowed to use their work commercially, you should be good to go!

Stay tuned for Part 6, in which we will discuss writing your own terms of use and properly crediting artists whose work you've used in your products.

Until then, keep teaching (and creating!) with heart and passion!

Friday, March 12, 2021

Selling on TPT 101: Product Creation - Tips and Tricks for Making Resources


Selling on TPT 101: Product Creation | Apples to Applique

Hello, and welcome to TPT 101, Part 4! (Click on these links to find Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).

Let's talk about the most fun part of selling on Teachers Pay Teachers: Product creation!

Creating products at first can seem overwhelming. I promise it gets easier as you go along, and today I want to share with you some tricks I've learned that have made creation faster and easier, as well as more professional.

Personally, I love PowerPoint for creating products, so most of these tips will be specific to PowerPoint, but many can also be used for your program of choice.

First, if you are making printables, set your slide size to 8.5" x 11" (or A4 if you are not in the United States). This will ensure smooth printing for your buyers. I also, personally, like to start with a blank background rather than one of the PowerPoint templates.

Next, just start putting in your text and graphics! Play around with inserting images and text; PowerPoint makes it very easy to resize and rearrange items. It takes time to improve your skills in design, so just take some time to play around with different fonts, color palettes, layouts, etc. Do keep in mind, though, that for printable products, it is best to offer them in black and white, when possible. Many teachers do not have access to colored printers, or that access is limited. Many sellers choose to put both a colored and a black-and-white version in the file so teachers can choose what meets their needs.

Here are some of my favorite PowerPoint shortcuts that make the creation process easier:

To move an image/ text in front of or behind another object, right-click on it and select "send forward" or "send backward".

You can select an object and have it align exactly with the edge of your page or of another object by using the align tool. If only one item is selected, it will align with the page edge. If two or more items are selected, it will move one to match the location of the other. For example, if you click "align top", it will automatically move the lowest object to be in line with the top object.

You can select multiple items at a time using the control key (PC) or the command key (Mac) and selecting them. When they are all selected, you can click on the shape or picture format option at the top to do some handy things. You can group them together so they move as one object. You can resize them together so the proportion remains the same. You can use the align tool to line them all up together or space them out evenly.

Another great trick for lining up text or images is by using tables. You can insert tables with whatever number of cells, rows, or columns you wish. When you click "insert table", you select the number of rows and columns. I believe it caps out in the creation pane at 10 by 8, but after you insert the table, if you need more, you can simply right-click on a cell and choose to add another row or column. Using a table is a fast and easy way to put cutting borders on flash cards, or to ensure text is spaced exactly right. You can leave the borders black or make them invisible, depending on whether or not you want them to show in the final product.

You can easily save slides or pages as an image to be used on covers or thumbnails, or for marketing purposes. Simply click "save as" and then select "jpg" from the drop-down menu under the file type.

Sometimes, you might want to save a picture of a group of images or an element on your page, but not the entire page, for many different reasons, really. Perhaps to use it on a thumbnail or because you need to crop the picture but had it placed at an angle on the page, or for any other number of reasons. To do this, click on any images/text boxes, etc. that are part of what you want to save, right-click, and select "save as picture". It will export just those pieces to a png file which can then be used as needed.

Copy and paste is your friend. You can duplicate entire slides or just parts of them and then change them as needed. This is super helpful when you want to keep the same background, headings, and borders on multiple pages but change some of the other elements. You can copy and paste images to make them all a uniform size. One of my favorite features about copying and pasting in PowerPoint is that if you copy an element on one page--say, for example, you decided to add a header after you've already made several pages--when you paste the element on a different page, it aligns it in the same place. This is a huge time saver for things like going back and adding a copyright to each page.

To easily offer a color and black-and-white version of your product, use the copy and paste tools. Create one version of your page (I like to start with the colored version) and then duplicate the page. Right-click on the clip art and select "change picture". Then you can easily switch out the colored clip art for the black-and-white version of the clip art and it will be the correct size and in the right place.

Whew, that was a lot of information thrown at you all at once! Experience is the best teacher, so open up PowerPoint (or your preferred program) and play around with it. You'll be amazed at the things you can do quickly and easily once you start using all of the tricks available to you.

Until next time, keep teaching (and creating) with heart and passion!


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Selling on TPT 101: Generating Ideas and Making Unique Products

Selling on TPT 101: Generating Ideas and Making Unique Products | Apples to Applique
Hi, friends! Welcome to Part 3 of Selling on TPT 101. If you missed them or need a refresher, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

We've covered setting up your shop and making sure before you start creating that you have commercial rights to elements you are using. Today, we're going to talk about coming up with ideas and creating unique content.

Sometimes the hardest part is generating ideas; there are millions of resources on Teachers Pay Teachers, and it can feel like everything has already been made. However, try not to let that discourage you! There is still a place for your resources, especially with your unique spin. No one has your exact perspective.

In searching for ideas, make sure to take care with where your inspiration comes from. It can be tempting to make a version of some cool thing you found on Pinterest/TPT/your favorite teaching blog, but directly copying someone's work is a definite no-no. Using others' ideas as inspiration is a little more of a gray area. If you take an idea and change it significantly to make it a unique product with your own touches, you are probably in the clear. If you're just remaking it and switching out a few elements here and there, it may be technically legal, but it's not ethical.

Personally, I try to avoid searching on TPT for other products when I have an idea, because I don't want to subconsciously get ideas and copy someone else. However, it happens frequently that sellers inadvertently make a product that is similar to someone else's; after all, teachers have similar needs and are going to think of similar ideas. If you create something and then find something similar on TPT, don't panic. You will see there are thousands of similar products on TPT; most of these people have not copied one another, but are just using tried-and-true activities and formulas. Not searching beforehand increases the likelihood that your product will not look like a carbon copy of others out there.

Speaking of those thousands of similar products, here's my other piece of advice when it comes to making unique products: Don't waste your time making products for areas that are super-saturated. I don't mean a certain niche, I'm talking about specific product types. For example, there are thousands  of alphabet clip cards out there, both on TPT and on blogs. Scroll through Pinterest and you can find hundreds of them for free. There's little point in taking the time to create something that your buyers can find in hundreds of other places for free; your time is better spent creating something new.

The best inspiration comes from things you find yourself wanting in the classroom. You may consider keeping a little list of ideas as these things come along. Think of what would make your life easier as a teacher, and of novel approaches to reach your students in a different way. That is what other teachers are searching for, too. 
Stay tuned for Part 4, where we'll start talking product creation!
Until then, keep teaching with heart and passion!

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Selling on TPT 101: The Basics

Selling on TPT 101: The Basics | Apples to Applique 
Welcome to Part 2 of TPT 101! If you missed Part 1, you can find it here! 
Today, we'll be covering the boring nitty-gritty stuff regarding fonts, clip art, and commercial use. This is the part that gets really overwhelming and confusing for people, but it is super important.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. For questions, please contact an attorney who specializes in copyright.

To put things simply: You cannot just use any font, clip art, or photo for anything you want. If you are listing products in your TPT store, you must have a commercial use license for any elements you used. Yes, even if you are listing a product for free.

Just because a font is installed on your computer doesn't mean you can use it commercially!
You can find many free commercial-use fonts on sights such as 1001 Fonts, Font Squirrel, and others. Note: Not all fonts on these types of sites are for commercial-use; make sure to check the terms of use for each one. 
You can also find many reasonably-priced fonts on Teachers Pay Teachers. Some sellers allow you to download the font for free for personal use so you can test it out, and then require a small, one-time fee to use it commercially.

Clip Art
Just like with fonts, you must have the rights to use any clip art commercially. Do not just do a Google search and take images from there! 
I get most of my clip art from TPT because those sellers understand the platform and how the images will be used. They also have the types of images teachers need for common lessons, topics, and themes.
Clip art can be quite the investment! I recommend starting with what you can find for free. There is a decent selection of clip art available on Teachers Pay Teachers that is free for commercial use.

Photos follow the same guidelines as clip art, but can get very expensive through the main stock photo sites. You can find images that are in the public domain and are free for commercial use; sites like Pixabay also have free photographs that can be used in your products.
Take caution of any photos showing people! The company from which you are purchasing should have signed model releases on file. (As a side note in this same vein, do NOT use photos of students in any  of your products or marketing!)
While the odds may be small that you are ever found out or reported if you use fonts or clip art for which you do not have commercial rights, it is simply not worth the gamble. First and foremost, there's the importance of building a business on integrity. I want to set a good example for my children and students and put out good into the world by doing the right thing. Secondly, if you are found to be violating trademark or copyright, TPT issues a strike against your store and you can face financial ramifications. So take care to do things the right way and it will pay off in the end.

We will end there for today; if you are excited to get started, you may want to start searching around for fun fonts and graphics that can be used in your future resources. Practice looking for terms of use (often shortened TOU) to see what the artist allows.

Look for Part 3 coming soon!
Keep teaching (and creating!) with heart and passion!

Saturday, February 13, 2021

So, You Want to Sell on Teachers Pay Teachers? TPT 101: Getting Started

TPT 101: Getting Started | Apples to Applique
When other teachers hear that I sell resources on Teachers Pay Teachers, they often express that they would love to do the same, but they don't know where to start. I understand; when I started 6 years ago, I had an item I decided to upload on a whim, but when I actually logged in to the TPT website, I was immediately overwhelmed. I had to come up with a store name? And a logo? And answer a bazillion questions, put in a product description, create thumbnails--and my first product had to be free? Seriously, I had thought I could just upload my file and go on my merry way. I almost logged out right then and there. 

I'm glad I didn't. When I uploaded that first file, I never dreamed that TPT would be heavily supplementing my income in just a few short years. It has been such a blessing to me and my family that I want to share the things I've learned along the way in hopes of sparing newer sellers some of the mistakes I made.

I am going to be releasing these tips as a series of free blog posts. Today, we're just going to hit a few things you'll want to get out of the way before you upload that first resource.

1. The Name Game

This is, arguably, one of the hardest parts. It can seem like all the good names are taken. Some sellers opt to use their own name, which makes it easy and almost guarantees no other seller will be using that name, but you have to consider the amount of anonymity you wish to keep. If you are teaching, be aware that some districts can legally own anything you create for your job, so you may wish to keep everything related to your TPT store completely separate.

Do a search on TPT and Google to see if your desired name, or something similar, is already taken. You don't want there to be any confusion between your store and others.

Do not use trademarked or copyrighted terms. (We'll have a whole post about that later, don't worry!). For example, you should not use the brand name "Crayola" in your store name, because you don't have the rights to it. Yes, "Crayola Creations" sounds cute and it's alliterated, etc.--don't do it. (Keep in mind--just because you see another seller do this does NOT mean it's okay; more on that in a future post).

Don't stress too much about making your store name reflect your niche, especially as you probably don't even fully know what your niche is at this point. Personally, I would recommend not boxing yourself in too much with your name. When I started my store, I taught Pre-K Unified (special ed and general ed in the same room). Since then, I have started teaching first grade and, therefore, expanded my market. I'm glad I didn't choose a name with "Pre-K" in the title.

Make it unique! Your store name doesn't have to necessarily reflect something school related. My store name is Apples to Applique. I've debated before on changing it because applique doesn't have anything to do with school, but it is personal to me. The name stemmed from my two greatest passions outside of my family: teaching and sewing. It reflects who I am, and I never have to worry about another seller having my name! Think of well-known companies that have strange names: Etsy, Google, Amazon--you get the idea. None of those reflect what they are or what they sell, yet that hasn't stopped their success.


2. Creating a Logo

This is not really a necessity to get started, but I highly recommend it. Would you rather purchase something from a new store that had an attractive and professional logo, or a new store that had a "placeholder" of sorts--or, worse yet, just the gray image indicating that they hadn't uploaded a logo of any kind? 

Some sellers choose to use a picture of themselves in lieu of a logo; they often argue it makes their store seem more personable, as buyers realize there is a person behind the business. I'm sure that is a valid point; personally, I feel that a logo looks more professional and I would rather not have my face on all of my products, but you choose whatever feels right to you. You will find big, successful sellers on both sides of this, so it is not going to make or break your store.

If you decide to go with a logo, you can find other sellers on TPT or find artists on sites like Fiverr who will design logos for you for a minimal fee. If you're designing it yourself, keep in mind that you must use a commercial-use font and, if you use clip art, you want to be sure the artist allows for it to be used in logos (not all commercial-use clip art may be used in this way). If using clip art, another consideration is that you want your logo to be unique; you don't really want the clip art in your logo also being used in other people's products, so having something designed specifically for your store is probably the best route.

One last reminder: Logos can be changed! Get something you like, but don't stress too much. Stores rebrand all the time, and you can, too, if  you decide in the future that you want to update your look.

3. That Scary First Product

TPT requires your first product to be free. I found this a little frustrating when I opened my store, because I didn't want to give away the product I had intended to list, so that meant I was scrambling to come up with a second product right away.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind with that first product:

Keep it simple, yet a good representation of your work. When I listed mine, I just randomly threw together something quick and easy to "check the box", if you will. You can totally go that route, but since you know about it ahead of time, you can be more strategic about it. Giving away a sample of a larger product is a great approach; for example, if you have alphabet handwriting pages, you could list just pages A-E for free, with the hope that people will love it and then purchase the complete product.

This product can be changed later! I created a series of number talks and decided to make a free sample so teachers could try it and decide if it would be a good fit for their classroom. I opted to make this my primary free item because it is a better representation of my work than my original free item.

Keep it short. TPT recommends that free items not be more than 10 pages, and, as a general rule, I agree! (My number talks sample is the only one I have that is larger than that, and that is because I wanted teachers to get a sample of each included number talk, which was greater than 10). If you offer too much for free or at too cheap of a price, your buyers will not see the need to purchase your other items at regular price. You know those stores that have really frequent sales or 50% off coupons, so much so that you never pay regular price for anything? You don't want that for your store.

I feel like I have probably overwhelmed you with information, so we will stop here for today. Take a breath and just let these thoughts ruminate for a bit. Start thinking about your name, logo, and free product so that you are not overwhelmed with those things when you go to open your store. If you come up with a great name, go ahead and start your TPT seller account with that name! You might also open a free Gmail account with your store name; it adds another layer of separation between your personal life and your store, and provides a great avenue for buyers to contact you as needed.

In the next post, we will start getting into the nitty-gritty of product creation, but I thought it best to start here so you can be prepared with all of these "extras" when you are ready to list your first product.

Until next time, keep teaching (and creating) with heart and passion!