Publishing craft books

by Shannon on September 30, 2008

Ever wonder what exactly goes into publishing a craft book? Craftypod talks to a publicist pal of mine (hi Christina!) and a literary agent here. Christina did the PR for The Pillow Book and she is awesome, so I am excited to listen to this.

That said, have you ever wondered what it takes? Do you have questions? Write ‘em in comments and I’ll answer when I get back from Felt School.

Some things I’ve noticed most people don’t know about the publishing industry:

  • Authors usually don’t get to pick their own titles
  • Ditto with covers
  • Ditto with content…sometimes. Patterns get cut, chapters get cut…whether for space or otherwise
  • Format, photos, pagecount, you name it. Nope. You guessed it. We have little to no control there, either (I have to admit I’m a little sad that someone dissed Alt Fiber for its ‘lack’ of photos, when I thought the photos were just gorgeous…there are limits to how much you can cram into X number of pages, you know? and you can’t just add one or two pages on a whim)

Now, I should hasten to add that a good publisher does ask for input on these things, and sometimes you can win a small victory here and there (remind me to tell you about the original font on the cover of the Knitgrrl books), but it’s not guaranteed.

So. Questions. Have at ‘em. Anything goes, from how book proposals work to what the editing process is like to…well, you tell me. What do you want to know?

I would also be curious to know, as avid knitters and crafters, what sort of books you haven’t seen hit the market yet that you’d like to see. Topic-wise, format, what? All formats have their benefits (spiral bound stays open flat when you’re working! e-books get delivered immediately!) and their drawbacks. Spill with the questions and we’ll discuss!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Sister Diane September 30, 2008 at 11:16 am

Hi, Shannon – many thanks for linking to my podcast! I’ve added a link to this post in the show notes. You’ve offered up a lot of great insights here, and I’m looking forward to seeing the discussion in comments.

pandorasslave October 1, 2008 at 7:49 am

I your work, do you approach the publishing companies with an idea, or do they contact you with what they are looking for? I know it works both ways, but what has been most common for you?

Terri October 1, 2008 at 10:02 am

I am curious how you feel about working with small vs. large publishers. Benefits, drawbacks, money…

Margit October 1, 2008 at 12:53 pm

I’d like to know how you choose where to submit your book proposals.

Shannon October 2, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Hi all! I’m back! OK, let’s get going with these initial questions. A little bit of personal history here — for my first 2 books, I was directly introduced to an editor who was already looking for a specific type of knitting book (one that was tween-appropriate). So for Knitgrrl and Knitgrrl 2 — whose contracts were signed simultaneously — I met with the editor after sending some ideas back and forth over email, as well as a full proposal.

The proposal itself was probably a little Type A (that’s me in a nutshell) in that I included information I thought was valuable and useful, such as a list of competing books and how mine would differ from them, information on the large number of knitting websites that were just starting to become super-popular, etc. I reasoned that including more information would probably be better than less, since presumably I knew more about my topic than the editor did.

After that, it’s become equally split between me pitching an idea and an editor coming to me with an idea or a general concept and asking if I’m interested. I’ve earned a reputation for being thorough and somewhat fast, relatively speaking. One book happened after I’d pitched who knows how many things to that editor and finally broke down and said “Ok, ok — what do YOU want to see?” It’s all about being open to the process.

Small v. large publishers: in the craft world, it’s often to your advantage to work with a publisher who has experience in your particular craft already. You can avoid a lot of pitfalls that way if you’re a new author. I still remember being shocked that I had to tell an editor that I would need money to hire a technical editor in my budget if they weren’t providing one.

It isn’t so much about size as experience. Taking two of my publishers as an example: they’re about the same size, but one has considerably more experience with knitting books, so it was a lot easier to turn in the manuscript and get back good feedback that helped me improve the book further. The range of pay is similar just about everywhere, it’s the details that do it… you have to consider the factors such as who’s doing the photography, who’s paying the designers (if it’s a multidesigner book), tech editors, etc.

As for where to submit proposals, now I tend to pitch particular ideas to editors I know are interested in those topics. If you don’t know this, take a look at their back catalog (books they’ve already published) to give you an idea of what they might be interested in — it’s not foolproof, but it helps. Have they done a ton of knitting books and nothing on spinning? Well, maybe they’d be interested in that if you present it as a logical next step. Study the “upcoming knitting books” lists on Amazon and elsewhere… if you see 10 Fair Isle books due out in the next 6 months, that’s probably not the thing to pitch.

What else? More questions! Yay!

Bren October 3, 2008 at 8:49 pm

I would like to see a fundamental sculptural crochet book. Not just amigurumi, but basic rules for making any kind of 3D crochet structure. Heck, I’d write that one.

Heather October 10, 2008 at 11:16 pm

I have some questions!

What’s a reasonable amount of time to give yourself to write a manuscript?

How many people do you personally interact with in producing a craft book, and how does that work? You mentioned a technical editor, for starters. Do your hands do the modeling for the instructional photos?

Do you personally create the items in the book that end up being photographed, or do you do prototypes that sometimes don’t make it into the book?

How many pages is a craft book? How many projects is a reasonable number?

-Heather

Alison November 12, 2008 at 12:09 am

Hi Shannon,

I’m so glad you are willing to answer questions because I’m interested in writing a knitting book and have a million questions. I will only ask a few since I will eventually just have to do it myself. But I’ll take all the help I can get.

LIke Heather’s question: How much time will be given to write the book including making samples to be photographed? Would it be a good idea to have all patterns made and protos knit before sending out a proposal?

Since I’ve never written a book would my proposal be over looked by a publisher with this strike against me? Did you do book signings?

Do you have any suggestions about obtaining the materials that samples are made with? Did you purchase them yourself?

Thanks in advance for all your help!

-Alison

Shannon November 12, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Generally, you’ll have anywhere from a few months to a year-plus to get things made, so having some items made already is always a plus! Having even a handful of things done gives the editors something to look at so they can get a feel for your style, etc.

Once you have a contract in hand it’s possible to (NICELY. POLITELY. I cannot emphasize this enough, having heard what some yarn companies have endured on this front) ask companies or shops to help with “yarn support,” i.e. providing materials for your book for free or reduced cost.

I don’t think most craft editors would hold never having written a book against you if your proposal is well-written and your ideas are solid.

I’ve done book signings but personally, I’d rather do a blog tour of related websites — you’ll reach many, many more eyeballs this way. Most book signings do not attract Yarn Harlot-level attendance, alas!

Shannon November 12, 2008 at 2:33 pm

Ah, and as to Heather’s questions, the number of projects depends on what it is — smallish stuff like toys or accessories? 25-30 would be awesome! Larger garments and such? Fewer, because each pattern takes up so much more space. Books in this genre are usually 96, 128 or 144 pages (note all these numbers are divisible by 8 — pretty much all standard books’ pages are due to the way books are manufactured).

Sometimes I knit the things myself, sometimes there are contributing designers, sometimes one of my test knitters/sample knitters/helpers knit something…depends on the budget and how much work there is to do in how little time!

Iva November 20, 2008 at 10:23 am

Shannon, I can relate to your woes of things going wrong in illustrated books publishing. Here is my cautionary tale for those who dream about writing a craft book.

It all started very well. In 1993, when the craze of cross stitching was at its peak, I designed and crafted a quantity of projects and sent the photos covered with a letter to an unknown agent in London. The answer was immediate and in no time she found a publisher. I signed the contract and got an advance. So far, it sounds like a fairy tale.

The problems started when I sent the projects to the UK to be photographed. (I live in Canada.) No instructions were given so I acted on my own and bought a substantial insurance for the parcel. Wouldn’t you do the same if you’d have to part with a body of work that had taken hundreds of hours to complete? In consequence, the British Customs collected a 200.00 GBP duty from the publisher before they released the parcel. The amount was subtracted from my future royalties.

Next, I had to redo a project that had been mishandled by my careless editor and damaged beyond repair. (I suspect that she reversed a spaghetti bowl on it.) I never got paid for the additional effort. By that time, I had become completely resigned. When the projects came back, two were missing and were never found. This, I must add, was the just-before-the-computer era for me and problems were solved by snail mail.

When they sent me the sample of the dust jacket, I could take no more and threw a tantrum. I hated it, hated it, hated it! So they changed the design to my liking. At that point, the whole enterprise took a sharp turn for the better. The book (Cross Stitch Calligraphy) got published in 1994 and looked like a dream inside and out. Two British book clubs selected it for their lists. A year later, it was re-issued in soft cover for distribution in the U.S.

Despite the success, I was so emotionally exhausted, that I decided never to go through that experience again. I kept my word until recently. The idea was good and the inspiration so strong, that I could not resist and began to work on a new book. So here I am, ready to throw myself in the battle again. Since it is difficult these days for Canadian authors to get published in the UK because of new tax laws and related book-keeping difficulties, I’m beginning to look for a U.S. publisher. (Which, incidentally, brought me to this blog.) I’m sure that conditions in publishing have changed in the last 15 years and there are new challenges ahead.

The bottom line here is this: Don’t think about writing a craft book if you don’t possess nerves of steel!

By the way, Shannon, do you know an agent or a publisher that could be interested in a book called “Recycling Knits: The Fashion Album of a Thrifty Social Climber”? (All the projects are already finished.) Sorry, dear, but I could not resist this opportunity! :)

Warm regards to all!

Kari November 22, 2008 at 2:38 am

Hi Shannon!

Thank you for answering everyone’s questions! I don’t know if you are still up for more, but here goes:

(1) Do you think you could write/publish a craft book if you had very little writing/blogging experience?

(2) What if you have a great idea for a book, but you are not an “expert” in the field?

(3) Is there any hope for little old me? ;)

Cynthia Crocker February 10, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Hello Shannon!

Have you ever thought about self-publishing?
That’s what the company I work for does. Then you get ALL of the profits and ALL of the control. The only drawback is you have to put up money up front for your printing and there is a little more responsiblity on you for output.

Deanna McCool May 8, 2010 at 10:27 am

Do craft publishers offer an advance? If so, what would a first-time author reasonable expect?

Deanna

Kris June 1, 2011 at 2:52 pm

I am lost and confused. Which is nothing new for me! Last night I wrote down all the crafts I can make and new ones I am ‘testing’, to see how easy they would be to make for children (starting at age 7). I have over half of the crafts I wrote down already made.
Do I need to take pictures while I make them? Or will the publishing company do that? I already have the list of supplies, etc. Here is the main problem–I have no money to get this published. There are companies that say they will publish for free, but are they a scam? Would it be better to ebook? I have never done any thing like this before. All my friends are really pushing me to do this.
HELP!

Shannon June 3, 2011 at 10:22 am

I would definitely advise taking pictures as you work, at as high a resolution as your camera can manage. There are plenty of scammer companies out there (aka “vanity presses”) who will publish for you, but you want to read the fine print very, very carefully!

If you do an ebook, you’ll DEFINITELY need to take your own photos, but believe me, if you’re pitching a publishing company, it never hurts to have high quality, good-looking photos in your pitch. There’s a whole section on book proposals in the back of my book The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design, actually!

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