I’ve have career envy of Jennifer Worick for quite some time! A friend recommended that I get in touch with her five or six years ago because we had similar writing interests. When I clicked over to her site, I was super impressed. She’d written all of these books about interesting topics, and I was a bit in awe. Fast forward to last year, when we got the chance to meet at the CHA Supershow in Chicago. I learned that we had the same publisher (Voyageur) and the same agent. I also realized how smart she was about this whole book business. When I saw that she had started to offer book proposal writing classes, I knew that she would be the perfect Q&A for my blog. She’s written 25 books, including her latest, Simple Gifts: 50 little Luxuries to Craft, Sew, Cook, & Knit (which one lucky reader will win!). Jen is full of great ideas and great advice. Here, she shares some tips for writing your book proposal and marketing yourself.
Q: First, tell me about the workshops you've been teaching!
Worick: My pal, Kerry Colburn, and I have been asked many, many times for publishing advice. She’s an author who was an executive editor at Chronicle Books and I’m an author who was editorial director at Running Press. So we’ve been on both sides of reviewing and writing book proposals and it seemed like a natural next step to share our insight to groups of aspiring authors. So we give talks and workshops to help folks write salable proposals and learn about the publishing industry. We currently offer events in Seattle but are looking at creating e-courses and electronic multi-media kits, as well as hosting events in different cities, in the next few months.
Worick and Colburn
Q: How do craft book proposals differ from other book proposals?
Worick: Craft books, in some respects, are like cookbooks. Any sort of how-to book proposal needs to take into account that the projects will need tech editing and review for clarity and viability of projects. I think it’s helpful to include a complete list of the projects you’d plan to include, as well as step-out snapshots of a couple of projects (photos that match each step in the project).
There are a lot of craft books on the market so it’s also important to think about how your group of projects thematically hang together and are different from what’s already on the market. Are they all projects made for pets? Do they all have a floral motif? Are they all variations on a technique?
Q: How does an author make their proposal stand out from the field (either craft book proposal, or other non-fiction), and then how do you make your marketing efforts (to sell the published book) stand out from the field--especially in the craft world, which is starting to feel sort of saturated?
Worick: What Kerry and I advise in our Business of Books talks is that you first start in researching, not just your idea, but the market as well. It’s important to refine your idea based on what you see in the marketplace (both in the bookstore and online). If someone can get hundreds of free shawl patterns online to knit, what is going to make her shell out money for yours? What makes them so special? Do they all have intarsia designs that you’ve spent a long time figuring out? If there is something out there similar to yours, don’t despair. Just spend some time thinking about how to make yours more original and distinctive.
When it comes to marketing, there is a active online community for crafters so I’d recommend contributing to websites, commenting on other blogs, and writing your own blog. You’ll build up a community that can help evangelize your book when it comes out.
Q: What is the most challenging thing about doing a craft book proposal today (versus a few years ago)?
Worick: As you said, there is a lot of saturation in the market and it’s a tricky thing to find a great, specific idea that’s not TOO niche. Crafters are eager for the next thing to expand their skill set and blow their mind creatively, so if you can keep that in mind when developing your idea, you’ll strengthen its chances of being published. I wrote Backcountry Betty: Crafting in Style because I saw a desire to repurpose materials, incorporate natural elements you may have collected in a new way, and create inexpensive but clever projects.
Q: What is the most exciting thing about doing a craft book proposal today?
Worick: Well, for me, it’s two things: refining the overall concept and then brainstorming the individual projects. I don’t usually have all the projects figured out when I first develop a proposal. The creativity starts flowing and my ideas get more and more brilliant as I push myself to come up with fresh projects.
Q: Do you have like a top 3 list of the absolute best tips for pulling together your proposal (any proposal--craft or otherwise)?
Worick: Well, we have eight elements of a proposal that we talk about in our talks. But as far as tips:
1. Do your homework. Research and refine your idea.
2. You don’t have to write the book to sell the book.
3. Have a trusted friend review your proposal, maybe even a non-crafter. It’s important that you don’t assume anything and that your directions make sense. And sometimes as the author, you can’t see what’s missing or unclear.
Q: How important is negotiating with the publisher? This is foreign territory for many craft book authors, who are used to dealing with customers or running a business, but not necessarily negotiating rights and things for a manuscript.
Worick: It’s often hard to advocate for ourselves when we are negotiating a book deal. But that said, there are all sorts of points that have some wiggle room. If they won’t budge on royalty, then ask for a bigger advance or a “production grant” (a fee that you can use for materials or project development that won’t be part of your royalty). You can also ask for an escalator, where your royalty will increase when you hit a certain number of sales (say 15,000 units). And know all your options, what your bottom line is, and explore self-publishing options so you can see what might make sense for you. If you want all the control, have a large online community, and want to get your book to market quickly, self-publishing an e-book might be the way to go.
Q: Finally, can you talk about why it's important to build relationships with people--agents, publishers, press people, other authors/bloggers, etc--in order to really be successful in the bookselling business?
Worick: I think anything you can do to increase your knowledge of the publishing industry will help you in your quest to get published. Reading Shelf Awareness or subscribing to Publishers Marketplace can also help give you an idea of what deals are being made, what issues are of greatest concern to the industry, that sort of thing. You will become savvier and have a better idea of how to position yourself as the author and market your book effectively. Talk to your local bookstore staff, develop relationships with your crafting community and shops (again, both online and brick-and-mortar stores). As you build relationships and credibility, you increase your ability to market your book. You are probably already doing this naturally, because it’s where your interest lies. Just bring some mindfulness and purpose to your efforts and you’ll quickly become a desirable and marketable author.
For the second part of this two-part series on selling a craft book proposal, I’m offering a Q&A with Margret Aldrich. Aldrich is an acquisitions editor with Voyageur Press/Quayside Publishing Group. I had the pleasure of working with her throughout the whole process of negotiating the deal for Sew Retro and then working on the manuscript.
But before we get to the questions, I wanted to share a little about how the whole process of selling my proposal worked. I had the idea for Sew Retro in the spring of 2007; I met my agent, Joy Tutela, on a trip to New York City in April. She read my one-page summary and loved it; we immediately clicked. (See Part One of this series for awesome tips from her.) I worked on the proposal throughout the summer and sent her the finished draft in September of 07. We worked on revising and sharpening it and then she sent it out in October; we started hearing back in November. The feedback was really all over the place, which was interesting. Some publishers loved the historical narrative concept, but weren’t as interested in projects. Others wanted a more straightforward project book using all vintage materials. And even the feedback on the projects was mixed: one publisher wanted to focus only on clothes, while another thought it would be stronger if it was just home dec/design. One publisher suggested that I team up with designers who made vintage clothing and accessories.
I tried to keep an open mind as we were getting feedback, because I didn’t want to completely discount anything. But I really still believed in the original idea. I was considering revamping the whole thing (or honestly, just scrapping it) when Margret Aldrich from Voyageur got in touch in the spring of 08. She totally got the concept of both projects and narrative and loved the idea. It still took quite a bit of time to negotiate everything (we each had maternity leaves in the process), but we had an unofficial deal by September, and the contract was signed in the next few months (another reason I’m so glad I had an agent: she negotiated every point for me, explained to me why we wanted certain changes, and worked to get the best deal possible in the contract). From the point of signing, I had about six months to finish all the projects, write all the text/instructions, draw all of the illustrations, and gather all of the vintage images. There were certainly moments of chaos and stress, but truthfully, it all went pretty darn smoothly (I’m sure that was due in large part because Aldrich was genuinely excited by the project and very organized).
The process of sending the proposal out and getting my hopes up each time and then having them dashed was rough. And I admit, I did almost give up when I didn’t get the initial “yes, we love this idea!” from every publisher. But once I found the right fit, it all worked and fell into place. My point in all of this is: if you believe in the idea (and your agent believes in the idea—which mine did), and you have solid workmanship, writing, and market data behind it, just keep trying.
As promised, a Q&A with Aldrich, who shares her thoughts on how to wow a publisher with your craft book proposal.
Q: What do you love to see in a craft book proposal? What gets you excited?
Aldrich: For a craft book proposal, fabulous, unique projects are key. I love to see a wide selection of projects with a strong point of view, and photographs are extremely helpful in getting your message across to potential publishers. Take the time to shoot well-lit, semi-stylish photos. (They don't need to be professional, but they do need to show off your work.) Your editor can help shape the organization of your book or your writing style, but the projects need to be solid and special from the get-go. A unique "hook" is also important, because there isn't room on bookshelves for ten books covering the same topic. In addition, I'm thrilled to find an author who is already immersed in the crafting world—perhaps blogging, attending shows, selling wares on Etsy or elsewhere, publishing one-off patterns, contributing to magazines and websites, etc.
Q: Now the flip side: what is a big turnoff in a proposal? Aldrich: Projects or themes need to be ahead of trends, rather than following them. If something has already been done a million times, publishers likely don't want to see it, unless you have a new, unique perspective.
Q: What is the role of digital as we move forward?
Aldrich: Electronic media is becoming more and more important. As bookstores stock fewer books, we need to find new ways to bring an audience to our titles. Publishers are thrilled when authors are already established online through blogs, websites, or social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. After your book is published, a video is a great way to promote it via online booksellers like Amazon. They're like little commercials that can make a reader fall in love with your book. [Me here with a note: check out the video I did for Sew Retro here]
Q: Are there areas in craft books that are really growing?
Aldrich: Sewing is still a hot topic and "designer" sewing shows signs of being on the rise, thanks to shows like Project Runway. In general, handmade and DIY subjects are still solid as readers search for ways to simplify and personalize their worlds.
Q: When you and your editorial board are meeting about a potential project/author, what are the biggest determining factors as to whether the project gets signed or not?
Aldrich: Publishers want to see proof (or at least an indication) that a book will sell. If you're proposing a book to a publisher, include title/author/publisher of other books similar to yours that have sold well. Include articles, facts, and numbers about your subject that prove readers are interested in it. Show that you have expertise on the topic (and ideally a huge following of adoring fans!). But most of all, again, focus on creating fabulous projects that readers will love to make.
Thanks so much to Margret Aldrich for answering my questions.Here are a few links you might find helpful:
My fellow Voyageur author, Jennifer Worick, wrote a helpful article on this topic for Craftstylish.com.
There’s also a good Craftypod podcast on this topic, and she includes a list of resources for more information as well.
I often get asked about how I sold the idea for Sew Retro, so I thought I’d do a two-part series about selling craft book proposals. I know a little something about the process since I just went through it. But I also wanted input from the people working in the industry every day, so both my agent and the acquisitions editor I worked with at my publisher were kind enough to take the time to answer some questions. Today, I’ll offer some tips from my agent, Joy Tutela, who’s been an agent for over a dozen years and represents the bestselling knitting book Mason-Dixon Knitting among other craft titles.
Using an Agent Before we even get to the tips, I wanted to address the process of working with an agent. Not all authors use agents—you certainly don’t have to. But for me, using an agent was a no-brainer. I knew that I didn’t know the book industry well enough to negotiate smartly. I also didn’t know who was who, and which publishers/acquisitions agents I should target (and I didn’t want to spend the time intensely researching it). I also wanted feedback on my proposal. Plus, my agent and I just clicked, and she really believed in the project (I can’t stress enough how important this is). So why do authors sometimes go it alone? Money. The agent takes 15 percent of the advance and royalties (you don’t pay them directly; checks come to the agency on your behalf and the agency takes their cut and then re-cuts the remainder of the check for you). But I found it a smart trade-off and it made good business sense to me. Plus, once you develop a strong working relationship with them, agents can be great at finding work for you.
Strong Ideas So, back to the process of selling your craft book idea! That’s actually the first point to make: you need a CLEAR IDEA and a clear sense of what your projects will be, and that should be spelled out in the proposal. “The projects always have to be of quality, and should be interesting and new,” Tutela says. Don’t bother completing every single project in the proposal stage; instead, pour your energies into creating a strong showing of selected ones, which could be either one completed chapter or a sampling of projects across the different chapters. (Tune into the next installment for tips on how to present your projects to publishers in the proposal stage.) Your proposal also needs to show how your idea is a good fit in the current market, and have a strong “why now?” component—such as a new approach to an old craft, a different twist on techniques, or a growing niche demographic. Some books, like Sew Retro, have a strong narrative component. But all craft books don’t need this. Tutela says there is still plenty of space for straight project books—it just depends on the publisher and what they’re looking for (which is why it’s handy to have an agent who knows how publishers like to fill out their book lists).
Strong Platform Tutela stresses that one of the main things an author needs is a pre-existing audience, whether through a well-read blog (20,000 to 30,000 unique visitors a month will likely impress a publisher), through speaking engagements, through a brick and mortar destination store, or through a strong Etsy shop. “They need something that puts them in front of potential consumers of craft products—something that shows that when the book comes out, they’ll have the opportunity to be heard,” she says. This is often the most challenging part of selling a book—not only do you need the idea, but you need to show that you’ll be able to sell books. In my case, it wasn’t that I had a blog or a shop at the time; rather, I think it was that I had good connections at craft/shelter publications and web sites, and that I was consistently publishing articles about crafts/DIY/ and decorating—and I shaped that into a platform.
Writing Matters Even though craft books are visual in nature, the writing still matters—a lot. “You need clear instructions and good writing. If you can’t deconstruct what you do, find a good technical writer who can,” Tutela advises. She says that there is nothing wrong with positioning yourself as the “idea” person, and then bringing in different people with different expertise for other areas (like design or technical work). Just make sure that you are transparent and upfront.
Think Digital Print isn’t dying, but digital is booming, and print can’t ignore it. Embrace digital in all its applicable forms, Tutela says: videos, multimedia slide shows, podcasts, blogs, etc. If you’re not comfortable with digital, educate yourself and get comfortable, because it’s not going away. “Recently, I have addeda new requirement: a section all about digital play, where the author talks about things like how-to videos or other digital applications. It’s all about how consumers can interact with the community that’s reading the book and how can they have a value-added experience through digital enhancement,” Tutela says.
Embrace the Crafting Community The crafting world truly is a community: book authors support and reference each other constantly. That’s somewhat unique to the craft book world. Get familiar with who is who, (humbly) find your place in the community, and always be generous. “The best craft books are seeking to inspire the reader to get the techniques by doing the craft in the book. But it’s really only a launching board for the reader to figure out their own artistic position,” she says. Think of your craft book as part of a larger discussion and experience—not as the be-all and end-all of everything.
Realistic Expectations Lastly, keep it real. Writing craft books won’t make you rich. It doesn’t have to bankrupt you either, of course. But keep your expectations about advances realistic, Tutela says. “You really need to understand the costs of things like photography. It’s a huge investment for publishers, and they tend to be fairly modest in supporting these books today,” she says. “I don’t think anyone should set out to write a craft book to make a lot of money; it has to be part of an overall strategy about where they want to be in the craft marketplace, whether it’s lecturing/teaching, or having a business/studio that relates to their book.”
So there you go: some advice to get you started on your craft book proposal journey. In the second part of this series, I’ll bring you tips from the acquisitions editor I worked with at Voyageur, as well as some links to more information about writing and selling craft book proposals.