How to Write and Publish a Craft Book Part 1
People often ask me how to go about writing a how-to craft book and getting it published. I do have some information about this on my website in the Fun (Mostly) Facts section. I'm working on a new proposal so I figured I'd give you a window in the process. We'll see if this book sells and if it does I'll share the journey. If it doesn't, we'll talk about why. I won't share my actual designs or ideas though. Lesson one: keep your cards close to your chest.
A book proposal starts with a series of big ideas. I like to have about three or four general concepts/topics to present to my publisher and we narrow it down to something they think has legs. If you don't already have a publisher, you need to fully develop an idea into a presentation or a pitch and do a 'blind query.' That's how I sold my first book. Start by doing some research. See what kinds of books are on the market and what books are selling well. Go to the big box craft chains and book stores to see what's on the shelves and what has prominent placement. That should tell you what's selling. Try to glean a sense of overall trend based on the publications in your forum and what's hot in the related blogs and places like Etsy. Now think about what you can add to the conversation. What kind of a book isn't there on the topics that are selling well? What audience isn't being reached that might be receptive to the message? That's your proposal. Pick a publisher that reflects your style and go to their website to see what they want for a query, do exactly what they ask of you. Nothing annoys editors more than people who can't follow basic directions.
My most sage advice is: Don't annoy the editor. As a former editor I can attest to the fact that I stopped working with people who annoyed me no matter how talented they were. Be savvy, not flaky. You're not a biscuit.
Making a how-to book is all about picking a target reader and giving them information they can really use in a format that is clear, concise and hopefully entertaining. If it's too pedantic, it won't stand out on the shelves. No one likes to read stereo instructions...or boring how-to books. You need to find an angle that is unique, but not so far from center that the publishers are going to be afraid to take a risk on it. I have personally noticed that the best selling craft books seem to be focused on one thing, like wire or knots or PMC or collage or journaling or metalsmithing. So make sure whatever you do, your title has a focus and a voice. I tend to the pu pu platter approach because I'm restless and impatient and I hate doing the same thing for too long, but I'm cracking the whip and doing a focused concept this round.
You do not need to write the entire book before you propose it, the publisher will want to work with you to develop a concept they know will sell. I start with the title, the introduction and a chapter breakdown. This helps me to organize and fine tune the book concept in my mind before diving in. I like to come up with a clever title that also clearly states what the book is about. The Impatient Beader...it evokes an immediate visceral response right? Don't get too attached to your title though, because the publisher may change it. I decide what 's going in the front matter, the focus of each chapter, the number of projects based on their complexity and the standard how-to book length and the number of variations. I create samples that show a cross section of what the book is going to be about. I also visualize the book and the layout and try to give them a sense of what I'm seeing up front. That being said, they get to design the book. If you're just starting out, you'll also need to create a chapter header and a sample set of instructions, they need to get a sense of your personality and the vibe of your book. Most publishers have detailed information about what they want in a proposal on their website. My publisher has a form they like folks to fill out.
Generally what the publishers want to know from you is:
1. What makes your book unique? Why should we buy it?
2. Who is your target audience and why do you think they'd want this book?
3. What sort of audience have you cultivated? Do you have an online presence? What are your blog stats, Facebook fans/followers, website stats?
(If you don't have a website, blog and a Facebook page, I think that you really need them before you propose a book...although a successful Etsy shop could get your foot in the door, not having an interractive online presence means you won't have a platform for promotion and it's mostly up to you to promote your book. You can't rely on the publisher.)
4.What makes you an expert in this particular medium or field? Have you been published and if so, where and how often? Why should we work with you?
Let me just state for the record as someone who has published 5 craft books and is ready to publish her 6th that you aren't going to make a fortune on craft books unless you can self publish and you have a very large niche audience willing to buy your book. You will hopefully negotiate a decent contract and make a nice little royalty egg twice a year along with your advances, but it's about how you parlay that prestige into other paying opportunities that will help pay the bills. Don't go into this thinking that selling one how-to book will be enough to quit your day job, because it won't. Believe me.
I'm going to propose my next book soon and if it (hopefully) sells, we'll take the next steps together. If not, I'll pitch another idea until I get one that sticks! I have contacted my editor and we've selected a topic she thinks will appeal to the publisher. I have six out of ten samples created, an introduction and chapter breakdowns. Today I'm working on more samples and fine tuning my concept...wish me luck!