Lately, I’ve received a few emails that have asked me how I secured my book contracts. I thought it would be best to post my answer here so that others who are interested in publishing a DIY book might be able to glean something from my experiences.
My first published book, Yarn Bombing, was the culmination of sheer luck, timing, a willing co-author/tech editor, and many years of study of both the creative and the business sides of publishing. In 2008, I was attending a graduate program in publishing. One of my assignments was to pitch a ‘pretend’ title to industry professionals. I pitched a book on knit graffiti, and the author who I proposed would write this book was Mandy Moore, who I randomly selected after my profs told me that I wouldn’t have the funds to contract Debbie Stoller (author of Stitch & Bitch, editor of Bust, and a feminist icon).
Mandy and I had met several years prior at a stitch and bitch that my friend Janet and I started on a whim. We decided we wanted to improve our knitting while drinking in a pub, and Mandy happened to find our s&b blog ‘Knitting and Beer’ and show up to a few meetings. She was working for Knitty.com at the time, which was a new phenomenon, and I thought it/she was cool. The group fell apart after a couple of months, and I entered grad school a few years later.
When I created my student pitch for Yarn Bombing, I had no idea that Arsenal Pulp Press would call me in a few months later to seriously discuss the idea and that a few months after that initial meeting, Mandy and I would be sitting at my kitchen table drafting a full-fledged proposal. The kismet of the experience and how everything fell together so easily still leaves me awe-struck now, three years after the fact.
And while the sheer luck part of the story which still seems unbelievable, I also firmly believe that timing and experience had an equal role in making things happen. Yarn Bombing isn’t the first book length project that I’ve worked on, but it is the first one to be published. In the last fifteen years, my writing life has consisted of non-fiction articles, screenplays, stage plays, novellas, and YA novels – and experimenting with all of these forms have given me confidence as a writer. Studying screenplay structure taught me that a non-fiction DIY book should have a story arc. Play-writing made me interested in dialogue and voice, which came in handy when Mandy and I discussed what to include interviews from artists. Mandy is an expert at what she does – technical editing – which is understanding the mathematical requirements of commercial knitting patterns and how a pattern will change with gauge, material choice, and sizing. With Mandy’s guidance, we came up with a standardized way to edit patterns so that instructions were logical for our readers to follow.
While my creative writing studies gave me the confidence of being able to visualize the book from beginning to end, my graduate program really made me understand the motivations of book publishers. The most important piece of information that I took away from my studies is this – publishers are seeking books that fit their ‘list’. The list is essentially the publisher’s house brand or their carefully curated catalogue of titles. A list reflects the publisher’s taste and sensibilities and will reflect what a publisher will typically choose to publish.
My publisher Arsenal Pulp Press is a Canadian indie that hadn’t published any craft books before Yarn Bombing, but my pitch worked for them because it was a knitting book that was also about counter-culture, urban environments, and illegal art. This was a good fit for a publisher who had previous released books on anarchy, punk rock, vegan cooking, and 3D vintage gay porn. If I had pitched a book about cable knit sweaters at that time, it probably wouldn’t have appealed to Arsenal Pulp Press but, if I were to pitch them a book about knitting punk rock rainbow sweaters with vegan yarn now, it might fit their list.
When you do approach a publisher, make good use of their time. By this I mean – don’t waste their time or yours – create the best pitch you can. Writers should know their books inside out – not only in terms what content is in the book but also who a book’s readers will be. Publisher want to know how they will find your readers, and how these readers will engage with the content of your book. Your proposal needs to help a publisher figure out how to do this. (Will they make something? Will they just read about it? Will they cover a building in yarn?).
Writing a formal book proposal not help a writer outline the project for a publisher, but the end document becomes an invaluable tool for organizing the final manuscript. During the writing process of both Hoopla and Yarn Bombing, I referred to my initial proposal time and time again to ensure that I was on the right track.
And while working with a ‘traditional’ book publisher (as if there really IS such a thing) has been a great fit for me and the books that I’ve written, I must state that working with a publisher is not the only way to get your work out there. I believe that there are many new opportunities for writers, DIY or otherwise, with e-publishing and self-publishing. The publishing world is an exciting place these days, and I’m feeling optimistic about the long term success of it. I believe that this success will be aided by the revolutionary developments that seem to pop up daily: e-books, digital apps, author collectives, micro-financing, transmedia, and all the other buzzwords flying about. It is an exciting time to mingle in the worlds of DIY and bookmaking, whether it be digital or the beloved, bound-between-covers format.
Hopefully this post provided some answers about craft book pitches. Did I omit something important? Leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to provide a helpful answer.
I can’t say enough good things about Susan Page’s The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book as a reference for writing proposals. A photographer friend just used it to successfully pitch a photo-nature book.
Whip Up, the online craft and tutorial site, recently published a three part series on pitching a craft book, and I’d highly recommend these as a good primer to the publishing industry.