14 March 2014

Getting a Craft Book Deal

I’ve had a few emails from people who dream of turning their passion for craft into a book and want to know how to go about getting a publishing deal. I am by no means an expert on the subject of book publishing – while my first book is coming out in May, I’ve only got the one deal (so far, fingers crossed etc!). But what I can share is the story of my own book and how it came about.

When the prospect of writing a book first arose, I was totally clueless, so I spent some late nights doing online research and asking friends in publishing how it all worked. There wasn’t a lot of information out there on writing a craft book, but I really valued the advice that I did find. So I’m writing this in the hope that it will add to the conversation and help some other people to follow their dream… You only live once, after all!

Now be warned – this is a reeeeally long post, so if you’re interested in hearing the story, grab yourself a cuppa or a cheeky tipple. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…

For me, it all started a looooong time ago, nearly two years ago in fact, back in the summer of 2012. One day, I opened my emails to find a message from an editor at a major publishing house saying that she’d been reading my blog for some time and wondered whether I’d be interested in writing a book. Well of course it sounded like a very exciting opportunity to turn what I loved doing into a real life, printed book that my mum could put on her coffee table – crazy good, in fact! We had a very positive first meeting, along with a member of the marketing team, and I was asked to write a brief outline of a couple of concepts we’d discussed, to be shared with the rest of the team.

And then I waited.

And waited.

Trying to block it out of my mind, and trying but failing miserably to not get too excited too soon… and then feeling the disappointment of rejection creeping in. When eventually I heard back from the publishers, it was with news that the editor had since left the company, and that the team were focusing on an existing sewing book and didn’t think there was room for another one. Boo ☹

But then a couple of months later, I received an email from another publisher. This time, they already had an idea for a book that they wanted to publish imminently and thought I’d be a good person to write it. The concept was well up my street, and I loved the other books that they published, so despite myself I of course began to get excited again.

Again, but for a totally different reason, this one didn’t work out either.

A second false start. But in the meantime, I’d been making progress in another way. After getting approached by the second publisher, I realised that this crazy idea of writing a book might actually happen one day, possibly very soon, and that I knew absolutely nothing about the process of securing a deal, the terms of a publishing contract, who I should be working with, how much it would be worth etc etc. I’d heard about some bad experiences that other authors had had and I didn’t want to end up with a contract that wasn’t worth the many months of work I would put into writing the book or with some small print that led to frustration further down the line. Having handled my blog solo for years, I decided that now was the time to seek expert help – I wanted to get a literary agent.

Now, I know many craft authors have channelled the spirit of DIY and successfully secured book deals on their own, and I really admire them for that. For me, however, getting a literary agent was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Yes, they take commission. But for me it’s been sooooo worth it in terms of their knowledge of the industry, the contacts they have, the way they champion their authors, the negotiation skills they bring to the table, the questions they know to ask, their fine-print scrutinisation skills, and the moral support and hand-holding they can offer throughout the whole process, from writing a proposal to release. Oh and it’s in their interest to ensure that you’re paid properly for the hard work you put in!

So how do you find an agent? To be honest, I don’t know. All I know is how I got mine. One night, I fired off a short ‘n’ sweet email to an author I admire, who specialises in a totally different subject (so neither she nor her agent would consider me a competitor or conflict of interest), expressing my admiration (hopefully without sounding too much like a creepy stalker) and asking whether she had any advice for me on whether to get an agent or go it alone. (Tip for emailing a busy person: keep it brief and easy to answer!) Knowing how many emails she probably receives, I didn’t expect her to reply, let alone send me the email address of her agent, but that’s exactly what she did! Wow. I am extremely grateful to her for that!

I’m not suggesting you do the same – authors get squillions of emails and giving out your agent’s email address to strangers could totally get you on the wrong side of your agent! But if there’s an author whose career you admire and who writes about a totally different subject to you, have a look at the acknowledgements in the back of their book and you may find the name you’re looking for. Then write a brief note to the agent explaining who you are, an introduction to your idea, and why you want to work with them.

Okay so again I have no idea if that’s what you’re supposed to do, maybe you’re supposed to send them more or less than that, I don’t know – that’s just what I did, and then we met, got on really well, and agreed to work together.

So, literary agent on board, I knew immediately that I was in safe hands. My agent suggested I pretend that the concepts I’d been discussing with other publishers didn’t exist for a moment, and start from scratch. What would my dream book be? What did I feel strongly about? What would I be happy spending six months of my life writing? And out splurged a proposal.

These are the original sketches I included with my proposal
(some of these designs may or may not have made it into the final book!)
So what do you put into a book proposal? What I included was:

  • a suggested title
  • the concept of the book
  • an introduction to who you are and why you’re the right person to write this book
  • your “writer’s platform”, ie. anywhere people might know you from already (eg. blog stats, social media following, press, accolades, other work you may be known for, such as teaching gigs or business ownership…)
  • a draft contents list
  • extracts from the book (alternatively you could submit a full sample chapter)
  • any photos or illustrations relevant to the book (I included a mood board of photos to express the look I wanted for the book and sketched out design ideas for the garments).

The most important thing here is the concept. Do you have a strong idea that fills a gap in the market and for which there is a growing interest? For example, I had a strong gut feeling from blogging about sewing and from listening to my readers that there was a real need for a modern, fun and friendly beginner dressmaking book that takes you from the absolute basics of threading a machine to creating a wardrobe full of stylish handmade garments. I then consolidated this gut feeling with research – which basically entailed sitting on the floor in the craft section of Waterstones Piccadilly, going through all the books and noting what was already out there, what was missing, and how my idea would fill a gap on the shelves.

The process of writing the proposal is a good test, not only of the coherence of your idea but also of your enthusiasm and thus ability to write it. Do the words spring forth with passion and ease? If you find writing the proposal a struggle, you’ll probably find writing a whole book on the subject really tough – so maybe take a step back and rethink what you would really enjoy writing (cos it’s gonna take over your life!). My concept felt totally right to me, and the words filled the pages with ease since it’s basically what I’d been trying to do on my blog for years already. If it feels right, it probably is right.

Proposal written, my agent then submitted it to her Dream List of publishers. Pretty soon, we were liaising on the phone regularly setting up meetings, and I then spent an incredibly intense and fun couple of weeks zipping around London meeting publishers. It was a really interesting process as they were all very different, with different ideas for how they would approach publishing the book.

By the time the meetings had started happening (yes, the process took this long!), The Great British Sewing Bee had begun airing on BBC TV and the secret was out that I was in it. A (brief!) TV gig plus having my face plastered all over national newspapers obviously helped heighten interest and get more meetings with my agent’s first choice of publishers than I may have had otherwise. Obviously not everyone is going to get the chance to get on the telly, and obviously it’s not a requirement of getting a book deal. If you want to write a book I hope you’re heartened by the fact that I’d already had publishers approach me well before I’d even won a place on the show. I believe what was really significant about the Sewing Bee was the fact that it both shone light upon and further fuelled the UK’s growing interest in sewing. Suddenly sewing was hot! Is there is a growing market for the subject you want to write about? If so, that’s going to stand you in good stead when it comes to sparking publishers’ interest. And if you’re writing about craft, the answer is probably yes!

Remember my old blog design?
What can also really help get the attention of publishers is having a blog. Firstly, because a blog showcases your work on a public platform and makes it easy for publishers to see what you can do and what you're about. Secondly, if you can build a readership for your blog, that’s going to reassure publishers that you can build a readership for your book. It’s not just the editorial team who are going to make the decision on the offer – they will probably consult the sales and marketing department too. A third - and very important - reason why having a blog is important is because it gives you practice in writing and designing projects. You’re going to need to be able to do it quickly and consistently when it comes to writing a whole book. So if you want to write a craft book, my advice would be to write a blog, to keep writing a blog, to be professional (never slag anyone off online), to have a clear and unique identity, and to develop themed content on the subject you want to write a book on. Because you never know who is reading and who might email you one day!

Okay, so those are my tips, now back to the story. I’d had lots of meetings, and then began the nervous waiting game as I had to sit tight and hope that some offers would come in and my agent could get to work ensuring I got the best deal. Sitting at my day job, with one eye on my phone hoping it would ring, I was asking myself whether it was really going to happen this time, third time lucky – or was I an idiot to even think it might?

A few very excited email exchanges with my agent ensued, and then I remember rushing out of the office after work one evening, my agent on the phone with some very good news about the outcome of the negotiations. After some discussion and mulling over who would be the right publisher for me and my book, I went with Quadrille. An expert in craft publishing, with the likes of Liberty and Cath Kidston in their catalogue, with strong ideas for the book that matched my own (including the importance of having full scale printed patterns in the book – which I know you lot will appreciate!), I knew they were the right fit for me.

So that’s the story of how I got a craft book deal. Are you still awake?! I hope it was helpful to hear my story, but remember it’s certainly not the only way of going about it. It didn’t just “happen” – it took a long time, a lot of work, and I experienced setbacks and disappointments along the way. But if you dream of getting published and have an idea that feels right, pursue it! It’s an exhilarating ride.

And of course getting a book deal is just the beginning. Then you have to actually write the ruddy thing!

Update: Love at First Stitch was published in the UK on 8 May 2014. Order your copy from UK Amazon or order a signed copy from our shop!

Not in the UK? The book has also been published in CzechDanishDutch, FinnishGermanNorth American English, Norwegian and Swedish.