A different kind of designing

I’ve been gone from here a while, I know. My fingers have been on a mouse more than they’ve been on the needles lately. You see, I started working for this very cool independent publisher nearly a year ago and now I spend most of my time turning other people’s designs into pretty books.

I really, really miss knitting design, and I need to start making more time for it. But I have to say, it’s been fun rediscovering my love of graphic design, too. The last time I did any of that seriously was in 1992 when PageMaker and Quark XPress were the hot software. I actually read the Quark XPress manual cover-to-cover — partly because that’s how much fun I am and also because my boss was whiny about how hard page layout was and I wanted to lord it over her how well I could sling around some text on a screen.

Did you know that I’m secretly petty? Yeah, you probably did. It’s an ill-kept secret.

Anyway, that was a million or maybe just 20 years ago, but software has, ahem, changed a little. Now there’s Adobe InDesign and if I could marry it and make little PDF babies, I would. Creating a book on that software feels like flying after you’ve been riding on a skateboard. With a missing wheel.

I’m sure there are more metaphors I could mix there, but let’s just stop that, shall we? I’ve already grossed you out with the PDF babies.

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Here’s a cover I made! I like the book’s interior even better, but I don’t want to give away any of Kate’s patterns…

So now I get really lost in page design and some days I look up and it has gotten dark and I haven’t even made coffee yet. Because I am, as the English like to say, a nutter.

And then, every once in a while, I think, That’s still someone else’s book. And then I think about working on my own and it gives me a little stomachache and I go back to converting someone else’s imperial measurements to metric for a while.

Well, it will come. In addition to being slightly obsessive, I am also the world’s most impatient person — in some ways a paradoxical combination — so I just need to keep telling myself: it’ll come.

How to pitch a knitting or crochet book: tips for designers

Thanks to the internet, and particularly thanks to Ravelry, what was once an exclusive world of knitting and crochet design has now become a republic filled with fresh, new talent.

The possibilities for publishing and publicizing individual patterns have expanded online — not only through Ravelry, but also on Etsy, Craftsy, and a multitude of excellent online knitting magazines like Twist Collective. However, at the same time, the opportunities for print publishing appear to be shrinking. Print publishing is going through very hard times these days, as anyone knows who has followed the fate of newspapers, university presses, and trade publishers.

In other words, as the number of craft designers who want to publish books is expanding, the opportunities for them are in some ways contracting.

I don’t mean to be discouraging, and certainly there are still publishers (like the one that I work for) seeking out innovative ways to navigate the brave new book market. But if you want a chance to get heard when pitching your pattern book idea to a publisher, now more than ever you’re going to have bring your A game.

Having been in the shoes of both author and editor of knitting pattern books, let me offer some advice on how best to pitch a book idea:

  1. Follow instructions. It’s sad but true that many prospective authors don’t do this. Just like when you’re answering a call for designs from a magazine, you should read whatever guidelines the press offers for proposals and follow them to the letter. If you can’t pay attention to detail when writing a proposal, you’re not going to inspire confidence that you can produce a polished book project.
  2. Be as specific and concrete as possible. Editors want to know your big vision, but we also want to see that you have already swatched and sketched, and thought through the nitty-gritty details of what your collection will look like, even how it might be styled and photographed.
  3. Show that you know what the hell you’re doing. Before you pitch a book idea, you should have substantial experience with publishing individual patterns, even if all those patterns are self-published. However, the publisher will be even likelier to think you would be good to work with if you can show that you have already worked with other editors, such as at a knitting magazine. Either way, you should already have a solid, working knowledge of how the design process works from conception to swatching, pattern writing, grading, tech editing, test knitting, and styling and photography.
  4. Provide a snapshot of your audience and how to reach them. Your job as author does not end when your book is published. No matter how big your publisher is, you will likely be the main engine behind the publicity and marketing for your book. (Get those images of the fully paid book tour junket out of your head. Hardly anybody gets those anymore.) Even at the proposal stage, you should be able to provide a detailed picture of who the audience is for your book. Are there similar, successful books that you can point to that reach a similar audience? Are there related designs on Ravelry that have garnered huge popularity? Do you have a blog — or are there similar blogs — that have loyal followings? Are there clear channels for reaching this audience when publicizing the book? You should have answers to all of these questions ready to hand when pitching your book idea. Be able to demonstrate that there are people out there hungry for what you have to offer.
  5. Think of creative ways to engage the online world with your book. Publishers are desperate to figure out how to take better advantage of online technology, but most are ridiculously uncreative about how to do it. When thinking about what you can do with your book, be imaginative — as wildly imaginative as possible — about how you could connect your book to online technologies. Could your book be made available digitally, perhaps in app form? Could you use a Kickstarter campaign or similar online tool to help cover some of the upfront costs on your book? (Remember, publishers are strapped for cash these days — you might need to help raise funds to carry out your vision.) Could you create technique videos to go along with your book and post them to YouTube? Could you create a promotional video like this gorgeous one to lure readers into the world of your designs? What else could you dream up that would take your idea beyond the traditional limits of published knitting and crochet designs?

Any other tips to share? Do you have questions?

Yarn support: that’s the way to do it

ImageRarely have I encountered a business relationship that’s as kind and respectful as that between knitting designer and yarn company. When you design a sweater, yarn companies typically provide gratis the yarn that you need to knit the sample – which in and of itself is a pretty sweet deal. But on top of that, I have had universally good experiences dealing with yarn companies, from Malabrigo to Cascade to Berroco to KnitPicks. (Stacey, who runs KnitPicks’ Independent Designer Program, is a particular standout.) All have responded quickly and courteously and have even offered great ideas.

Even so, few can compare to Yarns of Italy, a relatively new yarn distributor that develops and purchases yarns in Italy and then sells them in the US for great prices. They have been selling on Etsy for a while, but more recently decided to go more big time. If you have been to TNNA in the last year or so, you have probably seen them.

In fact, to fill out their TNNA booth, the company held a design competition not long ago, asking designers to create something with each of their yarn lines. I was lucky enough to get to do the design for their Volute line, a gorgeous cotton-acrylic blend. (And let me tell you: gorgeous and cotton-acrylic blend are not phrases I typically put together.) The zippered cardigan above, called Velluto, is what I came up with.

All along the way, Kim (one of YOI’s owners, and the creative director) was a delight to work with. She has a whip-smart sense of humor and an easy manner, but is also very professional at all those times where that’s needed.

During the most recent TNNA, Kim even posted a photo of their friend, a handsome Sicilian gentleman, wearing my sweater. In all, I got the overwhelming message that these people love good design and want to do whatever they can to support it.

And then yesterday, I was looking at their just-launched web site, and saw that they had named one of the colorways in their Innamorata line after me! Innamorata is a luscious merino that comes in two weights and a gorgeous palette. Each color is named for a woman that the YOI owners like, and I got to be on the list! In fact, I’m light gray, since that’s the color of the sweater I designed for them. It is such a lovely and generous gesture. (My mother immediately ordered a sweater’s worth, of course. 🙂 )

You’ll definitely see me designing more with their yarns….

Freebird

I am sitting here at my desk, completely wired on happy. Perhaps you would like to hear why? (Unless you are my secret archnemesis, in which case you probably want to hear no such thing. Secret archnemesis, why do you hate me so?)

See? I’m giddy. Giddy because I have just spent the first two weeks in my new life. My new life that I chose for myself. My new life that it took me six years to convince myself to commit to. My new life that seemed like a crazy pipe dream and now it’s real and it’s going really well.

After six years of graduate school and 13 years as a college professor, I have officially resigned from academia and have begun a full-time career as a knitting designer, teacher, and writer.

Loyal readers of this blog are thinking, weren’t you going to do this about six months ago? Yes, yes, I was, but then a colleague convinced me to job-share with her for a while, and you know what? As kind as it was for my institution to let me have some job security while I figured things out, neither teaching nor scholarship are jobs you can do well when your mind is more than half somewhere else.

So, I resigned a couple of weeks ago. Since I’ve been preparing for — and having near-anxiety attacks about — this moment for years now, imagine my delight to find that IT’S GOING REALLY WELL.

Fear #1: I won’t be able to make even a meager living as a knitter. What am I, 22 years old with this “I’m going to be an artist” crap?

This is a legitimate concern, and I have had my earful of knitwear designers telling me you can’t make a living at design. They’re no doubt right. So I’m not trying to make a living at that — at least, not exclusively.

I’m also teaching, and not just at my LYS, but also looking at nursing homes, play groups, knitting conventions, and fiber festivals. Teaching pays better, and I’ve always loved it.

And I’m doing some interior design work, making one-of-a-kind fiber pieces for an architecture firm.

And most recently two of my favorite people in craft, Shannon Okey and Heather Ordover, asked me to help out their creative ventures on a freelance basis.

And I might apply for a grant. And it’s… just all coming together. All coming together after six years of planning and fretting and planning and back-filling with contingency plans and sweating creative sweat out of sheer panic.

But still.

Fear #2: After nearly two decades in academia, how can I be intellectually challenged enough by knitting?

This is more my friends’ fear than mine, but it’s worth talking through. I’ll be the first to admit that working with one’s hands requires a different kind of mental challenge than teaching about, say, postmodern historiography.

But just because those mental challenges are qualitatively different does not mean that they are quantitatively different. Let me tell you, my head was completely exhausted after trying to figure out how to construct this damned macramé light fixture last week.

This is engineering I’m doing. And algebra. And art. It is stimulating and variable and alive, and I cannot imagine tiring of it.

Fear #3: I will become a crazy person working at home.

Now, this one the jury’s still out on. It’s been only two weeks and already the cat is being subjected to this kind of monologue during the day:

“OK, I came in the kitchen for… what? Oh, that’s right, the dye pot. I have left the motherf&*^in’ heat on under the dye pot again. Criminately, I’m going to burn the house down if I’m not careful…. Ooh, cheese sticks!”

And so on. Yeah, clearly I’m going to need to schedule some OUTINGS. I promise I will wash my hair beforehand.