Getting your craft book published isn’t a mysterious process, and it’s certainly not something to do if you’re wanting to earn a lot of money quickly.
That’s what we learned in Part 1 of our peek behind the curtain of the craft book publishing industry.
In this second part we’ll talk about budgets and marketing for craft books, as well as publisher risk and the future of the craft book publishing industry. We’re chatting again with Kate McKean, a literary agent with the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, Amy Marson, publisher at C&T Publishing, and Susanne Woods, who started Lucky Spool Media in 2013.
Though I originally planned to write this all in a single post, these industry leaders all had valuable comments so I kept their answers in their own words – which made for an article that was a bit too long for just one post….so don’t forget to check in on Part 1 to learn about author pay, and royalties, and what to do if you want to write a book.
In Part 1 we learned that authors earn between $5,000 and $50,000 on average for writing a craft book, with, as Kate McKean said, “the overwhelming majority of those on the lower end of the scale.” So I wanted to find out why it’s not more than that, by asking about how publishers earn money and what their general budgets are per book.
Me: Do you think that would-be authors expect too much from publishers? What should authors understand about the publishing industry that you don’t think they understand? I know a lot of people throw around that “publishers are the only ones making money,” etc. But is this really true? Are publishers making money these days? Is it tough for publishers, too?
Kate McKean: It’s tough all around, but things are looking up. Still, publishers are not rolling in the dough. Agents even aren’t. It’s easy to turn rejection into bitterness, and I think that’s where a lot of that cynicism comes from. But also, a lot of authors think that because they spent time, effort, and money on a book idea, that they deserve some kind of recognition for that. If only everyone who deserved a book deal got one! Publishing is not a meritocracy–it’s a business. And publishers buy books that they think will produce a return on their investment. They happen to be investing in art, which is where that tension comes in. Many people, in all genres, expect to become famous and be sent around the world on a book tour upon publication, but in reality, few get that. Lots of publishers are just businesses like many crafters are–looking for products that consumers like. It’s easy to forget that when your baby is the one being published or rejected.
Amy Marson: I don’t think authors expect too much. We deliver more than most publishers and we act as a partner. Publishing is a speculative business. We never know what is going to sell and we produce books that may or may not resonate with the quilter or sewist. We always hope the reward is greater than the risk, but we don’t know. Authors do not assume any of this risk, the publisher pays for the book no matter how it sells. There is no guarantee that the publisher will recoup costs. Each book has a cost to produce and may offer a return to the publisher, but many books do not offer a return. The hope is that each season a publisher has enough strong selling books to cover the ones that are not. Typically an author can earn $5,000 to $50,000 depending on how well the book sells, which is more than the publisher will earn once we cover our costs. We are in this business because we love it, not because we make a lot of money. No one goes into publishing to make a lot of money.
Susanne Woods: Lucky Spool rewards our authors for all their hard work with much bigger royalties when the book sells well (escalating to 30% of net receipt!!). I’m dedicated to getting more money into the hands of our authors wherever I can and that authors are now in a great position to ask for more than what they may be offered. And I want to be clear that ‘more’ can be a lot of different things: more control, more input, more royalties, more free copies, more limited rights, etc. I think authors need to read and understand every single detail of their contract and what it might mean for them and their work next year, in two years time, and in five. I can’t ever offer advice as I am not a lawyer, but I cannot tell you how many people have asked me how to get out of their book contracts. Don’t let that be you!
All I can say is that if a clause makes you uncomfortable, or you can’t see it tallying with your long-term goals for growth, it’s not necessarily that you shouldn’t sign the contract, but maybe just strike out the clause that bothers you. Or ask for what you do want in a way that could benefit both parties. Or ask for a limit. Or ask for more. Just ask. Be 100% comfortable with every right you are granting. As I said before, there are a lot of publishers looking to fill their lists, so there will likely be another publisher to go to who may be more in line with your goals. As for what publisher’s make (we are in start-up so maybe I’ll take a paycheck in 2015-ha!), profit is slim for publishers too, in part because the retail prices are so crazy low. It’s slim profits all around because it is not an expensive retail per book.
Me to Amy and Susanne: I know that you can’t discuss specific details about budgets for books, but I know that each book project has a budget it needs to stay within, obviously. Would you be able to share a budgetary range for the development of a sewing/craft book? Is it something between, say $25,000-$30,000, or above and beyond that? Does it vary quite a bit, or does each book kind of stay within the same general budget range?
Amy: While we can’t discuss specifics it is something we share with our authors and we are very transparent. The cost of producing a book can go as high as $40,000. You also have the overhead that includes sales, marketing, distribution, and the daily expenses of running a business. Each book carries about $30,000.
Susanne: Sure I can discuss specifics. The retail price of the book and the projected sales determine the budget. The higher the retail, the bigger the budget for the book (and the more money into the author’s pocket!). Just like anything, you pay more for better. You just do. That is probably why I’m not that interested in producing $12 books. What can you possibly create with that budget? And can I just say: $25 for a book that is packed with 12 or more projects with all the photography, and the design, and the professionals working to make it perfect and beautiful and accurate—it is an absolute bargain! Especially when you compare those to patterns that likely haven’t received nearly as many of those resources, yet retail for $12-15 each. At Lucky Spool, we spend in the region of $30,000 per book, yes. What this means for us (given retailer discounts) is that we need to sell around 7,000 copies at $27 or so just to break even on our investment in the book, but the author does earn royalties on every copy sold from the very beginning. I have always said that, for authors, getting a book deal is like getting a bank loan for $30,000 in return for the time it takes to create a book. It is a tremendous risk for the publisher and some books never do earn their ‘loan’ back. It’s risky.
Me to Amy and Susanne: Related to (my previous question), please describe, in general, the process a book goes through after the author lands the deal. How many people are working behind the scenes, and what types of expenses do publishers shoulder?
Amy: The process is we work with the author to develop the idea if needed, on a sample project, or rough draft. We go through editing (developmental, technical, copy) create illustrations and do all the photography, design, page layout, covers, and prepare for printing and all other formats that book will be available in including PDF, mobi and epub. We have it printed, and shipped to us. Meanwhile we are producing marketing materials, creating a social media presence around the book and taking it to sales conferences and tradeshows. We promote the book through all social media channels, printed marketing pieces, inbound marketing to our website and on our blog. 30 people are looking out for your book during its lifetime from the first editor to the publisher. What that group of 30 does is that everyone is covering a smaller area and allows for both specialization and collaboration so that everyone can do what is best for each book. What do we pay for? We pay for everything. It is probably easier to tell you what the author pays for. The author pays for the material to make their projects, for the shipping to us, to make their step outs for photography and that is it.
Susanne: I work with an entirely freelance creative team of a handful of people per book: an editor, a technical editor (or 2), a copyeditor, a proofreader, an illustrator, a photographer (or 2…or 3), a designer, a production coordinator, a marketing person, and then see the benefit of the huge staff at my distribution company post-creation.
Marketing, copyright, and deadlines…what else does the author need to do?
Me to Kate: Of course there are other issues rather than just payment. Rights, other terms, deadlines, marketing responsibilities, etc. How much is negotiable for authors?
Kate: Everything is negotiable until it is not. Rights are negotiable mostly, and deadlines are very negotiable. Marketing responsibilities are marginally negotiable, as far as the publisher expects authors to do a lot of marketing for their book (as they would want to!) but no so much as to completely kill the other sides of their business. A publisher almost never commits to specific marketing points in a contract because so much can change between signature and publication. The biggest problem for most authors in negotiating is A: they think the publisher will be “mad” if they ask for more of XZY (not true! this is a business!) and B: authors don’t know what’s normal. Authors, if you don’t have an agent, (and you don’t always need one in craft) get an intellectual property attorney (not your sister-in-law the divorce attorney!) or ask friends for advice. Ask, ask, ask. The publisher won’t run away screaming.
Me to Amy and Susanne: Let’s talk a bit about marketing. Once an author has published her or his book, what’s next? What are their requirements for helping market the book? If they’re going to Quilt Market, are they expected to pay for their trip or their own booth? What’s generally considered standard?
Susanne: Ha! Well, we are pretty new, so don’t really have a ‘standard’! Every book had a marketing budget, so anything is really on the table. For Quilt Market, it would depend if they were already going for their business or not, and we look at contributing to those expenses. I’d love to be able to afford to send every author to Quilt Market, but sometimes other things make more sense. For Shea’s book, School of Sewing, we built an entire website to support the book (theschoolofsewing.com, coming soon), and for Carolyn’s book, we paid for her to attend BEA (the largest domestic book publishing trade show) in New York and arranged for her to teach at Purl Soho and we also co-sponsored an Instagram giveaway for a free spot at a popular sewing conference where Carolyn was teaching. We’ve also abandoned some ideas half-way as they began to feel forced for the authors. We listen, we are flexible, and we want each marketing approach to be different and in-line with the goals of the author.
Amy: Marketing has changed so much in the last few years that it is different for each author. If an author is social media savvy they will do a lot to promote and grow their brand with their new book. We also have many authors who travel and teach from their books and make a very nice living doing what they love. We used to pay for authors to go to Quilt Market but don’t anymore because the authors are their for myriad reasons, including making industry contacts, trying to get a fabric deal, face-to-face time with friends, attending the industry events; not just their book so it doesn’t make sense for us to bring them. And we never require an author to go. And market is just one way to promote a book, now we spend the money we used to use in other ways to grow the international presence and sell their books into other places and other countries.
So, what does the future hold?
Me: In the next five years, how do you think the craft book publishing industry will change? And what can aspiring craft book writers do to prepare themselves for those changes?
Susanne: I think authors/designers have a ton of choices regarding how to get their work in front of their fans and that craft book publishers will need to respond to that ease of access authors have to their fan base in a way that makes sense. As I see it, the ball is in their court. Publishers need content, so content providers have way more power than they think. Because of that, I’d love to see authors ask more questions. That’s my mantra for 2015: Ask.
I hope that by this questioning of what role traditional publishers and media companies can and should have in our creative industry, artists, designers, and authors can invite change through creative thinking. The feedback I have had from experienced authors isn’t that they want to abandon traditional publishing altogether, but that they want the balance to shift and want creative solutions to the challenges of the current marketplace. They want to right-size what they are being asked with what benefits publishers are truly providing and be sure that tallies with fair revenue splits. I’d also love to see more assisted self-publishing or hybrid publishers like ours who value the ‘fewer/better’ mentality. I’d also love to figure out a way for consumers to see the true value of illustrated books. I think a retail price of $30-35 for a beautiful book isn’t unrealistic. I’d also like to see more companies created to support quality self- publishing rather than trying to marginalize or eliminate it (hint: it’s not going away).
If I had a million dollars, I’d create an online database of freelance craft staff ($50 a year and an online test and/or portfolio gets you a listing as an illustrator, designer, photographer, tech editor, whatever…) for self-published authors to access— an Airbnb (the person-to-person vacation rental service) for the craft-publishing world.
I’d also love to see a collective of self-published authors or small publishers who contribute to things like co-op advertising in magazines (a full page ad in a mainstream craft magazine can be $10K+ for one issue!) or buy ‘points’ for marketing on Amazon, or come together and form something unique that attracts common audiences.
I’ve got a lot of not-so-crazy ideas and I’m sure a lot of us do. I hope we will see bigger risks taken by our creative industry to really question what is appropriate in the publishing industry today.
So for potential authors, I say: think outside of the box before you buy into the status quo of publishing and question what you can do better, faster, differently, more authentically with or without a third party. Then do that.
Kate: It will most certainly change. I don’t know to what. Aspiring authors can prepare, though by reading about publishing (Publishers Marketplace is a good start) and by reading and buying books–of all kinds. That’s where you’ll see that change happen first.
Amy: Aspiring authors need to develop their own voice and want to collaborate with their publisher for many years after their book is released. They should want to do videos and social media to get the word out about their book. They should consider teaching either in person or online. How will the craft book industry look in 5 years? Very different than it looks today.
Thanks so much to Susanne, Amy and Kate for sharing their time with me on the blog the past couple of days – I’ve learned a lot, and hope you have, too.
So are you ready to throw your hat in the ring to publish a craft book? Did our peek behind the scenes of the craft book publishing industry inspire you to propose one….or do you think this it’s an avenue you’d rather not pursue?
Deanna McCool writes for sewmccool.com. To make sure you don’t miss future posts in this series, please follow SewMcCool by e-mail (the link is at the top of the right-hand column) or join me on BlogLovin’ – the button is just below the e-mail feed box! 🙂