Let's learn about Traditional Publishing and Self Publishing quilting books. This is a transcript from a recording at Houston Quilt Market in October 2016 with Christa Watson, Stephanie Palmer, and I sharing our experience with quilt book publishing at a Schoolhouse Seminar.
Note - Some links have been removed due to books going out of print and publishers going out of business. As showcased within this conversation - trusting a publisher with your book - all the time and effort it took for you to create it - might not be the best idea.
As I update this post in 2023, I'm still very happy to be a self published quilting author. Yes, it is more work, yes, it requires me to wear more hats and build more skills, but maintaining the rights of my quilting books and designs has never been more important.
Traditional Book Publishing Verses Self Published Book Publishing for Quilting Books
Leah Day: So this is a schoolhouse all about publishing books, all about writing and it’s sponsored by Island Batik.
If you have questions and maybe don’t feel comfortable asking in person, or you just want to come and chat with me more about writing, publishing, or being an author entrepreneur, then please come and talk to me.
I’d love to help you. This is why I wanted to create this schoolhouse. This is why I wanted to present it. Because I’m very passionate about helping other quilters be successful at this whole thing. And most especially to do this through writing books. I think it’s such an awesome way to share content. It’s an awesome way to give yourself some THUD factor.
Thud factor is like when you drop the book is makes a THUD, you know when you drop a pattern it doesn’t sound real loud, but when you drop a book, it makes a pretty loud noise.
That is part of why I like to teach about self-publishing and writing and how to get started and how to keep going.
So how we’re going to do this..this was inspired by a comic book convention where there was a moderator and couple other people and they basically answered the same question, each person chipping in and sharing different opinions and perspectives on that aspect of comic books.
Well this is kind of the same thing only we’re going to talk specifically about writing craft / quilting books, and we each have a different take on this.
Why do you write and what books have you written and how have they been published?
Christa Watson: Thank you and for those of you who don’t know this is Leah Day, amazing machine quilter and my name is Christa Watson and I have published two books and have another on the way next year and I mostly write about machine quilting, and I’m so nervous I’ve forgotten the first question.
Leah Day: Oh, that’s okay. Why do you write?
Christa Watson: Why do I write? Well I write because I can edit myself. Doing this live, is a little different. Now I really enjoy, I love teaching. I’ve taught machine quilting for years and years and when I decided it was time to write a book, it basically helped me take what I’d taught for years and years and put it in book form.
Because I realized there is only one of me and I can’t get around to the entire world and I can’t teach all the quilters so I thought that by writing a book I can reach a wider audience, teach my methods and share my passion and so far it’s been a really fun ride.
- Christa’s books include Machine Quilting with Style and The Ultimate Guide to Machine Quilting.
Stephanie Palmer: Hi, I’m Stephanie Palmer, your bonus person not listed today. Leah and Christa dragged me along because I have a slightly different perspective and so we thought we’d round it out for you.
So I’m the indie publisher of The Quilter’s Planner and you all have the Mini Quilter’s Planner in your swag bags todays. They are little 5 x 7 put-in-your-purse books, but the full size one is here and Checker distributor is carrying it or you can buy it from QuiltersPlanner.com.
So I write, well I’m a clinical psychologist and a quilter, multipoltentialite we call ourselves, everyone in this room I bet are those people that have multiple talents because that’s what quilters are, right? So I write because I’m fascinated by the human brain and our need to set goals for ourselves and to continue to push ourselves and grow.
So for me writing both fiction stuff on the side and publishing and writing this book has been to explore how goal setting helps us be more productive.
Leah Day: Awesome. So why I write books…when I got started with The Free Motion Quilting Project, that’s my blog, within about fifteen days people were begging for a book. And I’d never really thought about it.
And I was like “You want a book? Really? Like now? There’s only 15 designs? Why do you want a book? Just wait!” But it was at that time where I was just starting a business and I kinda needed to make some money so that’s why I wrote my first book.
My first book was actually about piecing (How to Piece Perfect Quilts) and it was an ebook and I recently edited it and this has been published On Demand through a site called Create Space (now merged into Amazon KDP Publishing)
Create Space ties into Amazon.com so when you order this, it’s printed on demand, doesn’t cost me a dime to print it, and I just make a royalty on the sales. So I never had to print a copy of this, unless I wanted to sell it at a class. Does that make sense?
My other books that I’ve created, I made mini books and the reason I made these is I got tired of making handouts for classes. Because every time I’d make a 5-page handout and stapled them all together, half of them got left on the tables at the end of class. No one respected my time and energy making that hand out so I thought well I’ll make a spiral bound mini book and no one is going to leave this baby behind!
It’s also added THUD factor to my classes where I can go ahead and charge an extra $20 to the supply fee unless someone already had the book, and that helped me make a little more margin on my classes as well.
So the last reason I made a book is it made the most sense. 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs was the book with all the designs I published for The Free Motion Quilting Project that’s the videos that I published and I’ve gone beyond that, but that was a good place to say well that was the original goal, put it together in a book and it has done really well.
So that kinda the reasons and the books that we have all created. So now we’re going to talk about why we’ve gone Indie or Traditional and more specifics about that. The thing is you have a lot of choices and that’s the thing I really want you to understand by the end of this schoolhouse. Just how many choices you have when it comes to writing and publishing and getting your books out there to quilters.
How are you published and why did you go traditional or indie?
Christa Watson: Thank you. Well, the main reason I decided to go with a traditional publisher, I’m published by Martingale – That Patchwork Place – and I have two books on machine quilting out right now and my third one will come out next fall.
And the main reason I choose to go with a traditional publisher is because I don’t have the layout and design skills and photography skills to do self-publishing. I know you can hire that out, but that was kind of a barrier for me and when I researched different publishers and which one I wanted to pitch my ideas to, I found that Martingale seemed like a really good fit with me and I loved the fact that they really helped out a lot.
They basically can take what I call my chicken scratch or all my information I was able to give it to them and they could turn it into this beautiful work of art. The work of art that was in my head and I had to get it out, but by working with them collaboratively we were able to come up with this really really wonderful product and I had a really good experience.
I’ve never done any indie publishing myself, other than patterns, and I’ve been really really happy working with a traditional publisher.
Stephanie Palmer: I think this question, a lot of it depends on your personality and what you like to do. If you are someone who likes a team being presented to you who will help you along the way and give you deadlines that you need to follow, then the traditional publishing world is a really great fit.
If you’re a little more slightly on the Type-A side or you like to have your hands in a lot of different aspects, then indie or self-publishing, we use the terms interchangeably, is an excellent options.
Like Christa, I actually don’t have the graphic design skills, but one of the things I enjoy doing is putting my dream team to create my dream product. So I love finding the right graphic designer, the right photographer, the right pattern writers to work with me.
My favorite thing is community and collaboration and this is what drove me to choose the indie or self-publishing world. And also creating a planner is a little bit outside of the normal box, it’s not quite talking about creating a book of patterns in the same way. There are fourteen patterns with it, but it’s just different so it doesn’t fit with the traditional publishing world.
Leah Day: Excellent. And I choose to indie publish simply because that made the most sense for my business. I needed to make some cash from my books. Straight up, I need to pay bills and #1 I couldn’t take the lead time that it takes a traditionally published book. I wasn’t willing to wait a year or two years to see that finished product. Most of my books have taken a couple of months to go from idea to design to finished book so I just couldn’t wait.
And then I wanted to make more money off of them. So that’s why I choose to go indie. And there’s actually another form of publishing and that’s going hybrid. Where this book (365 Free Motion Quilting Designs) began as self-published. I published it in 2012 and it was a self-published first edition.
Then I created a 2nd edition in 2014 where we updated the layout, had it edited, new cover designed, all that good stuff. We did two print runs that were very successful, but then my husband and I both admitted that it was too expensive. I couldn’t deal with the cost, I didn’t want to deal with the warehouse, it was just a big giant headache.
And this is something that’s important is to prioritize and understand who you want to be in this world. I didn’t want to be a shipping manager. That isn’t what was interesting to me. So I took the book and offered it to C&T Publishing, a traditional publisher and we worked out a deal and that means the book has gone hybrid, meaning that it was self, now it’s traditionally published.
If at some point C&T decided they no longer want to print it, then it will revert back to self publishing and I’ll regain control over it.
So the next thing we’re going to talk about is the writing process.
How do you start your books? Do you have any tips on outlining, planning the book to get started?
Christa Watson: Great. This is a really great question. Again, I had my books published with Martingale That Patchwork Place, and as part of their proposal process, which is probably similar to many other traditional publishers, what you do is there is a form you can fill out that basically talks about the book, you write a couple paragraphs, essays, you do your market research, try to find out why your book will sell, what other books are similar to yours in the market, and why yours stands out.
And the biggest thing they want you to put together is a little package, like a little mini version, what is this book gonna be? What are the projects going to be in the book? Now depending on the publisher, they may or may not want you to actually make some of the projects in the book.
In my case, I made one of the quilts in the book, my first book had twelve quilts, and then I had line drawings, I designed in EQ7, so I had EQ7 designs showing what the designs would look like, showing what the machine quilting would look like.
My first book Machine Quilting with Style, ended up being 112 pages long, my proposal to the publisher was 40 pages long so it was very in depth, and all that is leading up to doing the proposal process is almost as much work as the book. That’s where you’re putting all your details together, how long is the book going to be, how many photographs will be in it, illustration, and even though those numbers can change, it gives you an idea.
Because you don’t want to approach a publisher and say “I want to write a book.” They’re like “Oh, great…” What you want to do is say “I want to write a book and this is what it’s going to be about and this is about how long it will be.” It shows that you have thought out the process and you have thought out what it’s going to be and you’re just working with to get it printed. You’re doing the work as the author. You’re doing the work, they are helping you bring it to fruition.
So the number one thing that helped me organize my book and write it was having a very organized step-by-step detailed table of contents in my proposal so when it came time to actually write the book all I had to do was fill in the blanks and add in all the missing pieces. And it was a very streamlined process.
Stephanie Palmer: I’m a very visual person, probably a lot of us in this room are, we wouldn’t be here if we were not. So I have a giant white board, like the biggest I could find, and I plot out my ideas in a graphic kinda of picture sense with sticky notes. It’s very mad genius looking and I can’t let my kids anywhere near it because if they erase it, it’s gone forever and I’ll never have that idea again.
So I use visual formats and I think maybe here is a time I can say that I’m realizing that all three of us are bloggers as well. If you’re thinking now that you’d like to write, that you might want to publish your own book or go the traditional route, think about how you can start flexing your writing muscles, even if we’re talking about writing patterns, what can you do to write?
Maybe think about blogging. It’s not about having a million followers, it’s about practicing this craft, right. Same thing about magazines, I know we’re going to talk about that too, but getting your work in magazines. Before you publish a book, you need to start building an audience, you need to start building your people, your tribe, and that starts today. Like today, go home and start thinking about that now!
Leah Day: I absolutely agree. Because no matter if you go indie or traditional, if you publish a book and there’s no one that knows you, you’re not going to sell any copies. Sorry, but that might sound harsh, but a lot of people go into this assuming like I can go with a traditional publisher and they’re going to sell it for me. No, they’re not. It doesn’t work that way anymore.
Because there are so many books coming out, you’ve gotta have your little group, your fan base, that loves you. So for writing for me, I’ve run the gambit from completely disorganized, like fly by the set of my pants. “I have no idea what I’m writing next, it’s just whatever I feel like today!”
And that is a nightmare! It doesn’t work for me and has led to a lot of catastrophic, very time consuming problems in my book writing process. What I eventually came to find for pattern-based books which I’m getting into has been to write the patterns first.
Kinda go backwards so the patterns go at the end of the book, right? I’m writing those first, then I’m going “In order to make that pattern, I need to teach this technique.” So then I write that technique. And then I backtrack further “Okay, in order to understand that technique, what do they need to know next?”
And so for me it’s now writing a backwards process and this has also helped me get out of my head when it comes to the first chapter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a chapter one like seventeen times. “It’s not good enough yet!”
So that is such a waste of time! Leave the first chapter and introduction all to the very end or you’ll really waste your time constantly going back to it and back to it.
Okay so anther thing we have to deal with in writing is managing photos. This is a big part of our quilting books. They have lots of photos and step-outs, meaning you have a quilt partially created or a block partially created.
So let’s talk about tips for managing photos and any other tips, books, podcasts that make writing easier?
Christa Watson: Very good, well Stephanie kind of eluded to it. If you’re considering writing a book I recommended starting with pattern writing first and I recommend getting published in magazines. Even though different magazines are owned by different publishers, and they all have different formats, they’re all going to teach you a little bit about the writing style.
When you start writing books, you write a little bit in code. You write your design and everything, but the way it was told to me is no matter whether you’re writing a book or a magazine you basically have three separate piles. You have a pile of words that’s instructions, you have a pile of illustrations, that’s like the finished quilt’s going to look like and the how-to, and then you have a pile of photos whether they’re step-by-step photos, the finished quilt.
You have these three distinct piles and if you can learn the writing style, meaning you write them all separately and put them all together in different buckets, they you send them to the publisher and they put it all together and they format it and lay it out.
So getting started with a magazine is a great way to get your feet wet and understand how to write in magazine style or book style.
Stephanie Palmer: So I’m not a great photographer even though I take my own photos for my blog. It’s not my tip top skill. I’m getting better at it, I work hard at it. Again, this is for me building my own team. As a self-publisher, that means I need to decide what style of photography that I want in my finished product.
In year 1 of the Quilters Planner, I wasn’t able afford to hire a professional photographer. But year 2, now I can. So that’s actually one of the upgrades this year. And my photographer if you’re looking for one her name is Kitty Wilkin and she blogs at Night Quilter.
And she took really beautiful photos and we decided we wanted something outdoorsy with nature, showing quilts in the wild. And she lives in beautiful Maine so it was the perfect backdrop and it gave nice photos for our planner.
So photography if you go to the traditional publishing world, they’re going to give you a photographer most of the time right?
Christa Watson: Yeah, depending on the publisher some of them will give you a budget and you’ll hire your own photographer. Others will have you send all the projects in and they’ll do all the in-house photography.
When I was working with my publisher, I had to take all my own photos of all my own quilts to show them what the quilt was, which quilt matched up which pattern, and they made a couple photocopies of those they could pass off to their graphic design team, to their editing team so we could all work on it together.
So they took professionally styled photography. My photos that I took were just managerial for them to understand. But then later on down the road they took really nice photos. They also used my photos to know which quilt was which, which was really helpful when writing the book.
Leah Day: So I guess I’m the odd man out here because I don’t pay anyone to do my photos. I have paid a photographer to shoot the individual squares for 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs. So we sat down one day and just batched them out and had a camera on a tripod, but for the most part most of my photos I shoot myself.
As I’m working on a new book, I’m shooting photos as I go. As I’m working on that quilt, I’m always looking for that good shot. Like “Oh that looks nice on the machine like that.” I’m going to snap a photo of it as I go.
I’m also at the same time shooting video as I go. And is something new that I’m doing and it kind of requires a bit of brain compartmentalization, but why I’m doing it is when the book is out, I can edit and upload those videos and they can then do some marketing for the book. Where each of those videos I’ll add an intro to say “Here’s a project from my book.” And whether it’s 6 or 10 videos I create during the quilting process, that’s going to be something that drives more traffic going to it.
And one last resource that I really recommend for any form of publishing is a wonderful podcast called The Creative Penn. She’s a UK paranormal sci-fi fiction author, but she’s extremely supportive about publishing and she shares very specific information. Her name is Joanna Penn.
She really reinvigorated my desire to write because she’s constantly talking about the importance of having a backlist, meaning multiple books. You know, you might put a lot of heart and soul into one book, but guess what? That’s just one book. If you want to be an author entrepreneur, you want to make a living with your books, you’re going to need to be thinking about writing ten, fifteen books, and go on ahead and think long term, think in series.
This is how romance novels and certain mystery novels are really successful – they have fifteen books in the series and they do really well, and I really like that and that’s been really helpful to me to get re-inspired and invigorated about writing again.
Okay now let’s talk about working in a collaboration. I know both Christa and Stephanie have worked in collaboration with other authors.
Any tips, tricks, or ideas for working with other people?
Christa Watson: Sure. My first book I wrote by myself, and my second book which just came out in April, The Ultimate Guide to Machine Quilting, and I collaborated and wrote this book with Angela Walters. And it was really fun to work with someone else because #1 it’s half the work, but the downfall of that is it’s also half the royalty. You split the royalty 50-50.
But the wonderful thing about it is I had a body of work behind me, and Angela had a body of work behind her, and we’re both kind of high powered, super busy people. We worked really well together and I recommend when you collaborate that you find someone that’s going to work really well together.
Because we had both had deadlines before we were both able to meet at the beginning of the process, get all the details nailed down, and then she was able to go do her thing, and I was able to go do my thing. And we were able to meet a little in the middle, and I could trust that she was going to get her stuff done on time, and she could trust that I was going to get my stuff done on time.
And the wonderful thing about us and meshing our personalities is she’s a little bit more laid back personality. I’m a little more attention to detail, so I was able to do checklists and say do this and this and everything I would tell her she would say “yes” so it worked perfect. So I would tell her what to do and she would do it!
It was wonderful. In the end, our publisher came in and put it all together, made it beautiful, helped it all come together. So I would say work with someone you know and trust that is going to get your stuff done on time. And know each other’s strengths and weaknesses so you can play off of it. And don’t be afraid to try it. It was really a lot of fun.
Stephanie Palmer: I think collaboration is what makes a project fun. I really really love it. So for me one of the most important aspects of collaboration in the self-publishing world is to find a good graphic designer. Someone that is almost a thought partner with me. Someone that I can bounce ideas off of, who feels a shared ownership of the book. Even though I’m taking the financial risk, the person I work with loves it too and that’s an important thing to me.
And the other way that I collaborate with people is in the full sized quilters planner if you go to the section, the tab that’s listed patterns. I contracted with all of these designers to include their fourteen patterns in a digital download which is fantastic, but it does mean working with fourteen different people.
So you know as a self-publisher I just kind of delved into that world of publishing a bit deeper and worked with fourteen different personalities and it was really fun as a psychologist I got to use my skills, you know. I really love it. I was the dork in school that loved the group projects. Nobody likes those.
Leah Day: Yeah, I hate group projects. Yeah, I’m like “Oh god, please kill me now.” So yeah, I’m not a good group worker, I’m a little too anal I guess. I just haven’t been able to find that flow.
Stephanie Palmer: Can I add something real quick? If you’re going to do this on your own, you need to seriously think about the editor. There’s two kinds of editors you can hire – an editor that catches your commas and quotation marks and your stylistic things.
And then there’s a technical editor and as pattern writers that’s extremely important because you don’t want to have to deal with publishing errata if you don’t have to. Because you don’t want angry people writing to you about the mistakes in your pattern.
Do spend the money on a technical editor and you will be very happy. I used a woman named Shay Henderson and she’s wonderful and I’ll definitely be going back to her in the future.
Leah Day: Just an example of that – in this book I had rotary cutting left handed and right handed and I’d flipped them and Janice caught it. Cause I don’t know why, I’d flipped it in my head and the photos were on the wrong sides of the page and she caught it.
Stephanie Palmer: Yeah, you want a quilter to go through the book!
Leah Day: Yeah, so my husband goes through the book first and he never catches the quilting mistakes. He catches all the English stuff because he was an English major, but he doesn’t catch any of that important stuff. So that’s really important to get a quilter to be your editor.
Okay so moving on we’re going to talk about editing and layout. This is really important to pay for that editing and layout. The few times I’ve done the layout myself, it was really obvious, like ugly girl at the prom obvious. Like, that book doesn’t look professional honey. It just doesn’t.
There’s a certain look to traditionally published book, which then of course that’s what most people see, that’s what most people are used to, so that is what you’re going to be judged against if you go with self-publishing. So that layout is really important and it needs to look like a regularly published book.
You don’t want it to stand out. That’s not a good idea. So paying someone to do the layout is an absolute must. Just as much as getting a good editor, paying for the layout, and then too, you can spend more of your time writing your next book. While that book is being laid out, all the stuff should be done for it so you can go on ahead and start book #2!
How do you handle the editing of your book?
Christa Watson: Editing is very important whether you do self-publishing or traditional publishing. The way it works when you’re with a traditional publisher is you get everything ready, you’ve got a deadline, you send it in, you’ve got the three piles, your words, your photos, your illustrations, and they work their magic.
But what you’re going to do is go back and forth a few times depending on what your deadlines are, depending on what your dates are. So send it all to them, they’re going to give it to their technical editors, their copy editors, they’re going to look through it, check the grammar, and a lot of times, they’re going to edit it, they’re going to change things, move things around.
So a lot of times as you work with a traditional publisher you have to be okay with that. If you’re worried about that you can talk about that and negotiate that in the beginning. How much control you want, how much control they want. In my case I trust any of the edits my publisher makes because they have been doing this for a lot longer than I have been doing it. So they were able to pick out a color scheme for my book. They were able to lay it out.
But I still have the final say as to what the words were. They would send it back to me and I would say “well I’m going to use this choice of words or that choice of words.” Or they would send me little notes that would say “we have white space on a page, can you add two or three more sentences. Or on page 27 you’ve got one sentence too long so can you cut something?”
Because not only are they editing for content, they are editing to make it fit the space in the allotted amount of pages that it’s going to print in. But going back and forth several times and then seeing the final copy, they send me then a final PDF copy before it goes to print and it’s a really neat process.
At this point we had to end our initial schoolhouse presentation, but Christa and Stephanie and I still had so much more to share about writing and publishing so we stayed for another thirty minutes to answer questions.
Unfortunately I forgot to hit the record button before we started fielding questions, so I believe the first question was:
How do deadlines work with a traditional publisher?
And here Christa is going to jump in first sharing her experience on delivering her book on time.
Christa Watson: If your deadline is September 5th, you’re going to deliver it September 5th, not September 6th. They would love it if you would deliver it in August or earlier, but the worst thing you can do is be late when you sign a contract because they have other people waiting on your work, a whole team of people, so they’re going to say this is due.
In my particular publisher’s case, they said basically you have to do a sample chapter, a finished project, follow their writing guides for the project, and that’s usually due about a month after you sign the contract, or maybe two months after, and then the balance of it is due on the contract date.
And so what they are doing with that first initial deadline is making sure you understand their style guides, they’re making sure you know how to work on a deadline, they’re making sure you know how to follow instructions and that gives them plenty of time to help train you. And for some reason you don’t understand it. But then in my publisher’s case, it’s very independent, they’re like “Okay, we’ll see you in 6 months. You know, show up and have everything written.”
So you have to work very independently to make sure you get everything done on time. I have seen friends that have had book deals that have fallen through, not because of the publisher, but because the person didn’t live up to their end of the bargain.
What does a publisher offer when it comes to promoting your book?
How much is on them and how much is on you, and how does that balance out time wise verses income from the product?
Leah Day: This is a core reason why I self-publish because ultimately yes, they will be doing some marketing, meaning put the book in their catalog and promote it to their list and their list might be a lot of quilt shops and a lot of different places like that that you might not be able to reach.
However those core initial buyers are probably going to be your biggest fans, and so this is one of those things that is a catch-22 – are you going to give that book and those rights to a publisher and then only take a small percentage when it’s mostly people that were already your fans buying it?
Personally for me that didn’t make sense. Because I’d already built that fan base, I didn’t need a publisher to do it for me and I gotta say publishers aren’t really doing a good job of that.
Because they have forty plus books how are you going to stand out when there are forty other books that you’re competing with that are coming out at the exact same time. You know, you’ve got to stand out from the crowd and by doing that you already have to have a fan base. You want to talk about that?
Christa Watson: Yeah. So working with a traditional publisher on both ends…first I’ll talk about the marketing I did for my books and then I’ll talk about the marketing they do. I sit down and talk to the marking person in charge and we talk together about the marketing plan and really when it comes right down to it you’ve got to put into it.
Because they are publishing a lot of different books with a lot of different authors, they will spend an allotted amount of time working with your book, but they cannot market it as much as you do and they don’t know it as well as you do.
So I did a lot of marketing myself. What my publisher did that I couldn’t do, or that was harder for me to do, is they allowed me to present my book at schoolhouse. I had a schoolhouse session last fall and spring for my two books and I have another schoolhouse session next fall. They pay for it, they set it up, they organize it, they do all the paperwork.
All I have to do is show up and present it. So schoolhouse is a really big thing. They also have a booth where they are promoting my book in their booth at quilt market. I don’t have to pay for it, again it’s all on their dime. And then they set up book signings and for this year for my book The Ultimate Guide to Machine Quilting, they’ve set up two demos where Angela and I are going to be quilting live tomorrow at 11 am in the HandiQuilter booth, and at 3 pm in the Bernina booth tomorrow.
So they set all that up. They’re giving away copies to people that show up and so they bring in all the books for us to hand out. They market it, they send out an email blast to their newsletter list of all their thousands and thousands of subscribers talking about the book when it comes out, talking about the book on it’s anniversary, talking about me doing my Schoolhouse.
So really this heads back into the earlier question of why I went with a traditional publisher. Even though I’m starting to gain a following, when I first wrote a book, I didn’t have as big a following as my publisher did so I could not reach all the people my publisher could reach. They have a much bigger reach than I do and so between their reach and my reach, we work together.
I think you had a question that kinda ties into what is the financial benefit of it. The financial benefit of it is that the more I market my book, the more copies will sell. Although you honestly don’t make a ton of money per copy in royalties, what you can do as an author is you can buy the book wholesale from the publisher then you can sell it yourself and so when you go and travel and go and you teach you can sell it directly and then you just have to pay the wholesale cost of it.
Does your publisher make you go on a book tour?
Christa Watson: So with that, really depending on who your publisher is. My publisher had a list of 10 or 12 things – here is what you can do, let me know which one of them you want to do? And it’s really up to the author. Some authors are not comfortable doing book tours, some authors will book tours all over the place.
For craft books it’s too expensive for a publisher to send you out in the world, but there’s kind of two ways craft book authors do book tours. One is a virtual book tour where you get a bunch of bloggers and the publisher will usually talk about it and give copies of the book away or they’ll do a regular book tour where you actually book locations at quilt shops to teach so the shop is footing the bill and paying to bring you in so you get money from it and you also get additional exposure.
When teaching at a quilt shop can you also bring your own books to sell?
Christa Watson: That’s a different thing. If you’re going to teach in a shop, the shop will want to sell the book. So they will buy the book from the publisher. When I teach at guilds or quilt shows then I bring my own copies and sell them directly. So two different ways to do it.
Leah Day: One thing that we did not get to which is really important for you all to hear is how Stephanie and I pick our price because as a self-publisher we pick our price, we pick our royalty, we actually make that choice versus with traditional publishers it’s basically whatever the publisher decides to charge.
So how I have priced my books is the cost of the book to print it times four. What that does is allow me space if I wanted to put it in distribution or wholesale it. Now when I print on demand that means that I am not ever going to take on the print cost of the book.
I’m going to put it on CreateSpace.com and put it on Amazon.com. In that situation amazon has a page where you decide your price and it says you cannot price it below a minimum value because amazon already calculates the price for you, like nothing below fifteen dollars.
So then you decide the price and you should really go off the base price, what the market can handle, and the market can handle books that are hundred pages plus to be anywhere from $24.95 to $39.95. Whatever the market can handle.
Then the royalty is calculated by the price you are setting minus the print cost. And so I have not taken even for these mini books less than five dollars per book. That means I have made a lot of money while I may not have sold as many but I have made quite a lot of money from them simply because of that increased royalty.
Do you only depend on your fan base to push sales when a book launches?
Leah Day: Here’s another thing that’s interesting about Amazon is there are a lot of people who are buying that might not have never heard of my blog or web presence but they’re on amazon looking around and they found my book so that’s something to keep in mind just the power of amazon.com can get you a lot of sales.
On my own website, yes, you have that initial big giant push at the beginning but you can keep steady sales going by bringing in more people to your blog or site.
What is your outline for costs for graphic designers and formatting and things like that?
Leah Day: Personally I see that as an upright cost as an investment which I am not thinking as a cost of the book but more as out of pocket. I might have 500 dollars to put into it to begin so bartering and trade may be the way to go as in “Hey I’ll quilt that quilt for you if you’ll edit my book.”
These deals definitely can work and make it affordable. Once you start getting sales you can look at the next time to have that cash saved for the next book.
Stephanie Palmer: I work prices the same way as Leah. Cost of printing times four. My money I put up front is more than what you did Leah. I am contracting a lot of people and collaborating and have to pay all the pattern designers, photographer, etc. mine was probably about ten grand. Maybe a little bit more.
After I put that up I launched the product last year on Indie Go Go and I used crowd funding source to preorder because my blog late night quilter has a good following but I wasn’t sure if it was enough and I really wasn’t sure if this was an idea that other people would like so by putting it out there on a crowd funding source – Indie Go Go is one and Kickstarter is the other – it was a way of testing the market and it also helped me pay the printing costs.
This year I put more up front because I was in a position that I could and the timing didn’t work out as well for the crowd funding but it did work out for me for the first year. One other thing that’s different is I only have three or four months to sell my product because it’s a dated planner so that’s a little scary but theoretically people like it they’ll want to buy it again next year so in that sense I’m building on my business every year.
Leah Day: One other thing to add about Kickstarter is the statistic that I heard is Simon and Shuster which is one of the smallest of the big four Kickstarter funded over 250 books last year so Kickstarter is a bigger publisher than Simon and Shuster. So keep that in mind that times are changing. It’s not the same way it used to be and you can if you have that fan base and people are interested they will support you.
How long does it take to go through a Kickstarter type program?
Stephanie Palmer: I think there’s a minimum of days perhaps thirty but you set it for longer. The difference with kickstarter is you set a minimum threshold if you do not raise that much money you don’t get the money.
Your project doesn’t go forward. Indy go go, and this is one of the main reasons I went with them last year is you set your minimum threshold but you choose a kind of campaign where even if you don’t meet that threshold you still get the funds and still do your project at a smaller level than you had originally planned.
That’s with Indie Go Go. I’ll be honest I set my threshold quite low because in my mind when I did this project I was doing it no matter what. It didn’t matter how much I raised. I’d already paid the graphic designer so hey I’m printing the book, right.
So that’s why I set the threshold low because I wanted people to feel confident that this was going to be a funded campaign. I still get emails from people who ask am I just contributing to some weird idea you had, or am I getting the finished thing.
What was the lead time for your book to be published?
Christa Watson: Ok I did a lot of secret sewing. So for my first book it took about two years from when I came up with the idea and when I submitted it as a proposal to when I actually had it in my hand and that’s about a normal length of time about 18 months to two years.
The second book because I was working with Angela Walters and was working with her timeframe and she was writing literally four other books at the time so this was eleven months for this one from start to finish. That was really fast; that is not the norm.
The book I’ve just finished up now comes out a year from now took about eighteen months so I had about six or seven months to write the book and make all the projects and then it takes about a year to do all the editing and back and forth.
It’s kind of tricky, I’m kind of a workaholic, as I was working on my books and projects that behind the scenes on social media I can’t really share what all I’m working on so I shared little snippets and close-ups and also a lot of resharing with my friends like the Quilters Planner and classes on Craftsy so I shared what they were doing so I could still have content.
People would tag me with their projects from my first book so I would share what they were doing to keep the content going where I couldn’t share my own new content due to the book deal.
What software do you like to use when you’re doing your edits?
Christa Watson: When working with a traditional publisher their specification is the file has to be a word doc which you submit to them via email. I am an EQ7 artist so I design all of my quilts in EQ7 but they don’t use the EQ7 files so I just turn them all into Jpegs or scan hand drawn papers and turn into a pdf which I email.
Stephanie Palmer: I think we all do the same thing. We write a paragraph or instruction and say insert image here and then we send the file of the picture to the designer or design team separate and then they know where to insert the illustration. So no you do not embed it.
When you were doing yours with Amazon how did you put it all together?
Leah Day: My method has changed a lot based on my experience. These days I strongly encourage you to use the most professional, industry standard software you can. For me this is Adobe InDesign for book layout, Adobe Illustrator for graphic design and Adobe Lightroom Classic for photos.
I hope you enjoyed this discussion on traditional verses self published quilting books. There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to writing your book, but personally I feel that the long term success of a book really does depend on how it's published.