For this installment of my series about turning your love of sewing softies into a career I want to talk about contributing projects to sewing books. Over the last few years I have been asked by editors at many different publishing houses to contribute to collective books that feature projects by many different sewists. Just yesterday Seaside Home arrived, a recent release from Stash books that is a collection of sewing projects related to the seaside. I contributed two patterns to this book and I will use it as an example of what a book contribution really entails.
But first, let's face it, when an email comes in from a publishing house asking you to contribute a project to a book, it's flattering! They chose me! They like what I'm doing! Exciting stuff. So exciting, in fact, that it can put you in a state of emotional decision-making, instead of solid, thoughtful, business-like decision making.
My suggestion is to take a deep breath and force yourself to think like a business person.
My thinking goes something like this:
First, have I really been chosen? Or is this an open call in which crafters are being asked to make a few items that meet the editor's criteria, send in photos, and then the editor will pick who makes the cut. The reality is that I don't have time at this point in my business to audition for a project like this so I decline invitations to audition.
Second, am I excited about the project and are they asking me to make something that I'm good at. I turned down an invitation to contribute to a quilting book not long ago because, as you may have noticed, I'm not a quilter.
If I have really been chosen and I like the project then it is time to begin asking the editor questions. It is okay to ask questions! The editor is not going to turn around and say, "Nope, I've changed my mind! I don't want your work because you've dared to ask logical, business-related questions." A company is asking to purchase your intellectual property. They need what you have – good content – and you're now in control of whether or not they'll get it.
First I need to know how I'm going to be compensated for my contribution. This piece of information should have been included in their invitation asking for participation, but if it was not, ask it now. In my opinion, if you are going to create a sewing pattern for a publication, you should get paid for it. Granted, there are exceptions to this rule (you are publicizing your own book, you are doing a favor for a friend, etc.), but I sincerely believe that you should not give a publisher an original sewing pattern in exchange for a future promise of "publicity." Your work is worth real money now. I recently turned down an invitation to contribute to a book of faux taxidermy patterns for this reason.
How much money does a book contribution pay? Stash paid me $200 all together for the fish and starfish pattern that appear in Seaside Home, plus sent me two free copies of the book. For $200, I made five toys (two fish and three starfish), paid for materials and shipping, created pattern templates and wrote sewing instructions for both patterns. Now that the book is released I have the ability to purchase copies of the book at 50% off the cover price and resell them if I'd like. That's the monetary compensation.
There are no royalties for contributors. This is actually a really important fact that I never hear discussed. That flat fee, plus those extras described above, are it. Whether the book sells a million copies, or 5,000, you aren't going to earn anything more directly from those sales.
Yet when a collective book is released there is an expectation from the publisher that you will promote the book. One of those two copies they sent you is meant to be for a review and giveaway post on your blog. Often they'll give you a special badge promoting the book that they ask you to post on your sidebar. Here is the badge for Seaside Home:
Those are my fish. This badge was sent to all 22 contributors to post on their blogs. My work, without my name, just the name of the book. Like I said, the publishing house purchased my intellectual property and they can and will use it as they see fit. It's in the contract and I signed it. They have already compensated me and credited me in the book.
The only thing to be gained now is publicity. I give kudos to Stash for not only including a brief bio of the contributors next to their projects, but also a head shot. I think that goes a long way to helping readers connect a project with a name and a face. Does contributing a project to a book really gain your publicity? I have no idea. I do know that several people have contacted me saying they've made my patterns from Softies Only a Mother Could Love and More Softies Only a Mother Could Love and now they have become blog readers. Perhaps they are more loyal readers because they have sought me out?
Contributing a project to a book may be an especially good move if you are building your portfolio and resume in an effort to write a book proposal of your own. It's a way to show that you can make an appleaing project with a well-written pattern and well-designed templates on a deadline and that you work well with folks in the publishing industry.
Okay, after I've evaluated the compensatin, there are still more questions to ask. I want to know will I get my work back once the book goes to press. In other words, are they buying just the pattern and instructions and the rights to photograph the work, or are the buying the work outright. I made a mistake when I signed the contract for Kid's Crafternoon: Felting and didnt' read the fine print. That project paid a bit more (about $280), but the publishing house kept the samples. My work was on the cover of the book. I was thrilled, but sad because I didn't realize that the work was now theirs. Lesson learned: read the fine print.
If your work will be returned, when will you get it back? Pin down a date. Usually the publisher pays return shipping, but you can check that, too. See the warm-colored fish with his head sitcking out of the bucket? Stash lost it. I did receive the others back, though, after I asked for them. And when will you get paid? Try to nail down a date for that, too.
There certainly is a thrill when you walk down the craft book aisle at Barnes and Noble and find a book with your project in it. You just want to say to the random lady next to you, "See this project? I designed it! Read that profile. That's me!"
In the midst of all the blog tours and giveaways and hype for new collective book projects I almost never hear about the real ins and outs of the experience from the contributors. How much did it pay? Was it worth it to you in the end? Were you happy with the final product? Did it bring you any publicity or add to your credentials? These are real business questions and I firmly believe that we should talk openly about them and share information and experiences because then we will be less likely to be flattered into accepting deals that aren't as adventageous as they could be. The power to negotiate should rest with us.
If you find this series helpful to you, I hope you'll consider making a donation to help support it. Each post in this series takes several hours to research and write, and I love doing it! Knowing that you are willing to support it helps me to continue to write in-depth about each of these topics. Thank you!