Signing the contract to publish a book is one of the most thrilling, and overwhelming, moments in any designer’s professional life. You know it’ll be a lot of work, but you can already imagine the day when you walk into the bookstore and there’s your beautiful book sitting on the shelf. You’ll glow with pride as you flip though it, showing it to anyone who’ll look.
In reality, though, you may very well walk into that bookstore and feel sad or frustrated about the book that bears your name. Sad that so many of the big decisions about your book were made without you: the title, the number of pages, the paper quality, the layout, the design, the fonts, the colors, the photography. Frustrated that all of this was determined at meetings you weren’t privy to. You may end up forever regretting certain aspects of your book.
It should have been different.
What if we step back from the way things have always been done in the craft publishing industry and imagine something new? Print publishing is changing and there are exciting things on the horizon for craft book authors, and for consumers of craft books.
I’m pleased to have editor and publisher, Susanne Woods, here on my blog today to talk about reimagining craft publishing. Susanne has a vision for a new frontier in craft book publishing and she has acted on that vision by founding Lucky Spool, a new craft publishing company. Lucky Spool’s motto says it all: “Beautiful books, made together, one book at a time.” An impressive line-up of well-known authors have already signed on as Lucky Spool writers including Denyse Schmidt, Alison Glass, Angela Walters, Carolyn Friedlander, Heather Jones, and more.
Susanne and I first met when I was deciding on a publisher for my first book, The Artful Bird. She’s never been my editor, but we’ve remained friends since then. I’ll let her take it from here…
I am excited to chat here about my new craft book publishing company, Lucky Spool, because Abby and I go way back…probably to around 2008 or
so when blogs were beginning to really hit their stride in the crafting space.
Over the years, Abby has become a wonderful ambassador for our industry because she is never afraid to speak honestly about her own observations and
experiences as well as ask meaningful questions, most especially about the
business side of living a creative life. If this is your first time to her website, I encourage you to explore all of the links, podcasts, and interviews Abby has available.
My past, My Future
So, let me introduce myself: I am Susanne Woods. I have been in book publishing for my entire career (almost 20 years, shhh….). I have worked for publishers in New York, London, the San Francisco Bay area, and, most recently, here in Colorado.
I have been sewing since I was 12, and in 2008 I was lucky enough to combine my two passions of books and sewing by joining C&T Publishing. It was a rocky time for the traditional quilting industry with seemingly few new sewists entering the market. But I saw something ‘else’ percolating earlier than some, and knew that there was an audience with a different aesthetic growing, learning and connecting online and no publishers were catering to them. So I pitched the concept of Stash Books, which became a very successful division of C&T. In 2012, I went on to become the Editorial Director for Interweave Books where I stayed until soon after they were purchased by F&W Media.
I briefly worked at on online education site but knew it wasn’t a good fit for me; however, while I was there, many authors and designers approached me for advice about whom they should publish with and to chat about some of their raw concerns about entering into a book contract. It was in those conversations, when I was honestly listening and chatting with designers about the pros and cons I saw with various publishing companies, that
Lucky Spool was born. Again, something was percolating…something that maybe I could see earlier than most.
Create my own publishing company? That’s crazy!! But I saw a new way of doing business that no one was accommodating. I didn’t want to just create a business to compete in the marketplace. Instead, I wanted to create something new for the changing industry we are in. So I worked for months on a business plan, found investors, reached out to possible distribution partners, and, once again, approached potential authors to join in, on faith, with this vision I had for a different kind of company (check out the ‘writer’s page to learn more about this talented group: Lucky Spool.
Lucky Spool Readers
So what is Lucky Spool? Well, to the retail consumer, what they are going to notice are beautiful books from some of their favorite designers in the sewing and quilting categories (maybe knitting further down the road). I can’t remember who, but I read an article recently where the author said, ‘Nothing is better at being a book than a book.’ There will definitely be a place for online learning, and there will definitely be continued interest for e-books, but printed books will remain as a central resource for most crafters.
So Lucky Spool will create those books using wonderful photography, great design, and good quality materials. To me, that doesn’t mean thin paper, templated designs, and small photography/design budgets. I want to celebrate the book as an object as well as a source of information, and make sure the books Lucky Spool produces are useful, luscious, and tactile.
Lucky Spool Authors
But Lucky Spool is more than just a pretty face. The real game changer of Lucky Spool is all about the authors. Many authors have been drawn to self-publishing, or to leaving books behind altogether and publishing their patterns independently. Self published authors have talked about a variety of reasons for this from not wanting to enter into limiting contracts, to trying to keep more income even if it means selling fewer books, to keeping complete creative control,to being frustrated with the lack of publicity and marketing they have either experienced or anticipate receiving. I’ve written articles myself about what publishers are looking for in a proposal, and so did craft book agent Kate McKean here on Abby’s blog. As an author you have to create a platform. Put a year of your life into writing the book. Hand it over to a team. Review it. Support it on your said established platform. Earn about $1 a book. Repeat.
When I sat down to write a plan for the kind of company I wanted to work for, with the contracts I want to have in place, and the equitable royalties I want authors to see, the involvement of the author in the entire publishing process, and the right-sizing of internal resources that I wanted to establish (which wasn’t four tech editors on staff but only one publicist), it was clear that I needed to build it myself.
Here’s what Lucky Spool is about:
(from the upcoming book Lucky
Spool’s Essential Guide to Modern Quilt Making photo © by Gale Zucker)
How typical publishers work is that they have a creative team on staff. Each staffer needs to have x number of books they are working on at any one time. While I know most publishers do try and match up authors with the most suitable team possible, that isn’t always achievable. If a member of the creative team has an opening in their schedule, then they may be assigned
to the next book that is acquired…which can lead to mismatches… which can
create a tough time for the whole team.
If I never have to identify whether someone is ‘working to capacity’ again, I will die a happy woman.
I have talked to authors who have been assigned five different editors as the publisher experienced staff changes, authors who have had their text completely re-written, authors who have simply hated working with their editor, authors who were tremendously disappointed with their photogrpahy, authors who hate their book covers…the list goes on.
I think some publishers are forgetting that authors have lots of choice now when it comes to how to get their work in front of their fans, and often the authors are very likely to be much more in tune with what their fans are looking for from them. If we all admit that publishing a book will not turn craft authors into millionaires, then I think we as publishers need to ask ourselves why authors still seek to publish books, explore how we can better honor their creative process, and commit to creating individual collaborative book teams that we genuinely feel will complement one another. For me, this is the best way I know to set up individual teams to thrive, to inspire one another, and to produce joyful works.
Equitable Profit Share
When I created the five year profit & loss projections for Lucky Spool, I didn’t
ask myself, ‘How much money can I make?’, but rather, ‘How much money can I get back into the author’s hands while still maintaining a sustainable income for myself?’ It turns out more. A lot more. Like three or four times more than that crummy ole $1 a book that most authors are making now.
Each book is different and has its own individual production costs, so that varies a bit, but the royalties I set up and the revenue splits I include in my contracts, are firmly author friendly. Lucky Spool still invests around $25,000 in each book before it even hits the shelves so we need to recoup that money, but when I asked my lawyer to set up my contracts, he said that this was the most fun he ever had drafting up contract templates. He added that if these were my terms, he wants to write a book for Lucky Spool! The fact is that I don’t have big overhead: no 60+ person staff, no warehouse to maximize, no verticals to feed. The Lucky Spool contracts and royalties reflect that.
Limited Rights in Contracts
I have a six-page contract. I have many, many thoughts on contracts, but what I will say here is that our contracts don’t include a first right of refusal on your next book, they don’t grant Lucky Spool permission to use a project from your book and put it into a magazine, or onto a bumper sticker, and they don’t own the content forever. Lucky Spool wants to publish your book. Your print book, your e-book, the German translation of your book but just your book. Any other opportunities are mutually agreed. Period.
I only have plans to publish 10 books a year. I think this is the maximum number of titles I can support from curating content, to concentrating on individual marketing plans per book, to maintaining high production quality. And if I don’t see 10 great books a year, maybe it will look like 8.
Here’s how most publishers determine how many books to publish in a year. They look at their overhead, look at their average sales, account for any new
projects or efforts they want to work on, look at what their backlist titles
generally bring in, look at the profit they want to make in a year, assess how
many new books they will need to publish to make that number, and then task their acquisitions team to acquire that many titles. You only need to look at the cataologue of some publishers to see that this can be between 30-50 titles a year.
I don’t think that 40+ books per year, per publisher is the answer.
Kathy Mack of Pink Chalk Studios wrote an incredibly insightful Quilt Market Trends blog post last week that has received hundreds of comments.
One of the trends Kathy identified was in a category she called Slower, Fewer, Better. I’m not interested in flooding the marketplace. I’m interested in fewer and better.
I am not as interested in slower, which speaks to another challenge I am trying to meet: get books to market faster. Instead of setting a publishing schedule 18-24 months in advance, one of my goals is to use these smaller, agile teams to shorten that timeline to closer to 12 months from contract to books on the shelf. It’s a goal that won’t suit every author, or every book, but for many authors, this timeline is appealing both for capitalizing on trends and for seeing those royalty checks arrive more closely to when they put in the work. That is a tricky balance with maintaining accuracy
A Note about Self Publishing
I stress ‘professional’ a lot because think Lucky Spool bridge the gap between
self-publishing and some larger publishers. In self publishing, authors pay for everything and have to find a book team, and find good printers, and have to negotiate their own distribution and about a million other things that take
time, money, and experience.
I just met with someone at Quilt Market last month who hired a designer for her self published book and it was a disaster. She was so upset with the product she was delivered. She did all of her research and saw other work this designer had done, but this was the designer’s first craft book. After a long chat with her, we decided that she just had to eat the cost of that design/designer and start again…or hand all of the work she had done so far over to a publisher.
I see why some do go into self publishing and for many, but I think even if that up-front cost doesn’t scare people away, I truly think it is challenging to gather a professional team, get good distribution, and really maintain high production value.
I am seeing a wonderful path ahead where like-minded, experienced industry leaders take a look at the current state of play and ask if there might be a better way. Cotton & Steel just launched a new kind of fabric company (find out more about their vision in this video), and I think they speak to similar goals. First-time authors who have confided that they weren’t ready to publish a book before now and they couldn’t pinpoint why are approaching Lucky Spool with book proposals. To a (almost) 20-year veteran of publishing, that tells me that there is a lot to question about the established book production process, and its time for a new way of doing business.
Please get in touch. Email me: Susanne@luckyspool.com
I invite you to write a proposal. Find out more right here.
Thank you so much, Susanne. I’m really excited for the future of craft publishing, and for the future of Lucky Spool.
If you have any questions or thoughts about the ideas Susanne has presented, please feel free to ask in the comments and she or I will respond.