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!
thanks for all the insight. while i’ve never been in that situation, it is interesting to read from someone on the ‘inside’ on how those arrangements work.
Abby this is a great post. I especially appreciate your openness regarding the specifics about the $ involved rather than just being vague — I firmly believe that sharing this (and other $ related)info has the potential to make things fairer for everyone, yet it is a topic that many are reluctant to discuss.
I wonder how much of that hesitancy is because the majority of us are women.
Sister Diane says
BRAVO, Abby! I’m standing up and applauding you for sharing your experiences so openly. I think there’s so much mystique attached to the idea of “being published in a real, live book” we tend to mask the fact that it’s usually more work than pay.
I do think there are times when it makes sense to be a book contributor, but definitely, we need to evaluate these opportunities carefully. Do they truly have good potential for exposure? For future work?
I’ve contributed to eight books now, but been paid only once. (Thank you, Storey Publishing!) In most of these cases, the books were being authored by a friend, and I considered my contribution to be an act of friendship. But even so, these days, I am declining these offers unless there’s some compensation involved. I’ve come to believe that it’s really important that we seek to help each other be compensated fairly for our skills.
In terms of exposure, I don’t really think any of these books brought me visibility. I have never had anyone tell me they remembered my work from this book or that book. In fact, in two cases, my URL isn’t even included in the book, so all that represents me is my work and my name.
In all eight cases, there was also some (usually unspoken) hope that I would participate in the book’s marketing in some way. (And again, I considered this an act of friendship in most cases.) In fact, I did a podcast about craft-book publishing once where my interview guest (a publicist for a mainstream publisher) talked about how much her company liked multi-contributor books, as they had built-in marketing potential.
I could not agree with you more – we need to stand up and talk openly about this stuff – it’s the best way to empower ourselves and help the publishing industry understand what we are worth.
Thank you, Diane, for your comment. Your posts about the business of craft are an ongoing inspiration for me and have shaped my thinking tremendously.
I think power and fear are two strong emotions at play here. The power to choose in the hand of editors and the fear of losing the opportunity by being forthright in asking for just compensation on our part. Writing this post made me fearful – am I shooting myself in the foot? Will I never be asked to contribute to a book again? Alas, I was invited to contribute to a book this afternoon, after this post had been up for a few hours, and to her credit the editor had already read the post, is compensating contributors, and returning work.
I have had the same reaction with the 2 Softies books, people sought me out and at markets people have come to find me because of the book. I am glad they were my first experiences writing for books as they were very positive ones.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about writing for books vs writing for magazines. I have had positive experiences here too (but have heard some horror stories) and the big bonus is copyright reverts back to you after a length of time and you can profit from selling your patterns at this time as well as being paid for being in the magazine.
Abby, This is so right, that emotional decision making right at the start when you feel flattered of course…
You know Miss Abby, all these posts about selling toys,selling pattern, getting published….well perhaps its your third book right here.
I have been a contributor to three books – 2 paid and 1 unpaid; two with options to buy the book at a discount (like you described above). The first two were great for the resume, great experience and I was paid enough that it covered my materials for the projects at least. A photo of one of my projects was used in the marketing flyer/materials. Pretty cool and definitely a fun experience. Unfortunately, the most recent one was sort of a let down. My projects were photographed/photo-styled not very well, and I was so disappointed when I opened up the book and saw my projects looking pretty darn lame. It has made me a little more thoughtful about what I say yes to.
Very interesting information. I always seem to learn something new whenever I visit.
Thanks for the education.
You raise a really good point. One compromise you accept when you sell your work to a publishing house is that they will photograph and present your project as they see best without your input.
Wow, Abby! Wish I had this information at my disposal two years ago when I was contacted to contribute to the first book. It’s a great resource. You are exactly RIGHT ON in all your information. While it is an honor to be invited and a thrill to be published, in my experience it’s a little pay for a LOT of work and an uncertain amount of exposure. In one instance, I was unaware I was even in a project lottery until the editor contacted me with a hearty congratulations that I’d made the cut. I was not told beforehand that the hours I had put into the project might be for nothing had it not been chosen for the book. Also in one instance I did not receive a check until an entire year after the project was made. Thanks for bringing this topic up. I will definitely be more circumspect about it in the future. I agree with you, no matter how flattering it is, don’t agree to contribute for no pay, make sure that the pay is a fair compensation, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Thanks so much for this article!
mimi k says
My favorite book contribution inquiries are ones that say, please send a PHOTO of your work because we love it and want it in our book- no more work from me required 🙂
My experiences with project and pattern contributions have been pretty limited and not very positive. I contributed to one book where I made a special project but did not have to make a pattern, and another book with several patterns which hasn’t been published yet. My experience is that once they get you to say yes, they have no further need to be respectful, helpful or communicative. Your original creative work is treated as just one more entry for their book which is the only product they actually care about. The number of emails that I had to send to get my project returned in the first instance was astounding. I will think very hard before I say yes to contributing to another multi-artist project based book.
btw- one question the I think is important to ask is, who else is contributing. If you are going to be part of a group, that can give you a good idea of the direction of the book.
I am interested to see that Larissa said, in one case she did not get paid for a year. I thought that was standard practice- no pay til the book is out. Should I be pushier?
Very interesting post Abby- lots of great information!
Thanks so much for putting this out there! I’ve read other articles here as well that I found super helpful! There really is not to much information out there on publishing in the craft world. It’s really valuable to hear others experiences and at least have some sort of idea on what to expect! I have just recently finished up writing my first book that is coming out this summer – thanks to Sister Diane (and many podcast listens later) I, at least had some sort of expectation on what would happen, what my input would be, etc. based on others experiences. After only a few months of having my Etsy shop opened a few years back I was approached to contribute to a collective type book and ultimately decided that the $50 compensation for one of my most popular designs at the time just wasn’t worth it! Anyhow, I do think those types of books are really fun to look through and would contribute to one if the right project came along but I do agree with Mimi – I would want to know what other artists are participating and if the book is going to fit in with my branding and my market. On marketing and styling, I just think that artists should have more say in the publishing world (and certainly be compensated) since we are very active in our own community and are better connected with those folks that book companies and magazines are marketing too.
I’m so glad you talked about this and couldn’t agree more with your points. And i’m glad you were “brave” enough to state all the in’s and out’s. I really want people to know what this process is all about, but i’m worried about what I can and can’t say so end up saying nothing which isn’t productive. I really do feel we need to look out for each other and share our experiences.
I think there are a lot of bloggers being taken advantage of right now by the publishing houses. It is a thrill to be asked to contribute, but in most cases you really do need to look at it from a business prospective. I’ve contributed to a few books/magazines now and I have had an email here and there saying they’ve made my projects of found me via that, and it’s so nice to know when someone enjoys making one of my patterns, but I can’t say the “publicity” has necessarily helped my business.
I think bloggers forget that the publishing houses are a business and out to make money, not to hold your hand and make a living for you. While i’m sure they would like to help grow your business through your name (which could in turn help them to sell more books and make more money), they have to stay in business themselves. When you go into a contract, represented by no one but yourself, and no real understanding of the publishing world, you’re probably going to get taken advantage of, even if in only a small way. I’ve talked with lots of people that say they are business savvy and know how to read a contract, but if you’re not part of the publishing world, you’re probably not going to recognize all the in’s and out’s of a publisher’s contract.
I read a quilt book about 5 years ago (and bought it) that had patterns from a couple of popular bloggers that they never publicized on their blogs. It confused me at the time that they wouldn’t want people to know, but I think now it was probably that the financial motivation to publicize for someone else’s profits just wasn’t there.
Thankyou for your openness, I echo your thoughts. There is a silence around this generally that I find understandable but frustrating
Melissa H says
I’ve contributed to two books–most recently More One Yard Wonders. That was a very positive experience. I submitted a project I’ve made in the past (and have published a very similar pattern online for free) and they accepted it. I was paid when the book came out (I think it was $60–something like that) and got one free book plus a blog giveaway book for which they handled shipping. I haven’t gotten my project back and honestly that wasn’t an issue for me. I’m not sure if I will or not and don’t care. I do believe I retain rights to my pattern (if I wanted to sell it elsewhere) but would have to reread the fine print to be certain.
My previous experience with another publisher was pretty poor. They were extremely disorganized. Can’t recall if I got paid (I believe it was just for two free books and “publicity”) but when I got my free book they had failed to include one of the two projects I’d submitted and they’d accepted!! Disappointing.
In both cases I got a short bio in the book and blog link.
I’d be curious to hear about magazine submissions/pay from other readers.
Thank you for sharing your experience, Melissa. I would love to hear about magazine submissions and how that has gone for other crafters. I have been featured in a few magazines but they were more like artist profiles. Has anyone gotten a pattern published in Stitch? That's the best sewing magazine out there in my opinion and they take submissions. I wonder how much they pay (or if they pay)? Anyone want to chime in?
I said it earlier in the comments, but I think it is worth repeating that I wonder how much the silence is due to the fact that the majority of us are women. I think we need to speak more openly about the money side of the craft business!
I’d buy it, this semi fictional third book…. 🙂
I have a friend who just had her first project printed in the Jan issue of Stitch. I’ll send her over here to read this and maybe she’ll chime in with her two cents. Thank you so much for a great post, this has given me a lot to think about, thank you.
Thank you Abby and Diane for the open and honest posts that you both write, I am pretty sure most of us crafters have no idea about the ins and outs of the publishing world and it may appear that you big published names are sleeping on mattresses filled with $100 bills.
I think many of us dream of being published but I also fear that the publishing world takes complete advantage of those not used to dealing with them.
I hope that these types of posts don’t put off publishers but instead see the crafty community for what it is and compensate those involved properly.
I was taken on a regular contributor to a UK sewing magazine, they were very disorganized but communication with the editor was great. The first payment was about 2 months after the magazine went to print and it was GBP65 per project, no matter what it was BUT I had to send the project registered post which from Japan was quite a hefty chunk. I did get a profile and my shop/blog link in print too.
The next 3 projects I had to badger them to be paid, they were taken over by another publish house and it was months before I saw the money. When they were taken over they also changed the amount they paid for each project, for a smaller project I think they were paying GBP25 and also though the editor asked me to continue contributing ended up saying no, for that amount of money it really wasn’t worth my time. They also stopped printing contributors web links so it wasn’t like I would be getting publicity for the job either.
I would be interested to hear other peoples stories about working with magazines too.
Thank you for sharing this experience with us. I think you raise a good point which is before contributing to a book or magazine it is important to do some research on the publisher. Nothing is for certain (look what happened to Domino and Gourmet – two beloved magazines that were chopped when they were still strong), but nobody enjoys the headache of dealing with a disorganized, struggling company.
I don't want to lead anyone into thinking that publishers are just out to take advantage of crafters. Publishing houses are businesses and, like all businesses (including our own), they have a bottom line. Even with the best intentions, they only have limited funds to pay contributors. What is important is that you know going into it what you will be paid (so that you can determine if it is indeed worth doing), when you'll be paid, how you'll be credited, and when/if your work will be returned to you. It is also important to know if the copyright for the pattern will revert back to you at some point.
Hey, that would be awesome! I think we could all learn from her perspective. Thank you for pointing her this way.
Ha! I'm not so sure this is the makings of a book. I like the back and forth conversation of blog posts. Your comments and perspectives on these issues are really interesting to me.
Wendi Gratz says
I’ve contributed to several books for Lark. They always paid promptly and always returned my projects – at their expense. The pay wasn’t great, but when I was just starting out it was worth it.
What was NOT worth it was when they contacted me much later (after PDF patterns got to be a bigger thing) and offered to pay me an additional $25 each for a few of my patterns from different books, for them to sell an unlimited number of on their site. I’m not sure if they’re still doing this, if it’s built into new contracts, or if they’ve dropped the idea altogether – but something to look for in your book contracts.
I also discovered that I did NOT enjoy editing a book by multiple contributors. The amount of work involved was CRAZY for the amount I got paid. I won’t go that way again. But I AM interested in maybe contributing to some magazines. I’m eager to hear what folks say about Stitch.
I’ve had two patterns published in books. One experience was fairly positive, and the other was quite disappointing. Like you said, I was super flattered to be asked in the first place. After some thought, I decided it was worth my time to try it, even if I didn’t get much publicity. I did more for the experience.
The first publisher was pretty good about communication and compensation (I got materials, $100, and one book), and even wrote a special contract for me so I could continue selling the pattern I was contributing. They offered to return the project, but the editor loved it so much I gifted it to her (I was tickled to think of my tiger sitting in Debbie Stoller’s office!)
The second experience was almost the opposite. I designed the project on a very short deadline because another contributor had dropped out, but the book was published 8 months late. Most of my emails went unanswered, I was never paid or given a copy of the book, and my project was never returned. I found out later that the editor was going through some difficult times, but the way everything happened felt very unprofessional.
If I was ever approached again, I would certainly do some research into the published or editor, and consider all the points raised here.
I’d like to make a comment about contributing to magazines. I have contributed projects to BH&G Holiday issue (twice) a few years ago. The pay was about $200 for a one time use and I was able to publish/sell the pattern myself after it was off newsstands. Credit was on page (an important question to ask!) but I believe it was just my name and my website was listed in the fine print in back with my instructions. I asked to use their shipping acct # (especially if the deadline is tight and I had to expedite shipping) which they obliged. I did get my project back.
I have contributed to Stitch Mag several times. I love the magazine and I trust that they will always photograph my project fantastically. They pay around $225-250 per project. They have a theme/trend/color focus for every issue, which can be downloaded from their website. I believe this is what makes their mag so great! The timeline is usually pretty tight but it is all spelled out ahead of time. You can submit a sketch or photo and then after it is accepted you get a contract before sending the project. I’ve always gotten my project back and have been paid in a timely fashion. They also have a part in the contract that talks about them selling pdfs of your design after the issue is off newsstands and you do get a % of that. In the past I have opted out of that because I wanted to be able to sell a pdf of the pattern myself.
The main thing is to ask yourself, is what is in it for you? Sure, a chunk of change, but what else? I like to make such contributions do double duty for me. For example I usually make the project out of my original print fabric. Plus I have a new pattern now that I can sell myself in a few months. Just be sure to ask a lot of questions to make sure there are no surprises.
Hope this helps!
That was super helpful, Betz. Thank you for sharing your experiences here. I think the idea of a project doing double duty is an important one. Each pattern takes so much effort that being able to use it in more than one way really makes a difference.
I skimmed the comments, so sorry if this has been addressed already, but if you have a project published in a book, can you at some point later include the same project in your own book?
As for magazines, I was asked to contribute a project to CRAFT when it was still a print publication, but then they switched to online only just before it was going to be published. I was paid $450, and I took my own step-by-step photographs and photographs of the final project (I didn’t send it to them). I also was asked to contribute a project to Summer with Matthew Mead magazine. Matthew provided the fabric and he took the photographs. I was not paid. I received two copies of the magazine, one to keep and one to give away on my blog.
In my experience you have to create previously unpublished material when you write your own book, but if the magazine had very low circulation or was published many years ago it may be alright. Usually the copyright reverts back to you a few months after the magazine is off newsstands. Clearly these are all things you should check carefully with both of the publishers, though.
You’re dead right there – from my experience, other book projects also work in the way you describe.
My husband has written technical books for big publishers and had very similar experiences with regards to low monetary compensation for the work he’s put in, an expectation to market the book for the publishers, handing over intellectual property as part of the deal, and also an implicit expectation to provide free technical support.
Gailen Runge says
Thank you for posting this thoughtful post. You are 100% right that everyone needs to carefully consider contributing to compilations to make sure it’s the right deal for them.
That said, I’m the Creative Director at C&T Publishing and Stash Books (publisher’s of the Seaside Home used in the example above) so obviously I think there are a lot of pluses for contributors! As you mentioned, we include bios, headshots, and website or blog addresses for contributors and we market the book in many medium.
But clearly we do not do everything right. I’m so sorry we lost your fabulous fish!
Particularly when we started out doing compilation books, we were not well organized and we didn’t give enough thought to compensation. We were able to change and improve our processes because great designers like you gave us feedback like this blog post.
We have made many improvements to our process over time. If anyone has any additional feedback for working with a Stash Books compilation, please feel free to contact me! I’d love to hear it. (gailenr at ctpub dot com)
And I hope designers take Abby’s advice and read the small print and ask as many questions as you need to to become comfortable with your contract.
Thank you for taking the time to consider my post and the comments and to reply. I think it is excellent to encourage crafters and designers to read the fine print carefully and to get their questions answered before entering into a contract. These encouragements coming directly from a publishing house are all the more meaningful. Thank you for joining our dialogue.
Nicole Follow the White Bunny says
I have contributed to one book (not yet published in print) with Lark and the experience has been positive so far. Communication was good and I was content with the pay. The contract was clear and I got my projects back. It was a project that one had to ‘audition’ for but my thought was ‘if my project doesn’t make the cut, I will release the pattern in my shop’. So nothing lost there. I’m curious whether people will ‘discover me’ once the book is in print though and if it will effect my sales or career (in a positive way!). Last year I also contributed to a UK magazine and that was a drama. Eventually got paid but only after months and after a lot of nagging. Also I never saw my projects back which is kind of heartbreaking 🙁