The following article is written by Yvette Stanton, author of the blog White Threads and owner of Vetty Creations. Yvette has self-published a variety of needlework books on various subjects, including Mountmellick Embroidery, Ukrainian Drawn Thread Work, Hardanger Embroidery, and most recently, a Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion (the link is to my review). Soon, she will have the right-handed version of the same book available on the market. Yvette’s successful forays into the publishing world make her an idea source of insight into needlework book publishing.
Evaluate your needlework book idea, and make it the best it can be!
© Yvette Stanton 2010
You have an idea for a great needlework book. Congratulations! There are a lot of things to consider if you want to write a book. Just having a good idea for a book is not enough.
Why do you want to write a needlework book? Have you just always wanted to be an author? Or it seems like a good idea for the advancement of your career?
Is a book the most appropriate way of communicating your information? Would a series of needlework patterns be a better idea? Consider the sums: 10 patterns each retailing for $10 = $100, or one book with 10 patterns retailing for $20 = $20. I know which one seems like a better proposal to me! (Hint: the one that brings in more money!) If you’re designing for a style of needlework that is well known, such as cross stitch, in the above scenario you’d be much better off with the individual pattern scenario. So why write a book?
A book is an excellent way of presenting more in depth information on a subject. It can be an useful way to teach more than just the basics. It can present the history (when it is historically based) or the rationale behind the idea or technique.
Has it been done before?
So let’s think about your book idea. Has it been done before? For a book to be successful it needs to be unique, otherwise there will be no reason for anyone to buy it over the many others. Perhaps the best way to head down the path to success is to introduce a new style of needlework or a new technique, or to cover subject matter that other books have already covered, but to do it much better than they have.
For this, you need to know what is already published on the subject. Go to your library, your guild library, your bookstore, your needlework store, look in needlework magazines for book reviews, search the internet, and just generally get to know what is out there.
Honestly evaluate if your idea is the same as what is already published. If it is, why would anyone decide to buy your book? There needs to be a point of difference for people to purchase a new book. The fact that it is written by you (as nice a person as you undoubtedly are) is not going to make it any better or more likely to sell.
It is unlikely that you will be able to differentiate your product from all the others simply on price. That’s something that is very hard to do, and I’d don’t recommend even trying!
Therefore the information you provide in the book is going to have to be your point of difference. This could be your unique needlework designs, it could be a unique technique that you have devised, or it could be one that is old that hasn’t been published on for many years (or ever).
But to get people to buy your book you are going to have to fill it with information that is uniquely interesting. Otherwise, people will just leave it in the shop and not bother handing over their hard-earned money for it.
Thinking in terms of niche markets
When you write a book, you have to accept that not everyone is going to want to buy it. Not everyone wants to buy the Bible, even though it is probably the world’s most successful book. So a good way to think about publishing is in terms of the market to which you can sell the book. After all, its no good writing a book and having it sit in boxes in storage – you actually want to sell it!
I realised a long time ago that marketing my books to the mass market was not going to be a good use of my time or money. They’re not all interested, and in fact, only a very tiny quantity of the general population would be interested. So how do I find those people who would be interested? To do this, we need to think about targeting niche markets.
A niche market is a small segment of a larger market. As an example, we could talk about children as being a market. A smaller segment of that market is children between the ages of 8 and 10. A smaller segment of THAT market is children aged between 8 and 10 who like reading science fiction, and an even smaller section of that would be girls between the ages of 8 and 10 who read science fiction. This is a niche market.
Writing for niche markets is much easier than writing for an entire market. Writing a book for children – ALL children – and having it appeal to all of them is beyond impossible. But if you narrow down your market to girls between the ages of 8 and 10 who read science fiction, you have a much better idea of who you’re dealing with. I suspect that most of you probably even know a real person who fits in that category. So then you can write for those sorts of people in mind.
Who is your target niche market? What do you know about your market? List everything you know, because some of those things will impact on how you need to write your book, and what you need to put in it.
If you’re writing for young mothers, long painstaking projects are not likely to be of interest to them, whereas quick projects are. Knowing as much as you can about your target market will help you to shape your book.
If you can fit your book to match the needs of a niche market, you’ve got your audience sewn up (oh sorry, what a terrible pun, when we are talking about needlework books!). Each of my books is made to fit a niche in the market, because then I can much more easily market the books to them. If I can identify my market, I can usually also fairly easily identify ways to advertise to them and to let them know of my book’s existence.
Evaluating your idea
So how do you make sure your needlework book idea is a good one? You need to evaluate it against what you know of your market – the books that have already been published, and what people in your niche market want.
Let’s take my most recent book as our example: “The Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion: a step-by-step stitch dictionary”.
I have taught embroidery over many years, and as a left-hander, I found that left-handed students LOVED having a left-handed teacher. That gave me the idea that many other left-handed students would also like their own left-handed teacher. There’s no way I can make myself available to teach all the left-handers in the world, but I COULD write a book catering specifically for them.
Before launching into writing it though, I wanted to know what other left-handed embroidery books were out there. I wanted to know what they covered. I wanted to see what they did well, and what they did not-so-well.
There were hardly any left-handed embroidery books available. The main ones were published more than 20 years ago, back when it was difficult to do a full colour book, with lots of photos (colour or otherwise). This was going to be a big advantage for me, if I was to publish on this topic – it is much easier to use lots of photos and diagrams these days, due to advancements in technology.
Because the existing titles were quite old, it was also more likely that they would be out of print, and much less readily available within the market. This was a real advantage for me too.
The market was definitely there. If you consider 10-15% of people are left-handed, and therefore 10-15% of embroiderers are probably also left-handed, that’s a reasonable chunk of the market. Indeed, its probably more prospective buyers than I have had for my previous books. In this case, my main niche market was going to be left-handed embroiderers, with an even smaller niche of right-handed embroidery teachers of left-handed students.
Considering that probably close to 100% of needlework books that have been published in the last 10 (or even 20) years did not cater for left-handed stitchers, there was a real opening in the market for a left-handed stitch dictionary.
Deciding on an Idea
When you have evaluated whether your idea is a good one, based on what has been published previously, and on whether the market wants books on your subject, you can make some decisions about whether to proceed. If you decide to, that’s wonderful! If you decide not to, then at least you did your homework before launching into something that may have ended up disappointingly fruitless.
Based on my analysis of the market, I decided that I would be the one to fill the market niche that was crying out for a good left-handed stitch dictionary. But I wasn’t just going to fill it with a book that was similar to the left-handed books that have been previously published. I wanted mine to be so comprehensive that no-one else would need to publish another one for a long time into the future. And so I set out to make it the best book it could be.
When you have decided on your idea, you will still need to make sure that it translates into the best book that it can be. So do some more market research. Find out exactly what your market wants from your book.
Talk to embroiderers and stitchers and find out what they are interested in: Find out what they already buy.
If you teach, offer a class focussing on your idea and see whether people are interested.
Submit a project to a needlework magazine, to see if it is accepted. If it is, was it popular when it was published?
Read needlework discussion lists on the internet and see what people are talking about in terms of needlework.
Talk to needleworkers at craft shows.
Interact with needleworkers in as many ways as you can to find out what they think of your possible book ideas.
By doing this, you will be able to tweak and refine your idea and make it even better.
I was able to refine my idea further by getting onto the internet and asking in needlework chat rooms, on my blog, and wherever I could, what people wanted in a left-handed stitch dictionary. (Mary Corbet even asked here for me!) Lots of left-handers suggested stitches that they would really appreciate left-handed instructions for. I also asked right-handed needlework teachers what stitches their students often struggled with, that they would appreciate left-handed instructions for. By doing this, I was making sure that I was tailoring my book to the markets it was going to serve.
By asking people to contribute their ideas, it meant that they would be much more likely to buy the book. Why? Because I was giving them exactly what they wanted.
So where to now?
You’ve got your idea. You’ve evaluated it and decided it is good. You’ve done your market research and refined your idea. Now what?
FIND A PUBLISHER!
…And my very best wishes go with you.
Yvette Stanton is the author of five embroidery books. She has experience in traditional publishing and as a self-published author. She has lots of embroidery book ideas, but finds there is just not enough time to write them all! Visit Yvette at her blog White Threads.