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The Challenges of Self-Publishing a Craft Book

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Writing and self-publishing a craft book.

Writing and self-publishing a craft book.

Pinterest: The Home of Crafters and Artists

As I scroll through Pinterest, I'm amazed at the creativity of so many crafters, needleworkers, and artists. How do they come up with these things? And some of these talented folks have taken to offering their how-to information to others, sometimes for money, sometimes for free.

If you're one of these crafters interested in sharing and selling your project ideas by self-publishing a craft book, there's a lot you need to consider.

Instructions for Instructions (Not a Misprint)

It's been said that you never really learn something until you have to teach it to someone else. This definitely applies when writing a craft book! Experienced crafters have become so skilled that they often forget what it's like to be a rank beginner.

If you have never attempted writing craft instructions, take a video of you doing the work at all key project stages. Then view the video and write down each action as you see it happening on the screen. This will help you identify steps that you now do without even thinking about them.

For step-by-step instructions, each step should appear in a logical order with some space between it and the next step. This makes it easier for readers to follow.

Beta readers familiar with your craft can be a huge help here! Hire beta readers or reach out to crafting family and friends to see if they can understand your instructions. Especially choose those beta readers who are at the craft skill level you wish to reach with your book.

Show Me a Picture . . . or Not

I'm embarrassed to say that I have way more crafting books (like hundreds!) than projects I've actually completed. I'm hooked on looking at craft instruction books with all the cool ideas I want to try . . . someday. Part of that enjoyment comes from looking at all the beautiful and inspiring photos of the completed projects.

Photos or illustrations of both step-by-step instructions and the completed project can be integral to readers' satisfaction with your book. The necessity for step-by-step photos will also depend on the skill level of the reader. Beginners generally need more step-by-step than advanced crafters.

An example to illustrate would be crafting, such as crochet and knitting. Instructions for these crafts rely on symbols, abbreviations, and text, and experienced needleworkers are used to seeing them. So photos would be unnecessary. Also, to have photos for the completion of large expanses of crocheted or knitted fabric would be redundant to the point of annoying for skilled needleworkers. In these situations, photos and illustrations would be reserved for an explanation of unusual or difficult instructions and to showcase the complete project.

Black-and-White and Color Photos in Printing Craft Books

Many books in my I'd-like-to-make-that-someday craft book collection are several decades old. One thing that distinguishes older craft books from recent entries is the use of illustrations versus photos.

Many years ago, printing photos was quite an expensive option that required commercial printing. So many craft instruction books and leaflets of old contained mostly black-and-white line-drawn illustrations of techniques, even finished projects. Photo use was often reserved for showcasing completed projects only. And, in many cases, even these showcase photos were black-and-white.

Today, printing photos, even in full-color, is much more affordable for even self-published books. However, realize that color printing of interior book pages is still an expensive option, sometimes up to three times or more than the price of black-and-white interiors. Note that you cannot mix full-color and black-and-white photos in a self-published book in the hopes of saving money. You're either all full color OR all black-and-white.

Though color printing can be a huge cost factor, weigh that cost against whether that could be a deciding factor in purchasing your book. If books that compete with yours are printed in full color, your book could be passed over if its pages are in black-and-white.

Your Self-Published Craft Book Should Look as Good as Your Fantastic Craft Projects

Your craft book or eBook should not look self-published and should be as professionally and artfully presented as the projects you're featuring!

For the best rendering of photos of techniques and completed projects at a reasonable cost for printed books, using a self-publishing platform with Print On Demand (POD) is recommended. You'll get commercial-level print quality without having to purchase boxes and boxes of books, as you would with standard commercial printing companies.

With some platforms, such as Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP, which encompasses the former Createspace), you can purchase even just one book at a time. Plus, your readers can order from Amazon direct without you ever having to personally ship a book!

When including photos and illustrations in a printed craft book, these images must be of a high resolution of at least 300 dpi. If you self-publish a print book with Amazon KDP, the system will alert you when images in your uploaded book manuscript are not of sufficient quality for printing. You may wish to hire a graphic designer to assist if your images are not up to printable standards.

What About Craft eBooks?

Unlike print books, eBooks can easily contain photos and images without too much difficulty. But included photos still need to be of sufficient quality to not appear pixelated on a screen. Also, realize that the more photos you place, additional fees may be assessed for larger eBook electronic file size. See your self-publishing platform's documentation for photo/image requirements and fees.

Another caveat for photos and images would be that they should NOT have text wrapped around them. This can produce unpredictable results when viewed on an e-reader or mobile device screen. In Microsoft Word, I've found it easiest to place images in separate paragraphs all by themselves to avoid the jumping around of text or images that can occur when rendered on a variety of electronic device screen sizes.

PDF files of craft books or instruction leaflets sold on your own outside of a self-publishing platform can present additional challenges, such as unlimited sharing of your document. Carefully evaluate the risks and rewards of going it alone.

Pricing Issues

Aside from the normal process of pricing a self-published book or eBook, craft books have additional pricing considerations.

As noted earlier, color printing may be a necessity to reach an intended audience and to compete with similar publications. This will jack up the price you need to charge to be both competitive and profitable.

Don't Use Copyrighted Images, Brand Names, or Themes!

In scanning the Etsy and Pinterest universes, I've run across a lot of craft projects and instructions that use copyrighted images or themes, e.g., Disney, Marvel, DC Comics, etc. Just as you would be mad if someone either copied your idea or denied you the opportunity to earn royalty income from your designs, these creators feel the same way. Some of these organizations can be very aggressive in suing people who use their images or themes without permission.

But these image owners are not just protecting their income. They don't want people to think that they have any affiliation with or that they have somehow officially approved any unauthorized use.

On a similar note, using product brand names in book titles (e.g., The "Brand Name" Sewing Book) can suggest affiliation or approval that doesn't exist either.

It can get very messy from a legal standpoint. So don't do it! You have enough creativity to come up with amazing original work, right?

Because of the variety of skill levels of readers, it would be very difficult to guarantee results from following any instructions. You'll need to consider developing (with an attorney's help) disclaimer statements about results to help your readers avoid disappointment—even danger!—depending on the craft being discussed.

And what if you make a mistake in writing the instructions? It happens. Luckily, most self-publishing platforms allow you to upload corrected manuscripts. But even with that ability, it's wise to consult an attorney about errors and omissions statements to include.

Another legal issue that many crafting designers face is that of other crafters using their designs for commercial use. In other words, other crafters make these projects and sell them online, at craft fairs, etc., without royalties or even attribution to the designer. This decreases the income that the craft designer could realize. Consult an attorney to develop copyright and prohibited use statements to include to help protect your designs and dollars!

Problems With Crafts for Kids

Self-publishing regular children's books is challenging in itself. Books on crafting subjects are just more so due to the fact that reading level may be a key factor in whether the child can understand and implement instructions. You may also need to recommend adult supervision for projects.

Cutting tools, needles, hot glue guns, paints, and adhesives; the list of potentially hazardous craft tools and materials for children doing crafts is almost limitless.

Consult an attorney for appropriate statements to include about craft safety issues, age appropriateness, and needs for adult supervision.

Amazon or Etsy?

If you use Amazon KDP, you'll be able to sell your craft book on Amazon, undeniably the world's leading online bookseller. But as with any nonfiction book, you need to develop a title, subtitle, and description that will help your book get found in the search.

But what about Etsy? Crafters do sell their designs on Etsy because it's popular with both craft buyers and crafters. Some also promote their Etsy offerings on Pinterest, especially if they have great project photos.

If you decide that you want to offer your patterns and instructions on multiple sites, such as both Amazon and Etsy, make sure that there are no "exclusive" agreements that would bar you from doing so.

For example, as of this writing, if you use Amazon KDP for your eBook, it is a "non-exclusive" arrangement that allows you to offer your book in multiple retail venues, both online and offline, though some restrictions may apply. However, if you enroll in the KDP Select program, you will be prohibited from selling your book elsewhere while it is enrolled in Select. See the terms of service for any site or retail outlet you plan to use to vary your book's sales eligibility and limitations.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 27, 2017:

Hi Lawrence! Glad you enjoyed the post. True, there is a lot of great info on YouTube (and Pinterest I've found) on crafting techniques and inspiration. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a wonderful day!

Lawrence Hebb on September 27, 2017:


My wife loves these crafts, especially quilting and crochet. She loves finding YouTube sites that deal with the technical issues.

This was a good introduction to the 'art' of self publishing a craft book. Thank you.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 12, 2017:

Hi AliciaC! Thanks for reading and for your kind words. Appreciate your support! Have a great weekend!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 11, 2017:

This is another article that is full of useful ideas. You share a lot of great information about self publishing, Heidi. Thank you!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 11, 2017:

Hi purl3agony! I can see why folks have approached you to participate in their publications. You come up with so many adorable projects! Glad you found the information helpful as you consider these opportunities. Appreciate your sharing your experience and sharing the post! Have a beautiful weekend!

Donna Herron from USA on August 11, 2017:

Hi Heidi - I've been waiting for your to lend your marketing and publishing expertise to crafters! Although I haven't thought much about creating my own book, I have been approached to have my projects and tutorials included in other publications. Your hub has given me some important points to think about before taking this next step. Thanks, and pinning for others to see!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 11, 2017:

Sally, first of all, I want to thank you so much for inspiring this hub! I do know some other authors who toy with the idea. So doing the article helped me organize my responses for them as well.

Re: Use of Brand Names. Using brand names in titles is a big no-no if not officially sanctioned by the brand name owner. I remember the old days, too, when the brands would publish their own branded cookbooks. (I can still see the Jell-O one in my mind.) Because some craft supplies and tools are critical to the successful completion of a project, it might be necessary to include the name. However, I would run it by an attorney just to make sure the use is okay.

Another issue with brand names these days is "sponsored" content and mentions. For example, if a brand asks you to use their product in a craft book in exchange for compensation of any sort (free product, cash, etc.), you have to disclose your affiliation with the brand. I have a gardening friend who is often asked for this type of branded product placement on her blogs, videos, books, etc. She is very careful to include the FTC disclosures so she doesn't run afoul of the law.

Re: Images. I've seen many of your wet felting hubs and know that photos are so critical! If you use Amazon's Createspace custom interior layout service, you're allowed only 10 images (with option to purchase up to 30 more). That might be just one chapter for your book!

However, Createspace does allow authors to upload their production-ready PDF file, as long as it meets their production requirements for size, etc. I wonder if you could format it yourself, using all the photos you need, and then upload it to CS? If you don't feel confident formatting it yourself, I would suggest hiring a book layout graphic designer through sites such as Fiverr. See "How to Create an Interior PDF of Your Book" in the Createspace help and support documentation for details on file and layout requirements.

But, as you mentioned, it might be worth considering a traditional book publishing contract to deal with the unique and extensive requirements for your topic. Caution: Once you sell your work to them, you won't be able to use it elsewhere. That, I think, would be the greatest deterrent to going the traditional route.

Re: Use and Abuse. I think you've got right idea by selling your project ideas and instructions! But it certainly doesn't compensate you enough for your talent.

I hope you'll be able to find a way to self publish your craft book without having to give away your work with a traditional publishing contract.

In addition to the inspiration, I want to thank you for starting the discussion on some of these additional issues. Keep me posted on your progress and have a great weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 11, 2017:

Flourish, I could spend hours just browsing through Pinterest (which is why I leave my Pinterest activity for the weekends). Looks like we have some similar interests (crochet, learning to paint a little). I know how to knit, but I find crochet so much more creative. Thanks for sharing your crafting experience. Have a beautiful weekend!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on August 11, 2017:

Hey Heidi. I did. My summer's not bad. You're welcome and you too.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 11, 2017:

Hi Kristen! Glad you found it helpful. Hope you're having a great summer. Thanks for stopping by and have a terrific weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 11, 2017:

Well, billybuc, I think you're super crafty. Hey, anyone who can do urban farming has the crafty gene somewhere. :) But I thank you for stopping by no matter what. Have a delightful weekend!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 11, 2017:

Great information, Heidi, information I'll never be able to use. LOL No craftiness in this boy at all, but I'm passing it on for those who can use the information. Happy Friday my friend.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on August 11, 2017:

Heidi, this tips are so informative and useful to seelling your own craft book online. This is good to know for crafters to take those steps and make money from it.

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on August 11, 2017:

Heidi, you certainly have given me a lot to think about!

I wonder now if it is acceptable to use brand names in 'the items required' to complete a project if the book or writing is not being sponsored by the Manufacturer? Remember the old days when a recipe book would be sponsored by a Baking Powder or Flour Manufacturer?

In explaining my craft, namely wet felting I find it necessary to use a lot of images to explain the process of making an item. I feel limited by the restraints of not being able to use enough images in a book on Amazon and don't quite know how to get past that!

The problem of people passing off my idea and then passing it off as their own occurs frequently and then once done they sell the finished product. I then took the decision to convert a few of my tutorials into PDF files which could be purchased as digital downloads. I took the view that I might as well earn something from my writing before they could.

I sometimes think that it might be easier for me to go the route of using a publisher who really understands the pitfalls of writing a craft book.

I am very grateful to you for writing this hub. It helps clarify my thoughts as to the route which I might like to take to get my writing into publication in the future. Thank you.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 10, 2017:

Excellent article. I am also amazed at the ideas and talent that some crafters have. I like browsing through Pinterest, going to craft fairs, and looking through craft books and magazines. I wish I could knit but never learned. However, I crochet, paint, used to cross stitch, quilt a little, and do floral arrangements.