The Challenges of Self-Publishing a Craft Book
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 crafts 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 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 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 of 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 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 a separate paragraph 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.
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 amazingly original work, right?
More Legal Issues for Craft Books
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, 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 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