Last night I got talking about books and what I've learnt about publication, specifically indie publication, over the last (almost) 12 years. 12 years is a very long time in the digital age. And I thought I'd write some of that down while it was still fresh in my head.
10 years ago I was working on my first book, Going Straight. I'd been experimenting with sideways knit Hats and well, we all know now how much I enjoy this construction method. When it clicked with me 10 years ago, that passion was even stronger and the only natural path was to put it all down in a book.
Whereas now, one of the biggest challenges an indie designer faces is being seen amongst the crowd, being heard over the noise, back then the challenges we faced were building trust and being taken seriously.
The industry was very different back then for indie knit designers. There were relatively few of us, in the digital arena at least, and it was hard work trying to prove that what we did had the same value as a designer that worked with a yarn company or worked on print. Or even that a digital publication had value when compared to a print publication. It was novel for a designer to publish their own PDF knitting patterns in the pre-Ravelry days and we didn't have the tools or resources that designers have access to now. We carved a path forward and worked bloody hard to get our field established.
The one thing that I never doubted, never even thought about for a second, was that my first book should have a lot of patterns. Books had to be substantial to compete, to be valued.
Going Straight is my worst selling book. It's also my most pirated, although I don't think those two things are connected. I've come to learn that unless they're all kids Hats, knitters don't really need a book of 20+ Hats. Not from an indie designer at the prices we need to charge, anyway. If it's another book of quick Hats from large publisher who can put it out at comparitively next to nothing then sure. But that's not we do.
I stopped working on large books after Bambeanies, it was a very conscious decision. The amount of work and time and money spent made it all really really exhausting and that stole the enjoyment. Not to mention that I really wasn't earning that much.
A move to 10 patterns in the the Woolly Toppers series worked well, because 10 isn't 20+ and as a designer I can get behind a theme or concept without the need to pad things out, and as a consumer it's far less overwhelming. The designs will be more refined, more thoughtful, because putting that same energy into fewer designs is of course going to make each design richer.
And in turn, I was able to earn a better wage for my time. My budget would go further and the quality of production naturally goes up. My budgets are never big - I just don't have that much to invest, and it's usually around the £1000/£1250 mark (production costs, no print costs - that covers models, technical and copy editing, illustrators, photoshoot costs, travel, test knitters, yarn costs, and so on) - and not having to stretch that as far really made a difference.
Lately though, that's changed. 10 designs still feels like a push - I'd get to about 7 or 8 and struggle to finish the collection. And that's not where I want to be.
Circled was the first collection I put out with less than 10 designs and it's been brilliant. I can really explore a theme, get properly engrossed, and make each design count more. And the response from knitters has been positive, too - I've seen far more folk knit all the Circled Hats than I ever saw knit all the Classic Woolly Toppers Hats or Going Straight Hats, and that's not just because there's less of them. From here, it looks like you too appreciate a smaller book, a more cohesive, indepth and at the same time, less overwhelming book. Each design has a stronger connection to the next.
When I published Circled my production costs were covered within less than 24 hours of sales, and that speaks for itself. Although you'd think 4 designs requires a lesser budget than 10 or 20, my frozen shoulder meant that I wasn't able to do the layout work or photography myself, and Circled had the highest budget of all my books. Outsourcing the graphics layout is a huge job, both in cost and trust, but I'm really glad I went that route. Zab is bloody brilliant and I know I'm very lucky to know someone so talented and also on the same page to make this change in process that much smoother.
And this is where my journey has bought me. Less is more. It's pretty simple when you think about it, really.
It's a lot more common now for indie designers to produce publications with fewer, stronger designs but I think for me it's been a harder lesson to learn, because it was ingrained that I had to prove myself to the mainstream publication field way back then. We have our own playground now where indie designers, especially those in the digital arena, can work more freely because we're now much more established within the wider industry than we were; we don't need to compete or prove a point any more.