Thoughts on self-publishing and crowd-funding

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Tomorrow I’m welcoming Karie Westermann to the KNITSONIK blog for a Q&A about her wondrous forthcoming book, This Thing of Paper. This Thing of Paper is to be a self-published collection of knitting patterns with accompanying essays and it takes its inspiration from Johannes Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press. This book project smashed its initial funding goal on Kickstarter in just 25 hours, proving among several things that knitters are more enthusiastic than ever about knitting books which come with stories and essays to inspire as well as with patterns to knit.

I discovered Karie’s work through her amazing Doggerland collection which I admired for its joined-up approach to knitting, pattern, wool, texture and a deep sense of place. Donna Druchunas also loved Doggerland and wrote about it favourably in a post that was memorably subtitled “how knitting books can change the world, if knitting designer/authors have the balls to take it up a notch“.

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I’ve been thinking about Donna’s words a lot lately, and particularly about what she wrote about the potentially vast scope of knitting books. Happily, a couple of years since she wrote that post, I feel many designer/authors are as she puts it “taking things up a notch”. The definition of “knitting book” is being radically expanded by the distinctive voices and visions of independent designers. In an age of online communities, self-publishing and crowd-funding it is no longer necessary to make books solely targeting a mass-market and, because of this, there seem to be more books – like Karie’s – that have a very specific focus; that come in the voice and flavour of their maker; and that speak passionately to a small crowd, rather than blandly to a big one. This is largely due to the fact that there are lots of amazing, passionate and generous knitters out there who actively support the creation of such new books either by contributing encouragement, information or financial backing. Also, knitters bring knitting books alive by putting their contents to use once they are published. On the back of her own fresh and distinctive tome, Anna Maltz describes the online knitting community beautifully as “making the world more interesting with every stitch” which I think is a great summary of the current moment.

A few thousand books sold direct to the public without middlemen or an enormous publishing apparatus in between can sustain book ideas today that would have been difficult to fund just a few years ago.

There is little chance that my own book would have been published in its present form by a mainstream publisher. Photos of tarmac, the inclusion of a link to an online sound map, and the goofy, hand-drawn image I created envisioning the book at the start of my Kickstarter Campaign would almost certainly not have been allowed! In her amazingly thoughtful review, Ysolda wrote that if the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook had not been self-published it may “have lost some of what makes it so special”.

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For me, the crowd-funding process not only gave me the funds I needed to make the book happen but also the confidence to stay true to my vision; my amazing backers showed me in their thoughtful feedback and comments that I could indeed publish the book I wanted to make and that it could include tarmac and weeds.

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Kate Davies, author of several well-loved and distinctive self-published knitting books, has written thoughtfully about presenting knitting patterns in an expanded context; I love how she describes her creative process for Colours of Shetland in this piece about self-publishing;

When I decided to produce Colours of Shetland, what really drew me to doing things myself was that I could hopefully make the kind of book that would be a very hard sell to a mainstream publisher, but which I knew I would love to create, and which I also felt that knitters would hopefully want to read. By creating my own books, I could write about archaeology and knitting, puffins and jazz and lighthouses . . . and knitting. I could even write about Danish foreign policy and its representation in one of my favourite television series. . . and knitting. Creating your own books as a small publisher means that you retain control of all aspects of the process, from how things look on the page to the paper quality of the page itself.

Several books later, Kate has just published The Book of HAPS which promises, like her previous work, to contextualise wondrous knitting patterns with inspiring essays and gorgeous images. I love the personality with which Kate imprints her books and the presence of “puffins and jazz and lighthouses … and knitting” all together. She joins such themes joyously within her creative process and her knitwear designs, and respectfully connects her exuberant contemporary garments with the knitterly labour and traditions of the past.

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The common theme of knitting can connect topics that seem at first disparate, and can also provide a very distinctive lens through which to reconsider familiar things. For example knitwear designer Anna Maltz‘s PENGUIN, a knitwear collection offers an inspiring model for thoughtfully integrating knowledge and admiration of penguins into your knitting projects and your wardrobe. All the designs are inspired “by penguins: their striking plumage, caring nature and (of course) the way they can withstand the cold.”

Anna’s book models a thoughtful and joyous mode of knitterly engagement with her chosen muse; as well as being about, well, penguins, it presents a fresh perspective on seeing the world and translating its elements in a knitterly way. I love how PENGUIN offers these creative elements in equal measure to sophisticated knitwear patterns, and how the book exudes its author’s sense of fun, personality and wit.

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Also expanding on the scope for what a knitting book can contain, Donna Druchunas and June Hall injected their crowd-funded tome Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions with a feeling of travelogue and cultural exchange.

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I feel I have just scratched the surface here and that there are many, many other books I could mention in the context of expanding the genre, and our expectations of, the knitting book. The books above indicate an emergent publishing model in which small print runs and close relations between creators and audiences – fostered through social media – are laying the foundations for wonderfully rich and specific types of knitting books to be created. It is precisely in this exciting context that a book like This Thing of Paper can come to fruition, and the runaway success of Karie’s Kickstarter campaign points to the growing desire for ambitious, creative knitting books within the online knitting community. It would seem that we all want to read and knit from books that are as passionate and specific as their creators.

I have the strong sense that, like the books mentioned above, This Thing of Paper will be artistic and reflective and full of amazing ideas. I’m really looking forward to sharing more about that with you tomorrow as part of the official blog tour, thank you for stopping by today!

YOURS IN SELF-PUBLISHED VISIONS,
FX

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6 Responses to Thoughts on self-publishing and crowd-funding

  1. Julie O'Brien says:

    Is there an online resource that compiles a list of self published knitting books? One that is easily found, not within the context of a blog post, or a ravelry group? Thus far, I have come upon them rather serendipitously via other knitter’s blogs, I would love to find more of these delightful works.

  2. Terry Hickman says:

    I love this article, and the global trend that you’re talking about. (HOW many Rav members are there?? O.o) I love reading about knitters of old and seeing new patterns honoring yet transcending traditional ones. I also wonder at what point is this worldwide family of knitters going to realize we have some political clout? I’m thinking specifically of what I’ve read here and elsewhere about how the UK government is strangling the small sheep farmer to the detriment of the diversity and richness of wools available to home knitters. I wonder what the decision makers would think if they got a million hand-written letters from all over the world telling them they’re making a huge, unforgivable mistake? Would they realize then that it’s not just giant fabric manufacturers who need yarn? And that the hand knitting market is MAJOR?

  3. It is possible to do so much more nowadays. The social media explosion has been the bedrock from which designers, knitters, crafters and more are able to get their ideas into the public domaine.
    That means we will see more and more unique products, inspirational ideas and gives people the confidence just to have a go without having to remortgage the kids!
    Exciting times.

  4. Wendy (Hivetender) says:

    Great post Felix! I love this bit <>
    I really enjoy your writing style and how your fondness for the subject comes through in a thought provoking way. We are so lucky to have all these wonderful knitters who truly are writers!
    Still enjoying your book immensely. Its my most loaned book that I’ve considered a second copy…just in case.

  5. I love this post, I ordered your own wondrous book the other year really before I was able to knit (well I could knit dish cloths but not much more than that….) and while I’m gradually developing my knitting skills your book has been a constant in just being there…like a gorgeous coloured carrot inspiring me to keep persevering….mostly (well before I fell in love with knitting) I’m a patchworker/quilter and found your book excellent for helping me clear out some of the jumble that is often in my head when I’m thinking about colours for patchwork….it’s also opened my eyes to the wealth of combinatons that are out there just waiting to be translated into knitting…..

  6. Kata says:

    I would, rather selfishly, add Estonian Knitting 1 to that list as well. Although the name ‘publishers’ might make you think of a large company, Saara Publishers actually works with a very small team and definitely puts in as much work, research, effort, and risk as any independent writer.

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