Is it Worth it to Write a Craft Book? Review of Craft Writing for Rotovision
I haven’t told this story before. In 2012, I was asked by Rotovision to write a book on customizing clothing. Boy howdy, a book deal!
I wouldn’t have been so pumped if I had realized that working with Rotovision would be my worst nightmare. Not only that, but writing a craft book in general is tough. The writing is the easy part!
You don’t have to make one. You have to make five.
When I started out with a craft book, I hadn’t thought photography sessions through. At the session, you have the models there all ready to dress up. In the same session, I needed the models to both make and wear the items. That means I had to make ‘dummy’ pieces for each step of the project.
Mostly, I had to make at least five of everything. And buy five of everything. But for some projects, the only piece of clothing I had was a single article from Goodwill.. no duplicates. For these, I could get away with using the back of the same article of clothing for close-up steps, or do parts of the project myself in between shot setups.
On the beaded sweater project, we shot backwards, Taking the final photo of the model, then stripping away the beads to show how to make it. I still have this beaded sweater and wear it, but there are only beads on one side. There are a few holes on the other side where I hastily ripped out the beads to set up the previous steps, but I wear pins to cover those holes. 🙂
Rotovision Wants You, But Not Really YOU, per Say
Rotovision had hired me for my expertise, but then repeatedly wanted to veto my completed projects. I’m talking already designed, already made, already made in-progress dummies for photographing, and already photographed. Projects had gone from concept to the model’s back. I had included a full table of contents and chapter descriptions to let them know exactly what I would be doing, and then they switched it up.
Example 1: At one point, I had gotten permission from Conan O’Brien’s people to use his logo on a shirt. The logo was not the lesson, it was just an aside. The lesson was in cutting a t-shirt to create side panels on the shirt. After the concept, creation, and photography was done, Rotovision thought that young people wouldn’t get the Conan reference. The logo was not essential to the project… it was a wink at the young demographic I was writing for (yep, young people would get that reference, Rotovision).
But since everything was already made and photographed, it all had to be done again. Instead, appearing in the book is a sweater turned into a wrap. Still a good project, but it taught the same principles as the first project, and was simply redone on the whim of the art directer at Rotovision. I let Conan’s people know what we wouldn’t need the logo, after all.
The art director at Rotovision argued that ‘Steampunk is mostly black.’
Example 2: I presented a steampunk project that would teach readers how to distress leather with shoe polish, then attach jewelry pieces to create cogs and such. Designed, created, photographed on the model. It was in the can- done. The art director at Rotovision argued that ‘Steampunk is mostly black.’ Now, for you steampunk fans out there, let me say that again. She said that steampunk is NOT predominantly BROWN leathers, it is all black leathers. This was what I was dealing with.
I rewrote/designed/made/made dummies/photographed the whole thing. The project that made it into the book:
I ended up with a black purse and nixed that whole leather-distressing educational part of the project. The project appearing in the book still teaches you how to sew jewelry pieces on, but it could have been much more informative, had they listened to me, who they had hired for expertise.
Example 3: Yes, this happened a third time. I was given an example of an artist that they wanted to emulate in the book. Rotovision was ALL ABOUT me ripping off other artists work, and it was tricky for me to get around this. They sent me various blog links to projects that they wanted me to rip off, and I had to be very careful in how I suggested something different, as not to bite that hand that feeds. At that point, I had already signed the contract, so it was tricky, indeed.
This is the Bobsmade work that Rotovision wanted me to do:
So, I came up with a different kind of design. It was my own style, but still cartoonish. The idea of making a ‘tutorial’ that just told you how to apply a Sharpie to fabric did not appeal to me. Saying ‘draw on this’ is not very educational… or interesting, for that matter. So, I instead talked about how to remove the finish from a leather opera wallet before applying the Sharpie. Then, how to refinish the surface. This idea was approved in the book outline.
Here is mine:
It’s a cartoon. It’s Sharpie. It’s an accessory (an opera wallet). I thought I had filled all of their criteria, and I was damn proud of this cute design!
They didn’t like it.
Their simple explanation was that it wasn’t what the art director had in mind. And they called it childish, even though their example was a hat with cartoons on it. It was a very insulting email, way past ‘business mean’. Nevermind that they gave me no other instructions and the photo they provided was of cartoons on a hat!
Instead of going on a rampage, I suggested using Sharpie on a dress, telling my readers how to treat the fabric before & after to make it last. They liked this. The trouble is, not many clothes are made of a kind of fabric that will take Sharpie permanently. I had to use a cotton fabric that would take the ink well.
I could not find a black & white dress made up of cotton fabric that would properly take Sharpie dye without bleeding or fading. Think about it… when is the last time you saw an all-cotton dress at all, much less one that is just black and white? I had to draft the pattern and make this dress by hand out of a black and white fabric.
In reality, there is no color on the back of this dress. We instead used that side for the ‘before’ and step-by-step photos. I still have this dress hanging in my closet, because, well, I made it from scratch and then spent DAYS coloring in the circles on the front for the final product shots.
The wallet also would have taught how to remove a leather finish; I scrambled with what to teach in the dress tutorial and eventually added some cross-hatch techniques. The result is cool, but so much less practical than my original tutorial. The wallet was a small-scale accessory, which is what most readers are going to want to color… not a whole dress made from cotton, which is so incredibly hard to find that you’ll have to make one yourself!
Supplies, Photography, and Models Ain’t Cheap
In addition to designing, making, and writing about each project, I had to do the footwork on every other aspect. I could afford to pay one model, but all of the other models in the book are my sister, daughter, and my friend.
Even I make a single appearance in the book… my legs! They didn’t put a photo of me in the About the Author section, even though I provided a few choices taken by the photographer. Lookit them gams, though (on the left).
Driving to get photos taken every weekend was exhausting. Especially when Rotovision wanted to throw away weeks of work on occasion, and we had to take pictures of the same projects again.
Along with everything else, Rotovision asked me to find artists to highlight for every chapter. I did all of the legwork for this, not only interviewing the artists, but securing the rights for their photos, then passing those rights forms to Rotovision. It certainly didn’t seem like the job of the writer to do this, but hey… book deal, right?
Rotovision Doesn’t Like to Pay
Getting my payments was like pulling teeth. Rotovision would promise payment, then ask for another 25% of the text without paying. Payments were always late, and several times, my contract was sent to my neighbors house. I can understand a few miscommunications, but this was overkill.
Payments were months late. This while I’m driving an hour and a half away from home every weekend to work with the photographer. There was a lot of money to be put up by me for materials, work hours, and gas… all of which I had figured into the pay schedule that they had provided and not kept to. But that’s an old writer’s gripe, right? Haha, publishers don’t pay on time. Oh, that’s such a fun cliche until you’re trying to pay the mortgage.
No Publicity for You!
Rotovision sold my book to Running Press. As we approached the release date, I started looking around online for any news of the release. I was checking my emails every day for any word from Running Press. But no one from Running Press ever contacted me. I even sent them an email, but nothing back. My book was sent into the abyss.
I received a few copies in the mail and was told that I could buy copies of my own book to hand out for people to review. And that was it. There would be no book signings, no interviews, no features on other sites. I gave the free copies to my gracious models, and waited for correspondence that wasn’t coming.
My book was sent into the abyss.
The book ‘release’ was anti climactic, to say the least. It quietly went on sale at Amazon.com, and I found it in my local Books & Co. The only press it got was me telling my mom on Facebook. I couldn’t be more disappointed. I didn’t have the money or resources to market the book myself. I had just assumed that they would be interested in selling what they’d paid to make. I don’t make royalties from the sales, so I couldn’t justify putting even more time and money into this book.
I added my own ‘customer images’ to the Amazon.com listing, because Running Press wouldn’t add any ‘Look Inside’ kind of images to the listing. I did what I could. But now, Amazon.com removed the customer image program altogether, so now I put those images here on my site.
It’s Not My Book
Since writing this book, I have learned to not be so critical of the work of other authors. I did not have a say in which photos were used in the book, how it was laid out, even which parts got cut. I had to argue with the creative director at Rotovision to change the embroidery stitch photos to close-ups. They wanted to use a full shot of the model working at the table. Yeah, you can’t tell how to make a stitch that way, guys.
The next time I see a craft book that has bad photos of a tutorial step, I’ll consider the fact that the author may just be grinding his/her teeth about that page.
At one point, I suggested that they hire an excellent proofreader that I know, Stet_, since I was hiring the photographer, models, and feature artists for them, anyway. But they turned him down in favor of an in-house proofreader. I then had the pleasure of correcting mistakes throughout each draft returned to me. Mistakes their editors had added to my copy.
The longer I worked on this book, the more I just felt like a hired gun. I was a writing monkey that was dumb enough to negotiate photographers, models, and feature artists for the publisher. But I knew that if I left these tasks to them, they would pick something that made as much sense as ‘steampunk is only black leather’.
I also wanted to credit my models in the front of the book, but Rotovision wouldn’t have it.
But I Am Starting to Like It
I’m still not happy with this book, but I am proud of it. Hell, it was a lot of work.
I’m a fighter, if anything, and I think I pushed back against Rotovision just enough to make sure that I put out a book that has a lot of value. The projects are all informative, and I hope they are inspiring. I maintained my integrity by refusing to rip-off other designers, and hopefully gave some exposure to the artists that I featured in the book.
If I did it again, I’d read the contract a little better to make sure that they couldn’t back out of projects that had already been approved. I’d consider my supply budget more carefully, and work with a photographer that is closer to where I live (though, Dorn Byg is incredible and fun to work with).
The experience wasn’t the glamorous ‘OH, golly, book deal!’ scenario that I had always envisioned. I’m sure that not all craft book deals are like this… probably not even all that happen via Rotovision. But make no mistake… writing a book is not easy, nor glamorous.
Sometimes, I’ll find my book at the bookstore and we’ll look at each other like two lovers that had a complicated relationship in another dimension. My book makes me sad and proud. But it has my name on it, and that’s something, right?