Stephen Fraser and Becka Rahn
Photo by Andy Rahn
Often lacking big budgets for marketing and promotion, craft book publishers are always looking for a quick and inexpensive way to reach the largest audience of craft enthusiasts.
The answer in recent years has been found in the “blog tour,” a brief burst of daily blogging about the book, which relies on different bloggers to spread the word to their circle of readers. Most blog tours last a week or two – long enough to reach a large audience without spending a ton of money.
When craft blogging was still fairly new, the blog tour was an exciting way to promote new books. But now it’s starting to get repetitive and wearisome, for bloggers and readers alike. Just ask quilter Sherri Lynn Wood. This past spring, when Wood was getting ready to launch her first book, she struggled with the concept of a blog tour.
“My publicist had a hard time getting people to even do a blog tour,” Wood recalls. “Blog tours are ‘blah.’”
Knitwear designer Hunter Hammersen agrees.
“I don’t find them interesting as a consumer,” Hammersen says. “And I’m not interested in arranging them as an author.”
And yet, marketing budgets aren’t growing. The time is right for publishers and authors to think creatively about how they can put a small budget to work in new and innovative ways to promote new craft titles.
To see how a few of our peers are succeeding with their own craft book promotions, we talked to five authors — a jeweler, a quilter, a knitter, a digital fabric designer, and a printmaker — who have launched craft books within the past two years and used new approaches to marketing. Let’s take a look at what they did:
“I like to bring people together, let them have a glass of wine and experience doing a project together. They connect with the book at a different level.”
A Massive Pile of Suede String
“I think we’re moving from a digital experience to these smaller gatherings that bring people together. A book can do that,” Soriano explains. “There’s no question you need large platforms, too, but there’s a lot to be said for reaching smaller audiences. One doesn’t exclude the other. You want to do both. I like to bring people together, let them have a glass of wine and experience doing a project together. They connect with the book at a different level.”
Soriano organized events at independent bookstores near her home, Etsy headquarters, craft fairs, antique shows, and at several private homes. For each one, she provided what she describes as “a casual make and take.”
“I have a massive amount of suede string and I put it in the middle of a table that’s been covered with brown craft paper,” Soriano says. “I surround the string with bowls of beads and people have such an amazing time. They see the simplicity of the projects and the sophistication all at once.”
To sell her books right on the spot, Soriano used the Square card reader, making it simple for attendees to pay with a debit or credit card, and leave with their own copy of her book.
Craft book authors should design a special project specifically for book events, Soriano advises. It should be something accessible that can be completed in 30 minutes, even if the book’s projects are complex.
“If you need a sewing machine for all of the projects in your book, create a new project that gives people a flavor, but can be done by hand,” Soriano says.
Book events can continue long after the book’s launch.
“You want the buzz for your book to live longer than the first three to five months after it’s release,” Soriano says. She’s now planning a series of workshops around her book to keep the excitement going.
“I want to build and deepen the community that’s come together around this book,” she says. “Selling a book isn’t easy. You have to romance it. At least that’s what I’ve done.”
An Improvisational Performance
When she was getting ready to launch her book, The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters, author Sherri Lynn Wood wanted to do a book tour, but her publisher had no travel budget. Determined to make it happen anyway, Wood decided to organize a book tour on her own.
“You have to look at your lifestyle as an artist and just be resourceful,” Wood advises. “Ask yourself, ‘How can I combine my goals?’”
Wood was already planning to travel from her home in San Francisco to her former home in North Carolina, where she needed to empty out a storage unit, so she decided to take advantage of the situation and turn her cross-country trip into a book tour.
To find venues, Wood put out a call on her blog asking people to invite her to visit and teach.
“I went where people were interested in having me,” Wood says. “I used all of my connections in different places and some places I went because I knew a friend who could put me up.”
If you can’t go on an actual book tour, Wood advises doing events whenever and wherever you can.
“If you’re going on a family vacation, do some planning and book an event where you’re going anyway,” Wood says. “Do some mini tours that are at places within driving distance of your home.”
Instead of a conventional book signing or standard sewing workshop, Wood decided to create a very special experience for the groups that hosted her — a performance demonstration of improvisational quilting. She called it an “Improv Patchwork Theater Mashup.”
Taking cues from the audience, she created a piece of improvisational patchwork, on stage, within one hour. Attendees were invited to bring fabric scraps (up to 1/4 yard) and contribute to the patchwork performance.
“It’s kinda like rubbing my belly and patting my head at the same time,” Wood says of the improve patchwork project. “A good time is had by all.”
Wood’s Improv Patchwork Theater Mashup.
Photo courtesy of Sew Modern
Ideas for Book Launches Beyond the Blog Tour
- Design an accessible make-and-take.
- Teach a memorable workshop.
- Reach out to podcasters.
- Don’t forget about magazines.
- Tap existing relationships.
- Do book events wherever you travel.
- Ask the suppliers of your materials for help.
- Collaborate with venues to create a mutually beneficial event.
- Consider private in-home parties and use Square to sell books.
- Make launch day goody bags.
- Keep the excitement going with workshops and ongoing online events.
Although Wood booked and funded the tour on her own, her publicist at Abrams followed up with each venue to provide publicity materials and contacted local media outlets in each area.
“Any place I didn’t end up being able to visit, I sent a free copy of the book as a giveaway or for the guild library,” Wood says.
Although each event was fairly small, Wood felt that, cumulatively, they had a big impact.
“It gets the book out into the population.” she explains. “People see it and tell their friends about it.”
A Really Good Goody Bag
She began by reaching out to the yarn companies that produced the yarn she had used for her book projects, and asked if they might feature the book on their blogs. Each company had a somewhat different sort of customer, which meant that her book was exposed to a wide variety of knitters — something Hammersen says a blog tour probably wouldn’t have done.
“I think a lot of the problem with blog tours is too much audience overlap from one to the next,” she explains.
Next, Hammersen tried to get reviews on websites with much bigger audiences than the typical blog.
Hammersen says book publishers shouldn’t forget to reach out to print publications, too.
“Talk to Yarn Market News and to the big print magazines like Interweave and Vogue,” she says. “Do keep in mind their longer timelines. You’ll either need advance copies or need to be OK with them talking about it a bit after it debuts, which is actually sort of nice in its own way, too.”
Hammersen also pursued podcasts for reviews.
“I find I have a better response to appearing on a few podcasts or having my work talked about on a few podcasts, rather than focusing on blogs,” she says. “Again, reach out early, as schedules fill up fast, but I think some people connect better by hearing your excitement when you talk about your project than by reading something someone else wrote about you or your work. It feels more personal somehow.”
To generate excitement about launch day, Hammersen came up with a strategy that proved to be especially popular — the good old goody bag.
”I put together little goody bags for the first 250 people to order physical books and made it known that early birds were getting presents. I teased them ahead of time and did a reveal post after. It was a lot of work both in organizing the items for them and in assembling them,” she says. “But I think it got people excited. We had enough people waiting to get first in line when the sale opened that we crashed the server!”
To keep the momentum going, Hammersen did a knit-along on Ravelry for each pattern in her book.
“I usually start them a few months after the book is out, so likely in January for the November book, and sort of think of them as something to keep involvement and interest over the life of the book,” she says.
Tea Towels for 70
When her book, Stamp Stencil Paint, came out earlier this fall, printmaker Anna Joyce decided to travel from her home in Portland, Oregon to New York City to do a series of five book events over the course of five days.
The trip was worthwhile, she says, but still “sorta exhausting.”
Like Soriano, Joyce designed make-and-takes for each event. She chose projects from the book that would have broad appeal. At her event at Etsy headquarters, for example, attendees made hand-painted tea towels.
“It was something 70 people could do all at once without a whole lot of instruction,” Joyce says.
To subsidize the cost of the materials, Joyce contacted the companies that make the supplies she used in the book and asked if they’d be willing to sponsor an event in exchange for promotion.
“I handed out stickers and catalogs for the companies and I was able to get tea towels, tote bags, notebooks, and pigments for free,” she says.
Of the prominent venues that hosted her, Joyce says it helped that she was bringing a fun activity along with her.
“It’s easy to say yes to Nigella Lawson,” she says. “A craft book author you’ve never heard of, though? Offering to teach a free activity opened a lot of doors for me. Spaces that might not otherwise host a book signing were happy to have me come.”
Photos by Anna Joyce
Becka Rahn’s book launch for The Spoonflower Handbook.
Photo by Andy Rahn
A Giant Stuffed Shark
Rahn emailed invitations to all of her current and former students and sent posters to the local sewing and yarn shops where she’d taught in the past. She held the event in conjunction with an arts organization called the Textile Center, where she had been teaching for the past decade.
“Having it at Textile Center gave me another audience to promote to because they put it in their newsletter and Facebook page also,” Rahn explains. “And Spoonflower did a little promoting through their social media.”
The collaboration was mutually beneficial, Rahn adds.
“The Textile Center provided the space and staff because this event was related to their mission and support of local artists,” she says. “They got new people in the doors and made a little money from book sales, so it was a win for them, too.”
Rahn worked hard to put together a special experience that was both fun and informative. She and her co-author, Stephen Fraser, one of the founders of Spoonflower, began the evening with a conversation. Fraser talked about Spoonflower and Rahn shared some behind-the-scenes stories about how the book came to be.
Next, there was a trunk show of projects from the book, plus new projects made using the book’s instructions as a jumping-off point. They showed pillows made with images of the book cover and “had a giant stuffed shark, too,” Rahn says. The shark was fun and “gave people a goofy thing to take photos with. It was really popular.” Spoonflower provided refreshments.
To finish the evening they gave out door prizes and each person got a Spoonflower swatch book to take home, plus Rahn handed out bookmarks featuring a list of the classes she’ll be teaching this fall.
“I think we kept the event simple and fun,” Rahn says. “We also gave people the opportunity for a unique experience and everyone loves to go home with free stuff.”
Sherri Lynn Wood teaching an improvisational quilting workshop.
Photo courtesy of Sew Modern