Getting Started – One Bead at a Time
My first real book, One Bead at a Time, written in 1999 and first
released Jan. 2000, practically wrote itself. I'd been loving and teaching
improvisational bead embroidery for about 10 years, experiencing how the process
released freedom, playfulness and creativity in me and my students, working
some kind of magic and making art where there had been constraints.
Two years earlier, I had met my husband and moved to the island where we
live now, away from the mainstream of teaching and beady women friends. As my
new life took more of my time, mounting pressure to share the magic was
building. It erupted into a book-writing frenzy. If I wasn't going to teach in
person, at least I could make it available in book form.
I wanted to write a book about the methods and process of improvisational
bead embroidery, not so much about techniques and definitely no projects. Fortunately, I knew a little about writing, design, layout, and printing from early days
as editor of my college newspaper and from producing catalogs for a theatre
supply company in the 80's. But what I didn't know was how to sell such a book,
or even IF it would sell.
It took me about a month to take the pictures (film camera) and design my
book using a very early version of MS Publisher on my first computer (a PC),
which I had recently bought and was just learning to use. I’m self-taught on
Publisher, but to MS’s credit, it was highly intuitive and easy to learn. I
formatted the pages to be half of a standard legal-size sheet of paper, so that I
could print them on my home printer. I wrote and designed and photographed
in spurts, combining the steps and elements as I went along, building the book improvisationally,
just like the beading.
Originally it was only 48 pages long, and didn’t include the later-added
technique pages. I printed 300 copies on quality 32-pound paper with my ink-jet
printer. (LOTS of ink cartridges and paper jams!) I had the covers printed at Kinko’s. Then I took everything to a small, commercial
bindery in Seattle where they bound the pages and covers into books. WOW! 300 copies! I was so
I started contacting previous students, members of the Puget Sound Bead
Society, and other beady friends. Within one month I’d sold all 300 copies!
That was a sufficient market test for me. What I needed then was a publisher. So, I
sent letters and copies of my book to the few publishers of craft/art books
that I thought might be interested. Nothing. No response. I called. They were
not interested. That put me in the position of having to self-publish. But how
to market them beyond my little circle of bead associates?
Amazon did not exist at that time. I figured it would be too specialized for
the big chains, like Barnes & Noble. So the first thing I did was contact
one of the owners of the nation's only wholesale distributor of beading books and
supplies. At that time, they offered, oh, maybe 400 titles, selling them to growing
numbers of bead shops around the country. If my book were to sell, they were
the ones to do it.
To my dismay, the owner told me my book idea was a bust. “It will never
sell,” he said. “Beaders want projects. They won’t buy a book unless it has
great projects with step-by-step instructions.” I spoke eloquently, trying to
convince him of beader’s desire to break away from patterns and projects.
Finally, perhaps out of sympathy, he said he’d pre-order 50 copies, IF I would
promise to add a few pages of techniques. At least he’d guarantee me that. Motivation enough
for me, I began calling printers, soon discovering that very few printers are
set up to do books. Eventually I found one located in Sydney, British Columbia.
Printers at that time worked with copy prepared in Quark, the publisher’s
software of the last two decades. I didn’t have Quark. The printer agreed to
transfer my Publisher files into Quark (using cut and paste methods) for an
extra charge. He gave me a bid for printing either 2,500 or 5,000 copies.
Eeeek! Scary! I really couldn’t imagine selling that many, and the total dollar
amount was staggering, waaaay more than I had in the bank. Finally we settled
on 2,000 copies at about $5.75 per copy, plus shipping and transfer charges,
just under $12,000 total.
It's a leap of faith to borrow and scrape together that much moola. Good thing for the successful, 300-copy test run... without that, One Bead at a Time (and probably my writing career) would have been dead in its tracks.
Even before the boxes arrived, I set up a website, which was the only way I
could think of to reach beaders beyond my little circle of students and
friends. That was a good plan. The circle expanded by word of mouth, and the
book orders began to arrive. The distributor sold his first 50 copies
surprisingly quickly as well, and ordered more, and then more. Perhaps it didn’t
sell as well as books with projects, but it did sell.
With 4 separate printings (plus the test run of 300), I sold 9,300 copies, a number I deem fairly respectable for a beginner in self-publishing.
When the last copy sold, I decided not to reprint again, rather to make it
available on the internet as a free download.
The next book is an entirely different story. Read about working with a "real"
publisher in Part 2 of this saga.