Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Writing Books About Beading - Part 1

Getting Started – One Bead at a Time

Yes, there are several bead artists who are more prolific writers than I am. Still, my zigzag pathway may be of interest to some. So here we go… Part 1…

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 excited!

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.


  1. Robin, thank you for sharing your experience!

    I'm looking forward to reading part two. I'm very interested in the difference between traditional and self-publishing, especially the amount of creative control you had with the second book!

  2. Robin, thanks for this post. Very interesting and YOU are very brave to have gone forward with it. Scary for sure :0)

    I look forward to reading the next post!

    You mentioned the first book is available as a download. Where can I find it?

  3. Thankfully, I have book one. Thanks for your story and I too look forward to chapter 2.
    xx, Carol

  4. Thanks for reading this long, wordy post, everyone!

    To Linda ~ I added a link to the download for One Bead at a Time; it's at the end, 2nd to last paragraph.

  5. Thanks for writing all this! It makes the idea of writing a book less scary because you make it real. I've been toying with the idea of writing - not a bead book, but fiction.
    Also, I absolutely loved One Bead at a Time!!
    Cheers, Denise

  6. Oh Robin, what a wonderful thing you are doing with your books! As, such a newbie I love all this information. I have been searching for info and I am not finding anything! Thank you so much!

  7. Very interesting. I would like to publish a book on crazy quilt in the near future. It is one of my goals to leave my job as a waitress and focus all my attention to my passion on CQ. This kind of info is very helpful.

  8. I really loved that book, it's one of my favourite beading books. IT was very interesting to hear how you created it. Can't wait to hear about the new book !!!

  9. I just read One Bead at a Time and really, really enjoyed it. So far I've never done any freeform bead embroidery, but have done freeform RAW and that liberating, meditative feeling is something I'd love to also experiece in my bead embroidery. Your book inspired me to "just do it". And it's a book that provides a different kind of inspiration from many other bead books.

    It's been very interesting reading this series of blog posts (which I did when they were knew, but reading the book made me come back to this post). I'm so glad the book project ended so well or otherwise I might not ever have had the opportunity to read it now (for free, thanks!).

    I just added another one of your books to my bead book wishlist, the one on finishing techniques. Hope to be able to buy it in a near future, if my economy permits. Having read One Bead... and Beaded Treasures (bought years ago) I'm sure I'll love this one too.


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!