Caprice Doily pattern by Karen Robison
As a crochet blogger who covers a diverse range of topics I frequently receive varied questions about crochet. Recently I heard from Karen Robison, an emerging crochet designer, who wanted to get some advice about starting to sell her designs. I thought that I would answer her in the form of a blog post here because I know this is information that a lot of new designers would like to have. Plus I know that there are a lot of great active crochet designers who read this blog and it would be great if some of you could leave Karen your own helpful advice in the comments!
“I used to design and sell crochet designs to magazines when I was a stay-at-home mom. The kids left home and so did I, maybe 14 years ago. Now I am looking for markets to sell my crochet designs. The Internet’s opened up the world. A few of my things are on Ravelry under Designers — Karen Robison. Any words of wisdom?”
Before I get into the tips, I just want to say that I think it’s great that Karen is getting back into crochet design. Although the Internet has changed a lot of things, many of the things that Karen learned when sellign designs to magazines in the past will continue to apply today. Heck, with the way retro designs come back around even some of those old patterns may be appropriate to bring up to date and sell in a new way (depending upon the contracts signed at that time, of course).
Self-Publishing vs. Getting Published
The first thing that I want to mention is that crochet designers today truly have the option of choosing between getting their patterns published by others and self-publishing their patterns. Both options obviously have their pros and cons so it’s worth taking the time to figure out which path you want to pursue.
Thoughts on Self-Publishing
I’m not a crochet designer myself but I am an author who has done a lot of self-publishing (blog, zines and books). I’ve also been published by others. Much of what I’ve learned translates to self-publishing patterns as well so here are some of the thoughts I’d say are worth considering:
- Self-publishing makes you responsible for more than just creating the pattern. You also have to do (or hire someone to do) the editing, the listing, the promotion, responding to questions, etc. You are not just a pattern designer; you become a solopreneur. You have to be able and willing to wear multiple hats.
- Self-publishing requires a really strong sense of self-esteem. You will get negative comments and bad reviews and days when no sales happen. You have to be able to take that all in stride.
- Self-publishing is also really satisfying and fulfilling. Personally I feel far more accomplished when completing a successful self-published work than when submitting for publication. This varies among writers and designers, of course, but it can be really wonderful to put your own creative work out there in your way.
- You retain all of the creative control. That’s liberating. It also makes you accountable for everything you do! You are your brand.
- Some people consider self-publishing the easier route. That’s because you don’t have to ask for anyone’s approval before you put the patterns out there. It’s true in the sense that there is a limit to the number of people who get traditionally published each month and therefore the opportunity to self-publish is more readil available. It’s not true in the sense that you should expect to do lots of hard work when self-publishing!
- Consider multiple formats. You can self-publish individual patterns, collections of patterns and books of patterns. You can do books as ebooks and as print books. There are many options.
- You get a paycheck. One of the best things about getting your work accepted or publication is that you get a paycheck for your work. Sometimes you also get royalties. (I’m not a designer but I think this is widely true of design work as in writing). You obviously also get paid as a self-published pattern designer, too. You can even sometimes make more this way. However, the income can be much more sporadic and unpredictable.
- It’s easier to get yarn support. That means you get to play with and use great yarn without paying out of pocket for it first.
- There’s a lot of credibility attached to working for a magazine or company. This can help you sell your own designs in the future.
- You may reach a wider audience with your work. That’s because you’re reaching their audience instead of having to create and pitch to your own.
- It may be tough to get accepted, especially at first.
- In some cases you may need to adjust your own creative ideas to fit the market or the publisher’s needs at any given time. This bothers some people more than others.
Don’t forget that you can always do a combination of self-publishing and submissions for publication. This will help you reap the benefits of both options and truly see with time which one works best for you as a designer.
Online Markets for Crochet Designers
The Internet is a great place to start with selling your crochet patterns, especially for self-published designers.
Let’s take a look at some of the markets available for listing patterns for sale.
- Ravelry. As Karen already knows Ravelry is a popular place to list patterns for sale. You can sell individual patterns and you can also list any ebooks that you have available.
- Etsy. Designers can also sell their patterns through an Etsy store. Both Ravelry and Etsy have fees/ charges that you should look into as you make your decisions.
- Artfire. This site is an Etsy alternative that works similar to how Etsy works.
- Craftsy. You can list your patterns for sale on Craftsy. The great thing here is that they don’t charge you anything or take a commission!
- KarpStyles. I don’t know a lot about this one but they do sell self-published patterns from knitters and crocheters.
- Your own website. Many designers choose to sell their patterns through their own online store either as their sole area of sales or as a supplement to their other online pattern sales.
What if you want to submit your patterns for others to publish? One great option is to work with yarn stores that are seeking designers to create patterns for them. For example, Galler Yarns offers free knit and crochet patterns through it’s site so they accept pattern submissions from indie designers. They even have an “emerging designer” payment model. You can contact them directly for more details – and of course, other yarn stores offer this option as well.
Print Publications for Crochet Designers
The Internet is great but don’t discount the value of submitting your designs for print publication, too, or even self-publishing your own books of patterns.
Each crochet magazine has its own submission requirements. You should find those online or request them by email and then follow them to the tee, meeting all deadlines of course, for the best chance at submissions. There is a Ravelry group for designers that regularly lists calls for submissions and that’s a good place to find out about other print publication options like submitting to upcoming pattern books or emerging markets.
Top Tips for Budding Crochet Designers
Now that we’ve looked at the options, I thought I’d share some final tips for a budding crochet designer who is just getting started selling patterns in today’s market:
- Look at the options broadly but focus on a few. I think it’s really important for emerging crochet designers to expose themselves to as many of the options as possible not only in selling patterns but also in marketing them (so utilizing forums, blogs, social media, etc. to market the places where patterns are for sale). However, you can’t spread yourself too thin. Once you start getting a feel for the markets that work best for you I personally think it’s best to just hone in on those few and put most of your energy there. This doesn’t mean you have to excluse other options but it’s a way of refining your focus that I think makes good business sense.
- Learn about the experiences of others. Ultimately your business needs to be your uniquely but you can learn a lot of tips and get ideas from reading about the people who have come before you. Follow the blogs of other crochet designers. Also check out blogs in the areas of online marketing, Etsy sales, etc. Listen to podcast interviews with designers. Read forum posts related to this topic. Network with other designers and support each other in your efforts.
- Keep really accurate records. You should keep organized records of all of the things that you try when exploring markets. See what works. Note what sells. Review your records (I do a mini-review monthly and a full review quarterly for my own work) and make improvements. If you keep learning, trying and improving you’re going to succeed!
- Always submit only your best work. Make sure that your patterns have been tested and edited. Use clear photography to supplement your patterns. Make each pattern better than the last. Give people something that they really want to buy because they get value out of it! This is true whether you self-publish or submit patterns for publication. This was always true, of course, but it’s really important today precisely because of the proliferation of the Internet. Word about you and your work spreads quickly so you always want to put your best foot forward.
Okay, readers, now I’m turning it over to you. What would you add to my advice (or what do you disagree with here) to help Karen out with her question as a new designer in the contemporary market? Your comments can really help!