Tackling the Big Project Blog Hop: Writing a Craft Book

25 Sep 2013

Found photographs, collection 2

Image by habeebee, via Flickr


So, Lisa and I got to talking recently about big projects. She's been crocheting a series of blankets. I've been writing a book. And we realized that projects like these always involve a lot of organizational tricks that get hidden in the shadow of the great big finished product. So we did what any blogger would do – we organized a blog hop, where a bunch of crafters who do big projects can share how they tackle them. Liz, Martine, Jeni and Wendi joined us. Check the bottom of this post for their links!

Before I wrote my first craft book, I imagined that the project looked something like the photo above: you get to chill out and cozily make things while you get paid for it.

Ah, my innocent youth. Now that I'm in the throes of my third book, I know that craft-book-writing is really a complicated series of logistics, and survival – let alone thrive-al – depends on extreme organization. Wanna see how I organize the work of a book? Read on…

Yummy stacks of fabric

Image by myredbike (Holly), via Flickr

Designing the Projects

Generally speaking, by the time you've gotten a book deal, you've hashed out all the project designs with your publisher in pretty deep detail. For the book I'm writing now, for example, my book proposal details all the items I'm making, their sizes, the colorways they'll be made in, and their basic construction. I'll definitely make design tweaks here and there as I make the stuff, but most of that creative work's a done deal well before I start actually working on the book.

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Organizing the Crafting

Let's assume that your average craft book contains 20 projects. (Big assumption, but whatever. It simplifies our discussion.) OK, that means you need to do the following things:

  • Buy all the materials. That means planning multiple shopping trips and multiple online orders. It might mean approaching companies to ask for donations of supplies. It also means planning finances, because rarely will you have the funds at any one time to buy everything you'll need to produce all these projects.

    I usually start a book project with a big spreadsheet, like you see above. I keep track of each project, the materials it requires, and any help I might be getting with making it. Then, as I acquire materials, I just update the color of each item, so I know at a glance what I still need to get.

    If I'm getting any materials donated, then I add a column to this spreadsheet so I can note which company is donating, the name and email address of my contact there, the date I made the request, and when the materials arrive.


  • Stash and track all the materials. Believe me, when you're working on 20 projects at once, it's easy to get the supplies mixed up – and it's easy to end up living in a chaos of stacked-up materials.

    I loooooove big ziploc bags when I'm organizing book work. I have a bag for each project, labeled with its name or the diagram from my book proposal. I stash all the materials in there as I get them – that way I can see at a glance what I do and do not have. I keep a banker's box of these in-progress bags so they don't clutter up my tiny work area.

Castlemaine Library knitting circle

Image by ABC Open Central Victoria, via Flickr

  • Plan time (and maybe help) for the making. Making the projects is only part of the book-writing game. You'll also need time for writing the actual text, and possibly producing illustrations or photographs. You'll need editing time, because nobody's first draft is perfect. You'll need research and fact-checking time. So, given all that, it's important to think about the project-making in context. Do you actually have time to make everything yourself, or do you need to hire some help?

    If you do decide to enlist help for the making, then you gain another organization project: tracking who's making what, what dates you need the work back, and what agreements you've made about paying for their time, materials, and postage. Then you need to monitor those deadlines in your calendar and make sure everyone's able to meet them.


  • Obsessively document the process of making. To produce 20 sets of clear project instructions, you'll need to know every measurement, every step, and every tip and trick you used in making every project. Believe me, this information is very easy to lose if you don't keep detailed notes as you're making! So you'll need a way to capture this information.

    I like to keep a dedicated notebook for my book work – a notebook that never leaves my apartment, so there's no risk of it getting lost. I keep it next to me as I make each project, and I write down absolutely everything. It's so helpful later when I'm writing project instructions.


Image by jjpacres, via Flickr

Organizing the Writing

I usually write my books in a non-linear fashion, because I'm a non-linear thinker. There's no way I could start at the introduction and write my way through to the end. So I like to use a separate document for each chapter – or if it's a long chapter, sometimes I use a different doc for each section. That way, I have an organized framework, and I can write in whatever section's calling to me most on any given day.

This framework also makes it so much easier to get bright ideas captured as they occur to me – it's too time-consuming to scroll around in a giant manuscript document to find the section I need. And this framework also allows me the flexibility to move sections around if I need to. Eventually, when all the writing's done and edited, I can paste all these sections into a fresh document in order. Then I'll add formatting according to my publisher's guidelines, and BAM – final manuscript.

Writing in Greg's cafe on Mt Carmel in Haifa, Israel

Image by Dr Phil, via Flickr

I think it's also wise to organize some time around writing, but that's mostly personal preference. For me, the making is way more fun than the writing, so I'll tend to shirk the latter for the former if I don't create some inalienable writing time. So for me, that's a couple hours first thing each morning – more if I'm in the flow. When the book's all written, I use the same daily block of time for editing.


Organizing the Illustrations

Every book deal is different. Some publishers will elect to do all the photography and illustration for you. Others will expect you to do it yourself, or hire it out. Some publishers will want you to ship step-outs to them so they can do the step-by-step photography. Many of them will expect you to ship them all the finished projects so they can use their own photographers to take "beauty shots."

So, depending on the contract you have, you may need to plan some time for producing photography and diagrams. Do you need to hire a professional, or can you DIY?

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If your book contains a lot of process photos, then trust me – there's a staggering amount of photo-shoot prep to do. You can't keep a photographer waiting while you make each project from start to finish! Instead, you'll be making each project several times in various stages of completion, so you're ready for the whole process to be photographed quickly. Above is a small sample from the multi-page shot list I prepared for the Kanzashi book's photo shoots. I listed each step we needed to photograph, so I wouldn't forget any.

Hiring an illustrator to draw diagrams for you brings its own set of organizational tasks: you'd need to collect all the measurements and specifications that need to go in these diagrams. You'd need an illustration list. You'd need to communicate your publisher's art guidelines to your illustrator. You'd need to agree on a deadline and make sure your illustrator meets it.


Image by gillicious, via Flickr

WHEW, right? At the end of the day, craft-book-writing probably isn't for the faint of heart. (I haven't even mentioned the big project of marketing a book in this post - that's a whole other thing.) I like the organizational challenge of book-writing, but I won't lie - it's a pretty exhausting process. When I turn everything in to my publisher, I'm ready for a break!

…Then, within a couple months, I've usually forgotten all about the exhaustion and I'm ready to start another one.