Friday, December 16, 2011

The book process, part 3

Nope, I hadn't forgotten about my series of posts describing the process of writing a knitting book. I'll pick up where I left off, after taking a lengthy break to actually work on my book...Remember, these posts are based on my experience and to a lesser extent, on conversations I've had with other authors. Different publishers do things differently, so YMMV.

My last post discussed the process of firming up the book contract. Today's post focuses on the process of creating the projects that will fill the book. It is a part of the process that is incredibly fun and exhilarating, yet also a bit nerve-wracking since you need to generate so much creative output in such a short time.

 Exactly how the projects in your book develop depends on whether you are designing all the garments in the book yourself (or with a co-author), or are doing what are sometimes called "author-curated" or multi-contributor books -- the kind where one person does some designing but collects patterns contributed by a multitude of other designers. I've done both.

 If you are doing a multi-contributor book, the process is somewhat easier. Presumably, you and your editor have come to an agreement when you pitched your book about the book's focus. You'll have another chat or two to fine-tune your concept, and discuss how many projects and perhaps some general guidelines (e.g. will the book be all sweaters? all women's garments? what percentage of what types of garments? what skill level or mix of skill levels will be required? etc.). You'll write up some kind of request for submissions, outlining what you're looking for, set up a submissions schedule and distribute it to the people who you want to contribute. Depending on you and your editor, you might to an open call for submissions, mailing or emailing the request to a list of possible contributors and posting the request on your blog or a forum like Ravelry; you might to a targeted call for submissions, reaching out to a small group of people whom you've worked with before and/or especially like; or you might just ask specific people to submit a specific item (or say "I want you to design something; any ideas?"). When the due date arrives, you look over what you have, cull out your favorites and figure out how they fit into your mind's eye view of the book. If you're lucky, you'll have enough or more than enough, and your toughest call will be winnowing down the projects to a manageable number. If you're unlucky, you might have to supplement your call for submissions to generate a few more projects, or design some more yourself.

Different publishers supervise the submissions process to a different degree. You might have an editor who is very closely involved, helping choose the specific items that will end up in your final list of projects. You might have a very laissez-faire editor who doesn't even want to see the submissions, and just wants a list of your finalists. Either way, you'll end up with an outline that consists of the contributor, their project, and perhaps sketches or swatches that they've submitted.

If you're doing the patterns yourself, you'll have to start working fast. You'll need to generate sketches or swatches or both for the projects you're hoping to create. It's hard to generate 20 to 30 pattern ideas, so unless you've included in your proposal a comprehensive outline with all of your proposed projects, you'll have to come up with additional projects to supplement the sample ones included in your proposal. Again, the involvement of your editor can vary. You might have an editor who micromanages your projects very closely, kiboshing this one, suggesting that one, or you may end up with a very hands-off editor who rubberstamps what you do, or you might end up somewhere in the middle. No matter what, you will eventually end up with an outline of projects, and either sketches and swatches or general descriptions to point you on your way.

 One of my favorite parts of the process is next: yarn selection. Here is where a complete yarn whore devotee like myself has a blast.  You get to pick yarn and colors for each project! And the fabulous people at yarn companies send it to you for free because being featured in a book is terrific advertising! Now let's be realistic: it's very bad form to take advantage of the people at yarn companies. They can't give you 15 bags of yarn if you're only making a hat, nor can they send you twenty-five different shades of a yarn so that you can pick the one you like the best.  (Lately some companies will ask you to fill out a form or have your editor call them to confirm that you aren't just making up the book to get free yarn.) You may be asked to return unused skeins so the yarn company can do something with them, maybe use them for sample garments, since good yarn costs money.

There is something so cool about having the entire world of yarn at your disposal and picking your favorites for your book. It can be a very bewildering process, too, since, in case you haven't noticed, there is a helluva a lot of different kinds of yarn out there. I try to think very carefully about my yarn selections, thinking about the needs of the pattern (drape? elasticity?), colors available, what kind of garment we're talking about, gauge required, and so on. Again, the extent to which you have freedom to pick your yarn will depend on your publisher and editor. You may get unlimited freedom or you may be instructed about specific yarns to include (for example, if your publishing company has some kind of close relationship with a yarn company, they may ask you to use some of their yarns). Or in some cases, you may be asked to pick yarns that tally up with the advertisers who tend to underwrite your publishing company's other publications, like magazines. Likewise, the extent to which you have freedom in selecting colors will vary. With "Knit So Fine," we were given a palette and asked to choose yarn shades that conformed, at least in a general way, with the palette. You may not be given a palette but may discuss general color ideas with your editor. Or you may get complete freedom to pick whatever you want. If you aren't given a color palette, you might want to think about creating one for youself, or think about general color ideas and preferences, to give your book a unified feel. If every project is in a different color yarn and the colors don't mesh together, the book might end up feeling less cohesive when it's done.

If you're selecting yarn for yourself, then you probably need to run your choices by your editor, giving yarn company, yarn name and color/color number.  If you're doing a multicontributor book, you might want to run your tentative choice(s) by the designer, to get their feedback.  Once you and the designers have agreed on yarns, you can run them by your editor.  There may be some tweaking done, and your editor may say something like "I think there is too much purple in the second section" and you can adjust, and then when everyone's happy, you contact yarn companies and order the yarn.

It can get nerve-provoking if you are waiting on yarn and under a strict set of deadlines. Some yarn companies are so fast: they send the yarn out the day you ask for it. Others have a longer internal process, and may take up to several weeks to get yarn out. I hate having to contact companies again and nag them about getting yarn, even if I know it's required given the time deadlines of the project.  Occasionally when the yarn arrives, it's not right -- maybe the colors look totally different from the ones on your monitor. Or if you're doing a multi-colored project, maybe the different colors look awful when you start knitting them.  You may have to send the yarn back and ask for a different color, which may delay your project even further.

Pretty much every designer I know ends up using yarn from their personal stash when they write a book.  It's inevitable, really; either yarn doesn't arrive in time, or it's not the right color or gauge or texture; or the project morphs into something completely different, or you have to add projects and you need to start knitting ASAP.

When the yarn arrives, you have to swatch, cast on and whip out those projects.  Here is where all sorts of awkward issues may arise:

  • The project doesn't work. Either the idea you had looks terrible, or there are unforeseen problems that make the finished garment look like crap, or the yarn turns out to be a bad match for the project, or maybe you just don't have enough time to complete the original concept.  This happens to just about everyone, and all you can do is your best to adapt, given the materials and time you have. You may have to tweak the project, reknit it, simplify it, or change it entirely, and every once in a while you have to completely abandon it if it proves unworkable.  Bummer.  You may have to add some new project to compensate for a project that gets abandoned in order not to have too few projects for the book.  Another bummer.
  • The yarn company supplies yarn and despite your best efforts, it ends up not being used in the book.  This is one of those things that really bothers me, because I don't want yarn companies to think I'm a greedy pig asking for yarn I don't need.  But every so often, things don't work out and there's nothing you can do except apologize and hope the yarn company understands.
  • Someone backs out on you. Every once in a while, hopefully very rarely, in a multicontributor book, someone can't make good on their project.  There may be an  excellent reason for it -- death or illness, carpal tunnel, the yarn arrives too late for any human being to finish it in time -- or someone may just flake out on you.  Frustrating, yes, but again, you have to cope.  You might need to add another project, ask a designer friend if they've got something in their back pocket they can provide, or find something you've done that you can fiddle with and add to the projects.
  • The project ends up coming out quite different than you envisioned.  Sometimes this can end up working in your favor, and you can end up with a project that comes out better than you imagined. But if it messes up the balance of your book, it can require more adjustments. You don't want it to look too "samey" compared to the other projects in the book, for example.  When working on my first book, I was a little paranoid about my editor looking at the finished projects and saying "This isn't what you proposed at all!"  Silly me.  Editors know that the book proposal is, as is sometimes said, an exercise in fiction-writing because you just can't know ahead of time what will happen with the projects.
You can see from this part of the process how the line-up of projects in a book is a combination of inspiration, luck and hard work.  It's not easy to generate workable design ideas in a short period of time and no matter how organized you are, there are all sorts of unexpected things that can happen to slow the process down or crater individual projects. It can be really hard to maintain a level of objectivity about the designs, too. I find that by the time I'm finished with a project, I have completely lost the ability to view it dispassionately and I usually end up hating it, at least until I've put it down for a while and stopped thinking about it.  I also find that designs look very different when they are on a model and styled by a skilled stylist, and you have to keep in mind that some knitted pieces really need to be seen on a human body to look the way they are supposed to.  On the other hand, nothing is more thrilling than getting projects you've commissioned for a book and having them be absolutely fabulous.  It's magical to watch a designer give you a sketch and a general concept, then turn it into a knitted garment that is beautiful.

Next installment:  photography and styling

1 comment:

Barb B. said...

Very well put! A must read for those who think writing a book is all "beer and skittles". And it's reassuring to know I am not the only one with all the angst!