I’m flattered you like these fuzzy little buddies as much as I do. Really I am! It is truly lovely to know that they appeal to so many of you, and it absolutely makes my day better when I hear that you like them.
But I want to answer a question that keeps coming up…
I’m absolutely not turning these into a children’s book. In fact, I’m not turning anything into any kind of book any time soon (probably not ever again).
I’ll talk about why (partly to get it out of my head, partly because I suspect some of you are curious), but it’s pretty much the very opposite of the soft, fluffy, pretty nonsense you come here for. So if you just want to see the buddies, you are totally excused. You can go visit them on ravelry or payhip and skip all the dry business stuff. I won’t mind at all. In fact, it’s probably the better thing to do. The rest of this post is much less cute and fluffy.
But if you do want all the dry business stuff…here we go.
This sounds tacky (because wow are we conditioned not to talk about money, and wow is there a lot of pressure in this industry to act like you’re doing it for the love of the craft rather than as a business), but the primary reason I am not going to do more books is that I make more money and do less work when I sell a single individual pattern online than when I sell a paper book anywhere. And since this is how I pay my bills, I have to pay attention to that.
It’s surprising though, right? How can a single pattern possibly be more profitable than a whole paper book?
This is the bit that gets sort of dry and boring and technical, but I’ll try to skim over the high points without making your eyes glaze over too much. We’ll do the money bit first, then we’ll talk about the work bit.
1) If I sell a paper book to a distributor/yarn shop/amazon, I get between 35 & 50% of the book’s cover price (the rest goes to the place you’re buying it from, which means yes absolutely amazon makes more money when they sell my books than I do). On a $24.95 book, I see about ten dollars.
This individual pattern sells for ten dollars. So already this single pattern is making just about what I earn when I sell a whole paper book (with something like 10-20 patterns in it).
2) Books are expensive to make. Staggeringly expensive. It costs me about $15,000 to produce a book. That $15,000 has to get covered out of that ten dollars a copy that I see when I sell one (meaning I need to sell about fifteen hundred copies of a book to break even, if I sell fewer, I’ll lose money).
Individual patterns do have costs, but they’re usually a few hundred dollars at most, so it’s a much smaller risk and a much smaller bill to pay off before it starts turning a profit.
3) Books have to be stored and shipped. Receiving, storing, packing, and shipping thousands of pounds of books is exhausting and expensive (I’ve spent literally tens of thousands of dollars on postage and shipping supplies over the years), and those costs also come out of that ten dollars a book.
Individual patterns get zapped around in the ether, no tape guns or postage (or heat stroke) involved.
So that’s the money bit.
A paper book with 14 patterns, retailing for $24.95, probably earns me about $6.00 in profit when you take out all the money I spend to get the book made and get it into your hands (it’s only that much because I self publish, traditionally published authors often see less than a dollar a copy).
A single pattern, retailing for $10.00, probably earns me about $8.00 in profit when you take out the money I spend to get the pattern made and get it into your hands.
So, if a paper book and an individual pattern took the same amount of work to make, maybe they’d both be practical to do. But oh wow do they not take the same amount of work to make. Not at all. So, let’s talk about the difference in work to make a book versus to make an individual pattern. Again, I’m just going to hit the high points, because really you’ve got to be bored by now.
1) Books take time to make. I have done a dozen of them, I work really fast, and they still basically take me a year. It’s not the only thing I’m doing during that year, but it’s a full year where a substantial portion of my work time is taken up with one project.
Individual patterns take somewhere between a couple of weeks to a month or two. So again, it’s a much smaller investment of my time and a much smaller loss if something doesn’t sell well.
2) Dealing with physical objects is hard. If I do paper books, I have to store them. That means I either need to have space for them in my home or rent space somewhere else for them (one of the reasons we bought our current house was that it had space in the garage for books). If I do paper books, I have to ship them. That means I need to be available to do it (tricky if you want to maybe be away from home every now and then) and able to do it (tricky if you maybe break your leg and physically cannot get to your garage for two months).
Individual patterns exist on my computer. I could put every pattern I’ve ever written on an SD card the size of a postage stamp. I can zap them around the world with the click of a mouse.
3) Books are subject to the whims of others. The last administration went and imposed a 15% tariff on books after I sent a book to the printer, substantially increasing my costs after I’d already set the cover price. They tried damn hard to dismantle the postal service too. Changes like that are absolutely disastrous to a small businesses.
If a website I sell individual patterns on changes (cough, here’s looking at you ravelry), I can find an alternative website. It’ll be a pain, but I can do it. If a government imposes a tariff on books, I either pay it, or I don’t get my books (the books I’ve already spent $15,000 to produce) out of customs. If they shut down the post office, either my shipping costs go up by tens of thousands of dollars a year or I can’t sell my books (again, the books I’ve invested thousands of dollars into making). Those aren’t the sort of changes I can predict or plan around, and I don’t want to worry about them any more.
So basically, on one hand you have a paper book. It’s got a dozen or so patterns in it (which means it’s a dozen or so times as much pattern creation work as the individual patterns are), it takes a year or so to produce, costs about $15,000, has to be stored and shipped, and earns me about $6.00 every time it sells.
On the other hand you have an individual pattern. It takes somewhere between a few weeks to a few months to produce, costs maybe a few hundred dollars, never needs to exist in the physical world, and earns me about $8.00 every time it sells.
I say this in the nicest possible way, but I’m not making books anymore because they’re a staggering amount of work and I can’t earn enough money making them to make the work worth it. (Someone is bound to ask, so the same thing holds for ebooks, just a bit less dramatically. They have fewer costs, but they’re still a lot more work for a lot for a lot less money than individual patterns, all without the satisfaction of having a physical object, and the math just doesn’t work out.)
If I didn’t need to care about actually paying my bills by writing patterns, I’d love to do more paper books (if you’d like to sponsor my transition to a life of leisure, do let me know!). And some day I may indulge myself and do a glorious little gem of a book where I only print a few hundred of them and they cost a small fortune and they’re as much art object as they are knitting book and holding them brings me unceasing joy.
But this is not that day. This is the day where I’d like to pay my mortgage and keep the lights on and figure out what that funny noise in my thirteen year old car is and buy the fancy prescription cat food and the insoles that make my feet hurt less and even get the occasional pizza. And to do that, I need to pay attention to the numbers. And the numbers say I should do individual patterns, not books.
So, if you made it this far, thank you. Have a gratuitous owl picture as a reward.
And please know that I’m not mad at you if you said ‘you should do a kid’s book!’ I absolutely take it as a compliment. I’m truly touched that you like this thing I make enough to want that! You didn’t do anything wrong by saying it. It is a nice thing to say!
I just wanted to take some time to explain why the answer is no. The only thing I’ll be annoyed about is if you come along and say ‘you should just xyz’ or ‘why don’t you just abc’ if you don’t actually know more about both the knitting industry and the book publishing process than I do. If you insist on doing that, I probably am going to be mad at you. I absolutely promise I am making these decisions based on what I’ve learned from thirteen years of experience writing hundreds of patterns and publishing a dozen books, and I am very much not looking for advice.
In a better world, one where I wasn’t worried about going bankrupt if I develop a chronic health condition and wasn’t worried about my government destroying the post office to do a better job of voter suppression and wasn’t worried that wildfires and sea level rise are racing to see who can destroy my home first, I’d love to make a whole stack of books. But in this world, I have to be more careful than that.
So, again, I’m tremendously flattered you like the buddies (or any of my other patterns). But for now and the foreseeable future, they are going to be standalone patterns. Because they need to be in order for me to do this job. And I very much want to do this job! I just need to do it carefully.