Getting Published as a Knitter – Interview with Carol Sulcoski

Many knitters I know are often looking for ways of making a living doing what they love…knitting.  Not many come up with viable solutions, although some people make in-roads toward their goal.  Here’s one of my heroes in the knitting world, especially how she makes it all look so easy.

Interview With Carol

I’ve known Carol for a number of years now.  First as a knit blogger, then as a friend.  She is incredibly well connected in the knitting world, owns an independent yarn dyeing business (Black Bunny Fibers) and has authored a few books on knitwear design.

Joe:  So Carol, can you provide QueerJoe readers a little background on yourself?

Carol:  Sure! Like a lot of other people in this industry, I came to it in a roundabout way, as a second career. I don’t have any art school or design background; I went to law school and was an attorney for about ten years. I began knitting again as a form of stress relief, and I became fascinated – obsessed? – with the knitting world. When the internet became widely available I started reading knitting blogs. (In fact, Joe, yours was one of the first blogs I started following.) I eventually decided to start my own blog, and really enjoyed writing about yarn-related topics. One thing led to another and I started dyeing yarn, designing and writing professionally and more recently, teaching knitting. I have three kids and it’s wonderful to be able to balance working as a freelancer with spending time with them. We live outside Philadelphia.

Joe:  Your first book. Knit So Fine, was a joint effort with  Laura Grutzeck and Lisa Myers

What prompted you to participate in this book?

Carol:  At the time, Laura and I were working on the weekends in Lisa’s shop. I think Koigu was one of the first fine yarns that absolutely knocked me out (the colors, the stitch definition, the way it knits at multiple gauges) and all three of us were fans of the many things that fine yarns do so well. But we continually encountered resistance from customers who thought that fine yarns were just for lace shawls or socks. So we decided that the knitting world needed a book that illustrated some of the great advantages that fine yarns have, not just for very specific types of techniques (like lace or stranded knitting, which are traditionally done in fine-gauge yarns) but also for stylish garments and accessories.

Joe:  What were some of the more important things you learned from that first book?

Carol:  Doing a book with Interweave was an excellent way to do a first book. They are so organized because they have done so many books, and so they really help walk you through the process. I learned about stylistic things (like having a cohesive color palette for the yarns used in the book), about the various steps that go into creating a book, the importance of a good title for the book (it sounds funny, but that is really important not only for sales but also because it kind of anchors the book or holds everything together), and about staying organized. 

Joe:  That first book was published in June of 2008 and then a mere seven months later, you came out with Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn  

That seems like a quick time period for all that goes into a book.  Were you starting to put that together during the same time as Knit So Fine?

Carol:  I had the idea for the sock book for a while, and it was another one of those things where I heard knitters asking all the time “Why is this yarn doing this?” They loved handpainted yarns, especially sock yarns, but they didn’t understand why the yarn might look different knit up than it did in the skein, or why the yarn made strange patterns as it was knit (what I call “pooling”). I pitched the idea to Interweave and it was (not to sound pretentious but) serendipity. Interweave was interested and things came together quickly and seamlessly. It also helped that this was a curated book: I only had to design and knit one pair of socks because I was working with so many other talented designers


Joe:  Do you have a standard method for pulling a book together…the project seems more daunting than any knitted project I’ve ever taken on?

Carol:  It’s funny but I absolutely LOVE pulling books together. I have a long list of topics that I think would make great books. I think it’s important to have a good concept, something more than just a collection of pretty things, and I think knitters really are interested in books with technical material in addition to projects. I make tons of lists and spreadsheets when I’m working on a book. I have a 3-ring binder where I keep copies of things, too. I try to break things down into items I can put on a list and check off, and keep things moving that way.

Joe:  Your latest book, Sock Yarn Studio was then published in October of 2012.

It seems you gave yourself a little more time between books this time.  Was the longer period purposeful, or did you publish as quickly as you could pull together the patterns, designs, text, etc.?

Carol:  Honestly, it was more a function of finding a publisher who was interested in the concept. I thought it was a really strong premise for a book given the interest in sock yarns, especially handpainted ones. Some publishers just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand how passionate knitters are about sock yarns and how versatile the yarns are in terms of what you can do with them. I was thrilled when Lark Crafts said yes to the idea. Working with them has been delightful.

Joe:  For the knit-designer-author-wannabes who read this blog, can you give your top three tips or lessons you’ve learned in the dog-eat-dog world of knit book writing and getting published?

Carol:  First of all, be professional. You have to abide by deadlines; you have to be polite and courteous in all your dealings; you have to communicate with the people you are working with; you have to strive to avoid errors or sloppy work; you have to realize that your presence on the internet is going to affect your dealings with people in the industry. When you submit book proposals or submit design ideas, being professional means following the directions that the editor or publisher gives in terms of format and content, and it means submitting work that is nicely put together (no typos, good quality photos, and so on).

Second, in the vast majority of cases in the current publishing world, you have to have a very good concept that is something more than just a collection of your designs. There has to be a theme or a premise that unites the patterns and gives the publisher some extra reason to take a chance on your knitting book. Publishers are not putting out nearly as many knitting books as they have in the past so they are looking for something special – whether it’s a distinctive style or an approach to knitting (say, seamless sweaters) or an overlooked niche, or a technique that needs elaboration.
Third, be persistent. You have to keep submitting and submitting before someone will take a chance on you. Self-publishing can help, and so can gett designs published in high-profile e-magazines like Knitty. But you will get rejected many more times than you will get accepted. If you really want to do this, you have to be ready for that.

Joe:  Do you feel it’s possible to make a living as a knitwear designer/author?

Carol: I think it’s very difficult to do. There are very few full-time jobs with a regular paycheck in this industry. Everyone I know who doesn’t have a job with a magazine or a yarn company or a publisher has to scramble to generate a critical mass of projects that will produce income. For example, I write, design, dye yarn and teach — I am working constantly to try to make enough money to stay in the industry. As my kids become college-age in the future, this is going to be even more difficult. I have no benefits through my work so I am lucky that my husband has a job that is our primary source of income and health insurance. You have to think very carefully about the financial repercussions of working in this industry. I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but it just isn’t easy. Very very few people are able to make a living from selling patterns alone. 

Joe:  Finally, you mentioned you have a lot of ideas percolating…anything you can reveal here?

Carol:  Ha! I told you, I have a long list of books that I want to write! Right now, I’m about to embark upon two new book projects. I’m not allowed to talk about the details yet, but the plan is for the first to be released in fall 2014 and the second in spring of 2015. In the meantime, I’ll still be plugging away at my other endeavors – teaching (I’ll be at Stitches Midwest and East, and VK Live Chicago and New York), writing (I have an article in the next Vogue Knitting that I’m excited about and I’m doing more writing for Yarn Market News), designing, blogging and dyeing.

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