Every once in a while we meet a maven like Shannon Okey. A knitter determined to share her passion, she bucked a lot of trends and launched her own publishing company. Now the author of nearly a dozen knitting and fiber art books, Shannon continues to inspire other crafters through her online studio, Knitgrrl. We are so happy to share some of her advice with you today.
Your business is what some people would consider ‘traditional craft’. How have you fought to break that preconception or have you instead embraced it?
Yes and no. Just because knitting (and to be more general, fiber arts) is considered traditional craft or women’s work doesn’t mean it can’t be subversive or transgressive. I’ve curated and been involved with multiple fine arts shows that had fiber at their core. The mainstream media has started to recognize yarnbombing and knit graffiti as a different type of outsider art rather than just, “Oh look, someone wrapped that [thing] with string.” I don’t have to embrace it. I *am* it. My hands create the work, my brain directs my hands. Whether you do fine art or more garment-type design (like I do), fiber arts can speak for themselves without preconception these days.
What qualities does someone need in order to operate a creative in-person store like Knitgrrl Studio?
Well, I’ve been downshifting on Knitgrrl Studio as an in-person shop and concentrating more on the online classes I offer at Knitgrrl [virtual] Studio. The building in which my office/studio is located isn’t retail-friendly, it’s better suited to one-on-one lessons and to sprawling out/making a mess as I develop new products and other offerings!
How important are multiple income streams in your business?
Very. You can’t afford not to teach, publish, AND design as a knitwear designer because depending on the market and the time of year, one arena’s going to be pulling in less money than the others.
You are the author of so many books, including How to Knit in the Woods. Can you share a few tips for those who want to write a book around their passions?
It’s all about organization. You need to be able to get the point of the book across succinctly and clearly — otherwise, how will it make sense to others? If you’ve ever been trained in the art of the “elevator speech,” it’s a lot like that. “What’s your book about?” should be met with a fast, fascinating summary, not a lot of ummms and ahhhs. And towards that end, if you have an idea and want to write a book, the first and best step is to sit down and write an extended table of contents. Get a sense of what will be in the book (and what won’t!), and the best way to organize that information. Once you’ve got it outlined like that, it’s much easier to sit down and actually write, if only because you can break it into logical chunks instead of thinking you’re going to just sit down and do it all at once.
What made you decide to start your own publishing company, Cooperative Press, and how has that expanded your business?
I was tired of fighting. Tired of fighting with publishers who weren’t understanding the impact digital media has had on our business. Tired of editors yawning in my face (true story!) when I showed them my Kindle and asked to have my books published on it. Tired of explaining again and again that a website like Ravelry.com, which has a million and a half knitters on it, is a better place to be/advertise than print media when you’re selling knitting books. Tired of telling editors and marketing departments that Topic X will sell well, only to have them come back ages later to revive the idea and STILL not get it right, or refuse to publish something [which ended up selling quite well for me, thank you very much!].
I’m devoting so much time to CP now rather than my own design work because I’m not only happy to see my own opinions being proved true again and again but also because I think designers and writers need to be paid fairly for their work, and we’re doing that. Our royalty rates are 4-5x as high as a traditional publishers, since we split proceeds with our authors after production costs have been met.