After thinking a bit more about Lisa’s post, I thought about the publishing process – or at least the book-proposal process. Having pitched several book ideas to various publishers, I can tell you that one of the things most publishers ask for as part of a proposal is for you to tell them what other books address the same topic and what your target audience is. This seems to me to be mostly to give the marketing team – who are unlikely to be knitters – a feel for whether they think your book will make money. And examining previous books, marketed to the same audience, to see if they sold well would be a logical starting point.
I suspect – although this is purely speculation on my part – that a bunch of publishing companies who didn’t historically put out craft books looked at the sales figures for Stitch N Bitch and said “Holy crap! We’ve got to get us some how-to-knit books for younger women and make some money off this phenomenon.” And perhaps this is why we see so many books that strive diligently, often painfully, to be “hip” and “funky” and aimed at “chix with stix.”
However, when you have to pigeonhole your book by likening it to previous ones in order to appease the marketers, you may end up with a book that is just like all the other ones. Or you may have a great idea for a book, but the publisher decides your patterns are too hard for beginners, or that no one wants to do a provisional cast-on, or that maybe we should put in a simple scarf or two for people who want easy stuff, and then your book morphs into something else entirely. Or maybe your book is good, but it gets “spin” that makes it sound like a bunch of other books and it’s overlooked.*
This may be why I tend to really like books that come from a handful of publishers who specialize in craft, and particularly knitting books: Interweave Press, Stewart Tabori and Chang (the editor used to be the editor of Interweave Knits), and Schoolhouse Press (run by the inimitable Meg Swansen) come to mind. When your publisher really knows knitting, it's able to take a chance on a topic that maybe hasn’t been done a zillion times before, but has a lot of merit (Estonian Folk Knitting, anyone?). Or it's willing to print yet another book about Andean folk knitting, because they know it’s a fertile ground for inspiration even if it seems obscure to non-knitters. Or they want to make sure a knitting book classic, like the Barbara Walker stitch treasuries, remain in print, even if they don’t sell a gazillion copies every year and the author isn’t around to do a promotional appearance on Knitty-Gritty. Or they are willing to pump up production values and cherry-pick designs from numerous authors in order to end up with a high-quality volume that may be more pricey than a black-and-white paperback, but is much better value for the knitter. (Say, Handknit Holidays?)
You know my motto: these things are usually more complex than they might first appear.
But I’m still sick of people insulting my intelligence and maligning my poor grandma. Even if the stash of craft magazines I inherited from her contain gems like this:
damn, that woman could crochet.
*Please rest assured that as I’m working with a wonderful publisher right now, I am not meaning to suggest that any of this is happening to me. So far, so good.