Ever since I announced the publication of my upcoming hand lettering book, Lettering with Purpose, I’ve received a lot of questions about how to write an arts and crafts book. Today, I’m going to share with you my process for how I wrote my book – and some things that you can do if you’re getting started writing your own arts and crafts (or DIY) book.
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Create an outline
First things first, you need a table of contents (aka your outline). I was lucky enough that my publisher already had this part decided when I started working with them, but if you’re developing your book from scratch to either pitch to publishers or self-publish, it will be up to you to determine your table of contents. My advice here is to start by thinking of what you want someone to walk away with from your book. What are the main things they should know how to do if they read your book cover to cover? List those out, then think about the concepts they’d need to learn in order to get there. Take a really deep dive here because although something may seem simple or self explanatory to you, you’re the expert in this area and the people purchasing your book aren’t – don’t take the things you know for granted and gloss over them.
When it comes to number of chapters for your table of contents, take a look at other books covering similar topics to get an idea of how many chapters you should include. I have a lot of hand lettering books, so I looked through them to see if there was some consistency on number of chapters – and nope, there really isn’t. Some have a handful of sections broken out into mini chapters within, some have 10-15 chapters, and some don’t have chapters at all! There isn’t a hard and fast rule here, so don’t get too bogged down in that part. Use your table of contents like an outline so you have a roadmap of where your book begins and ends. One bit of advice here though is to really think through your reader’s experience while you’re developing the table of contents – everything should build off each other so that you’re not teaching concepts at the front of the book that the reader needs information from the back of the book in order to really understand.
So, once you have your table of contents/outline ready to go, the real fun begins. When I signed on with my publisher, they had the table of contents ready to go along with a book map. Since this was my first time writing a book, I’m not sure if all publishers do this but it was probably the single most helpful document for me during the six months that it took to write my book. A book map is a document that outlines exactly what will be on each page of the book – so I knew exactly how much space each chapter would take up as I was developing the content. I printed this off and referred to it every time I worked on the book so I had an idea of how much content to create for each section.
This becomes really useful because if you know that a certain chapter/concept is taking up only 2 pages, you’re not going to want to create 10 pieces of artwork and 5 pages of written text because, hello, that’s not going to fit. I think this is where my background as a newspaper reporter came in really handy, because when you’re a reporter you work in word counts and column inches all the time, so you start to learn how much physical space words actually take up on a page. I remember when I was working on my book, my husband asked me how I knew how much text would fill up a page and it was hard to describe because it just sort of comes naturally to me since I worked with newspapers for several years.
Batch create your content
My book was due to the publisher in several batches, which usually consisted of a few chapters at a time. I was responsible for providing all of the text, artwork and photos for everything that was due in that specific batch by the deadline given to me. I have a full-time job, so I knew from the beginning that I was going to have to stay really organized in order to complete everything on time. I basically worked on my book during lunch breaks, after my son went to bed at night, and during his naps on the weekends. I’d carry around my Tombow pens and notebook with me everywhere I went so I could work on it any chance I got.
Each time I’d start on a new batch, I’d work on the text before I began developing the artwork/photos. This was easiest for me because it allowed me to get all of my thoughts out about each topic and then determine the types of visuals that would best accompany the text. I’d begin by referring to the book map to see how many pages each chapter I was working on would cover, then I’d open up a Word document, list out each chapter I was working on and put the number of pages it would take up in parenthesis next to the name of the chapter. I would use this document to brain dump ideas for what I wanted to cover in each chapter I was working on at the time, using it as a mini outline.
Once I had an idea of everything I wanted to cover in a specific chapter, I’d arrange them in an order that I felt made the most sense. And after that, it was time to write! I wouldn’t always tackle this linearly – sometimes I’d jump around a bit from one chapter to the next, or write about one concept for awhile then switch to another. I liked to write as much as possible for as long as possible, then let it sit for a day or two before coming back to it. Usually when I’d look at it again with fresh eyes I’d find things that I wanted to change or areas that I could add more information to.
Create art/photos that support your text
When it came time to create the art/photos that would accompany each chapter, I’d have the text for the chapter up on my computer while I worked so I could refer back to it if necessary. If it was a particularly long chapter with a lot of different concepts or techniques, I’d create an art checklist so I could ensure I created everything needed. As much as I could, I’d create things in batches – so I’d batch create my text, then batch create artwork that I could scan, then batch create art that would be photographed.
For my step-by-step photos, I’d first make sure I had enough time to take all of the photos I’d need for that particular part of the book so that my lighting would all look the same (that’s really important y’all!). I had my workspace set up so that I’d work on my art on one end of the table, then photograph each step at the opposite end of the table. This way I wasn’t worried about having a messy looking workspace in my photographs, but I could easily move from one end of the table to the other so I wasn’t wasting a lot of time in between steps.
After I batched my art/photos, I’d batch edit them and name them the way my publisher requested them to be named. I’d pull up the text of each chapter and the corresponding art/photos, and put the images in the order that they should appear so that it would be super easy for the book designer to put the images where they belonged. This also helped me to ensure that I wasn’t missing any key images. Sometimes during the art creation process, I’d think of something that I hadn’t included in the text but should, so I’d take photos or scan in artwork, then add that part of the text in during my editing process.
I repeated this process for every batch over the course of the six months that I wrote the book, making sure to periodically refer back to things I’d included in the beginning of the book so that I wasn’t repeating myself too much. My last batch due to the publisher was a catch-all of “anything else needed/edits from previous chapters.” I was so excited when I got to that part because I’d stayed so organized throughout that I didn’t have anything left (or any edits from previous chapters) to provide!
And that’s pretty much how to write an arts and crafts book, you guys! Or at least that’s the way I wrote mine. It definitely takes a lot of time, effort and work – but it has been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on. It’s been a dream come true for me to write Lettering with Purpose, and I can’t wait for it to be available online and in stores on Sept. 1, 2017! If you have any questions about the book writing process (or at least my book writing process), feel free to leave a comment or send me an email!