Why I love what I do (3)

GB125 (2)

Today’s post comes from one of the most singular women I’ve ever met. I consider Shannon Okey somewhat of a mentor – she’s helpful, fun, professional and open. Very open to questions, to discussion and to having a quick burger in the back of a car. Read on….


After writing a dozen books in four years (gulp…looking back, I’m not sure quite how I managed that!) for a variety of publishers, I’d had enough. While I loved many of the people I’d worked with, especially at Interweave, Chronicle and Ten Speed Press, I was getting tired of arguing. I bought my first Kindle in November 2007, and promptly dragged it to TNNA, the big knitting tradeshow, in January. (More on that in a moment).

I was immediately taken with the entire concept of the Kindle: from the first days of Knitty.com, I saw that our knitting community is full of early adopters, technology-wise. Think about it. Without Knitty, Ravelry, Patternfish, Twist Collective and similar websites making digital versions of patterns not only possible but popular, would designers like our hostess Ruth (or indeed, me) be selling pattern PDFs and ebooks? Would BurdaStyle be selling sewing pattern downloads? Really, would the craft-related industry exist in its current state? No — the Kindle, iPad and other devices have opened up a whole new way to distribute books and indeed, information, that are particularly interesting to crafty people like us.

You start to notice things when you deal with that many different publishers in that short amount of time: what they have in common, what some do better than others (Interweave sends you chocolate with the first printed copy of your book! yay!), where they go wrong, etc. I recall a particularly infuriating argument about whether patterns could or should be listed on Ravelry with a slightly larger amount of *headdesk* than usual since that company has just now, multiple years later, started to come around to the possibilities of digital. This brings me back to my previous point about arguing: these arguments were just DUMB. The editor I showed my Kindle to in January 2008 actually yawned in my face, and all the publishers I’d worked with until that point turned down my agent’s request to have my books released digitally. (Years later, some of them are coming back to me with requests to do the digital publication deals at last).

Arguing about the role that digital could and should play in book publishing was tiresome. I decided, after talking to another forward-thinking yarn industry person, that I’d help her publish a book she wanted to do, one that the publishers kept wanting her to change completely every time they asked her to do a book. (It’s not unusual to have a publisher approach someone and ask them to do a book on a particular topic, then change its focus completely as it makes its way through the editorial acquisitions process). After publishing that initial book, I took a yarn industry editorial job that kept me busy 24-7 for a year, and my publishing ideas went onto the back burner.

Fast forward. I’ve left that job, and I’m reading the designer forums on Ravelry when I notice that the same questions keep popping up again and again. Sometimes I’m fielding those same questions again in my own inbox, and so it seems there’s a market for a book dedicated to the specialized world of the pro handknitting designer. This is how The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design, and Cooperative Press, came about, in both print and digital versions.

Fast forward even further: I’ve signed more than a dozen authors to work with me in independently publishing their books, I’m on the schedule to speak at South by Southwest Interactive (a major annual event) about knit publishing, and I’ve gotten crowdsourced funding for a knitting book series directly from people who decided that’s something they’d like to see on shelves. It’s been a pretty wild two years, really.

Why do I love what I do? Because I took my somewhat ridiculous propensity for workaholism to whole new levels (seriously, I spent 16 hours in the office one night during my honeymoon, and that wasn’t too terrible all things considered, since I’d been spending 13 hour days the whole week before…my new husband was bringing dinner to my office, where we ate in the romantic light of my desktop Mac) and turned it into a force for good.

CP authors net much larger royalties than they would working with a big publisher, there’s no arguments about the value of digital, plus we get out there to meet up with our readers face to face at fiber festivals and lots of other things I think are important.

Diane Gilleland of CraftyPod wrote a good post over on our site called Why Your Favorite Indie Books Need You, and one of her points was that you are no longer at the mercy of the publishing establishment when it comes to finding books on topics that interest you. Publishing has become democratized. This scares a lot of people, but it shouldn’t. Quality products will always find a market, and customer service is key. We produce great books at Cooperative Press — one of our 2010 titles even made Library Journal’s best-of list — and we work really hard to be there in the ways our readers want us to be, whether that means putting a copy of the book they purchased into their Ravelry library, or helping them load files onto their e-reader device over email, or not putting DRM on our ebooks.

I won’t lie. It’s a LOT of work, and I don’t have a lot of help — some freelance tech editors, the occasional summer intern — but it is SO worth it. I feel like the books I’m publishing are GOOD books, books that deserve an audience, books that aren’t just cheap-to-produce filler and fluff. This is why I love what I do. I feel like I’m making a difference, and that I’m standing up for creative peoples’ rights in a much more proactive and positive way than I was when I was working inside the existing system. Knowing that your hard work makes people happy makes it all worthwhile.


Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband Tamas and their furry “children”: Anezka (the dachshund pictured in Felt Frenzy and How to Knit in the Woods), Spike (the kitten pictured in Knitgrrl and Felt Frenzy) and Giles (the feline baby of the family, who attempted to sneak into some photos inAlterNation, but was denied). Follow her on Twitter @knitgrrl!