Tuesday, July 3, 2018

10 Years of The Bitchy Stitcher: My Books

This July marks the tenth year I have been blogging about my misadventures in quilting as The Bitchy Stitcher. Each Tuesday this month I will be looking back on all the cool/possibly misguided things I’ve managed to do in those 10 years. My new collection of humor pieces, Short, Sharp and Snippy, is now available on amazon.com and I’ll be shipping out all the signed pre-order copies just as soon as they arrive in my hot little hands.

This second book has been a long time coming. My first book, Quilting Isn’t Funny, came out in November of 2013, shortly before my mom passed away from liver cancer and 11 months after we lost my brother to brain cancer. Whenever I try to remember when that book came out, all I have to do is recall The Bad Year. It was a very strange thing to be promoting a book of my weird-ass quilting humor while also grieving, but the wheels had been set in motion already. A huge number of people signed on to participate in a blog tour, and so we had four weeks of a different quilt blogger each day talking about the book and giving away PDF copies. I had a giant stack of pre-order copies to sign and mail, a few shops started inquiring about wholesale orders. On one hand I was doing cartwheels over how well it was all going, and on the other I was trying to hold my broken heart together while also helping other people through their own grief.

I am still so proud of that first book. It was self-published, which may seem like less of an accomplishment, but I not only wrote the whole thing, I also designed it. I had layout and design experience from a literary magazine I was asked to help create back in 2002, BrickStreet. That project was spearheaded by me and a friend and we solicited writing and artwork from local and international writers and artists. I taught myself QuarkXpress in order to do the layout—because we had NO budget for anybody but the two of us, and we didn’t get paid.

Cover artwork detail from Anatomy of a Struggle by Moe Hanson

From that experience I was able to leave my job as an optician and become the assistant editor of a very small local publication called Inside Annapolis. Though I wasn’t hired to do layout, I had enough knowledge from BrickStreet to prepare the layout file for the actual graphic designer, and as time progressed I was allowed to do some design work on my own, especially ads. I also wrote for the magazine, and would sometimes be allowed to do the design on my own articles. There I learned Adobe InDesign, which is what I still use for layout today.

One of the only covers I was allowed to do myself. I was so proud of figuring out how to get the guy's head over the logo.

I used all that experience as art director for Generation Q magazine some years later, and so once I had managed to design and layout and entire magazine on my own, I figured a book of my weirdo quilting humor pieces should be no biggie.

The original cover of Quilting Isn't Funny was conceived as a quilt label on a quilted background, but I was never satisfied with the quality of the photography (which I had to do myself because of the zero budget). I still own two proof copies of that version though, so undoubtedly future collectors will pay millions for one of them.

Ultimately, I scrapped the entire cover concept and created artwork in Illustrator so I wouldn't have to sweat over the quality of my crappy photography. I created a design with a rotary cutter, a seam ripper, and a fountain pen that also ended up on my business cards, and I used my favorite color combination of green and purple. I spent hours deciding things like where to put page numbers and how to format the table of contents, and it was so satisfying to be the only decision maker in that process. By the time I was done, I had a book that was entirely mine.

 I went back over sales of Quilting Isn’t Funny and with my own hard copy and PDF sales, plus Amazon and Kindle, and wholesale and distributor orders, I sold nearly 2000 copies. TWO THOUSAND. I suppose an actual book publisher would weep into her whiskey sour over such piddly numbers, but for a self-published first-time author who writes in a niche as tiny as quilting humor? I think that’s damn good.

I know Short, Sharp and Snippy won’t sell anywhere close to that number and I’m okay with that. I’m not employed by a magazine anymore, and life circumstances over the last few years have eroded my online presence. But I had a goal to get one more book done, and though the self-imposed deadlines I had put on it came and went more than once, I somehow had a surge of energy to finish it once I had the title, which frankly I adore. For the devil scissors, I took my original artwork for my tattoo and re-drew it to add the horns and the inner heart shape. Once I was done, I thought the image was strong enough to stand on it's own on the cover, and I kept the rest of the design simple to show it off.

My husband said to me recently that I do not revel in my own accomplishments enough. To be honest, he does quite a lot of that for me so I don’t really have to. But he’s probably right. We’re conditioned not to brag, especially women, and if you can’t brag at least a little after ten years of accomplishing stuff, well when can you? I self-published two books. With lots of quilt-adjacent fart jokes in them. And I’m damn proud of that.

 Next week we’ll look back at the greatest quilt calendar ever created.

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