In my last Shop Talk post, I did an overview of how I market a new pattern after I release it on my website. Today I’m going to take a couple steps back and talk about how I make sure that the pattern is as clear and user-friendly as possible with the help of some very important people: my testers and tech editor!
First, some definitions. A tech editor is someone who goes over a pattern closely, checking the stitch counts, row counts, measurements, and all the knitting language, correcting any errors or unclear wording along the way. A pattern tester is a knitter who tries out a pattern before it’s public to make sure it works like it’s supposed to.
If you ever visit the Designers group on Ravelry, you’ll see much discussion about these two roles, and which is more important. The short answer is that while you can certainly release a pattern without using either a tech editor or a tester (and I’ve certainly done this on occasion), if you want to make sure that the pattern is as good as it can be, both a tech editor and testers are a really good idea. But the way these two checking processes work is different for each designer.
My tech editing/testing process
I’ll admit that it’s only recently that I’ve started having all of my patterns tech edited. I know other designers would find that shameful! But my main two reasons were that my patterns don’t needed to be graded for different sizes/measurements and my testers were already fantastic about noticing errors and typos. However, my tech editor (a former tester) has done wonders for my patterns and now I wish I had started working with her earlier.
So now, when I have a close-to-final version of a pattern, with all the images included, I send it off to my tech editor first. We agree on a date by which she’ll send me her notes, usually a week or so from the time I send it to her. I’m sure all tech editors are different, but mine has a superhuman attention to detail, and she makes notes on even the tiniest bits of wording. I love this about her, even though it means that when I get a pattern back from her, it looks like it’s been in a knife fight! Once I receive this very red document, I go over all of the suggested changes, most of which I accept.
My tech editor’s contribution is more than just correcting numbers and punctuation—she questions wording that I’ve used for years with the goal of making it make better sense. In this process, it’s important for me to forget my ego for a bit and just take the feedback at face value. Sometimes that’s hard when I’ve already poured hours into pattern writing, but being open to another perspective is only going to make me a better designer.
After I’ve revised my pattern with my tech editor’s help, it’s time to send it to my testing pool. I keep this process simple: I have a list of about 40 testers, and I send an email to them all (using BCC) with details on the pattern (the size, the type of yarn and needles needed, the techniques involved), a photo of the finished project, and a deadline for sending feedback to me (usually 2 weeks out). The first 3 or 4 people who reply with interest will get the pattern to test. Testing means following the pattern as written and letting me know if they run into any questions, typos, or anything that seems unclear to them. I also request a photo of their finished project.
If a pattern requires a particularly large amount of yarn or some kind of special yarn that most people don’t have on hand, I do my best to send the testers yarn to work with. But for most tests, my testers can just use scraps from their stash—this makes perfect sense to me, as I think most people who use my patterns do the same anyway. It’s also interesting to me to see how a pattern turns out for someone using a really different type of yarn than the original design.
So testers provide me with a final-final check of a pattern, to make sure that everything in it “works” in another person’s hands. At this stage, I’m not anticipating making significant changes to a pattern, but sometimes a big change has to happen when multiple people have the same problems with one section. In that rare situation, I make the change (possibly re-knitting and re-photographing the toy), then I run it by my tech editor, and then find a couple of new testers to try out the revised version. All of that adds time to what’s already a long process, but taking some steps back at this point is better than having a sub-par pattern that hundreds of knitters will be frustrated with.
One more thing that testers do—they create finished projects! If they share their photos online at the time of a pattern’s release, other knitters can see that the results can be replicated. If you’ve ever searched for a pattern on Ravelry, you know that it’s a huge plus to see that multiple people have used it already and have created cool things!
Finding (and compensating) a tech editor and testers
From the Ravelry discussions that I’ve read, finding a good tech editor can be difficult, as they’re in high demand. I got lucky—my tech editor found me, and she happens to be one of the best. If you’re looking for a tech editor, a good place to start would be this thread in the Indy Pattern Designers group. (The discussion was started 6 years ago, but is still actively being posted on by people seeking tech editing work.) A good tech editor is not necessarily a prolific designer, but she or he should be extremely well versed in all types of knitting techniques and should have a good grasp of writing styles and abbreviations for knitting patterns. This is a professional position, and should be treated as such: references are a good idea! This is also work that should be paid for, and it’s a good investment that a designer should be willing to make.
What you should be looking for in test knitters is quite different: a test knitter should represent the average knitter out there, not a designer or someone particularly expert in pattern language. Myself, I try to maintain a pool with a mix of skill levels, although I do ask that my testers have some experience knitting toys, just so that they’re not completely lost with a pattern. Like my tech editor, most of my testers came to me, although sometimes I recruit testers from people who have contacted me about a problem that they’ve had with one of my patterns. If you’re looking for testers, a great place to start is the Testing Pool group on Ravelry. (By the way, I have all of the testers I need for now, but I’ll get the word out when I’m looking for more!)
You can make a great case for paying testers just like you would a tech editor, but for me, it’s important that my testers have the role of fan instead of employee. Everyone who tests patterns for me is doing so only because they wanted to be part of Team Mochimochi—I love that! And the many hours that my testers put into testing means that they would have to be paid very little for their work, and I’d rather that they enjoy the knitting in itself instead of being distracted by how much I’m nickel and diming them. That said, I send my testers another pattern of their choice once the test is finished, but I like to think of this as a “thank you” pattern rather than compensation for the work.
Final thought to this mostly image-barren post
My tech editor and testers do more than find errors in my patterns: they make me see my designs from a new perspective. They make suggestions about different techniques that I can incorporate (often introducing new techniques to me in the process), and they make me question the way I present those techniques. Even if I’m not going to make fundamental changes to a design once it’s in the tech editing/testing stage, I keep the feedback I receive in mind when I’m going forward with future designs. The whole point of writing a pattern is so that others can follow it, so it makes sense that it should take a team to develop that pattern. Go team!
Last week I blogged about two video games that helped me get through the coldest days this winter. Since I normally get excited about a video game about once a year, I thought that would be it for a while, but then John introduced the iPhone game Threes to me over the weekend. I’m in love!
Threes is a tiny game about matching numbers. I love this modest description. It’s accurate—this is not a complicated math game, as you might think at first glance—but everything that the game does around its simple premise, it does extremely well. What initially caught my eye about this game, though, were the characters that embody each number. I saw John sliding around numbers with cute, animated faces on them, and I had to play what he was playing.
I’ve always thought that numbers—at least the first 20 or so—have personalities. The odd ones tend to be more interesting, almost villainous sometimes, while the even ones are goody-goodies who occasionally cheat on tests to maintain their 4.0 GPA. I bet I’m not alone in my numerical character assignments. Threes takes that idea and runs with it: We’re actually introduced to each of the numbers as individual characters, some of whom have bigger personalities than others.
The characters in Threes are charming, but I hardly noticed them after a while, because the game itself is just really great. John just wrote a piece for The A.V. Club about how perfect its opening tutorial is, and he’s right—this game has one of the best introductions I’ve ever played. Threes is a $1.99 right now in the iTunes app store. SO worth it!
My parents visited over the weekend, and we spent a few hours at the Art Institute on Valentine’s Day. (It was really cute to see all the couples spending the day there!) I love all kinds of art, but I tend to find myself spending a lot of time looking at ancient stuff when I go to the museum. There’s just something about Chinese funerary art from the 4th century B.C. that really speaks to me. No, really!
I did a double take when I saw this guy. That tongue! Those horns! That vector-based shape! He looked just like something that I would have seen at the Pictoplasma festival a couple of years ago. But nope, they just had really cool grave markers in ancient China.
It’s amazing how the red on the tongue has been so preserved over millennia. That makes me wonder just how colorful this guy originally was. Maybe he looked something like this?
See, characters are everywhere! I think I’d be pretty happy to have this beast guard my grave for eternity, or until someone swipes him for their art museum.
Happy Valentine’s Day! May you find love in unexpected places today.
(I’m taking a break from talking shop this week, but I’ll be back with another installment next Friday.)
My hands are usually too busy for video games, but every couple of years I make an exception for a game that really draws me into its world. It happens that during this coldest winter ever I’ve managed to pour many hours into TWO games, both big Nintendo series that I enjoyed way more than I had expected. And each is cute in its own way!
There wasn’t really a question about whether or not I would play Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, the new 3DS game. John got me into the Zelda games back when we were dating in college, and since then I’ve played all but one or two of them. The Zelda story is a classic, and the games are always quality, but I wasn’t convinced this time that I’d love going through all the Zelda-y motions again, with the same (or similar) characters and plot twists that are now familiar to me. But this game surprised me! First of all, it’s in the top-down Zelda world, which is always cuter than the first-person world.
As a 3DS game, it can be played in 3D mode, which really does work. But that wasn’t the big selling point to me—I found that playing in 3D was interesting for the first few minutes, then I didn’t notice the 3D-ness after that. Actually, the best part about this game is the very opposite of 3D: a new ability to merge into a wall like an animated painting.
Becoming two-dimensional may not sound so impressive, but the game designers found lots of clever ways to incorporate the ability, adding some real freshness to the game. You can sneak by enemies, of course, but you can also get to hidden places, squeeze through tiny crevasses, and go through portals to Lorule, the dark “opposite world” of Hyrule.
Usually when I get to the end of a Zelda game I’m happy to see it through, but I was a little sad when this one came to an end. It was the perfect winter break companion, and finishing it meant it was time to get back to real life. I’m sure there will be another Zelda game soon enough, and if it has a bit of the same innovation as this one, I’ll be the first to get it!
The other game I’m excited about lately was even more of a surprise to me.
Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U is the best multi-player game that I’ve ever played. I’m not as much of a Mario fan: I played the early games at a friend’s house when I was a kid, and I’ve played a few minutes of other Mario games that have come out in years since. They’ve always struck me as a bit boring, or a bit hard… something was always not quite there for me. But this game is excellently designed for maximum fun, and it’s ideal as a couples game—there are plenty of opportunities for teamwork, and it also solves potential skill level gaps in clever ways, so nobody feels bored or out of their league. (We tried all of the characters, but settled on John playing as Mario and me as Toad.) The designers clearly put a priority on fun and originality with this game, which must be hard when soooo many Mario games have come before.
Best part: a cute new cat suit!
It’s a power-up that makes really great sense, and it’s nice to see someone finally acknowledge all the special abilities that would come with being a cat (namely, climbing walls and scratching out enemies’ eyes).
Other best part: you can ride around in a giant skate!
That’s just one of the fun surprises that make this game truly feel like play. And there are so many worlds to unlock, John and I have thought we had reached the last one three times already, and there’s still more to do. I can’t say that it’s worth it to get a Wii U just for this game, but I want to say that it’s worth it. It’s worth it if you have the money and time to play, or if you have a husband who writes about video games and has to get all the newest systems for work.
That may be all the gaming I’ll have time for this year, but these games were just the best compensation for the bleak weather outside this winter, and I think they even inspired me a little bit with their originality!
If you’re like me, you spent the weekend marveling at the wintry feats (and the occasional icy falls) happening in Sochi. But sometimes the the most interesting Olympic events don’t get any NBC coverage. Like giant squid ice dancing!
Lorna and Jill created this amazing skating squids window display for Nine Rubies, a yarn shop in San Mateo, California. if the pink squid looks familiar, it’s because she was part of the winning entry from last year’s Mochimochi Photo Contest. I’m all for repurposing epic knitting projects!
In the wider shot you can see that there’s more to the display than leggy squids. Russian nesting dolls and snowflakes (cleverly standing in for Olympic rings) complete the dramatic scene. And yes, the little skates are were also custom designed and knitted!
Lorna blogged all about planning and putting together the display—it’s even cooler to see exactly what went into it. So much inspiration! (And I wish I were this good about recording every step that goes into my installations.)
If you’re in Northern California this month, this would be something to see in person! Oh, and the Squidpocalypse pattern is available in Huge & Huggable Mochimochi!
You may have noticed that I released a new pattern collection yesterday! Even though I’ve been doing this for seven years, pattern release day is still exciting. (Especially when the new pattern is listed for $600 for a few minutes because some extra zeroes got thrown in at some point…) I can’t wait to see what the initial reactions to a new design will be. But I can’t get reactions if nobody sees my new design, right? So that’s today’s “shop talk” topic: marketing and social media!
Terms like “marketing” and “social media” can sound like bad words if you’re thinking about the worst examples of both, like spammy emails and obnoxious Twitter accounts. But they’re necessary skills for anyone running their own business, and, done right, they can be fun and not annoying. I’ve actually always felt a little drawn to marketing—when we were assigned to come up with ad campaigns for toothpaste in 5th grade, I couldn’t have felt more in my element. (A job where I come up with jingles for toothpaste all day would totally be my second choice for a career.) That was toothpaste, but finding ways to let the world know about my designs, which I’ve poured so much of my own passion and work into, is even more fun and exciting (and also a little scary.)
For any small business, your marketing style should fit the personality of your business and yourself, and should speak to your potential audience. Myself, I want to reach knitters of all ages (not only moms and grandmothers, but college-aged knitters and men too) who might be open to knitting silly, impractical creatures for themselves and for kids. So I strive to make my messages humorous and fun, with a tiny bit of an edge to keep things from being overly sweet. This style affects not just the newsletters and ads that I put out, but also all the photos that I shoot and the descriptions that I write for my designs.
Let’s take my new Tiny People 2 pattern collection as an example. After I had designed the tiny people and had written the pattern, I thought about what my main visual for the pattern should be. For my first Tiny People collection, their different little outfits had reminded me of The Village People, and thus, a disco party.
For my second Tiny People set, I pictured them again standing in a row… police lineup!
That turned out to be the simple concept that formed my slogan for the patterns: “So cute, it’s criminal.” Do I really need to come up with slogans for my patterns? Of course not. Do I just like the idea of a silly slogan that might make someone groan or giggle (or both)? Yes indeed, and my dumb slogans fit with the fun and silliness that I aim for in my marketing and also give me a marketing focus and a specific “message” to project.
My image and slogan were a starting point to base my outreach about the patterns on, and I tweaked the delivery a bit for each venue. Once I had added the pattern to my shop and I was ready to let the world know, here’s how the marketing blitz yesterday went down:
• Email Newsletter This is by far my most effective marketing tool. Everyone who is signed up to receive my newsletter did so voluntarily (either on my website or at an event), so they are already interested in my designs, and this email will reach them directly, in their inbox. If you have a small business, having a newsletter for people to sign up for is a must. I use Mailchimp to send my announcements, which I like for its clean look and well-designed website. It’s not the cheapest option, but for me well worth the monthly fee. I try to keep my newsletters pretty short and sweet, with lots of visuals and extra goodies for people who scroll to the bottom.
I don’t want my newsletters to only be about selling stuff—instead, I think of them as a tool for keeping the mochi-knitting community alive. So I always include news about other stuff going on in the Mochimochi world, like this blog series, and often also a photo of a toy that one of my customers has knitted. I use a first-person plural voice for these newsletters, because I want to emphasize that it’s not just all about me—John is a HUGE behind-the-scenes part of Mochimochi Land!
• Ravelry Listings It seems like alllll the knitters in the world are on Ravelry—of course that’s not really true, but it’s by far the biggest website referral for me, so it makes sense that I prioritize it in getting the word out about my designs. Just by listing the patterns on Ravelry, I’m getting my designs in front of lots of knitters who haven’t seen my work before. Plus, I can also see what kind of attention my designs are getting. (Of my four new tiny people, the Tiny Lumberjack is definitely getting the most love by Ravelers.) I’ve learn a ton by checking the user activity tab for my designs.
• Ravelry Ads This is pretty much the only actual advertising that I do. With the Ravelry group forum banner ads, I can be so incredibly specific about who I want to reach (toy knitters, knitters who love Doctor Who, NASA knitters), that it’s very much worth the $1.50 per 1,000 clicks. And with this type of online advertising, I can set a budget and make adjustments to the forum selection as I go, so it doesn’t feel like I’m just blindly paying for ad space.
• Facebook Here’s a website that’s changed a lot since I started using it for my business. I may have more than 6,000 “likes” on Facebook, but these days only a tiny fraction of that see each of my posts. So the idea with Facebook is to try to post things that will get actively shared on the site, and I’ve found that images (not just links with thumbnails) are the most effective way to get this to happen. At the same time, when I think about my personal Facebook use, I know that one of the main reasons that I ever “unlike” something is when they’re constantly posting stuff in my feed. So I try to keep my Facebook posts visual and relevant.
• Twitter I have a smaller following on Twitter, but it suits me a little better as a user. I like that it has a more casual, conversational feel to it than Facebook, and I feel more comfortable posting multiple times a day on Twitter. Of course, it’s less visual and there’s the character limit, so things have to be concise and well worded. It might be a less effective marketing tool for me, but I just like it more personally, so I spend more time there than any other social media website.
• Blog The weight that my blog has as a marketing tool has changed a lot in recent years—fewer people are using RSS feeds (which let them automatically see everything I post) and more people are using social media (where I have to actively post and try to get people’s attention). But my blog is still really important as a community hub on my website—it’s the “voice” of my website. So a blog post about my new patterns is a chance to be a little more chatty about them, to share some behind-the-scenes images and thoughts on them. My blog post yesterday was a pretty straightforward announcement, but I can follow up with more fun posts that reveal more about my new characters’ personalities, or maybe that share images of lumberjacks and astronauts that other people have knitted, etc.
• Pinterest A confession: I don’t really enjoy Pinterest. Every time I pay it a visit, I am inundated by an infinite stream of images of beautiful things that I could be wearing, cooking, crafting, reading, watching, painting… it’s just too much for me, and I end up in a spiral of mild self-loathing. BUT I realize that Pinterest is hugely popular for good reasons, and people respond well to my images there. So I use the little “Pin it” button that I have in my browser’s bookmarks bar to post my photo from my blog post (making sure that the link will refer directly back to the specific post about the new patterns), and that way I can have a Pinterest presence without ever visiting Pinterest. (Although I do visit the site from time to time just to see what’s going on there and how my images are being received.)
• Flickr I also don’t spend a ton of time on Flickr, but it’s another highly visual website where people I might not otherwise reach may take notice of my designs. After posting photos on my photostream page (which appears to be temporarily broken as I type this), I add them to knitting and other crafty groups so that others might stumble upon them. I don’t usually include a link to the item page in my description, though, because Flickr discourages people from using it as an advertising tool, which I think is great. So I use it more as a general way to reach new people—if they are interested enough in my designs, they can still easily find my website to purchase the patterns.
Of course, there are so many other social media sites that I could be using, but with all the options it’s important to prioritize the sites where I think I’ll be more likely to find my audience and sites that I enjoy using. I’m certainly open to changing my marketing approaches as the internet changes, though, so I try to keep more or less up with where people (especially knitters) are spending their time online.
My takeaway tips for other small business owners: know your audience, know yourself and your style, and keep it visual and personal. The right audience will share your passion about your work, so it’s worth it to actively seek them out and then be active about maintaining the relationship. No spam necessary!
Previous posts in this series:
If you read my post from Tuesday about the current state of my arcade toy design, you might be wondering if I ever finish any projects. I do! In fact, I have something exciting and new to share with all of you…
That’s right, brand-new tiny people patterns! Can I say that these are my favorite tiny mochis yet? (No, that would make the others sad.) But I’m pretty psyched about these guys. Just think of the madcap capers they could pull off together!
Techniques include knitting in the round on double-pointed needles, I-cord, colorwork, and a little bit of wrap + turn. Like all tiny patterns, these ones recommend fingering-weight yarn and size 1 DPNs, but they’re also great projects for scrap yarn, and you can scale them up as much as you like.
The patterns are now available as a PDF download for $6 in the Mochimochi Shop!