Wood you be Mine?

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.)

The Winter of our Nintendo

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

Olympic Squids Take the Gold

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!

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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!

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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!

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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.)

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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!

Shop Talk: Online Marketing and Social Media

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!

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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.

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For my second Tiny People set, I pictured them again standing in a row… police lineup!

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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.

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(Click on the above to see the full newsletter.)

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.

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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.)

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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:

Writing Books

On Being Burnt Out

Self-Publishing Patterns

How I got Started

New Tiny People are Criminally Cute

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…

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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!

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Arcade Mochi: Stars and Stripes

It’s been about two and a half months since my last update about my as-yet-unnamed arcade mochi, which seems to be a consistent interval with this epic project. But things are happening! We have colors!

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It was only as I was photographing these bags of Cascade 220 that I realized how patriotic this arcade game might be. But I think the color ratios will be different enough, and I’ll probably throw in some yellow too. Choosing the final colors for this guy was a big holdup with the project—I want him to look just right if I’m going to knit the whole thing over again!

Before I go on, here’s a reminder of where I was with this project in November:

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The finished prototype has been sitting on my desk ever since, just staring at me for two and a half months.

Aside from colors, the other big decision-making that I’ve had to do before moving forward was figuring out what kind of colorwork I wanted to integrate. There are just so many 8-bit possibilities! But (at least for now) I settled a single large star to go on the sides, plus maybe smaller stars on the top panel.

I used Illustrator to do all my colorwork “sketching,” then I knitted my first star swatch.

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(Yes, the colors I used in Illustrator and the colors I used for the swatch and the colors I’m using for the final design are all different. Why make things simple when they can be complicated?)

My first star turned out a little too wide (stupid grids and my refusal to get the proportions of the squares right before beginning to knit), so here’s my second, slightly taller star swatch.

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And now it’s time to start knitting what I hope will be the final toy. I’m feeling star-crazy, so I’m beginning with the panel that will make up the back and sides of the toy. Since I already made a full prototype, I know exactly how many stitches to cast on and how to shape the sides of the piece, and I can just concentrate on the color design at this point. I even stopped to take a pattern photo!

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As I mentioned in my “shop talk” post from a couple weeks back, I usually knit things over again to take the technique photos for my patterns, but when I’m working on a project this large, I try to photograph crucial steps as I knit.

I still have far to go before finishing, but I finally feel like I have a clear direction with this project. I should probably stop making predictions about when the pattern will be ready, but it WILL be ready eventually, even if no one remembers arcade games by the time it’s finished.

Shop Talk: Writing Books

I wanted to thank you all for the supportive comments you left on my post from last Friday. You guys are the BEST. To try to get rid of the blahs I took a couple of actual days off from work over the weekend (a rarity for the self-employed), and just that made all the difference. And now I’m also far enough behind on projects that I don’t have a lot of choice but to get in gear, so things are busy—in a good way—again. It’s like the new year officially started for me this week. (Gung Hay Fat Choy!)

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Today I’m going to talk books. Writing them has been a big part of my life in recent years—I’m working on my fifth right now, if you can believe it! Of course, writing a book is easier than it’s ever been with the self-publishing options that are available these days, and that can be a super way to go if you have an idea that you can’t wait to make happen. But my experience writing books has always involved working with a publisher, which means working with a team of professionals (editor, art director, designer, marketing team, and more) who bring experience and expertise, but who may have different ideas from me about the content and marketing of the book.

There’s definitely something legitimizing about getting a book published. After my first one came out, my parents stopped subtly asking me when I was going to get a “real job,” for one. But books don’t pay the bills for most designers. For me, they do a lot of things: they’re a fun opportunity to take my design work to a new level; they supplement my income; they open doors of opportunity; and there’s just something wonderful about having a professionally published book in my hands with my name on it. It never gets old!

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I love talking with other authors (mostly other designers) about their experience with publishing. It’s different for everyone: some authors write a new book annually, and some try it once and say “never again.” For me, because there are so many changes happening in publishing, and because I already have my own business selling patterns independently, I like to reevaluate the situation every time before I send a proposal to my editor and before signing a new contract. Is this is the best way for these designs to go out into the world? I ask myself. You could argue that if I released all of the patterns from a book individually as PDFs, I might actually make more money off of the designs, since I would be getting $5 or $6 each time someone purchased a pattern, instead of about $1 each time someone purchased a copy of my book. But I know that working with my publisher means that my books will reach thousands of people who would never have otherwise found my website. They even reach people in languages that I couldn’t. (Yes, I could hire translators for my patterns, but then I’d have to have whole new websites to host those patterns if I really wanted to reach customers in those languages.)

Putting all the numbers aside, in my experience the best things about writing books are getting to think about my designs in a new way and getting to work with talented people. With my PDF patterns, I can think of an idea on a whim, and have a finished pattern up for sale a month later. But with a book, it’s a much bigger, longer process. Just figuring out the concept of a book is a challenge: the projects should all fit into a larger theme and style while also each being able to stand alone, and there needs to be some specific reasoning behind why the book should even exist in the first place—the publisher has to agree that it will get noticed on bookshelves. I get feedback from my editor and my testers as I’m developing the designs, but even after the manuscript is finished and the photos have been shot, it’s another year before the book is published and I see what everyone else thinks about it. It’s not easy to work so far in advance! But I think it’s made me a better designer.

It’s a privilege to work with a team of talented people who are enthusiastic about making something good together. I have enormous respect for the editors I’ve worked with—they have a perspective on DIY publishing that I’ll never have, and they are the ones who give me guidance when I need it and advocate for my ideas on their end. And working on a book means that there is a budget for fancy photography, and I’ve been lucky to work with fancy photographer Brandi Simons on all of my books. (I’ve blogged about working with Brandi many times over.) Then, seeing how the designer does the layout of the book (a process that I’m way less involved in than the photography) has pushed me to get more creative with images and design on my website and in my PDF patterns.

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On the other hand, I’ll add that one of the disappointments I’ve had is not getting total control over what the final book cover looks like. I can give as much input and suggestions as I like, but the final decision on it is very much not up to me.

At this point, I would love to give a detailed account about how hard I pounded the pavement to get my first book published. Instead I got lucky: in 2008, before I had even seriously thought about writing a book, I got an email from an editor at Watson-Guptill asking if it was something I had considered before. (Later on Watson-Guptill’s craft publications were moved over to Potter Craft, so that’s why my first book is under a different imprint than my other books.) She had seen my toys online somewhere—Craft magazine, I think—and had followed a link to my Flickr page, where she could see that my photos of my toys had been viewed a lot. So my key to getting a book deal was having my work already seen and liked by others online. I was no knitting celeb, but I had already established my style and “voice” online, which made it easier for this editor to imagine what a book of my designs might look like. But I still had to write a proposal and get it approved by multiple people before it was a done deal.

Most people won’t be so lucky as to have an editor reach out to them first, but even without that I don’t think it’s so hard to get your proposal in front of an editor. I’ve heard that an agent is essential for publishing in fiction, but in my experience, DIY and craft publishers are open to unsolicited proposals; often, there will be information on their website about how to submit. There are plenty of online resources that will tell you will should go into a book proposal, but I’ll go over that anyway, just for fun.

• A paragraph-long synopsis This should include an explanation of what the book would be about and who the target market is. It’s that crucial first impression, so it should be succinct and compelling!

• A table of contents Even if most of the contents are patterns, there needs to be more to it than that: how are you going to introduce the concept of the book and present techniques? Do you have any extra goodies to include that will make your book special?

• Sample patterns These can be existing patterns that you’ve already published, but should be in the style that you would like to see published in a book. Include images and captions—everything you would like to see in the final book.

• More sample images These should include images of other projects similar to those you’d like to put in the book. If the photography isn’t in the style that you envision for the book, be sure to include more samples that represent the style you’d like (will the projects be shot in nature? in a studio?). Also specify whether you have a photographer in mind to work with, or whether you’d be doing the photography yourself. One more thing for this section: include the number of photos and other graphics that you think you’d need.

• A detailed market analysis This section should explain who your book is for, and what would make your book stand out from all the others that are currently on bookshelves. Are there similar books already out there? If so, that can be OK—it might just mean that it’s a popular topic. But you should have a compelling reason that your book would be different, and would appeal to people who may already own those other books.

• Biographical information Your bio is part of the whole package. You don’t have to be famous, but you should have an interesting story about who you are and what your background is. Include any press you might have gotten, and info about what kind of online presence you have: how many monthly visitors your website gets, how many followers you have on various social networks, etc.

• A projected delivery date This is the date by which you think could turn in a finished manuscript and all of the photography and graphics for the book. Be sure to allow for the fact that you’re probably not going to start writing it tomorrow, unless you’re already in the process of writing.

That’s a lot of stuff! But going through the process of writing a book proposal is a great way to clarify your own vision of what the book might be, and it can also help you figure out if you really want to be writing this book at all.

To sum up with my advice to budding designers with a book idea: If you’ve never shared your work with an online audience, now is the time! Ravelry is a fantastic place to get feedback on designs and get noticed. As scary as it is, seeing how others react to your work online will help you develop your ideas, and that online audience will also make you more appealing to an editor. If you’re already self-publishing, be sure to think about the short and long term benefits of self-publishing versus working with a publisher. For me, I’ve managed to strike a balance between working on books (which can take up about half of my year) and working on designs that I release as self-published patterns and kits. I love being able to have it both ways. And as much work as it is, writing books has been one of the most fantastic, rewarding experiences that I’ve ever had.

Also, books led to this happening!

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Previous posts in this series:

On Being Burnt Out

Self-Publishing Patterns

How I got Started

Knitted Snake Eats Baby

You thought your small children were safe around friendly knitted toys, right? THINK AGAIN.

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My friend Gali (whom some of you may have met at my table at Vogue Knitting LIVE a couple weeks back) modified the Sleepy Snake pattern to make this crazy-cute baby cozy for her friend’s little one. My friend Gali is a knit-hacking genius.

You can rest assured that no babies were harmed in the making of this adorableness.