A consumer packaged goods expert recently divulged to me that she never, ever looks at her competition. That really took me by surprise, because I always over-research everything. (My local branch librarians know all about me and my extensive interlibrary loan requests.)
Instead of looking at the competition, she told me, she examines parallels. What else do people in the target market desire? [Related: this customer profile worksheet from my book.] How can she make the product remind them of those other things, or draw on the best qualities to incorporate into her own design? For a high-end chocolate product, for example, she might look at Sephora’s prestige cosmetics packaging for inspiration. She pays no mind to Hershey and Nestle.
She confirmed what I’ve been thinking lately, that the best ideas come when you’re looking where no one else is. I love trolling through old books and magazines. You might love hiking in the woods or beachcombing or looking at art or gardening or visiting factories. All of these places are rife with things that could inspire you to make something you’ve never made before. Chris Glass refers to this as grazing. Cows do nothing but chew on grass all day. It doesn’t seem like they’re doing much of anything. But if they didn’t graze all day, they couldn’t produce milk. It might not feel like you’re working when you graze, but without taking that time to browse and nibble and ruminate and digest, you can’t make anything of value. This video of Chris Glass’s talk from Creative Mornings Cincinnati (which includes his bit about grazing) is 43 minutes of awesome:
I know a lot of writers, artists and designers who straight up don’t read blogs about their industries. When you spend a lot of time “keeping up” it can start to feel like an echo chamber. There’s a difference between keeping up on the news and falling into a state of obsessed self-flagellation. This is even applicable to journalists. Sure, there are lots of interesting blogs about the journalism business, and it’s important to follow your competitors to make sure your coverage is on point. But staying inside your bubble of contemporaries isn’t going to help you find great story ideas. Lisa Congdon recently illustrated this quote from Jack London: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
Hunting down your inspiration should also help with avoiding committing plagiarism and following trends. Craft trends bug the hell out of me. It’s not that I hate mustaches (except that I totally do) — my problem is more with the idea that some crafters feel like they have to jump on a bandwagon to be successful. It’s much better to be a trendsetter than a trend follower, and to do that, you have to look outside your field. If you’re a crafter, stop scrolling endlessly through Pinterest. When you’re trying to develop a new product or design, look at anything other than other crafters: grocery store displays, florists, flea markets, old magazines, architecture books — whatever gets you going.
I also kind of hate pre-packaged “inspiration” for crafters, designers and artists. The idea that someone can hand you a pile of stuff to be inspired by seems counterproductive. It just keeps the same aesthetics and motifs circulating. (I also really really have no patience for step-by-step craft books. Partly because I hate following directions, but also because I don’t see the point in making something to look exactly like something someone else made. You feel me?)
We recently had an Etsy #craftparty here in Cincinnati, and as people were arriving, I made examples of what people could do with the materials we had. But I wasn’t making things for people to imitate or really following the provided instructions at all. I let myself go with the flow and make whatever felt right at the time. Being truly inspired is allowing yourself to be in the moment and do what you feel. And all of what you’ve seen and read and digested before helps you find your way.
Can you make things that look like copyrighted characters and sell them on Etsy? My friend is making really cool Oscar the Grouch hats, but could she can get in trouble for selling them?
As a general rule, you shouldn’t sell crafts with any character, image or logo that’s not your own. Etsy can and will remove items or ban you for selling work that infringes on others’ intellectual property rights — that includes copyrights, trademarks and patents. So that includes Oscar the Grouch’s face, the Steelers’ logo, the Nike swoosh, a Jeff Koons sculpture, and on and on.
In some cases, companies even restrict the commercial use of fabric or stamps they create. You’ll often see “for private/personal use only” printed on the selvage of fabric. If you want to use commercially produced supplies in the crafts you sell, you should check for the company’s angel policy first. For example, here’s the angel policy page for EKSuccess, which is very specific about the procedure to follow if you want to sell items made with anything they produce.
Aside from the fact that Etsy can take your items down or ban you entirely for selling items with copyrighted or unlicensed images, it’s better for business to make and sell only originals anyway. By creating your own images, patterns or characters, you can establish a visual brand for yourself that’s unique and recognizable.
Instead of making plushies in the image of Sesame Street characters, create your own lovable monsters. Rather than buying commercially printed fabric, create your own patterns and designs on Spoonflower. Instead of using stamps someone else made, carve your own! When in doubt, DIY.
Caveat: I’m not a lawyer. But the folks over at the Art Law Center are.
It was so fun to hang out with Sister Diane last night and talk about craft business! We probably could’ve talked for hours, but somehow we kept it to 45 minutes. :) Thanks for having me, lady! And if you watched the hangout and would like to get a copy of Crafty Superstar, head over here! Here are the highlights, with links to relevant websites:
- I give shoutouts to Cameron of 1337motif and Esther of Torn Angel
- I wonder if there is such a thing as a Renaissance crafter
- We talk about Regretsy as a mean little David to Etsy’s Goliath
- Indie craft trends, as predicted by CraftsarethenewCrafts.com
- I give props to the Bloomington Handmade Market, Crafty Supermarket and Handmade Arcade, where I’ll be selling my crafts this fall
- I reveal why I love selling at shows so much
- and it just devolves into a total lovefest
Amanda asks: Grace, what is the best adhesive to use for attaching paper on paper? Specifically, old paper onto new paper. Also, will you please start a Q&A craft blog? Great. Thanks.
Your wish is my command!
The most important thing to be aware of when using old paper and gluing papers together is the acidity. Old papers that are wood-based are going to yellow and deteriorate much faster than cotton-based papers and “acid-free” papers. So the last thing you want to do is add an acidic glue into the mix, too.
When I was in college, I took a book arts class in which we used YES glue, aka YES Lay Flat, which is cellulose-based and doesn’t make paper curl. The instructor swore by it. But I’ve found that YES starts to crackle and come unglued after a while, so my go-to glue is PVA glue. PVA is archival, water-soluble and stays flexible after it dries. (Schoolyard staple Elmer’s glue is similar.) I get my PVA glue in bulk from Hollander’s in Ann Arbor and decant it in a smaller squeeze bottle.
So, as you know, I recently gave notice at my day job. And my new craft business book just came out! One of the things I’m most excited about as I enter the wild world of full-time freelancing is a DIY book tour/road trip I’m doing in September!
Basically, I’m packing up the old Prius and going on the road, talking about craft biz, hanging out with friends and seeing much of the eastern half of the country. I’ve got a lot of gigs lined up, but I’d love to add more! Specifically, I don’t have anything lined up yet for New York City/Brooklyn, upstate New York or Boston yet. (And I’d also love to go to Chicago, Toronto, Detroit, the Southeast, the Northwest — basically everywhere.) Want me to speak at your craft store or event? Email me!
Here’s my in-progress schedule of craft workshops and appearances:
- Saturday, Sept. 8 — Washington, DC — Summit of Awesome
I’ll be doing a bookbinding workshop and talking about getting published at this one-day craft business conference!
- Wednesday, Sept. 12 — Brooklyn, NY — t.b.d. Brooklyn
I’m putting together a totally informal Creative Business Drinkup! Anyone who’s into creative entrepreneurship is welcome.
- Saturday, Sept. 15 — Providence, RI — Craftland
Never been to the smallest state before, so I’m stoked to do my getting published workshop at Craftland. 3 to 4 p.m.
- Sunday, Sept. 23 — Pittsburgh, PA — WildCard
Meet-the-author crafty brunch! 12 to 2 p.m.
- Tuesday, Sept. 25 — Cleveland, OH — Salty Not Sweet
Tentative topic: Everything you need to know about craft shows. Details are still being finalized!
- Saturday, Sept. 29 — Indianapolis, IN — Homespun
This is going to be a two-hour mega-workshop about using social media and how to get published. 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.
- Saturday, Oct. 6 — Columbus, OH — Wholly Craft
Details are still being finalized!
Etsy sellers and buyers: In case you were wondering what the hot new craft trends for 2011 were, here you go:
You’d think, since I wasn’t working on a new book, I would’ve had tons of time to read in 2010, right? Well, I kept plenty busy with a promotion at my day job, organizing two local craft show events and travelling a ton. I kept on making handmade journals and cards, and I also joined a collective and started blogging about my Pyrex addiction. I did still manage to read a respectable 41 books in 2010. Here are some highlights from the last year:
My favorite fiction of 2010*
- Siobhan Vivian, “Same Difference”
I don’t usually read teen fiction, but I met Siobhan in Pittsburgh this summer, and she’s a totally lovely person. I read this book just before going to my 10-year high school reunion, and it made me so grateful for my BFFs back in school.
- William Gibson, “Virtual Light”
Published in 1993, this book is the first in a series of books that includes one of my very favorite novels of Gibson’s — “Idoru.” Even though the internet barely was a blip on the cultural radar in 1993, this book is barely dated. I chalk that up to the fact that Gibson must be able to see the future.
- Elna Baker, “The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance”
I read this book at the very beginning of 2010, but its charm has still stuck with me. (And I have to admit I didn’t read a ton of fiction this year.)
My favorite nonfiction of 2010*
- Jaron Lanier, “You Are Not A Gadget”
I just finished this book before Christmas, and I’ve been telling everyone I know about it. I don’t think I can do it justice in a three-sentence review. Please, just go get it from your local library or bookstore.
- Adrian Nicole Leblanc, “Random Family”
Another book that I was telling everybody I knew about when I read it. Read this and watch “The Wire” and you’ve got yourself an education.
- Ellen Ruppel Shell, “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture”
This book combines big-picture thinking with detailed historical examples—Walmart gets mentioned, sure, but they’re just a recent incarnation of an age-old American phenomenon. Even though it’s not about crafters per se, “Cheap” was totally relevant to discussions I’ve had about Etsy and craft pricing.
Favorite places I visited in 2010
I’m in love with this city, and one of my goals for 2011 is to go back. I have no pictures of myself in Montreal — I only have pictures of the food I ate.
I visited Seattle a few years ago and didn’t like it that much (too grungy, no pun intended), but this year I spent two days in Capitol Hill for the Conference of Creative Entrepreneurs and LOVED it.
- South Bend, IN
Weird, I know, but spending a summer evening at the Pulaski field watching Yo La Tengo and Wilco was heavenly. Also, there’s AMAZING thrifting in north central Indiana**.
I’ve started off 2011 with good friends and good food, and I started digging into my 2010 finances for tax time and installed Quickbooks on my Mac. I get so into tax time. Every year, I wait anxiously for my W2 to arrive so I can file and get my refund as early as possible. This year I’ve finally got an accountant. Wahey!
All in all, 2010 was a pretty kickass year. I have no doubt that 2011 will be equally awesome (if not moreso). We’ve already set the date for the next Crafty Supermarket—May 7!—and there are a bunch of other craft events I want to go to as well. (San Francisco, Pittsburgh and DC, I am looking at you.) I’ll turn 29 this year, and with 30 edging ever nearer***, I started creating a list of 30 things to do before I turn 30. (I don’t know that I’ll make it public; it’s more for my personal recordkeeping and gratification.)
I would like to blog more often this year—this blog will likely shift from book reviews to more craft stuff, and lord knows there will be plenty of that this year. Craft on!