Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Yarn Harlot Comes to New York...again

Today was my Yarn Harlot Day; I was privileged to see Stephanie Pearl McPhee three times at three different events. The last event included other knitting glitterati: Debbie Stoller, Kay Gardiner and Ann Meador Shayne. This morning I arrived at BookExpo America at 8:50. Anyone who knows me understands what kind of a miracle it is for me to have gotten to the Javits Center that early. What motivated me? It should have been my job. Sadly, my goal was to get in line early for Stephanie Pearl McPhee's autographing free copies of her newest book -- Casts Off: The Yarn Harlot's Guide to the Land of Knitting. Happily, I was third in line with most congenial fellow knitters. Strangely, only two of us were knitting -- the first person in line and me. Well, we were all standing.

Celebrities don't usually impress me. For one, I'm a jaded New Yorker. My first job after college was at The William Morris Agency where famous people of all sorts were everywhere. I used to see John Lennon and Yoko Ono in my "hood" and once even studiously avoided making eye contact with them in an elevator at Saks -- even though I was only one of two non-Lennons in that elevator. New Yorkers give famous people lots of private space in the public arena. Meeting The Yarn Harlot was different. It mattered personally and, unlike most celebrities, she actually seemed to wish to speak with us. I was happy to get her new book. And, this is a Big Secret ... Stephanie (if I may call her that!) also autographed a copy for my daughter, Caroline. No one will be surprised that I found Stephanie as sweet, witty and personable as everyone has reported her to be.
All those on line were invited to come to Highbridge Audio's booth at 1 pm to get autographed copies of the audiobook edition of At Knit's End. Again I was third in line and in the company of delightful fellow knitters. We shared goodies -- like the tee shirt and the fact that at Storey Publishing's booth, just next door, they were giving away the most adorable boxed skeins of yarn to promote Judith Durant's One Skein Wonders. One generous stranger, when I admired her "Knitting Rules Button" (no longer available), gave me her duplicate. Aren't knitters lovely people. I'm looking forward to listening to At Knit's End on my ipod. I do hope Stephanie's knitting hand isn't too cramped by all that book signing today. In between these two autographing sessions, I actually did accomplish a lot for my job. After all, they did make all this possible.

There was one more knitting extravaganza in store. After meeting My Dearly Beloved and sharing lunch, I headed for the panel discussion about marketing knitting and crafts books in retail bookstores. In addition to Stephanie, the panel included: Debbie Stoller of Stitch 'n Bitch fame; Kay Gardiner and Ann Meador Shayne, authors of Mason-Dixon Knitting; the president of the Craft Yarn Council of America, Mary Colucci and Rene Martin (sorry, I can't make the accent work) of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC The panel was ably chaired by David Didrikson of Willow Books and Cafe in Acton, MA.

Stephanie, Kay and Ann joined most of us in the audience who were knitting by working on their own projects.

Although the panel was meant to educate booksellers about marketing craft-related books, particularly knitting books, the majority of the audience was knitters. However, it is hoped that the conclusions reached by the panel will be received by retailers. Stephanie, who says her life recently has been one long book tour (Go, Stephanie!) explained how time and again bookstores vastly underestimate the number of attendees to expect at her appearances. Debbie Stoller, an avid feminist (yay feminism!) explained how she originally found herself defending her love of knitting to those who
thought it was, paradoxically, "only" women's work. She feels her Stitch 'n Bitch series has fueled the current revival of the craft. Ann and Kay described wonderful and successful appearances in small town bookstores, despite smaller turnouts than one might expect in urban locations. Mary related how her work with the Craft Yarn Council of America works to educate the various segments of the industry, consumers, manufacturers, publishers, about trends and needs.

Not surprisingly, everyone agreed that the national bookstore chains haven't a clue about the importance of knitting or other crafts --- and that they are missing the boat in a big way.
David and Rene, on the other hand, each have had great success with knitting events. They've listened to knitters, knitting authors and worked with local yarn stores. The panelists reported that book store owners and managers always underestimate the audience size for knitting book authors. Their appearances inevitably draw a larger audience than appearances by novelists, nonfiction writers or poets. Partnering with local libraries and using school auditoriums has been a successful strategy for larger venues.

Various suggestions were made, some from the audience. Because knitters tend to be "loyal as dogs," (Stephanie's phrase), if bookstores have the right titles, they'll win a following. Knitters will know at a glance whether the bookstore is serious about serving their needs so the panelists suggested making sure that hard-to-find classics, like Elizabeth Zimmerman, were kept in stock. The audience confirmed that they must resort ... gasp... to Amazon for a lot of the classic knitting books. My own suggestion is that book store owners ask local reference librarians or craft guilds to provide extensive bibliographies. David and Rene agreed that knitters make great audiences and tend to be quite tidy, apparently important to some booksellers. Stephanie assured the panel that all they need to keep knitters happy is enough cake. She also pointed out that knitters buy books -- lots of books because a book seems so cheap in comparison to the cost of yarn to make a sweater. It was also suggested that knitters ought to be invited to purely literary events as a way of insuring an audience. The popularity of knitlit or craftlit events was noted. Let's hope retailers get the message.

It was a truly fascinating discussion. I find it interesting that libraries have outstripped book retailers in this area, at least at our libraries in New York and Sussex County. I'm always surprised by how poorly the national chains deal with subject specialities. On the knitting and spinning list serves, the local libraries' excellent collections in the crafts are often noted.


MonicaPDX said...

Hi Liza - came over from Stephanie's blog after seeing your comment, and really enjoyed this post. Have you thought of adding it to Annalea's Knitting Culture Lens over on Squidoo?
She's asking people to contribute links to posts they've made about bookstores' lack of preparation for appearances, and other misconceptions among retailers. I think your post would be an excellent addition! (I'll make sure to link you in my next own next post, too. I'm sure other knitters will enjoy it.)

Thanks for a great recounting!

Octopus Knits said...

Liza, what a great, super-informative post. Thanks! Mmmm. cake.

Ginny said...

I am so jealous of your knittin and bookish day! Sounds like heaven to me...