Publishing from Scratch: The Button Factory
People always ask me where we get our project ideas. While it’s true that many of the things we publish come from literary agents’ and authors’ pitches, a lot of what we make is born right here by the brains of Chronicle employees.
Fig. 1: The Button Factory.
Here’s a rundown of just some of the things that went into creating this project from scratch.
In July 2009, my coworkers and I cooked up this idea in Format Breakfast, a weekly meeting where Chronicle’s editors, designers, and production coordinators come together to think, talk, draw, and build dream projects. We come up with a lot of stinkers, it’s true, but a lot of gems, too. One Line a Day, 642 Things to Draw, and Port-a-Pug, to name just a few favorites.
We all love buttons (aka, pins or badges, depending on your provenance) and were lamenting how expensive button-makers are. We decided it would be awesome to offer an affordable way to cover buttons with fabric. We hammered out what the kit should include, did our competition research to see how our product had to be distinctive, and then I pitched the project to our board (sounds scary, but actually pretty fun). They agreed it would be a strategic addition to our list. Game on!!
With the board’s shiny seal of approval blessing our project, we then spent many months going back and forth with various printers to arrive at an affordable format that we liked. It’s quite costly to publish things that include non-paper components, so we had to explore many different scenarios.
We looked at boxes with windows, boxes without windows, and hanging blister packs. Anne in design made these rough schematics to communicate our vision so that Erin in production could request pricing estimates and dummies from printers. I also used these visual schematics to consult with our sales and marketing teams about which packaging direction they felt would be most successful for the stores that would do well with something like this. In the end, I was so happy we settled on a Kraft paper box sealed with a big label. In addition to liking the way it looked, this option was the more environmentally friendly route, as it doesn’t require any plastic for a window. Without that see-through window to display the box’s contents, we’d have to rely on photography and text to communicate what you’ll find inside the box.
While all this format research and development was happening, I wrote the manuscript over winter break last year. I’m usually an editor, not an author! So I started with the bare bones, charting out in my Moleskine what content I needed to cover (see below). I wrote text explaining how to cover buttons with fabric and project ideas for using vintage fabric, making photo pins, spreading birthday wishes, promoting a business, adorning buttons with embroidery, and making button cards.
For the photographs, Anne hired the dynamic duo Rebecca Thuss and Patrick Farrell of THUSSFARRELL. I was blown away by their work on this project – they went above and beyond. They made so many fabric-covered buttons for their photo shoot, they discovered some really useful craft tips that I added into the manuscript. And their photos were so fun, we decided to extend the length of the booklet so we could include more. With THUSSFARRELL’s inspiring photos in hand, Anne designed the booklet, cover sticker, box, and four custom fabric designs. We knew from the beginning we wanted a super poppy, ’80s palette, so it didn’t take long to come to a consensus on the designs.
In September 2010, just over a year after we started, we reviewed and approved color proofs and all the final component samples from the printer. And in December, the best moment of satisfaction ever: an advance copy hit my desk, I tested the components, they all worked, and this button factory was in business. (Well, after they are assembled, travel across an ocean, arrive at our warehouse, are inventoried, and distributed to accounts around the world. No big deal.)
THE SELL & SHIP
Now we get to share our creation with you. Our sales team has been pitching The Button Factory far and wide – literally to stores around the world. One of the most exciting things about this project is two foreign publishers, one in Sweden and one in Germany, like it so much they’re going to translate and publish their own editions. I cannot wait to see what I wrote translated into Swedish and German (Die Bütton Faktory?!). Product started shipping to stores last week. You can find it online now on our site, at Urban, at Barnes & Noble, and beyond.
This is a super simplified slice of the mountain of work that goes into this kind of homegrown publishing. If you have questions about things I glossed over, fire away in the comments.
I’m so excited to share this project with you, that I’ll choose one commenter at random to send a copy so you too can spread The Button Factory love.
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