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Cooperative Press Featured in The New York Times with Pandemic-Related Book, Doomsday Knits

Thursday, May 28, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christopher Locke
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Cooperative Press and Publisher Shannon Okey (top right) are featured in a pandemic-themed article in The New York Times for the book, Doomsday Knits.

Due to the COVID-19 health crisis, publishers are finding it more difficult than ever (and it was already very difficult!) to publicize their books. Recently, Cooperative Press Publisher Shannon Okey was able to break through with a feature in the New York Times article, "Knitting for the Apocalypse.” That’s quite the accomplishment, so IBPA wanted to find out how she landed the opportunity and how her re-issued book, Doomsday Knits, found success in our seemingly apocalyptic state of the world.

IBPA: How did you land the opportunity to get featured in a New York Times article?

Shannon Okey (SO): I have been active on Metafilter.com for many years, and part of the website is an advice section called Ask Metafilter. Many years ago, I posted a question about the business of writing as a career and expanding my focus. One of the replies was from the editor of another popular online magazine, and we messaged back and forth a few times. I knew he'd gone on to work at the The New York Times, and I was getting tired of the very dull, predictable "oh look, everyone is KNITTING during a PANDEMIC" features I kept seeing. So I wrote him and almost sarcastically said, “Look, these ‘Not Just Grandmas Knit’ articles are driving me crazy. We just republished a book called Doomsday Knits, why don't you write about that?” And his immediate, all caps reply was "I KNOW JUST WHO TO SEND THIS TO." And he did! I heard from the writer about a week later.

IBPA: Your book is apropos for the COVID-19 health crisis, so have sales gone up since the crisis began?

SO: We have sold as many books in a month as we probably sold total during its original 3-year run.

IBPA: Did sales go up even more after this New York Times article ran?

SO: They did, but we got just as many sales as a result of marketing to our list and to the attendees of the virtual festival replacement that was the reason we reprinted in the first place!

IBPA: On that note, up until recently, Doomsday Knits was out of print for a while. Can you explain the decision-making behind stopping the original print run?

SO: We print all of our titles print-on-demand (POD) now, so usually the decision to stop printing is a mutual one between us and the author. In this case, it was a multi-contributor book and once sales fall below a certain level, it's more work to divvy up the royalties among the contributors than the editor may want to do.

IBPA: While the book was out of print, the article mentions that it became a cult favorite and started going for $60 at independent bookstores and listing at $200 online. Did you know that this was occurring?

SO: I knew this mostly because every time we'd get an email asking about purchasing the book, I'd point them to used copies on Amazon, and had been watching the prices grow over time.

A garment from Cooperative Press' Doomsday Knits as seen in the book.

IBPA: The article also mentions that one of the reasons you reissued the book is because some spring festivals at which you make a sizable portion of your company’s income were cancelled. Can you tell us more about this?

SO: As a niche publisher of knitting books, we do a large amount of our annual business at two major east coast sheep and wool festivals, plus one smaller spring show in Chicago called YarnCon. The one that was canceled at the beginning of May was Maryland Sheep and Wool, and it has over 20,000 annual attendees. The Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Festival, generally known as Rhinebeck (for the city in which it's held), is the other but it isn't until October.

IBPA: This New York Times article came about in response to the COVID-19 health crisis, so it’s a rare positive outcome to this otherwise distressing situation. Do you have any advice for other indie publishers about how to weather this crisis?

SO: Be flexible. Look to your existing customers and those like them. Be honest. We told our fans that the festival cancelations would severely affect our income and ability to operate, and they stepped up. We got a lot of wonderful messages from them saying they have admired our work for a long time (this is our tenth year in business) and were happy to support us however they could.

IBPA: Can you share three tips for independent publishers about reaching out to the media to garner press for your indie publishing company and/or book?

SO: It always helps if you aren't going in cold: if you don't know someone at a publication, ask around and see if someone you know does. I've also asked friends who work at marketing agencies to pull media lists for me, but that's never as effective for a specialty publisher as it is for someone with a more general interest title. Maintain your relationship with any writer or editor who's written about you previously—let them know when you have something new!

IBPA: Can you describe the history of how Cooperative Press came to be?

SO: I wrote over a dozen knitting books for larger publishing houses, starting in 2004. I realized that the royalty system in traditional publishing didn't really work in my favor, so I started Cooperative Press in 2010 with a mission to publish books specifically targeted at the enthusiastic knitter. I was getting tired of justifying the salability of a given title I was pitching to editorial boards filled with people who didn't know what actual knitters wanted to buy. Everyone wanted to reproduce the runaway success of my friend Debbie Stoller's Stitch ‘n Bitch books, but you can't just publish variants of the same book forever, and that's how it felt to me. I wanted the flexibility to take chances on books that were GREAT books but might never sell 250,000 copies like Debbie's did.

IBPA: How has it been beneficial to you to be a member of Independent Book Publishers Association?

SO: I've exhibited at multiple events with IBPA (I bought my own booth at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas and I had a title in the IBPA group booth, and I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair). I've also done IBPA Library Market eBlasts and other marketing. Serving on the IBPA Board of Directors was also an eye opener and allowed me to learn even more about what other specialty, and particularly hybrid publishers, were doing.

IBPA: Do you have any new books coming out soon?

SO: We are working on a book tentatively titled State of Craft for our 10th anniversary that will look into what's going on with fiber art in all 50 states. I'm doing a new edition of our first book, The Knitgrrl Guide To Professional Knitwear Design, which was the first book ever published on the business aspect of knitwear design. And I have another higher-end fiber art book I'd like to do, but it's in the planning stages. Cooperative Press is basically just me and my trusty technical editor Andi Smith, and she recently moved back to England so I'm here alone in the office most days—there's only so much I can do myself day to day!

IBPA: Congrats on landing this article and the renewed interest in Doomsday Knits, Shannon! And thank you for sharing your expertise with the IBPA community!

Click here to learn more about Cooperative Press!


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