Crafty Reads: How to Make a Living Selling Your Arts & Crafts

So you’ve developed your arts and crafts skills for some time now, and you’ve gotten pretty good. In fact you’ve gotten really good. People see your work and say things like, “Wow, you should sell those,” or “You could make money doing that!” Maybe you dream of quitting your day job to devote more time to doing what you love best.

It you haven’t made the leap yet, I advise to you to stop and truly think about it, and research it, because you will find that all that extra time (and then some) you thought you’d have to simply create is now devoted to producing, marketing, and selling. There is an also an art and craft to good business, so lucky for you, the Kansas City Public Library has plenty of resources to help you learn those skills to start and grow a craft-based business.

Side note – although this blog entry is mainly directed at crafters, I hope that artists, writers, musicians, actors, and performers of all stripes may find some of this information useful. Please refer to the bibliography appended to this entry for some titles specific to your profession.  

Many of the books we have about starting a craft-based business, such as How To Start Making Money With Your Crafts, by Kathryn Caputo, or Making A Living in Crafts, by Donald Clark, quickly explain that you need to begin with a business plan. So I’m simply going to stop right here and tell you to visit our H&R Block Business and Career Center, located on the 3rd floor of the Central Library. There you will find Business Librarian Pam Jenkins, and her knowledgeable staff, along with devoted computers, special software, databases, and other books and resources to help you develop that business plan and start on the right track. The Block Center with its staff is a resource you cannot afford not to use if you are serious about your business.

Well, that makes my job here easy, doesn’t it? Just go to the Block Center! Seriously though, some of the things a good business plan will help you develop are your vision, goals, production and inventory needs, capital and possible loan needs, defining markets and marketing strategies. Other issues you will need to consider are legal, such as contracts and copyrights, and of course, the inevitable taxes.

A few words about the “vision” part of your plan: knowing yourself and your work is essential to success. It may sound obvious, but taking the time to define this sets the stage for everything else in your plan and career. Who are you as an artist or crafter? How do you envision yourself working and selling? For example, do you want to create one-of-a-kind collectible pieces (in which case you’ll need to be better than really good – you’ll need to be great) or, will you produce unique, but reasonably priced, and quickly produced items?

Once you have your vision and some goals in place, various library resources will help you pursue many other parts of your plan. For example, perhaps you’ve identified potential markets as craft shows, galleries, and the Internet.

Craft shows can be tricky to identify, especially the right craft shows for your particular items. There’s no point in buying space and going through the trouble of displaying at a fair, if it’s the wrong demographic for your goods. Professional associations, such as Missouri Arts & Crafts Association, sometimes publish a list of shows, as well as reviews for the shows, in given regions. Most of these associations have websites now. Talking to crafters at craft shows and networking online will also be helpful in this area. The books Selling Your Crafts at Craft Shows, by Madelaine Gray, and Crafts and Craft Shows, by Phil Kadubec, as well as other books we have on selling crafts will help you identify craft show guides, not to mention provide you with information on applying to, displaying, and selling at the shows themselves. Calculating how much you will have to invest in tents, display tables, cabinets, etc., will be a crucial part of your business plan.

For galleries, our ReferenceUSA database, which you can access both in the Library and from home with your Library card, is an invaluable source to help you locate galleries and contacts in given geographic areas. ReferenceUSA might also help you identify wholesale suppliers for your materials. Of course, once you identify potential galleries, you will need marketing materials to promote yourself and your goods to them. If you are a DIYer, like me, then the book Design to Sell: Use Microsoft Publisher to Plan, Write, and Design Great Marketing Pieces, by Roger Parker, might help you in that area.

Also, an issue many crafters and artists don’t think about when they begin to contact galleries to market their work is basic selling. Selling is a skill, and if you, like me, aren’t a born salesman, then you might want to consider some tips from Nobody Told Me I’d Have To Sell; How to Sell Your Services and Skills, Even if You’re Not in Sales, by Dick Kendall. Also, contracts and legal issues will arise when dealing with galleries (and sometimes craft shows), so The Craft Artist’s Legal Guide; Protect Your Work, Save on Taxes, and Maximize Your Profits, by Richard Stim is a suggested read.  In addition, our Gale Database of Legal Forms is a resource of note.

The Internet potentially opens up the entire world as a market, but just like craft shows and galleries, how you connect with those customers just waiting to spend their hard-earned dollars on your work is the challenge. The websites Etsy and Artfire have eased that challenge by creating virtual craft malls devoted to crafters and their buyers. On these sites, you can create your own storefront and post listings of current creations for sale. Check out the book Etsy Success: How to Make a Full-Time Income Selling Jewelry, Crafts, and Other Handmade Products Online, by Kathleen Donovan, to learn the basics and tips on making Etsy work for you. Knowing how to properly photograph your work and edit images is an essential skill for the online markets. Photographing Your Artwork, by Russell Hart, and many of the titles we carry on digital photography, including E-books, will be of use in this regard.

In addition, even if you don’t sell from it, having your own website and/or blog looks professional and gives you space to talk more about yourself and your work. The Library offers books as well as free classes in introductory website design. If you don’t have the time or the chops to create your own website, then you will want to include that outsourcing into your budget plan. Online social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, are other essential outlets to market yourself and your work. Social Media Marketing: Strategies for Engaging in Facebook, Twitter & Other Social Media by Liana Evans is just one of many titles I found in our catalog on this aspect of marketing.

As you can see, there is a great deal to plan, execute, and manage on the business side of your art or craft, and if you are totally new to it, it can seem daunting. That is why a plan is so necessary, but at some point you just have to jump in, and make some mistakes, and learn – just like with your art and craft.  And nothing feels quite so satisfying to sell your work to a happy buyer.  The best feeling is when they come back and say, “I got so many compliments on that piece you made…”

Bibliography: Art Entrepreneurship Books (PDF)

The attached bibliography is by no means comprehensive, so be sure to search our catalog for additional titles, especially ones specific to your craft, art, or other creative endeavor. Also don’t forget about our many print periodicals, and our periodical database ProQuest. And as always, ask a librarian or staff member for assistance whenever needed!

About the Author

When she’s not assisting customers in the Central Reference department, Jean Rivard DuFresne makes glass beads and designs jewelry, which she sells at She also writes and is a voiceover artist.

More crafty reading from Jean:
How to Use the Library to Get Started in Jewelry Making
How to Research Your Music-Playing Hobby
How to Start Stitching at the Library
How to Find Resources for the Writing Life