I've been meaning to post about this for along time now (because I know that a lot of you have questions in regards to this), so here it goes, the whole long & boring story (and bear with me if there are bits and pieces of it that you've already heard)...
First, I should preface this by saying that I don't know if my story is a really good example of starting a career in the scrapbooking industry, because honestly, I think I just got kind of lucky.
I started submitting stuff to Creating Keepsakes a year or so before I got the first call for a page of mine (it was for an online article - here's a link to the page). That was the only layout I had ever had published prior to winning CK Hall of Fame in 2003 (which is one reason that I do believe that unknown, unpublished scrapbookers have just as good of a shot as anyone else at winning that contest).
I didn't really know anyone in the industry at the time. I posted a lot on Two Peas in a Bucket and emailed occasionally with a few gals from there - but that's about it.
Ali and Tracy Kyle and I all knew each other from Two Peas and all won HOF that same year. We all met for the first time up at a CK convention in Portland, OR in 2003 (before we were allowed to tell anyone that we had won HOF) and just spent the day hanging out - talking about scrapbooking and our goals (not having a clue that all 3 of us were about to start careers in this crazy industry).
We were looking at some layouts that were entered in a contest at the convention when Karen Burniston walked up to us. Tracy and Ali already knew her and so they all started talking (while I stood there thinking I was going to pee myself because I was so excited to be standing next to the one and only, Karen Burniston - who had won CK HOF 2002, was a CK instructor and had her very own product line with Creative Imaginations).
Once Tracy realized that I didn't know Karen Burniston - she introduced us (and here's the best part)...Karen Burnison actually knew who I was (in fact she said something along the lines of "are you the Karen Russell on Two Peas in a Bucket?"...and then I really thought I would pee myself).
I think I talked to her for a total of about 20 seconds (20 absolutely wonderful seconds).
I remember driving home in my little, white (barely running) hunk-of-junk, Kia Sophia with the windows rolled down, the radio cranked up, my Two Peas in a Bucket necklace (that Ali made me and I still have) hanging up from my rear-view mirror and a smile that I couldn't wipe off of my face...just knowing that lots of good stuff was getting ready to happen in my life.
I think it was just a few weeks later that I was taking a class at a rubber stamp shop and saw a really cool stamp with all sorts of layered text and imagery on it that I wanted to buy (but had already spend too much money - single mom at the time - had to budget) and so on my drive home, I was thinking about how I could create the same look of that rubber stamp to use on some layouts and that's when it came to me (just like one of those light bulb moments that you hear about)...first, I realized that I could create the text and imagery in Photoshop (I had recently learned a little bit about Photoshop while I was working on a dentistry related project -which is a whole notha story about fate that I'll have to remember to share sometime) and then I realized that I could print it onto a transparency and layer it on top of my layouts and then I realized that I had just come up with the coolest idea ever (a product that wasn't currently available in the scrapbooking industry - 12x12 preprinted transparencies).
I was up all night long (I went to bed at 4am and had to be back up again at 6am for work) thinking about it and writing down ideas. I was absolutely, positively sure that this could be my way of starting a career in scrapbooking, but the problem was that I didn't know where to take my idea - I didn't know anyone in the industry.
And so I emailed Karen Burniston through Two Peas in a Bucket (the only person I knew in the industry - and I didn't really know her - I had only talked to her for like 20 seconds), who put me in touch with one of the owners of Creative Imaginations and a few weeks later, I was signing a contract.
Don't get me wrong, there were some road-blocks and some hurdles (and some times that I thought that my career in the scrapbooking industry was going to be quite short-lived) and by the time my transparencies actually made it to market, there were 2 other companies (Magic Scraps and Artistic Expressions) with transparencies. But that's just the way this industry is.
Done with my trip down memory lane and onto the stuff you probably really want to know...
If you have an idea for a product line you need to take some time to make a really good proposal and as competitive as this market is, I think that proposal has to be so good that it stands out in a crowd. It benefits you a ton to have a really well-drawn out concept (including prototypes). That means, if you have an idea for patterned paper - you need to design the patterned paper (and you want it to have a distinct look compared to anything else in the market). If you have ideas for stickers - make samples. If you have an idea for something that is not currently available in the market, you need to try as hard as you can to find a way to make a prototype/sample (I used some transparencies from the office supply store to print my designs on). I had everything in a really professional looking binder and I had all my thoughts really clearly mapped out (you want the company that you are proposing your idea to to have a crystal clear concept of your ideas). I had 5 transparencies designed and printed in an 8x8 format (I scaled them down in size since 12x12 transparencies weren't available for me to make samples with), I had my product name, I had a list of different themed transparencies (Fall, Love, Quotes, Time/Clocks, etc.) that I wanted to design, I listed different uses for transparencies, different ways of adhering them and lots of sample layouts using my transparencies. Creative Imaginations didn't have to visualize my idea - because it was well thought out (and I think that made a huge difference in their decision to bring me on board).
I think that having a well laid out concept also shows a certain level of professionalism that companies are looking for. I think it makes a company think "if this person is willing to invest this much effort into developing a proposal, then it is pretty likely that the quality of their future work will be just as professional and well-thought."
So if you know Photoshop or any other editing program, use it to develop your concepts. If you don't know your way around any editing programs, either learn it or hire a graphic designer to do it for you. If you paint or draw or have some other way of making samples - do that (Pamela Woods, who used to work with Creative Imaginations used some sort of hammering flowers/leaves onto paper technique and then had professional scans made for her artwork). Even if it doesn't seem possible to make a sample of your idea - keep thinking, keep brainstorming and keep networking in hopes that you'll find a way. That doesn't mean that a company will never look at a concept without a prototype - but I really do think that having a prototype is the best way to go (I've never proposed any ideas to Creative Imaginations without one).
From there - I'm not sure exactly how to go about it, but you have to contact the company you think your product would be best suited for. Email them. Telephone them. Send them a letter. Follow up. Don't give up.
There are horror stories of companies stealing ideas out there (and I'm sure that some of them are true). You can draw up (or have an attorney draw up) a non-disclosure agreement stating that the company you show your ideas to can not use that idea without your permission and/or that if they are currently working a similar concept that they have to disclose that information to you immediately.
And if you're sure that your ideas are good and your concept is well thought out and a company still turns down your idea - don't assume that your idea isn't a good one. It might just mean that it wasn't well-suited for that particular company (for any number of reasons), so pick yourself up, go back over your proposal to see if it needs any fine tuning and then submit it again (to another company).
I'm sure there are many gals out there who make a really nice living in this industry, but I think it is important to know that it might not be as profitable as it seems.
I made more money working full-time as a dental hygienist than I currently make designing products (and I put a lot more hours into working on product design than I ever did as a dental hygienist). It is pretty standard in the industry to make between 3-10% of wholesale sales (and you can imagine that you have to sell a whole lot of paper and stickers to make a living off of 3-10% of wholesale sales).
But of course the benefit for me is to be able to work from home (and to not be working up to my elbows in plaque and spit anymore). So it's worth it.
And again, there are a handful of gals in the industry who do really well for themselves, but I don't think that is the norm.
I don't think that a person can make a good living out of working on design teams and having their work published, but I do think it is a nice supplemental income for a family.
I don't really know how design teams work (I desperately wanted to be asked to be on anyone's design team before I signed on with Creative Imaginations - but no one ever asked me), but I am assuming that you put together a nice sampling of your work/layouts (preferably using a lot of products from the company who you are wanting to work with) and you show them your ideas. And I'm assuming that the best way to go about this is via email or to be on the lookout for design team calls through places like Scrapsubmit.com and other online sites.
And there are of course other options too - online stores, retail stores, selling projects/kits on Ebay, teaching classes, designing albums for people, photography, etc. (although if you asked a retail store owner if they would recommend doing what they do - I'm guessing that most of them wouldn't recommend it - not an easy business venture). But I don't know a whole lot about any of those things.
Although I'm sure it helps a bit to have won a contest like CK HOF or to have some name recognition in the industry through publishing, design teams, etc., bottom line is that if you have a good concept, are hard-working and determined (and can withstand some rejection), that you've got a good shot at making a career in this industry.
I just think that you have to be realistic about where it can take you (financially, physically and emotionally).
I love what I do (for the most part) and feel lucky that it's what I do - but when you turn a hobby into a job, it becomes just that...a J.O.B. (with all the good, bad and ugly aspects of any other job).
This is me (after a few weeks of extremely limited sleep), on my way to work (hence the scrubs) the morning after I had stayed up all night finishishing two proposals (my first every proposal to Creative Imaginations and a book proposal to Creating Keepsakes). Mailed them off that day.
And I just noticed Coley's toes in the background over my right shoulder - funny).
I hope this is a help to some of you and if you have any suggestions/tips/info./etc. that you'd like to share with everyone else - just leave a comment in the comments section.
Wow - was that the longest post in history or what?
Have a fabulous day!