Sunday, April 24, 2005

Case study -

What we have here is an amazing web success story. Do NOT ignore this post - read it carefully because there is a lot to learn.

There was an article yesterday in the paper about a knitting book. This article (written by Marcy Smith Rice of the N&O) is not something I would normally read, because I have no interest in knitting. But here is the amazing paragraph from the article that got my attention:
    [Stephanie] Pearl-McPhee spun the book, a riff on "Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much," from her Web site, The Yarn Harlot ( The little — really, it's just 4 by 6 inches — book was released the first week of April. By April 15, it was in its third printing; that's a new printing every week, so far. We called her rep at Storey Publishing, to find out just how many books that is. Turns out it's 60,000 copies in print. It's ranked about 700 on Amazon, but that doesn't hint at the number of copies sold at LYS (Local Yarn Shops).
To put this in perspective, 60,000 copies in three weeks means that this book is amazingly successful - Read this to see what 60,000 books means in terms of cash. So, what we have here is a amazingly successful book that spun out from a remarkably simple blog. Here are some things to notice about
  • It is simply text and images. There is no magic here in terms of technology. The magic is in what the author has to say.
  • Stephanie updates her blog roughly once a day.
  • The blog is tuned to a very, very specific niche -- so specific that is not even thinking about being ranked in Alexa when I look it up today.
  • Stephanie's audience is fanatical -- look at how many comments some of her posts get! [HINT TO MY READERS -- People who read blogs are supposed to post comments! If you are reading this, you should post a comment when you get done...]
When Stephanie spun a book out of her site, that little niche audience went out and bought the book in droves.

The point being, you do not have to create a blog that appeals to everyone -- if you can excite a niche, you can succeed.

Here are two choice quotes from Stephanie in the article:
  • "I neglect housework rather fiercely," she says. "That helps, it frees up a lot of time. I'm going to clean up when the kids leave."

  • "The world is full of hopelessly crushed great writers," she says. "I think I was at the right place at the right time doing the right things and I got really lucky."
There's that luck thing again. Go read this page for a description of luck.

Marcy also mentions this:
    All this from a knitter who just over a year ago was just a knitter —well, and also a mother, raising three daughters (ages 11,13 and 16), and a writer of freelance articles and a birth doula. (She's given up some of the doula work while she's on tour. "You really need to be home and available when you're helping with birth," she said.) She began by posting letters to The KnitList (, and other posters encouraged her to start a blog.
Take a look at Ask yourself this question: Is there something that you enjoy, and that you are passionate about, that you can talk about on the web? If so, you might consider creating a web site or a blog. There is no guarantee that you will be as successful as Stephanie, but the success of the yarn harlot shows that it is possible.


At 4:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said... is a great URL. You must give her credit for that.

If you are a mother, her stuff is hilarious. Look at the April 22 post. It is goodgoodgood. Her comments are amazing. True fans.

At 10:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is another success story you should spotlight - Redneck dating site propels creator to fame

"Up and running for less than $3,000,, is McIntosh's effort to come up with a side job to augment his work as an advertising copy writer in Winston-Salem, N.C. The site went live in mid-January, and so far has coaxed about 7,000 rednecks from across the country to submit their profiles."

At 9:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do we find these niche audiences?

If we have a hobby or two, how do we find out how big the audience for that hobby could be?

At 9:30 AM, Anonymous Nancy Lebovitz said...

She's got two things going for her beyond niche and obsession--she's got great taste as shown by her knitting and she's really funny.

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So then, which is more important - charisma or audience?

The guys at seem to play off of their charisma more. Their cartoons are for a fairly general-purpose audience.

At 3:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am leaving my mandatory required Comment.


P.S. If you have the charisma, you will gain an audience.
P.P.S. IMO, if you have a hobby and you are passionate about it, write about it and they will come. Throw your blog out into the Comments section of others, after you develop a "blogationship" (I have trademarked that term fyi - I will make millions!!) with other bloggers ask them if they would link to you. You'll know if they might or might not do this by having spent time there and commenting. Don't ask someone you haven't spent time getting to "know". That is one way to get out there.

At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If we have a hobby or two, how do we find out how big the audience for that hobby could be? "

Don't do it for the money. Do it because you LOVE it. Expense your time and money (it's not an investment. If it "hits" then you can think about investing...but NOT until then.)

If anybody thought there was money in it: it would be too late for you to start and probably not a fun hobby anymore.

Remember: Google, Apple, Yahoo, Ebay: was created as a labor of love. Nobody thought these guys would make any real money at it. Take the hint!

At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Cam Vale said...

I am sure that the success of brings great joy to the site owner. But it is clear that they would have done it anyway.

The success is in the doing of it regardless of the outcome.

Even if all the interest went away the love of the work itself would still remain.

At 7:20 AM, Anonymous Wordwhiz said...

YarnHarlot? I must be some kind of perv -- From the name, I thought it must be a story-telling site, spinning dirty stories or "yarns".

Marshall, your Welcome to WebKEW is terrific. As a writer, I've been struggling with several business book ideas, and never even considered blogging as a way to develop them, gather feedback and generate a little resonance. Thanks for having such a clear mind to guide us humble right-brainers...


At 7:35 PM, Blogger Blaine Moore said...

Another site that I have seen that is writing a book via a blog is The Red Couch. It's actually about why blogging is important to business.

I started my own blog as a way to get some use out of my website and to try to force myself to actually get down to creating the site that I want. Which I haven't done yet, but I've started experimenting.

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the yarnharlot site might deserve a little more credit than your observations imply. Stephanie uses a mindful discretion that allows her text to be intimate while avoiding that certain ill-educated ranting voice relied upon by too many bloggers.

Also, writing to sound "simple" yet remain interesting is a real skill. I bought her little book as soon as it came out and read it in one evening. I encourage people to read both the intro. and the author blurb where she talks about the difficulties and hard work in writing.

At 9:15 PM, Blogger K&L Aviary said...

Marshall, your blog is my bible! I have read almost all of it now. I had you for Pascal at NCSU some years ago (we won't show how far we've come since then!!!). You were the best professor then and you still are now!

At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Pen said...

HI. Commenting now. It's, not
Your blog looks interesting too. Stephanie's is a hoot. Look in April 2004 for a letter to a green sweater...

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Dez Crawford said...

I just found your post about Steph's blog. You are absolutely correct.

Her blog -- and now, "book" with an "s," plural! -- are maginificently successful because she is hanging ten on the wave of what yarn hobbyists want to read.

The important thing to remember is that knitters today have a great love and passion for their work. They are not just looking for technical advice.

Just as people who enjoy sewing no longer sew to save money but because they enjoy the craft and process, it has been generations since most knitters plied their craft to save money on clothes.

Knitters today are not mere hobbyists or enthusiasts. They are much more like Apple geeks, Trekkies, Harley riders or Deadheads, if that helps you understand the level of hobby commitment involved.

With all due respect to the late great humorist Erma Bombeck, Steph is not just another "life with the kids" humorist.

Stephanie does something totally different, even if children and daily chores do enter the monologue.

She writes about how one's knitting (or any other passion) affects one's life. You could change all the knitting-related words in her blog to music-related words, antique-related words, pottery-related words or skiing-related words, and she would remain appealing because she writes about what happens when one's passion completely takes over one's life.

And she does a damn good job.

--Dez Crawford, randomly blogging at
"Mambocat's Knitting Asylum" at

At 4:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm only writing this post because you said so! I've read one of your books and I hope you can lead me to the riches.

At 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How much security does one have blogging their book online. Whats to stop someone from copying your blog post and spinning it into a book and publishing it themselves before you are able to? The whole copyright issue with blogging has me confused.

At 5:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before starting to write about web, I had nothing to write about. However, once started, there was nothing to stop me!

At 3:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, here's your comment...I've been reading YarnHarlot for a year now, about the same length of time I've been knitting. Both are enjoyable parts of my life - sort of like reading Herb Caen was to San Fransicians ...I've tried other blog sites but she's special. DLB in Sebastopol

At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Suzanne said...

Duly noted.

At 7:55 AM, Blogger Highwaylass said...

I had written a lengthy comment but blogger just ate it :(

there's something very special about knitting bloggers - especially for us UK knitters who are deprived of some of the fab yarns and new craft revival which is happening in the US. Stefanie's blog, and knitting bloggers like her, provide community, support and new ideas - which proves, I think, that there is nothing new under the sun!

At 10:00 PM, Blogger fireandfury said...

What a great article. Your blog is great Marshall. Your writing style is very peaceful and there is so much value in your articles. I like your comment about posting comments. It just clicked for me! I get it now!

At 6:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your story.
But you'd better take a look here to find a really DIFFERENT dating site.
Looks amazing, agree? :-)
You can also find my pics and more about me on my page
Read more about me or drop me a message from there.

At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an amazing story. The other thing I found was that often there are information absent niches an example is commodity trading. is a blog that is very simple nothing advanced and yet somehow it has collected all the information about commodities from all over the world in one place.

At 10:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a huge knitting subculture in North America, believe it or not. Google "knitting guild" to get an idea of what I'm talking about. I don't think that any old hobby blog would get the audience that Steph gets - it would have to be something that already had a subculture.

At 4:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so right! I read her blog faithfully, and when she casually mentions any new pattern or store in her blog, those lucky stores experience a tremendous surge in sales! Believe me, I have purchased stuff in those stores...

At 8:13 PM, Anonymous Pete Williams said...

This is a great reminder that there are massive - and profitable - audiences out there for even the nichiest of niches!

Another blog I stumbled upon a while back that I love is, a blog all about physics-based games. Being a bit of a geek at heart I've always got a kick from messing with in-game physics so I love the blog, and the Alexa stats show that it's getting a very respectable amount of traffic.

At 10:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Knitting can be a hobby, a craft or an art. I suspect that Stephanie is not a hobbyist. Her dedication and total immersion into knitting place her above the hobby category.

At 8:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Marshall, you are the best out there. You are inspiring, clever and funny.

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