Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Guide for Writing a Great Tutorial

by Holly Dare

With the abundance of tutorials flooding the market, I have to say, I haven’t been in a rush to buy even one. It seems that no one is selling the volume of beads they were before, and are instead trying to sell a tutorial on how to make “their” signature bead. Frankly, I have very mixed feelings… I would be nowhere without the abundance of free tutorials out there (and I wonder where all these “professional” tutorial writers would be without them either!).

But that isn’t the reason I haven’t purchased one. As a professional writer and television producer, I’ve spent a good chunk of my career “cleaning” tutorials written by craftspeople for televised shows or websites. Just because you know how to make something doesn’t mean you know how to convey what’s inside your head to others in writing. It’s a fear of feeling like I need to edit something I paid for that keeps me from purchasing.

So for all the would-be tut writers, here are this professional’s list of don’ts and dos:


Think it’s all about MEEEeeee. It’s not! It’s all about the project. We didn’t buy your tut to read how wonderful you are. We thought you were wonderful and then bought your tutorial. You don’t have to sell us on you. Sell us on the wonderful, most incredible bead ever! Stick to the subject. Edit out ANYTHING that has nothing to do with making the bead.

I read an article on the subject of scientific glassblowing where the writer rambled on for three pages about how talented he was and only got into the specifics on page four! Had that magazine actually employed an editor, they could have had three more pages of scintillating content instead of a rather boring diatribe.

Insult other glassworkers. This is mostly a self-taught profession. Sure, you can take classes. You can read tuts and talk to other glassworkers but until you spend some time behind the torch, you won’t get very far. And because of the solitary nature of the work, many of us pick up some strange habits…. because it works for us. If that doesn’t work for you, there’s no need to insult the rest of us.

Let’s say, you never warm your rods. Fine. Good for you. I’ve got some nice scars to show you from not warming mine. But if you were reading a tutorial, which sounds better?

I see some glass workers waving their rods around and taking forever to actually start making a bead…


Heat the rod to a pea size and roll onto the mandrel.

See the difference? #2 gets to the point and doesn’t insult the readers in the process. And really, unless the info that you never warm your rods is important to your process, who cares??? The point should be getting the glass on the mandrel, not that you don’t do what others commonly practice. Frankly, it puts the reader off and you come off sounding like an egotistical tyrant.

Let them know you are keeping secrets. I know a painter who will never teach her color combinations. That’s fine, but don’t tell me about it. When I heard that in class, I sat there wondering why I had paid her $400 bucks! Until that point, I was perfectly happy with the direction of the class.

It’s the same thing in tutorials. If you have a “secret” way to make a twisty and you have no intention of sharing, don’t advertise that fact…it makes your reader feel cheated. There is no need to tell them what you are not telling them. Instead say, Take a twisty and heat it in the flame, allowing it to wrap around the bead.


Get them excited about your project. This is where so many writers tell people how wonderful they are. See Don’t #1. Instead, introduce your piece. Why do you love making this bead? How did it come about? Why do you enjoy making it again and again? Tell us something to make us want to head over to the torch.

Include photos. Picture = 1000 words. Lots of pictures really add to the value of your tutorial. I would be willing to pay more for a tutorial with step by step photos rather than one with only the finished bead.

Get to the point. I recently tried a free tutorial that rambled on, using way too many words. Luckily, my printer left a really wide margin so I could translate for the torch!

The number of words used by the tut author is on the left. The right side is my margin notes to take to the torch:
21 words          Nickel sized round bead. Let droop.
62 words Melt frit. Spot heat. Chill with brass marver.
44 words White dots for eyes. Melt halfway.

Economy of words is always better - especially when your audience is playing with fire!

Let it go unsaid…We all know to keep the bead warm. In the tutorial above, the author reminded the reader a whopping 16 times! Twice, back to back in ONE step!

If it is vital to have the whole bead warm at one particular step – like before rolling in frit – add it to the text. If it’s a general working on a sculptural bead; keep it warm the whole time…it goes without saying OR consider adding a TIPS section at the end for things that are obvious to experienced readers but may be necessary for beginners.

Hire an editor. Or at least have a friend with writing skills look over your work. Freelance copy editors generally work for $30 an hour and up. Friends usually work for beads and a cool beverage. Either way, you get more coherent copy and hopefully, repeat customers.

State your terms upfront. Some tutorial writers have been selling their tutorials with the stipulation that the reader may not make the beads for sale. HUH??? Just what do you think they are buying the tutorial for?

Let’s face it. For every artist out there, striving to find her own path, there are 50 more “craftsmen” who have the skills but lack the imagination to do it on their own. They never experiment with color or materials but can take your words and advice and make a beautiful replica of your bead. If you aren’t willing to see that bead up for sale, probably for less than you would charge, don’t write a tutorial!

The same goes for teaching. If you don’t expect that your students will make the pieces for sale, the terms need to be stated up front before they purchase the class or the tutorial.

Whether or not you are willing to answer questions by email or phone should also be stated up front.

I know it seems basic but, take from a professional editor, just a few simple things can make your tut really stand out! 


Coloraddiction said...

Excellent bunch of tips, Holly - thank you for sharing your experience with us tutorial authors!

Diana Ferreira said...

100 out of 10 for this 'tutorial'!

icarusbeads said...

Great blog Holly!
Thanks so much ... you put perfectly into words what I'm thinking when reading some tutorials.

Currently I had a few disappointments after purchasing tutorials and I'm now thinking twice before spending money for it.

And you're spot on: if someone is a great lampworker that doesn't make them necessarily a great teacher or writer.

Melodie said...

Holly, Well said! I am often the one who says, "get to the point!" I'm glad I am not alone! I make beads, but I don't teach. Not my skill, but I happily share what I know with whomever asks. So you'll never have to suffer through one of MY tuorials. Me, either!

Melodie said...

Holly, Well said! I am often the one who says, "get to the point!" I'm glad I am not alone! I make beads, but I don't teach. Not my skill, but I happily share what I know with whomever asks. So you'll never have to suffer through one of MY tuorials. Me, either!

Dionne Calgary said...

Thanks for sharing Holly ... love your work. I have purchased tons of tutorials and really appreciate it when the tutorial is not to wordy. I also appreciate a summary with photos at the end of the tutorial so I can take it to the torch with me.