Since this is our very first maker post I wanted to take a brief moment to say a couple things, if I may. I have been so very lucky to be a rep for several companies on Instagram. I also have many friends who are makers or run small businesses. My hopes with these blog posts are to highlight bookish companies and makers who, I think, are doing amazing work. They will not always be people I rep for personally, but they will always be boxes and products I have tried. These are not sponsored or paid for. They are just companies myself and Alexa have grown to love.
UNICORN CRATE: A Q&A with Naomi Farr
Unicorn Crate is a monthly subscription box for YA Fantasy lovers (read: Me). Naomi started the box in May 2017 and it has grown into one of the most popular and, in my opinion, consistently well-curated book boxes around. Each month the box contains a brand new YA fantasy hardcover and 5-6 bookish items, one with a unicorn, of course.
I have found Unicorn Crate to be one of my favorite boxes for a few reasons, not the least of which is that Naomi’s book choices have consistently been right up my alley. Aside from that, the items have been incredibly unique, including an apron in June that made me giggle with glee.
Full disclosure, I am a current rep for Unicorn Crate (you can find my discount code HERE) and when I thought about who I wanted to highlight on this blog I reached out to a few of my favorite people, many whom I have had the pleasure of representing on Instagram. Naomi has always been open and honest and lovely, even though she works incredibly hard and should be more of a tired grump.
All that said, she was nice enough to answer some questions for me so we can all get to know about the amazing person behind Unicorn Crate.
Q: Let’s start with an easy one! What is your name and where do you live?
NF: My name is Naomi Farr and that is a good question. I’m just going to be open and honest about this because real life is tough, and it rarely reflects what we think of as the societal norm. I recently moved back to New Hampshire where I am staying with family while I decide where to move next because I just went through a divorce. I’m living in and running Unicorn Crate from a tiny bedroom with my cat Leia. I’ve also lived in Alaska, Washington, Vermont, and Colorado, so who knows where I might go next. But I do have family in New England and will always consider that home!
Q: Is Unicorn Crate your full-time job or do you have a side-gig?
NF: Unicorn Crate is more than a full-time job. In fact, it’s really a job for more than one person. I spend an average of 50-60 hours per week on it (but I’m always behind) and when I was packing all the crates in-house during the first 7 months, I often worked 80+ hour weeks. That is a prescription for burnout and I do not recommend it. However, I also must work other jobs on the side in order to pay the bills. I am a freelance editor and proofreader. I also have an Etsy shop (I make lockets and botanical perfume) but that is more of a hobby than a reliable income, at the moment.
Q: What made you decide to start a book box?
NF: One of my greatest passions is YA fantasy books and I also have an MFA in Creative Writing. I just love stories, and magic so much! I believe stories are one of the most important things in life. Telling them, reading them, living them. And in these often dark times we live in, I wanted to create something to spread the magic and joy that fantasy books and bookish things can bring into our lives. I started making videos and posts about books in addition to the typical natural beauty content on my blog a few months before thinking up Unicorn Crate and fell in love with the “bookstagram” and “booktube” communities. I knew I had found “my people”! I’ve also been working on a YA fantasy book off and on, for about a year and a half.
At the time I started Unicorn Crate I was in a tough place in life having just sold the wedding blog I’d built up over the past 4 years, and about to let go of a major relationship. I was burnt out and feeling quite lost but knew it was time for a big change. My income had dried up and I wasn’t hearing back from any jobs I applied to, but my heart has never been in the corporate world anyway. After researching everything I could about subscription boxes for a few months, the idea for Unicorn Crate popped into my head one early February morning in that half-sleep state. I jumped out of bed and claimed the Instagram handle first thing that day! Sometimes great change facilitates great ideas.
Q: Did you always want it to have something related to Unicorns? Side question, how many Unicorn related items are in the room with you right now?
NF: [laughs] From where I’m sitting at my desk I count 15+ unicorn things. Starting Unicorn Crate was not, contrary to what some people assume, a part of the unicorn craze we’ve seen of late. I’m more about the long-lasting myth and magic of unicorns as a sort of emblem for fairy tales, and I’m not so keen on the cartoon-ish unicorn fad in which they are portrayed as unintelligent and as a joke. I often cringe at the disproportionate cartoon unicorn that’s puking a rainbow. I grew up reading Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Peter S. Beagle, and was also around horses quite a bit as a teen. I like to think Unicorn Crate embodies the spirit of unicorns from the 1985 film ‘Legend’. They are highly intelligent and majestic creatures, and to me, they represent strength, hope, and beauty.
In the beginning though, I actually had multiple ideas for a subscription box and did a pre-launch for both a monthly natural lipstick subscription (I’ve been involved in the green beauty community for more than six years), and Unicorn Crate (and at that time I was offering both a lifestyle Unicorn Crate, and the book box). There weren’t many email sign ups for the lipstick box and it was proving quite difficult to work with suppliers in that industry as they require really high minimum quantities, so I went with Unicorn Crate which was what I really felt drawn to anyway. For the first 5 months of Unicorn Crate, I was offering the lifestyle and book box and packing both each month! It was a lot and it didn’t take long before it became really clear that I needed to focus on just one thing and the book box was not only something I was more passionate about, but more people were signing up for it anyway. I haven’t looked back since!
Q: Follow-up: Do you remember what was in the very first box you sold?
NF: Yes! I remember it like it was yesterday. I even designed and made some of the items myself (I still love to have a hand in designing items whenever possible). The first box was in May 2017 and featured Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh. I didn’t even know about the whole bookplate thing yet (apparently people loooove those signed bookplates!). I curated a ‘Warrior Wisdom’ theme around the book and designed the theme art myself, as well as the bookmark. And I put all the corked glass vials of cherry blossom tea together myself (I still have a big bag of leftover tea in my cabinet from that, haha!). I also created an instruction card on the art of the tea ceremony, pocket mirror, purple fairy lights, exclusive candle by Wick and Fable, mini button pin that I designed with the unicorn reading (I still sell those in the shop), and a poster of the book cover. And of course, I hand wrapped each book, tied it in twine, and then affixed a tag with hand written ‘happy reading’ on it with a custom Unicorn Crate wax seal I’d had specially made. Purple wax, obviously. I loved wrapping the books that way, but by the time I was hand wrapping 400+ books per month I just couldn’t continue that anymore. It ate up so many hours that I should have been working on other crucial parts of the business, and ouch, my hands! But they sure were pretty. Still love my custom wax seal.
Original Book Packaging
Q: Have you ever read a book and known immediately you HAD to do a box for it?
NF: Yes, several times. The Last Namsara felt like that especially. I was so excited to put a dragon themed box together! Also, a title I read this spring that I’m hoping to create a box for this fall (I can’t mention the title yet, sorry).
Q: Are there any makers or items in upcoming boxes that you are feeling really excited about?
NF: I’m in love with the candle going in the August crates (inspired by Uprooted), an exclusive created by Whiskey Diamond Candle Co. I just got confirmation that Diana Dworak will be creating some exclusive artwork for the September crates and am pretty psyched on that! I also have an artist in mind for the October box that I’m really excited about but don’t have confirmation yet (fingers crossed).
Also, I just might be announcing pre-orders soon for a special edition crate (not part of the regular subscriptions) this fall… 😉 There is an enamel pin and necklace going in that crate that I’m super excited for!
Q: How far in advance do you start planning your boxes?
NF: Not early enough [laughs]. I try to plan everything at least three months in advance, though I typically can’t purchase all the inventory that far ahead. But I know some of the other larger book boxes plan like six months in advance. It has been so hard to catch up and I perpetually feel as if I’m behind, but I’m finally at a place where I seem to be planning at a steady three months ahead of time (that is for the theme/goodies going into the boxes though, I typically read the ARCS about 4-6 months in advance). Though sometimes there are delays hearing back from suppliers and I might be finalizing one last item just the month before release. That can be stressful!
Q: What is the hardest part of running a book box for you?
NF: Customer service is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to deal with. It is very time consuming and sometimes people get angry with you even when you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. Maybe they’re having a bad day or are just angry in general and I have to try to not take it personally. But that can be very draining on my emotions on top of all the other work that goes into this business. When I can finally afford to hire help, I think a customer service role will be the first thing I hire for.
It can also be extremely challenging to source products. Finding the perfect items that relate to a monthly theme while all fitting into a very tight budget is like an intricate puzzle piece each month. And then getting all the items delivered on-time is very difficult too. There are so many moving parts each month and there is no break because as soon as you’ve finalized one thing it is time to start planning the next.
It has also been a challenge outsourcing the packing/shipping at a fulfillment center as the business has grown. Because I have no space anymore to pack the boxes myself (and need to be spending that time on running the business) I have the inventory shipped to a fulfillment warehouse, and the crates are put together and shipped from there. The list of issues I’ve had to deal with in delegating those tasks is long, so I won’t go into it here, but I may be switching to a different center soon. As someone who just loves to be hands-on and make sure everything is done right, it has been very difficult not having direct control over the boxes being packed elsewhere! My idea of quality control is a bit more perfectionist than most warehouse assembly lines tend to be.… I guess there are a lot of difficult things about running a book box. But in growing any business there are going to be hurdles to overcome.
July 2018 “Magic Systems” Box
Q: Now some more personal questions! Do you have any authors that you auto-buy whatever they write?
NF: Roshani Chokshi, Juliet Marillier, S.A. Chakraborty, Laini Taylor, Cinda Williams Chima, and Sarah J. Maas. However I have not read every single book that each of these amazing women have written… I’m working on it, but I consider these a few of my auto-buy authors.
Q: Are there any tv shows you binge watch?
NF: Oh god yes. I somehow do the work of like three people but still manage to find time to binge watch on Netflix and Hulu! I love stories, in all forms, and tv series are no exception.
More recent shows I’ve fallen in love with: The Shannara Chronicles, The 100, Stranger Things, Anne with an E, Lost in Space (the Netflix original), and just last week I finished season 1 of Find Me in Paris (at first I thought it was a little silly but then I got hooked!). I can’t wait for Netflix’s revival of The Dark Crystal coming out soon (early 2019 I think?).
Guilty pleasure: The Bachelor and Bachelorette (I say “guilty pleasure” because my mom constantly says, “I can’t believe you watch that trash!”) I don’t even care if some of it is scripted like people say. Their drama takes my mind off my drama! I think dating 20 people at once is ludicrous, but I love to watch and have been a viewer for like 10 years!
Q: What are three Instagram accounts you think everyone should be following?
NF: Ohh, that is so hard to pick just three! Instagram is by far my favorite social media platform. Everyone in the bookish community should definitely be following @xenatine (amazingly creative bookstagrammer and writer with an eye for beautifully composed photos), @bookishbronte (I mean, just take a look, her posts are works of art), and @bookbookowl (for your daily dose of rainbow!).
Q: Who are some of your favorite bookish makers/designers?
NF: There are so many talented people in the bookish community. A few of my favorites are Stella Bookish Art, Wick and Fable, Flick the Wick, Gillywick Goods, Spidey Scents, Hannah Hitchman Illustration, Jo Painter, Papercuts and Pages, and Literary Emporium. There are so many more I could list here…
Also, can I say myself? Haha, I’ve designed and put together many things for the crates, most recently the packs of Harry Potter spell pencils in the July crates and I’m really proud of how they came out!
Harry Potter Spell Pencils
Q: Your dream author came to you and wanted you to do an exclusive box for a special re-release of their book: Which author and which book would you most want to do?
NF: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor!
Thank you so much to Naomi for taking the time to answer all my questions. The September Unicorn Crate, “Sisters Who Slay” is on sale now with fandoms like The Lunar Chronicles, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sky In The Deep and Lord of the Rings!