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Leila Peltosaari

Photo of Lelia Peltosaari  

What is your background?

I was born in rural Finland many decades ago. After graduating from college, I traveled and worked in several European countries for fun, experience and adventure. I have no degree in sewing, cooking, writing, publishing, or marketing, but I learned common sense as a farmer's daughter and this intuition has serviced me unexpectedly well in this business.

What brought you to Canada?

I got married and my husband suggested we move either to Australia or Canada, the two countries at that time that easily accepted immigrants. So I chose Canada, the climate here being similar to Finland. And, as a child, I had admired a Montreal skyscraper on a candy wrapper and often dreamed of one day visiting that city. And here I live, in Montreal, since 1973.

Why did you start publishing books?

I stayed at home taking care of my two children, with energy to burn and in need of a bit of pocket money. I made adorable outfits for my kids for pennies out of remnants and got constant compliments from strangers and friends alike. I was sure that no publisher would be even remotely interested in my ideas so I started self-publishing sewing books and co-founded a publishing company. I did it as revenge for being turned down for my pattern ideas by one magazine. I had no idea what I was doing and thought I had invented self-publishing. I aimed high and sent my little book to Family Circle Magazine. The loved it and featured it in a full-page article. Mail orders poured in (over 20,000). Upon filling the orders, I sent customers brochures of other books in the works. I got enough orders to pay for the print runs before those new books were even written. And just like that I was in business, involving the whole family. Now I have nine books and have sold close to 300,000 books about sewing, Halloween costumes, crafts and cooking. I have been featured in more than 450 magazine articles, newspapers, and books. Later, I founded, my own company, Tikka Books (see tikkabooks.com). I am still in shock; it's a good thing I did not know it would turn out this way, or I might have been terribly intimidated, with no courage to even begin.

And your latest book?

I have turned my real-life experience into many books. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, that too eventually became a book. I did not want to write about just my own story (who would want to read that?) or a medical book (I am not qualified for that, plus medical information changes rapidly). Rather, I wanted to write a book I wish had existed when I was diagnosed. So I collected real-life snippets of wisdom and tips from 125 breast cancer survivors. I was looking for a variety of points of view, from women who are all on the same road. Dancing With Fear: Tips and Wisdom from Breast Cancer Survivors is a support group you carry with you.

How important is customer feedback?

Both writing and marketing are challenging and rewarding. Customer feedback and official reviews are crucial and guide me. I have more of a contact with my readers than trade-published authors. One said, "I would buy anything you write!" One phoned and thanked me for coming to Canada and giving her permission to sew; her home economics teachers had scolded her in high school and said not to waste her time or money on sewing and fabrics, so she never dared to sew—until she discovered my books and, at mid-life, discovered she enjoyed sewing and was good at it. Such comments give me enormous energy and courage. Booklist called my Halloween book a goldmine. Some contributors to my breast cancer book thanked me for a chance to write about their experience and said it was cathartic and therapeutic.

What has been your biggest disappointment?

One of my earliest books, Easy Halloween Costumes for Children, sold over 100,000 copies after getting lots of publicity. So I wrote a follow up, Illegally Easy Halloween Costumes for Kids, in full color with exquisite photos and color-coded patterns and matching treat bags. The book was well received, but I realized people do not make costumes anymore (even the no-sew hotglued versions in my book), since they are so busy, and it is so tempting to buy a made-in-China costume at the last minute.

What are your plans for future books?

One book leads to another. I plan to compile more Dancing With Fear titles—one is a second volume from breast cancer survivors, and one is a similar book but with feedback from families and friends of breast cancer survivors. I have other ideas but I try hard no to think of them; it's better to devote my time and energy to one book at a time and then concentrate on marketing until another book demands to be written.

Email Leila here.