Producing Your Photo Book
By David FitzSimmons
In Part 1 of this series, I covered planning your photo book, namely picking a subject, identifying your audience, determining how many books you can sell, selecting your publishing option, and researching publishing. Here I will talk about writing, revising, and finding assistants, such as book shepherds, editors, designers, and printers.
1. Write Your Book
Before you begin writing, find books similar to the one you will produce. Visit local libraries and bookstores, and search online. Get a hold of copies to see what other authors do well and to look for areas of improvement. Look especially hard for aspects that no one else has covered. If you fill this gap, then you can point out to your audience how your book is unique.
2. Revise Your Work
Do not skimp on revision. After writing your book, revise, revise, and revise. You have identified your audience earlier, so now find members of this group and have them test your work.
Ask qualified family, friends, and colleagues, remembering to keep a list of editors, both for acknowledgement later and for delivering free, signed copies upon publication. Ask your editors general and specific questions. A typed or emailed questionnaire helps professionalize the process. Have your peer editors look for what’s working and what’s not.
Ruthlessly cut anything extraneous. If a sentence is too long, cut words. If the entire sentence is extraneous, delete it. If the work will stand without a paragraph, eliminate it. A trick: imagine that someone offers you $1 for every word that you cut. Then weigh whether you’d rather keep, say, 20 precious words or pocket a sawbuck.
While you are cutting words, start examining your photos with an equally ruthless eye. Ask photographers and non-photographers to look at your collection of images. Find out which are their favorites (and why), and identify the weak ones. Eliminate all images that are not exceptional. If you must include a particular image but your current one is not up to par, then re-shoot it. In today’s highly visual culture, your photos will more than likely be the primary selling point of your book.
3. Seek Professional Help
Editors: The final stage of revising involves working with one or more professional editors. Many self-published authors make the mistake of not hiring a good editor. But how do you find a good editor?
Start with a Book Shepherd: Perhaps the best way to find an editor is to start one step back: Consider hiring a book shepherd who can recommend top-level help. Also known as a book consultant, a book shepherd is someone who, having accumulated extensive experience in publishing, offers assistance to beginners.
In part 1, I mentioned two books, Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual and Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Self-Publisher. In producing “Curious Critters,” I consulted lists in these books for possible shepherds. After interviewing several candidates, I hired one of Poynter’s recommendations, Peter Beren, the former publisher at Sierra Club Books, to help me produce my natural history-based book. Seek book shepherds with experience in your book’s area.
Beren’s experience with top Bay-area professionals helped me find exceptional editors. If you do not hire a book shepherd (a mistake, in my opinion), look for lists of editors in self-publishing books or by searching online. One good place to start is the Editorial Freelancers Association.
As you work with your copy editor, make sure to have her look at your images and captions. All parts of your book must work together. And consider hiring more than one editor. I utilized three paid editors as well as numerous family, friends, and colleagues in revising “Curious Critters.”
Peter Beren – literary agent and book shepherd, former publisher of Sierra Club Books
Lisa Kirk – freelance editor Roger Ma – print broker, Globalink
Donna Linden – editorial/graphics production manager at the Exploratorium, formerly with Red Wheel Weiser, Wadsworth, Chronicle Books, and Wired Books
Iain Morris – art director, Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates; formerly with LucasFilm Licensing, Palace Press International, and Dorling Kindersley
Amy Novesky – independent editor; former editor, Chronicle Books; award-winning author
Roger Ma – print broker, Globalink
Franky Ho – manufacturer, Great Wall Printing Co., Ltd.
Writer and photographer David FitzSimmons (fitzsimmonsphotography.com) is one of five Sigma Pro photographers and a professor at Ashland University. Check out his award-winning children's picture book, “Curious Critters,” at curious-critters.com.