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How To Plan, Produce, and Sell Your Photo Book: Part 2 - Producing

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.

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Before I wrote Curious Critters, I had a vision: a children’s picture book featuring boldly colored animal portraits (one per page or per two-page spread), lots of white space, and fun, educational text. In surveying the market, I found some books with white-backgrounded animal images but none for ages 4-8. I had found an unfilled niche.

When you sit down to write, always keep in mind that you are creating a product. Focus on what Kitty Locker’s business communication handbook calls “you attitude”: Consider the needs of your audience above your own. What does your audience want and need to hear (as opposed to what you want to say)? Meeting their needs will help you sell your book; you will be able to demonstrate how your product benefits them.

When I wrote “Curious Critters,” for example, I kept elementary school teachers and librarians in mind. I researched national and state life science education standards and then wrote my book to meet all K-8 standards. Now I can demonstrate to educators how “Curious Critters” benefits them.

What if you are not entirely comfortable writing? My advice is to work with others to develop your skills. Identify family and friends who are good writers and seek their help. Enroll in a class at a local adult education program, college, or university. And look for writing groups in your neighborhood or within professional organizations. In writing “Curious Critters,” I sought the advice of other writers in the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, for example, and I asked for help from my colleagues at Ashland University, where I teach writing.

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.”

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Originally the copy next to the blue jay was about 25 percent longer. Cutting back the word count created a punchier, cleaner, and more readable page. Read this and other sample pages by visiting www.curious-critters.com and clicking on Sample Pages.

Book Designers: Having strong images will help sell your book, but even the best artwork can look mundane if it is not arranged attractively and if the files are not prepared properly. So hire a professional designer.

As with finding an editor, a book shepherd can be invaluable. If you find a shepherd who has worked on books like yours, then he should be able to find a designer who is comfortable working with your type of photography. In the case of “Curious Critters,” Beren recommended Iain Morris, an excellent choice in my case: Morris had worked with high key images like mine when he worked for Dorling Kindersley.

Interview designers, asking to see sample books. Show them your work, and talk about time frames and number of revisions. Be prepared: hiring a designer is a sizeable investment. It may cost you thousands of dollars, but the payoff will be a professionally designed book that will grab people’s attention. My investment in hiring Morris resulted in a book design award.

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The designer of “Curious Critters,” Iain Morris, took my vision and executed it beautifully. My wife, Olivia, came up with the concept for this life-size silhouettes page in order to show the relative sizes of the animals in the book. What appears in “Curious Critters,” as above, is pretty much Morris’ first crack at it. His professional design work complemented my photography and helped “Curious Critters” receive national recognition with a bronze medal in the 2012 PubWest Book Design Awards competition.

Printers: Finally, you will need a printer. With color photos, you will most likely end up printing overseas, namely in Southeast Asia. This is for two reasons: first, four-color printing is expensive. Printing overseas can save you a lot of money. Secondly, much of the top-level color printing is done overseas.

A book shepherd with experience working with color photos can help you find a printer. For the first printing of “Curious Critters,” I worked through a print broker, a middleman who helps oversee the overseas production. For the second printing I hired a printer directly.

If you go the print-on-demand (POD) approach (discussed in part 1 ), then you will likely want to go with a printer closer to home. Quality expectations for POD are typically not up to the level of high-volume four-color printing, so going overseas is not necessary, and shipping a small quantity of books from China or Southeast Asia can be quite expensive.

Next … Part III: Selling Your Photo Book

“Curious Critters” Publishing Dream Team (Production)
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.