Selling Your Photo Book
By David FitzSimmons
In Parts 1 and 2 of this feature I discussed planning and producing your own photo book. In this final installment, I will cover what you need to do to sell your product, including building a web site, hiring a publicist, finding a distributor, working with bookstores, planning book events, and working with corporate and nonprofit partners.
1. Build A Website
An engaging, eye-catching, and useful website is the cornerstone of your book's marketing plan. As you, your publicist, reviewers, and readers talk about your book, you need a place to send them for more information. Today that place is a website.
Hire a professional web site designer, and then work together to build a site that you can maintain over time. For "Curious Critters," I worked with my friend and Web guru Brett Mitchell, who helped me set up an attractive and functional Joomla!-based site. Similar to WordPress, Joomla! allows everyday users the ability to update and change content easily. Pre-made templates in both Joomla! and WordPress make putting together your site a snap.
2. Use Social Media
More and more large and small companies are turning to social media for sharing their products with consumers. Starting a blog is a great start, but make sure to post to it regularly. Dan Hyatt, in Platform, recommends posting several times a week. He also suggests keeping your blog focused on a subject or theme.
Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are also good places to share your enthusiasm and ideas about your photo book. Post images from your book along with new work on Facebook. If you want to realize the full potential of social media, commit to spending at least several hours a week. Fashion photographer and social media expert Lindsay Adler in The Linked Photographers' Guide to Online Marketing and Social Media says that she spends about an hour a day.
3. Find a Distributor
If you are going the Print-on-Demand (POD) route, you already have a distributor in place (the printer), but if you are printing large numbers of copies up front, you need to locate a company that can ship books to wholesalers, bookstores, and libraries. A good book shepherd (see Part 2 ) can help you find a distributor. Or consider purchasing Dan Poynter’s “Locating the Right Distributor” or John Kremer’s “Book Marketing 105: Choosing a Book Distribution System.” These downloadable PDF guides will help you find which distributors take on self-published authors.
Contact distributors that seem like good possibilities. Review their terms and ask lots of questions, among the most important of which is how they will help you sell your book. For “Curious Critters,” I chose to work with Jacqueline Simonds at Beagle Bay (Reno, NV). Simonds, a book shepherd as well, offers expert advice on ways to market your book. Your distributor, taking a percentage of sales, needs to be a partner in your marketing plans. Both of you stand to gain if you sell more books.
While you might want to sit back and savor the fact that your book has been produced, that’s really only the beginning. Your book will keep selling as long as you promote it. Or, as my distributor Jacqueline Simonds points out, your book will stop selling the day you stop promoting it. From my studio I hire publicists, design marketing campaigns, and contact stores to make them aware of my products. Then I hit the road, presenting programs and events on “Curious Critters” across the country, from independent bookstores to national conferences.
4. Hire a Publicist
If you want to sell a lot of books, say, more than a couple thousand, you need to hire a book publicist. They have contacts with top media and typically have paid for access to databases, such as Cision. Cision’s database is updated regularly by individual members of the media. They list contact info on Cision as well as their specialties. Thus, a publicist with access to Cision may search for media in your area, in your state, or across the country in order to target those most likely to talk about your book.
Your publicist will also help you develop media materials. You will write press releases, arrange interviews, and plan media campaigns. Four months prior to your book’s launch, your publicist will send advance copies to major reviewers.
For “Curious Critters” I hired two publicists, Paul Krupin and Lorna Garano. Six months after the book’s launch, “Curious Critters” had been featured by over 200 media, I had appeared on TV in several top-25 TV markets, and the book had been featured on AnimalPlanet.com, The Huffington Post, and ScientificAmerican.com. That’s what good publicists can accomplish.
5. Work with Bookstores
Wherever I go, I take my books with me. I seek out local bookstores, especially independent booksellers. When no customers are in need of attention, I introduce myself to the store’s book buyer, describe the book and its awards, and offer to leave a signed sample book.
Because my distributor agreement with Beagle Bay stipulates that only they can sell to bookstores, I tell the book buyer that I am not there to sell my book, only to let them know that my new book is available. The first thing that bookstores will ask is where they can get it. Distributing to wholesalers Ingram and Baker & Taylor goes a long way because few bookstores want to buy directly from the author/publisher. It makes their bookkeeping overly complex.
6. Schedule Book Events
If a bookstore is really excited about your product, ask if they are interested in a book event. Do not hold book signings, those static events where you sit bored-looking behind a table for two or three hours. Instead, work with your book shepherd, publicist, and distributor to come up with book events. Envision how you can create a community program that will attract your tribe (a marketing term for your audience).
For “Curious Critters,” I put on interactive children’s book performances, where young audience members help with puppets that match characters in my book. In addition, children play along with me, singing like frogs, slithering like snakes, and playing dead like possums. It’s a lot of fun and starkly different from me sitting behind a table. I market the events for “children and families,” a sure sell to the media who share news of the event. I hope that you can see that I am not so much focused on selling my book as developing interest in it. I believe that, if they like what they see, then they wil make a purchase.
7. Seek Corporate and Nonprofit Partners
As you move forward with planning, producing, and selling your photo book, consider finding partners to help sell your book. Is there a company or nonprofit who would benefit from being associated with your book? If it’s an environmental book, seek a conservation group as a partner. If your book features products, look for a commercial partner.
All of the images in “Curious Critters” were produced with Sigma lenses. When I approached Sigma about helping support my book project, they were excited to join the team. Our work together promotes the book and Sigma products, a mutually beneficial partnership. Technical information for each of the photographs in “Curious Critters,” including which Sigma lenses, cameras, and accessories were used are included on the Equipment Used page of curious-critters.com. The Gila Monster, photographed at the Toledo Zoo, was taken using the Sigma Macro 50mm F2.8 EX DG lens. Sigma’s logo appears at the bottom of page 2 of “Curious Critters.”
These partners may be willing to provide some money for, say, printing in exchange for placing their logo on the book. This has a double return: not only does it help pay for our costs but it also guarantees that your partner has a vested interest in your book succeeding. Because every photo in “Curious Critters” was produced with Sigma lenses, the camera and lens manufacturer partnered with me in producing and promoting the book.
As you seek partners, try to point out how your quality product will benefit them. Produce a one page proposal (see Patrick Riley’s “The One Page Proposal”) and provide samples of the book or pre-production drafts. Your quality book, professional proposals, and your overwhelming enthusiasm will go a long way in securing one or more partners.
Paul Krupin – custom targeted PR
Dave Metz – Sigma Corporation of America
Brett Mitchell – designer
Christine Moossmann – marketing director, Sigma Corporation of America
Jacqueline Simonds – distributor, consultant, author
Marci Stone – Matter Communications
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.