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Adventures In Self-Publishing

Those of you who follow my social media output are most likely well aware by now that most of the past year has been spent lashing together thirty years worth of photographs from my many travels to Indonesia into a book. Writing the text, then leaning on talented writer & graphic design friends to lend their eyes and skills to proofreading and organizing my chaos into something that, in the end, I am very proud of.

Originally, my thought process in putting this project together was simply to have a vanity book to share with friends, family and select clients and patrons. After all, tens of thousands of photographs were residing on storage drives and file cabinets full of film captures with no one seeing them other than the few images I have placed on my website, social media platforms and my blog. Why not put together something tangible to commemorate the adventures, if for no other reason?

The book began simply enough.... using the online, on-demand printing services offered at Blurb.com, the project slowly began taking shape. The user interface and templates provided by Blurb were somewhat intuitive and easy enough to navigate after a bit of practice. Six months later, the book took shape even without much in the way of graphic design skills. Enlisting friends to add their advice & critique further added to the final layouts and, what I think is a pleasing flow of images and text. When a friend in the graphic design industry offered her services, the visual flow of the pages was elevated even further.

Now was the time for a trial by fire... send the thing off to print a proof copy. A week after sending off the files to Blurb, the postman arrived with the first copy hot off the press. Having seen a few other projects friends had printed using Blurb, I wasn't quite sure what to expect and expectations were rather low I must admit. Fortunately, Blurb had recently added some beautiful, luxurious paper stocks to choose from and I had opted for one of the more expensive of those choices. Excitedly opening the package, I was blown away by the color reproduction of the photographs, my primary concern. This first copy, however, still needed a little more fine-tuning... a couple of photo spreads were changed to images with greater impact, a handful of typos corrected. The revised files were uploaded and an order for 25 books was placed.

One week later, the books arrived. The consistency of the color reproductions was perfect. I now had on my hands a product that, judging from the responses of everyone I showed it to, could be very marketable. With that in mind, I began researching for an agent, a publisher and a distributor. Online, I found Robert Morton, a NY book agent specializing on photographer monographs who had previously been a photo editor at Aperture Books, one of the leading publishers of fine art photography books. An email exchange ensued. Robert was very kind and very helpful. He told me I had a very interesting and good book on  my hands. He suggested that the book had the greatest sales potential, obviously, to the tourist markets in Indonesia.

I also learned that the market for coffee-table photo books was severely depressed in recent years. Books that I had once paid upwards of $100.00 and more were now selling for under $50.00. That meant that publishing books in mass quantities using the on-demand services at Blurb was now out of the question. Each copy produced at Blurb was costing almost $90.00, even with volume discounts applied.

Being a regular traveler to Indonesia, I was well aware of Periplus Editions, Ltd., operator of fine book stores in great locations in Bali's tourist districts, airports, etc. Periplus is the Asian distribution arm of Tuttle Publishing based in Vermont. Friends in Bali, where I assume the book would potentially sell best, advised me that Periplus had the book distribution in Indonesia pretty well locked up. If I were to move forward with getting this book to market, they were the ones I believed to be best at publishing and /or distributing it. A photographer friend in Bali was kind enough to give me a contact name at Periplus. Finding their submission guideline on their website online, I sent off a book to my contact in Singapore. The submission guidelines advised that it could take 3-4 months to receive a response on my submission. I was both surprised and elated to receive and email 3 days after the Periplus offices had received my submission package. Within that email were suggestions on how to make the book more marketable, a somewhat disappointing suggested retail price and an insistence on a change to the cover image. I was advised that, at this time, the company was not taking on any additional publishing projects. That said, if I could produce the book affordably to meet their suggested retail price and make a change to the cover image, Periplus would offer me a contract for international distribution with heavy promotions in Indonesia and Asia and place an initial order of 1500 copies. 

That email was most encouraging. The book was viable! Now I had to find a way to mass produce the thing more affordably. based on advice of ad agency friends in Honolulu, I solicited printing quotes from 3 printing presses in S. Korea, 1 in China and another through a mid-west print broker dealing with several printers also in China. After some back and forth, I selected one the presses in S. Korea. Several new cover images were submitted to Periplus for approval and, after some back & forth, we finally settled on one that I could live with and the distributor believed would go a long way in increasing sales.


Now, as the Blurb layout & design software was proprietary to Blurb, the entire book had to be reformatted/redesigned for off-set press printing. With the generous help of the graphic designer who lashed the original version into shape, the book files were delivered to the press in Korea last night. Contracts with Periplus were signed and delivered earlier this week. The final cover design and descriptive paragraphs also submitted to Periplus for inclusion in their Fall 2018 Catalog. The agreements with the printer includes shipping to three Periplus distribution warehouses in Jakarta, Singapore and Texas. I am told that Korea will be shipping press proofs for approval early next week and once approved, production and packing will take 3-4 weeks. Once printed, shipping to Periplus will take another 3 weeks by ocean freight.

This entire process has been both frustrating and exhillarating. Now, with any luck, the book will be on store shelves well before the onslaught of the Christmas holiday season in Indonesia and elsewhere around the globe. I have learned a great deal in going through this gauntlet and entering the world of self publishing. Here are some of the very important take-aways I have garnered in the process:

-Details, details, details... pay attention to the minutiae.

-Enlist as many eyes as you possibly can to critique layout,design, etc.

-Proofread until your eyes bleed, then hand it off to others to proofread until their eyes beed too.

-Seek as much feedback as possible

-When you think its perfect, check it again, and again.

-Know your market.

-Seek a publisher or at least a distrubutor with expertise in that market

-Be patient

-Listen to and heed advice from the people who will ultimately be seeing your book

-You will not get rich publishing photo books

-Printing is expensive

-Enlist the services of a design expert. You will be glad you did!