Self-Publishing a Photography Book, Part Deux

March 13, 2015 ·

Peter Cox

Background

In 2012, I realized a long-held dream to publish a coffee table book of my photography. I self-published The Irish Light and funded it on Kickstarter. I wrote an article on LuLa about the process of running that project, and that serves as a useful companion to this.

But now it’s time to put out the second book.

waw_book_jacket-facebook

In this series of articles, I plan to lay out the background for this new project and follow through with details on the running of the live Kickstarter campaign. We’ll do a post-mortem on the campaign and find out what worked and what didn’t, then I’ll detail the process of printing the book. Lastly we’ll look at the fulfillment process and getting the orders out.

Atlantic Light

I’d known that I wanted to do another book for some time, but had only vague notions of what it might be. My thought process crystallized a bit when I realized that sales of The Irish Light represented a fairly significant fraction of my overall gallery revenue. A second book would safeguard that income and expand upon it.

The only thing left to decide was, what will the subject be? The Irish Light was fairly easy as it was a collection of images that were already made. All I had to do was sort through my portfolio and lay out the book. A lot of work to be sure, but nothing like shooting a project from scratch.

Right around this time, I was experimenting with drones for landscape photography. It was a tough process as the technology was very much in its infancy, even just a year ago. However, I realized that there was a niche I could exploit. I knew that before long, drones would become ubiquitous. Right now, there was an opportunity to do something really special before the market reached saturation.

Ireland’s west coast is a very beautiful place, and in 2014 the Irish tourist board launched a new driving route taking in 2,500km of roads following the coast as closely as possible from north to south. It’s called the Wild Atlantic Way, and has been getting a lot of press on both sides of the Atlantic. This seemed like the perfect subject. It ties in very well with my own passions and offered an opportunity to reveal the more dramatic parts of this coastline in a way never before seen.

inis_tiaracht

I was decided. I’d make a book of photographs showcasing the Atlantic coast. I knew there were other books being released in 2015 that would feature the west coast, so I needed a unique selling point. The aerial perspective was going to be it.

waw_book_sample_spread4

All I needed now was a drone. At this time, I had bought a custom-built hexacopter that could carry a Sony A7R, but continual delays and problems led me to abandon that and instead purchase the (at the time) newly released DJI S1000 and have it carry a Canon 5D Mk III with the EF 24mm f/2.8 IS lens. The release of this drone was a game changer in the same way the Canon 5D Mk II revolutionized the video industry. It is an (almost) turn-key solution that is relatively robust and very capable. It’s also a system in wide use so I knew that any problems I might have could be quickly addressed and fixed.

While the S1000 is leagues ahead of the drones available just a year ago, today’s generation of drones (early 2015) are sort of like the Model T Ford. Functional, but a pale shadow of the cars we have today. One of the big limitations, particularly if you live in a moderately wet climate like Ireland’s, is that you can’t fly in the rain. The electronics are totally exposed and there’s no weatherproofing.

Wind is another factor that needs to be considered, but especially for larger drones like the S1000, you can fly in surprisingly windy conditions. I will often fly in about 8 m/s of wind, which is a pretty stiff breeze. The key is to be aware of how much wind is too much, and don’t put yourself in a situation where the wind increases beyond the drone’s limits while you’re in the air. I speak from personal experience – producing images for this book means going up when the light is best. Frequently this is also when the weather is far from calm. Pushing the limits of what the drone can do has given me some hairy experiences.

 

My first trip for the book was to Donegal, the northernmost point of Ireland. I live in Cork, fairly close to the southernmost point, so I figured I’d get the most difficult place out of the way first. Donegal is also prone to worse winter weather than Cork and as most of the project would be photographed in winter, it made sense to get that done before the storms set in.

Loop Head, Co. Clare

As it happens, the trip ran without a hitch. The drone, despite being collected on the way north, and having its maiden flight there, performed flawlessly. I also learned the sphincter-twitching unease of hanging the guts of $10,000 worth of equipment suspended 500 meters out over the churning Atlantic in gusty wind. I still haven’t got used to that.

The game was afoot, and the project was on. To date, I’ve covered about 75% of the coast, and will be photographing the remaining 25% between now and the end of May in a series of intensive trips.

Puffin Island, Co. Kerry

But now, let’s talk about…

 The Kickstarter Campaign

First of all, why a Kickstarter? The main reason is to get the funding to print the book in the first place, as an alternative to getting a loan from the bank. To make a book commercially viable, you need to print in volume (typically a minimum of 1,000 copies). This is expensive, and having the chance to have the book paid for, and possibly even in profit before the printing cost is incurred is a very powerful thing.

I decided to launch the campaign before all the images were obtained for two reasons. One was to facilitate planning. I wanted to know how successful the project might be so I could plan to add additional images if the book was to be expanded via stretch goals. The second reason was to give myself a concrete deadline I could work towards, and to put some pressure on myself to deliver. I find I work best in those sorts of situations.

So, I launched on March 9th, 2015. You can visit the Kickstarter project page to see how we’re getting along so far.

However, preparation for the launch started about a month earlier. I followed the template I had set down with *The Irish Light*, which had proved so successful. I encourage you to visit the article I wrote for LuLa for more details.

The Video and Text

One area that I did differently was that I wanted to do a better video. The video is a massively key element of a successful Kickstarter campaign. The script must be well thought out and delivered in an enthusiastic and confident matter. And you need some fun visuals to hold the viewer’s interest through your pitch. I knew I could do it myself, but I also knew that having help would result in a better offering. I got in touch with my friends Roger Overall and Ronan Kirby of Story Foundry, who specialise in corporate storytelling. They agreed to help me out with the video and so we set to work.

We wrote the script and spent a day shooting it in various locations around the coast of Cork. I then buggered off to Antarctica as an instructor with Kevin, Michael and the rest of the crew for the LuLa Antarctic trip in late February and Roger and Ronan edited and produced the video you see on the Kickstarter page.

kickstarter_video

The text of the campaign is also very important and generally serves to back up the details in the video and to show more information about the project. I’ve included some sample spreads from the book as it’s very important to show the prospective backers that you’re not producing vaporware – this is an actual product that is nearly complete. I’ve also referenced the success of the previous project and that I was able to deliver the 341 backer rewards in a timely fashion. It’s important to show that you’re competent to deliver the final result.

Funding Goal and Deadline

The funding goal and deadline are critical decisions. I realized after The Irish Light that I had misjudged the original funding goal. I hadn’t properly calculated the cost of shipping the rewards and if I had just scraped by the goal I would probably have run at a small loss after printing.

Thankfully for this project, I had all the data on shipping I needed, so I was able to calculate the cost properly. Kickstarter takes 5% and the credit card processing fees are between 3% and 5%, depending on the amounts pledged.

It’s important to note that money taken for shipping is counted towards the funding goal, so I made an estimate on the probable breakdown of backers by location. I figured out how much money I would likely receive for shipping and added it to the cost of the book printing itself. Then add 8% for the fees, round it up a bit and that’s how I arrived at my funding goal of €12,500.

The calculation assumed that most people would opt for the book itself and not choose to pledge at a higher level and get a print, and that most of the backers would come from outside Ireland and Europe, where it’s most expensive to ship – which is what happened with the previous book.

The funding goal is for the minimum viable product. It’s to print 1,000 copies of the book, which is the minimum run that gives a unit price low enough to sell at a reasonable retail rate. If the project exceeds its goal, then I’ll add stretch goals to increase the print run size, which will correspondingly drop my unit rate further. I’ll talk about stretch goals in a later article.

Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare

The project duration is set at 30 days. This is Kickstarter’s recommendation. Less time doesn’t give you enough time to properly promote the project, and more time encourages a sense of procrastination in the backers – there’s no sense of urgency to pledge.

For the rewards themselves, I like to keep it simple. I firmly believe that as the backers are having the faith to pledge towards something that doesn’t exist yet, they should get a break on the price. I set the price points to be less than the retail value of the book and whatever other items they may receive at their chosen pledge level.

Launch Day

Launch day is hugely exciting, and a little terrifying. It’s now that you send your idea out into the world where it could fly, or fall face-first in the mud. You get a pretty good idea of that within the first few hours. Thankfully, both of my offerings have had good beginnings. The Irish Light was fully funded within 36 hours of launch and so far, Atlantic Light is on par to be close to that.

One thing to remember is to submit the project for approval a few days before you intend to launch. I forgot about that and had to delay my launch day from Friday to Monday as a result.

Once the project is live, it’s time to shout it from the rooftops. I use Facebook, Twitter and a mailing list for my marketing. I put the call out, paying to boost my Facebook posts so they would get the maximum exposure.

Valentia Island, Co. Kerry

I wanted to do something more, however. While I was shooting the stills for the book, I was also shooting video on the same flights. I would record while flying the drone into position and then make specific video passes when I was happy I had the photograph in the bag. As a result, I have some pretty nice video of virtually all the shooting locations thus far. It came to me the day before launch that it would be a great idea to cut this together into a promo video for the book, so that’s what I did.

 

I laid out the clips in the video editor, found some royalty-free music that fit the bill and started editing. While I’m primarily a stills photographer, I’m finding a real appreciation and enjoyment for video, and I love the feeling I get when an edit starts to take shape and really flow.

My father was an amateur painter, and he always used to say that you can’t judge a painting until it’s framed. The same holds true for photography, I think. For video work, it’s the edit that acts as the frame. A stunning clip, edited together with other amazing footage and put to the right music becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

I embedded the finished video on the Kickstarter page and released it independently. It has a call to action at the end which drives traffic to the Kickstarter site, and while only a small fraction of those that see the video will pledge, it broadens the audience considerably, bringing in completely new people.

Conclusion

Producing your own book is incredibly rewarding work. If you’re willing to put in the work, and you have an idea that people will respond to, running a Kickstarter campaign is a great way to raise the funds you need.

Part two of this series will look at more details of promoting the campaign and managing stretch goals, and retaining engagement in the audience.

In the meantime, take a look at the campaign  HERE 

For more details, visit his website at www.petercox.ie

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Peter Cox

I have had a lifelong love of imagery, particularly photography. I have been fascinated by the possibilities of imagemaking from the time I first held a camera as a child. My enthusiasm for photography had increased steadily over many years, including ten years spent in America becoming expert in the field of computer systems. But my heart remained with photography. I experimented constantly and read voraciously. I was introduced to the works of master photographers such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston; they opened my eyes to the possibilities of photography as art. Over time, my mastery of the technical aspects of photography matured. I applied myself more closely to the artistic elements of composition, light, colour and tone, the essential components of any great image. It is a study that I find intensely rewarding. My wife, Ann, and I made the decision to move back to Dublin where I threw myself into the business of making and selling my fine art prints. I have recently moved to rural West Cork, and am busy making new images, as well as conducting my photographic workshops. As Ireland is my home, it is my primary focus. I have many images from Dublin, Cork, Connemara and elsewhere. I also have many beautiful images from Scotland, Iceland and America. Please contact me if you don’t see an image from your favourite location. My portfolio is continuously growing, and your favourite haunt may well be my next destination.

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