Joys and Headaches
Reva Nelson is the copy editor for The Luminous Landscape website. This is her experience with Amazon’s CreateSpace self-publishing platform for her newest book, ‘Hippie Chick Abroad’, available at Amazon.com.
We also look at photographic book self-publishing using local print-on-demand services as well as commercial book publishing.
I self-published two books ‘in the olden days’, ie: pre-online books and e-readers, and was very successful with both of them. It was similar to giving birth, and almost as painful, but also lots of fun.
In 1992 I wrote ‘Risk It!’ about Making Changes, and in 1998, ‘Bounce Back!’, about Resilience. I hired my own typesetter, illustrator, editor, artist and printing company. It was a bit of a headache, but I had complete control and sat with each person at every stage of the process. It was collaborative; I paid the bills, and was pleased with the end result. Since my books were both self-help and corporate, they sold well in bookstores and at my keynotes. There weren’t really many distribution costs because I also handled the shipping and one of the major book companies (pre-giant stores) sent the books out across the country to their chain stores for me.
Book Author Reva Nelson – today
Now it’s an entirely different landscape. I didn’t know how to make it an e-book and distribute it on such a large scale. Plus, this book, Hippie Chick Abroad, is a memoir with a summary of useful ‘Life Lessons’ as an addendum. (I spent an entire year in the Sixties with only one backpack, so the “Travel Light” advice is not very relevant for the photographer. However, leaving your ‘personal baggage’ at home and following nature is.)
Michael, who has used Pikto’s platform several times, was also familiar with CreateSpace since his friend and fellow photographer, Harvey Schipper, used it for his book, Of Light: An invitation to photographic storytelling. I decided to give Amazon’s company a try.
What I found was a mixed bag of frustration and joy. The frustration came from the fact that it’s a formulaic procedure. It’s all computerized – pick one of six squares, enter here, click there, and so on. For a very computer literate and technical person, it’s likely ok. I’m not particularly either; I wanted a person to sit beside to discuss it all with. I also wanted to create something different than what was offered.
After some frustration, I found the ‘click button’ to request an appointment with a real person. Appointment made, phone answered and only then did I fall in love with CreateSpace.
The woman I spoke with was attentive, responsive and understanding. We looked at spacing options, fonts, designs and alternatives together. I was able to tell her that, because my memoir includes poems written in cafes at that time in my life as a twenty-year-old, I wanted the book to have the feel of an airy poetry book. There were photos and ticket stubs from that time period to fit in, as well. I was pleased with the result, to that point.
There were more back and forths, some more frustrations with the ‘click and go’ process, but finally it was done! The book is out and getting great reviews. Only now, after the fact, can I say it was a minimally painful labour. My warning to you, should you consider this route, is to read everything carefully, do NOT click on the ‘accept tab’ before you are certain you want to, as you pay for each and every small change.
When the frustration mounts (and I assure you, it will), ask for a supervisor to step in. I did, and again, got a real person to clarify my ideas and wishes with. The designers only design—they don’t really look at how the sentences are split at the end of the line, and they don’t care if the next page has only two lines on it, looks out of whack and the word flow is interrupted. They’re creating, not reading. Ask for a person to discuss anything you are not happy with and you will be more pleased with your result.
In the ‘olden days’ I ordered 3,000 ‘Risk It!’ books, sold them, and eventually ordered and sold another 3,000. I then ordered 5,000 ‘Bounce Back!’ books off the top. That’s a lot more boxes than you can imagine, and you need a fair amount of storage space for them. One of the best features with CreateSpace, and other such online printing companies, is that they are ‘print on demand’ so you can order 10 or 100, and just keep on going, as needed. I just ordered another 50, and that ‘click and go’ process was beyond easy to do. The books arrived within 2 weeks. Whether you (or your parents) were ever hippies, or you’re curious about that time period, the late Sixties, this book will take you on a lively, fun jaunt through that time.
‘Hippie Chick Abroad’ has some photos and copies of ticket stubs from boats to discotheques in it, but it’s a memoir, not exclusively a photography book. To get high-quality art reproductions, you will likely want to use a company like Pikto, which Michael will describe.
Using a Local
By Michael Reichmann
Early in 2016 I was part of a six-man photographic expedition to Ethiopia. Following this expedition I self-published a book of 27 images. The purpose of this hard-cover book was to share with friends and family some of my best images from this remarkable trip.
I worked with Toronto-based on-demand book printer Pikto. I have had a long-standing relationship with them, and they have published previous books and folios of mine as well as hosted exhibitions of my work in their gallery.
For Ethiopia – Scenes from Afar we used a new cold-press matte fine art paper from Hahnemühle specifically designed for the first time for use with Indigo printers. The quality of the pages is fully comparable to the best individually produced fine art matte prints.
At the time I used their download page layout software. I found this to be fairly intuitive to use, and within a morning I had pretty well mastered it. Right after my Ethiopia book was published Pikto moved to an online book creation system, but it appears to be, if anything, easier than their stand-alone software.
A great many companies around the world are now offering similar services. Cost of each book will be a major factor, depending on whether you choose a hard or soft cover format, and how many pages are in the book. Paper choice is another important consideration when it comes to photo books.
If the on-demand company is local to you, you should definitely drop in and look at sample books. This will tell you most of what you need to know about what to expect.
If the company is online, then my suggestion is that you order a couple of their books first, just to see the quality of their product.
Naturally, the best quality and the lowest prices come from using a commercial printer with a run of at least 1,000 books.
In 2014, I published Michael Reichmann – a Twenty Year Retrospective. a large-format, cloth bound, hard-cover book of 400 pages, containing 380 images. It was designed by Arturo Chapa, one of the world’s top book designers.
The book was printed at a major high-quality commercial printer in China, and Arturo and I went on-press to supervise the printing. This book is available in two editions; a signed and numbered limited-edition (500 copies only), contained in a clam-shell style slip-case, and also in an open series hard-covered edition without slip-case. One thousand of this open edition were initially printed. The total cost of designing, printing and shipping these 1,500 books from China was well in excess of $100,000.
I produced this book as my founding contribution to the Luminous Endowment for Photographers. These books are currently available to those people who make generous (and tax-deductible ) contributions to the Endowment.
You can find out more about this book, and the Endowment here.
Numerous other articles on this site have appeared about self-publishing. Use our Search bar at the top of any page to explore what’s available.
Having a book of one’s writing, poetry, photographs, or a mix of all of the above is the dream of many people.
During the past ten years or so this dream has come closer to possibility through the availability of on-demand book printing services. Maybe it’s time for you to explore the possibilities.