It was back in early 2013 on the eve of moving to New York when a friend handed me the first roll of 35mm film for my birthday that I would ever shoot. I picked up a cheap and trusty Canon AE-1 from eBay and headed out into the streets full of optimism and uncertainty. Suffice to say, the shots came back so good I knew I had to do something with them. Coincidentally, I was also browsing through Kickstarter and found that a few people were successfully getting funded several thousands of dollars to self-publish their photo books.
I quickly threw together a video (that I look back now on and almost shudder) and uploaded it to Kickstarter, developed my project (document all the neighborhoods of Manhattan on 35mm film) and got out there shooting putting the piece of work together.
So how does all this help you to self-publish your own photo book?
I’ll share everything I found that helped me.
1. Sell A Compelling Story
People want to see a nicely crafted story or project, not just a bunch of random photographs thrown together. I decided to document all the neighborhoods of Manhattan on 35mm black and white film, trying to capture the little idiosyncrasies that really defined each of the areas. It had a sense of novelty because it gave the reader a visual tour of Manhattan through the sentimental and nostalgic medium of film. Stuff like that makes for great coffee books on the table in a living room. So come up with a theme, a story, a subject and make it all nice, tight and relevant.
2. The Kickstarter Video Is 99% Of Your Sales
For most people, the first thing they will do is head to the video, sit back and watch. Human beings are lazy creatures, if we don’t have to read – we won’t. The video must be good quality, captivating and engaging. Don’t skimp out on this part. Creating a solid video is the first step to getting a successfully funded Kickstarter project.
You can check out my Kickstarter page here.
My video sucks. Please don’t use it as your inspiration. It’s just to show you that I have done it and been through the process. The rest of the campaign gives you a pretty good idea of how you might go about setting up your write-up and product on Kickstarter.
3. Incentivize People To Buy Your Photo Book
People who buy on Kickstarter expect to be rewarded or their early funding support. There is an inherent risk in buying things from Kickstarter, some projects don’t go through and people have lost their money before. So to really get your sales rolling through it’s imperative you set up the appropriate incentives. Like pre-sale copies sell at a discount to their RRP. Include their name in the thank you sections of the book, or if you have a website offer a link to theirs. You need to still give yourself enough profit margin on the books so you can cover other costs you encounter. Don’t forget to investigate shipping costs, these can really stack up if you get a lot of international buyers.
4. Find A Publisher
This without a doubt is one of the most grueling parts of self publishing your photo book. It can be very daunting to find the right publisher and start putting your book together. Most publishers offer their own proprietary software to design your ebook, so if at the last minute you decide to go with someone else, you might have to build your photo book from scratch again. If you are successful with your funding on Kickstarter, you might even have enough excess funds to hire a graphic designer to work with and put the book together (I was lucky enough to go this route the first time).
The first photo book I published was through Blurb which are probably one of the best bang for your buck publishing companies out there. I had the dust jacket hardcover book made in a 8″ x 10″ landscape with 126 pages. From memory it cost me around $70 per book and I had it done in the standard paper format (80lb). It would have been nice to take it up to the Proline Pearl Photo (140lb), but you will see that the costs quickly shoot up as you increase the quality. The one gripe that I had with Blurb is that you must pay and extra fee for every book in order to have there logo removed from the back page and it’s not cheap. It was something around $10 extra per book, it felt like extortion! If you’re interested in seeing the photos from my first book titled Urban Race, you can check them out here at my website.
With the second book, I wanted to opt for better a better quality product. I had learnt so much from the first book, in terms of layout, design and text. The problem I had and one in which you should be careful if you go the route of hiring a graphic designer to do your layout, is to be extremely clear in the style and design you want. I gave the graphic designer too much creative control, when I really just wanted a simple layout of the same sized photographs on each page. I only saw the product once it was finished and by that time I had spent my budget so I wasn’t able to make many changes.
The take-away: be crystal clear on your requirements and make regular inspections on the work.
I published my second book – Salad Days, through Milk books. I have to say, these guys are an absolute top notch quality outfit. I was lucky to get the books discounted too, I had just missed a sale so I thought I’d get in touch to see if they’d make an extension for me. They did. The customer service rep was outstanding and gave me a special code to use at the checkout when ordering. If you choose to go through them, send an email and see if you can negotiate a little off the retail price – it’s worth a shot!
5. Promote, Market, Advertise
Depending on your ambitions in the funding department, this area is what will make or break your project. You will need to reach out and contact as many media outlets, blogs and photography sites as possible to see if they will feature your campaign. Some will even contact you and do it for free! I was luck enough to get contacted by Brooklyn Resource Mag and Shutterstock who featured my Kickstarter campaign. These guys should be the first place you contact if looking to spread the word about your project. Also try Googling “photography submissions” and look for websites that have a similar taste and style to what you’re working with. Usually, if you submit a photo essay to the site they will reward you with placing your link in the text.