Creative: Selling Books

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I’m curious about something. How many of you want to make books? How many of you want to sell books? I actually don’t know the answers to these questions. I hope the answer to the first question is 100%. What’s not to like about the adventure of putting your work in print? The second question is more difficult to answer.

I’ve made a TON of books over the years, and I’ve sold over a hundred different titles, but many of these sales were to individual clients and not to the masses in general. I’ve also made books that specifically were made NOT to be sold. This drives some folks crazy, which is reason enough to do it right there, but I chose to do this for a variety of other reasons. And then occasionally but very rarely do I do something with the original intention of selling to the masses.

I do encounter a fair number of people who have never made a book who ask “How am I going to make a living selling my book?” This question is always so puzzling to me because to ask that question means the person has done zero research on the matter. I don’t know a single photographer worldwide who survives on book sales. Not one. I do know a few who make money on their books, but most lose A LOT of money in the bookmaking process, but making a book is still a critical part of your overall career as an artist. At least it can be, and it should be a highly considered, highly regarded aspect of your plan.

But the two real issues to solve with self-publishing, at least in my mind, are marketing and distribution. Well, you first might want to start with incredible work whether that be writing, illustration, design, art, photography or a combination of all. Ya, start with the most unique work you can make, and baby this ain’t easy and might take you years to figure out. That is just the way art works. Don’t sweat it. Enjoy the process and learn your asses off.

Marketing is doable, solvable, especially if you have a site like this with a following like you. People I might not physically know but digitally we are blood. Social, email, newsletters, book signings, etc. And sites specific to books are great. Heck, using something like Readymag is perfect for this. I use it for my mags, but I’m not actually trying to sell these mags. (Don’t do what I do.)

Distribution is tricky. Blurb has options. Our bookstore, Amazon and Ingram. I want to ask you about Ingram. How many of you have used this platform? Ingram is entirely intriguing to me. People are using this system and people are selling books, which has piqued my interest. But, I’m not aiming at a photography book. I’m aiming at a hybrid book of sorts. Imagery and copy, small, personal. Unique. Trade, 6×9.

I have two options. First, the book I’m writing about my father.(By the way, the screen grab above is from a TEST book. Yes, even with written books I make test copies, and you should too.) Something I only intended to show to my family, but something I now realize has a broader appeal. Many of us have fathers, so perhaps my father’s blunders were like your father’s blunders and we perhaps know each other even better than we first thought. Did your father ever blow himself up with black powder and a road flare? (My mom captured this moment with her trusty Pentax K-1000 while three children, one dog, two cats, one pony and a range of other barnyard animals looked on.)

My second option isn’t something I want to provide great detail about because I’m fearful some jackal will steal my idea. But it’s cool, trust me, and something I can create from anywhere, endlessly, which is damn appealing to me. All I need is my now ANCIENT AND EMBARRASSING FUJI XT-2, and my notebook. I’m sure many of you will find out I’m still using an XT-2 and not the XT-3 and think I’m a total lowlife hack. And you would be pretty accurate actually. In reality, the XT2 is awesome, does what I need. As does my beloved notebook, which at the moment is a Blurb, 6×9, softcover Trade filled with images from New Mexico. (I’ll post a few pics.)

Here is why I’m asking. Many of you have books inside you. According to the NYT’s, 81% of Americans feel they have a book in them. I actually think the number is much higher. I think many people have the creativity taught out of them by schools, parents, etc. I think we all have stories and books inside of us. I think many of you probably see yourself in one way when in actuality the public sees you in another light. I think the more inward you turn, the more personal you get, the more likely your book will emerge.

Making books can be difficult. There is always a reason NOT to make something. Writing is hard. Editing is hard. Sequencing is hard. Design is hard. Same for marketing, distribution but that is the point. You just have to grind. My father’s book needs a total rewrite and man it’s so difficult thinking about starting that over. My screenplay needs work. That seems tough too. And my “other” book just needs me to plant myself and focus.

The truth? It’s all on me. And you. We just have to do it. My point with this piece is if you haven’t seen Ingram check it out. I think it might be something for many of you to consider. And it just might be what gets you to begin your book journey.

PS: The other option here is to create a small run art book. Many of you are already doing this. A great way to test your talent, marketing, audience, and engagement. Not to mention your pricing and shipping strategy. I love this approach as it is financially doable and also allows the artist to get back to work once the edition has sold through.

Comments 4

  1. I love the book making process partially because it is so hard to do well. For me, it is a real challenge, more so than taking the photos and writing the text. To “practice” , I have volunteered to help friends make books from their travel photos and their notes. The more you make the better you get ( even if you make plenty of “mistakes” along the way)

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      That is a GREAT idea. You could actually turn that into a business if you aren’t careful.

  2. I’m still a long way from being able to sell to the masses. Anyhow, I feel I don’t have the good enough material yet. But I’m working my way there. In fact, I’m finishing a magazine with images from last year and I’m a bit embarrassed. I’m still going through and will print a proof and all. Print the final product for myself and might get a few copies for my supporters. It’s sort of part 2 from the one you featured here, so I guess it could be of value to other beginners.

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      You would be surprised what might sell but I hear ya. I don’t make an effort to sell much either.

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