Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing Six Photobooks in 2016
Last year I said that I wanted “to find my voice and output in the tangible world.” When I typed those words in the beginning of March 2016 I meant them. I had already printed my first book and was working on my second. What I didn’t know was that after the second book was made it would take me seven months to make the next one. I actually made four different ones that month.
The reasons for the delay are many and mostly worthless. What it really boiled down to was that my second book didn’t sell more than a few copies and I let that get to me. Photography is not a source of income for me, instead is an output for my creativity. Even though I had said it before, that was the first thing I had to come to truth with. I thought I could make enough to pay for themselves, but my passion is in making the content not selling it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a market of buyers out there. People are still really digging physical books. The thing is that the majority of people who follow my work are not going to spend money on it.
I used the books as an exploration of finding the things I wanted to say and then figuring out how best I could say it. The subject change with each book but I used MagCloud’s 8"x8" square format for all of them to create continuity. Maybe only two or three of them met or exceeded the expectations I had for them. The others are good on their own but just fell short of what I wanted them to be.
Create what you feel in the moment
What I learned from the whole process was simple: create what you feel in the moment. These books are not meant to be ground breaking, they are meant to be a physical output to what has become a digital process. There are no set rules and two months or even two decades from now I might go back and rework the images & stories. One other important thing I learned was that books (and to some extent prints) are the only way we can control how the viewer interacts with our work. That power is great in the time where everyone is viewing our work digitally. Not to mention that the costs are low and options of paper, binding, print type, etc. are all one click away.
The first book Various States of Failing was a poem about myself paired with delicate photographs made in White Sands, New Mexico. The title refers to my own sense of failing and the way in which the sand dunes are always failing and building anew. With my second book New Mexahoma I moved to a short story about a road trip from Albuquerque to Tulsa. The story weaves real life events together with ones that played out in my mind while driving. The photographs in the book were all created on my road trip and help evoke a sense of place. Such an odd place it is.
During the summer, while I wasn’t actively publishing books I was busy photographing. Life also had me moving my family across town which was a time consuming process which also lead to another small project. Every thing I photographed I thought in terms of a book. How I would edit the image for the book. What the subject of the book would be. Etc.
Galaxy was made during the time of my move. I was exploring the light in my new house and posting to Instagram. Eventually I had enough images to work with and started to lay them out in a book. Color Study was one of my next books I created. A weekend away in the mountains with the family was a perfect opportunity to create images that allowed me to think out loud. As I shot it I thought of how I would process it and then realized I should create a book about the process. With this book I hand wrote my notes on each photo spread in all four copies.
Changing This Desert Place and Following Signs are two books that definitely met the expectations I placed on them. With Changing This Desert Place I wanted a book that felt like a pamphlet you would get at a gallery show. It needed to feel like it was part of a bigger series and have deeper meaning. Following Signs on the other hand is meant to be an immersive photo book. The photographs are full bleed so the viewer touches them and the book is saddle stitched so they lay flat. It brings people into the wilderness with me on an unsuccessful elk hunt in Northern New Mexico.
I have already ordered my draft copy of my first 2017 book. This year I plan to use Blurb’s 6"x9" trade softcover format. I love that traditional size of book. In the past when I have attempted to create a book in that format I could never get it to work. Hopefully in 2017 I find the formula.