Photojournalist's Picture Book

by Deyva Arthur
(Troy, New York, United States)

Julian's Dream Friend

Julian's Dream Friend

Out of the drawer and into a book!

Self-publishing is liberation. It has set me free - to see my project finished, to get the book out of my drawer and in the hands of people who love it, and most surprisingly, to be proud of it.

I am a photographer and journalist; after my son's birth I made two dummy picture books using black and white photos. I am now working on a third in color.

After doing ample research, attending children's literature conferences, and sending out my homemade dummy book, I got the picture (so to speak) that I was facing an uphill battle to get published. Being a freelancer for some time, selling my work was already a drudgery I could barely endure.

The children's lit world is highly competitive and having something so unusual was an extra difficulty. One editor told me point-blank he couldn't get a bookstore interested in a photo storybook.

Yet, at the same time I received positive response from people, including booksellers and art directors.

My husband kept suggesting I self-publish, but there were a few reasons I resisted. First, I knew it was expensive. Second, I knew it was a lot of work. But the main reason, I admit, was it wasn't considered valid. Without the external recognition of the publishers, it was like self-publishing didn't count.

Let's face it - my ego was involved.

Then in my town of Troy, New York, a small office opened that prints/publishes inexpensive paperbacks - The Troy Book Makers. I was able to print a small, spineless (but quite brave) paperback of my picture book, Julian's Dream Friend, for about $7 a book. I printed 100 reasonable quality books and have made most of my cost back already. While 100 is not many books, before that I had only one.

The director at Troy Book Makers scanned my images, together we went over the layout, then she formatted the whole thing for print at an extremely low price. I then took it to a printer who came up with a nice finished product.

It is definitely not hardcover, and it suffers for that. I find it tough to ask the price I do for a paperback. Also it has no spine, which doesn't seem a big deal until they shelve it, when it totally disappears. All that aside, I was unwilling to spend tons of money on printing the book and having boxes piled in my closet just to get hardcover; this book has a professional look and feel enough to satisfy me. At the moment, I am thinking of printing some more, as I am running out.

On the business side of things, I sell my book directly to interested customers at $10 and have them in 9 bookstores in the region, most of which are independents. Borders has been very supportive as well. Unfortunately, I have had to ask $12.95 in the bookstores in order to make cost. This is overpriced for a little paperback, but I am finding if they are well placed, they still sell.

Honestly though, many of the stores that carry them on commission have not paid me yet, so I have lost a bit there.

I have also put aside some of the books to send to publishers to show them a polished finished-type product and let them know the books have done well in sales and with booksellers.

I am so happy I self-published. I have a completed book that is entirely my own from beginning to end. And I am dependent on no one - not the whims of the market, not whether an editor is having a good day, not on luck.

A friend who recently got published afterwards told me that getting published is really like winning the lottery. I'm glad I didn't wait to win, because I might have been waiting a long time.

A lot has to do with attitude - big fish in a small pond kind of thing. Admittedly, I was doing a victory dance at selling two books at Borders while the author at the book signing right next to me was bummed her publishers had only sold 4000. Go figure.

It certainly would be great to get picked up by a big-time publishing house, but in the meantime, this photographer-journalist's publishing house is getting ready to get more great books out to readers.

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May 02, 2008
Can't sell a photo storybook? Says who!
by: Steve B.

Deyva, I like your friend's quote about getting published being like winning the lottery. If I read into her words correctly...

It's a longshot, and it requires a good deal of dumb luck.

I like even better your own quote:

"I'm glad I didn't wait to win."

I've written terrific screenplays that went against the conventional wisdom of what could and couldn't be successful, much like you with your photo-illustrated children's books.

I wish I'd been more like you. I wish I'd taken it upon myself to bypass the "suits" and get my work to the people who would enjoy it.

I like your attitude. I sense that whatever the outcome of your self publishing effort, you would have been okay with it.

Sounds like a recipe for sanity. Thanks for sharing.

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