Square Photographs has not sold well: 23 copies, total. You can’t win them all.
I ran a few experiments with this book. The most important of them was to find out how a higher-priced but high-quality edition would sell against a lower-priced but good-quality edition of the same book. I want to find out how sensitive potential readers are to price vs. print quality. I published the high-quality edition of Square Photographs on MagCloud and charged $24.99. I published the good-quality edition on Amazon and charged $15.99. I made a similar amount per book either way, as MagCloud’s per-copy cost to me is considerably higher than Amazon’s.
Only five people bought the high-quality edition at the higher price. 17 people bought the good-quality edition at the lower price. I don’t think 23 purchases is a large enough sample space to know for sure, but I’m willing to conclude anyway that readers are more sensitive to price than to print quality.
Really, the good-quality edition from Amazon is plenty good. A keen eye can see how the high-quality edition from MagCloud is better, but it’s not that much better.
As a result, I’m going to publish future photo books only through Amazon.
This choice does not come without a key tradeoff. I know a number of people who consider Amazon to be the evil empire and won’t purchase from them. A segment of my audience will never see my books as a result.
Someday I might try having one of my photo books custom printed in advance. I’d have to keep an inventory and handle distribution, which is a hassle I’ve so far sought to avoid. But given that I’m in an experimental place, it would be interesting to try it and see how it goes.
I’ve now produced two books of photographs for sale on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing, my newest being Square Photographs, which is available on Amazon here. It turned out great, with good, vibrant colors and excellent contrast. I thought I’d share with you some lessons that I’ve learned.
I’ll also share some tips on how to create a book for Kindle Direct Publishing. In short, you create and upload print-ready PDFs of your book’s manuscript and cover. I’ll share how I did that for Square Photographs.
First and foremost, when your book is entirely or primarily about photographs, choose the best paper and ink option available. Right now, that’s “premium color ink and 60# (100 GSM) white paper.” All other options will lead to low-contrast images and muted tones. The premium color ink and 60-pound paper option gives good contrast and tones, both for black-and-white and color images. Even if all of your photographs are black-and-white, choose this paper and ink option. This Help page at Kindle Direct Publishing explains the options.
This ink and paper option increases the book’s printing cost, which is why I listed Square Photographs at $15.99. If I had used standard color ink and 55-pound paper, the lower printing cost would have let me sell it for $9.99 and earn about the same royalty.
I chose black ink and 55-pound white paper for my previous photo book, Vinyl Village, available here; and for my photo-illustrated book of stories and essays, A Place to Start, available here. Image quality in both books was so-so. It mattered more in Vinyl Village as it was mostly photographs. But if I had it to do over again I’d publish Vinyl Village using the best paper and ink options for better image quality. It wouldn’t have increased the price so much that it would have been a barrier for most people who purchased it.
Next, I don’t think it matters much whether you choose a glossy or matte cover finish. Amazon’s Help page says that a glossy cover “makes black covers darker and artwork more striking.” I published A Place to Start and Vinyl Village with matte covers, and Square Photographs with a glossy cover. Vinyl Village‘s cover might have benefited from darker blacks. But otherwise, I was satisfied with the tones and contrast both cover options gave me. I slightly prefer the matte cover’s more dignified look.
Finally, if your book is under about 100 pages, don’t bother trying to put anything on the spine. The spine is the outside edge of the book’s binding, what you see when the book is on a shelf. Most books show the title, author, and publisher on the spine. Square Photographs at 80 pages has a spine wide enough to contain that information. However, Amazon wants there to be plenty of space on both sides of the spine’s text so that a slight variation in how the cover is cut and attached doesn’t cause the spine text to partially roll onto the front or back cover.
The first cover I submitted to Amazon for Square Photographs showed the title, author, and publisher (my Midnight Star Press imprint) on the spine. Amazon rejected the cover for not having enough margin above and below that text. So I shrunk the text as much as I dared and resubmitted. Amazon rejected it again. To shrink it any more would have meant text so small you would have needed a loupe to read it. So I deleted the text and resubmitted the cover, which Amazon accepted.
Tips for creating a book for Kindle Direct Publishing
To create a book for Kindle Direct Publishing, you upload two print-ready PDFs: one of the book’s manuscript and one of the book’s cover.
You start by creating a KDP account here and then clicking the Create button on your Bookshelf page. This Help page explains. You have to make a lot of choices, including entering the title, choosing the paper and ink, setting the book’s form factor (length x width), letting KDP set the book’s ISBN or using one you purchased separately, and setting your book’s price.
Creating the manuscript
You can create your book’s manuscript (a.k.a., the book’s content) in any software that lets you save to PDF. You can lay out the bucks for a professional page-layout tool like Adobe InDesign if you want. I created Square Photographs and Vinyl Village in Microsoft Word, as I already pay for a Microsoft Office subscription and I have very strong Word skills. If you’re skint, even Google Docs exports to PDF, and Google Docs is free.
KDP provides Microsoft Word templates for all of their trim sizes. You can download them here. You’ll get a ZIP file containing the templates. Choose the trim size you want. Inside, the margins are all set for you, including extra margin in the gutter, which is the inner margin where the pages meet the binding. You need a slightly wider margin there to keep your content out of the hard-to-read space near the binding. You can alter all of those margins if you want, of course.
If you use a tool other than Word, you’ll have to set your page size and margins manually. Be sure to set mirrored margins, so that your odd pages have the extra gutter margin at the left, and your even pages have the extra gutter margin at the right.
Then it’s just a matter of flowing your text and photographs into your publishing tool. Because I use Word, I create the content and arrange it on each page at the same time. Here’s what a spread (publishing lingo for a left-right page combination) looks like in Word.
After you finish the manuscript, save or export the document to PDF. Here’s how to do it in Word:
Choose Save As from the File menu. The Save As window appears.
In the box from which you choose the file type, choose “PDF (*.pdf).”
Click the “Standard (publishing online and printing)” radio button.
Click the More Options button. A window appears. Click the Options button. An Options window appears.
Click the “Optimize for image quality” checkbox, if it is not already checked.
Click the “PDF/A compliant” checkbox, if it is not already checked. Note: KDP recommends against saving your document in the PDF/A standard, but also requires that fonts be embedded in the PDF. The only way to do that in Word is to save it as PDF/A. KDP has accepted every book I’ve submitted that way.
Click OK, and then click Save.
Here’s the same spread as Adobe Acrobat PC, the PDF viewer program, renders it.
Here’s what the same spread looks like in the printed book.
By the way, all KDP books must have a number of pages that’s divisible by four. If your manuscript’s page count isn’t divisible by four, KDP inserts blank pages at the end to round it out. If blank pages at the end bother you, make sure your content fills a number of pages that’s divisible by four.
Creating the cover
To create your book’s cover, there’s the easy way and the hard way.
The easy way is to use KDP’s Cover Creator. It’s free, so it’s the way to go if you don’t already own image-editing software like Adobe Photoshop and you’re skint. It’s also the way to go if you don’t have skills to use image-editing software. Cover Creator offers limited design options, and I don’t think they’re awesome, but they’re better than nothing. Read more about it here.
The hard way is to use an image-editing tool such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel Paint Shop Pro and a template KDP provides you. You should also be able to use a page-layout tool like Adobe InDesign, but I’ve never tried it to be sure. If you know how to insert images, create text areas, and move elements into place, you can create a cover.
To get a template, go here, make the selections that are true for you book, and download the ZIP file KDP creates. Inside you’ll find two template files, one PDF and one PNG. Use whichever one you want. Bring it into the software you’re using to create the cover. Here’s what the template I used for Square Photographs looks like.
This template is just a guide. You place your cover’s elements onto it, and when you’re done, delete the template layer. The back cover is on the left, the spine is in the middle, and the front cover is on the right. Notice the yellow area for the bar code – place nothing there that you don’t want covered up. KDP inserts a UPC bar code and your book’s assigned ISBN there.
The solid line is the cover’s boundary, but the red areas are the margin for error in printing. Your cover should go to the edges of the red zone. The dotted lines show you the area for the spine. Notice the red zone around the spine, and how tiny the space for text on the spine is. This is why I recommend not placing text on your spine for books with fewer than 100 pages, as I mentioned above in the lessons learned.
I used Adobe Photoshop to create my cover. I wanted to use one of the photos from the book as the main element on the front cover, so I inserted it and sized it to fit the front-cover area. Then I created the box that contains the title and my name. I filled the box with white, but then set the opacity to something like 50% so the photo behind it would bleed through.
For the spine and the back cover, I chose a color that complemented the front cover. I inserted the photo of the VW Bus, wrote the text below it, and put my vanity imprint’s information in the lower-left corner. I made sure the spot where Amazon would insert its bar code had nothing in it.
Here’s what the cover file looks like.
Here’s how the book turned out. Notice how the image above shows more tire tracks at the bottom than the printed cover does — that’s the effect of the red zone.
There you go! Let me know in the comments if I need to clarify anything, or add missing detail.
My new book, Square Photographs, is available now!
I had so hoped to have self-published my second book by now. I have a couple ideas percolating in the back of my head. I’ve even written content for one of them, which I’ve shared here in several posts.
For those of you new to this blog, in April I self-published a book of photographs I’ve taken with my Pentax ME SLR. I bought it on eBay for a mere $16, showing that even the humblest SLR can produce great images.
Click here to see a preview. Click my book’s cover below to buy one on Blurb.com — a paper copy you can hold in your hands for $14.99, or a PDF for $7.99. If you like the photographs I share here every day, I think you’ll enjoy my book.
My book, Exceptional Ordinary, has been on sale for a couple months now. And it’s just not selling.
I’ve managed to sell nine paper copies and two PDFs. Which isn’t bad, considering that I’ve barely marketed the book.
I’ve pitched it here four or five times. I mentioned it a couple times on Twitter. I shared images from it, plus a link to buy it, on Instagram a handful of times.
That was my entire marketing push. Holy wow, does this stuff ever take time. And that’s the lesson learned: marketing takes creativity, effort, and persistence.
It probably also hurts that I chose such a niche topic with no obvious market beyond people who already know and like my work, and perhaps other film photographers and Pentaxians.
It certainly also hurt that I gave away the PDF for two days after announcing the book. But I knew that would hurt. About 50 of you took me up on it. And I figured this book wouldn’t sell well as a result of it.
It doesn’t matter to me. I actually achieved my goals with this book: to experience the self-publishing process. Win!
I have ideas for a future books. I’d like to re-survey the Michigan Road in 2018, which will be ten years after I did it last time, and publish a book of interesting photos from the tour. The market there is people interested in Indiana history, and people who live or have lived on or near the road. I’d also like to do a book about the many farms that lie inside the city of Indianapolis. It’s surprising to many just how many farms have an Indianapolis address! That market could include people who live in Indiana, and people who have an affinity to farms, and people who enjoy landscape photography. And maybe there’s a book in photographs of the repurposed stores of the defunct Roselyn Bakeries of Indianapolis. Their buildings and signs were distinctive; the dozens of them that remain are easy to recognize. Some of them went on to good, noble uses; others not so much. It’s a study in urban architectural reuse, and people interested in that might buy such a book.
So my refinement for my next book is to have an addressable market in mind, and a plan for addressing it, before I publish.
Thanks to on-demand printing, it’s never too late to buy my book. It’s reasonably priced at $15.99 for the paper copy or $8.49 for the PDF. I’d love for you to hold a copy of my work in your hands. You can do that by clicking the cover below.
I created my book about photography with the Pentax ME as an experiment in self-publishing. (If you’d like to buy one, either paper or PDF, click here.) After all, the Internet and print-on-demand technology mean you no longer need a traditional publisher. You can do it all yourself: writing, layout, marketing. But that’s the rub: you have to do it all yourself. It sucks down large quantities of time at things you may not enjoy or be good at.
I’ll do it again. But I’ll do some things differently next time. Here are some things I learned.
Choosing the photographs was the hardest part of the project. Because this project was about experiencing the bookmaking (and selling) process, I chose to use photos I already made. It was surprisingly challenging and time-consuming to pick through all the photos I shot with my Pentax ME. All of my insecurities as a photographer came out. What if this photo, which I love, isn’t actually all that good? Am I leaving out a photo that is truly good? Fortunately, a reader (who probably wishes to remain anonymous in this forum) offered to edit out the photos that shouldn’t make the cut. That advice was invaluable.
Choosing Blurb as my publisher was easy. I chose Blurb largely because Mike Connealy has published two books that way (go buy them; they’re lovely). My copies of his books are of acceptable quality for the cost. And from his experience I knew that the process for making and selling the book would be reasonable.
Blurb is a decent choice for an image-intensive book. I think there are better choices for text-intensive books. I’ve been investigating CreateSpace, for example, for a text-intensive book I have in mind.
Laying out the book was the least rewarding part of the project. I used Blurb’s BookWright software, which is a lightweight page-layout tool. It works, but it lacks much of the power I hoped I might get based on my past career experience in publishing and technical writing. As I’m still on the tool’s learning curve, I may yet find features I wished I knew about while laying out this book. Primarily, BookWright’s page templates didn’t function as I expected and offered no good way to apply a template change across the book. Blurb allows upload of PDF from other layout platforms and I may try that next time.
I had to rescan several photos because BookWright warned me they were too small for successful printing. I don’t understand that. The film lab scanned those photos at about 1500×1000 pixels, and I’ve successfully printed 8x10s from such scans before. But just to be safe I dug out the negatives and rescanned them at larger resolution on my Epson V300.
I won’t put off titling the book next time. I don’t enjoy writing titles, and when no title easily came to me I decided to figure it out later. Later came right at the end, after everything about the book was finished. I dithered for a week over the title. I don’t love the title I chose, but it is by far the best of a dreadful lot I brainstormed.
The book is priced far higher than I want. Ideally my slim volume would be priced at less than $10. But because Blurb makes its money selling books that people like me create, a book’s base price includes their profit. My book’s base price was slightly more than $10. Any profit I take has to raise that price.
I knew I wanted to make a small profit on each book sold — enough, I decided, to buy myself a roll of Tri-X. That seemed reasonable. That’s why the book is priced at $16, and even the PDF is $8.50. That’s too much, if you ask me.
Pricing is a black art. Even people who do it all the time struggle with it. When I worked in publishing, I remember difficult discussions over whether a particular book should be $14.99 or $19.99. $14.99 might lead to greater volume at lower margin, while $19.99 brought greater margin at the likely cost of lower volume. A wrong choice could cost us big.
Eric over at Little Black Star recently self-published a delightful little book of his recent work. He charged $7. That tiny price made it so easy for me to click Buy! I assume he took on some or all of the printing and binding himself, however, and that’s a lot of work. I bet he also has to keep an inventory. I have none of that with Blurb. When you order, they print one and send it to you.
I’m not enjoying marketing the book. I don’t enjoy sales or marketing and don’t really know what I’m doing with it. I’m hawking my book here (and, by extension, on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+) and am telling friends and family as I see them, and that’s it.
The other book I have in mind would deserve, I think, a more serious marketing push. I’d want to distribute that book through Amazon.com. I might create a Facebook page for it and pay to have posts on that page promoted.
Fellow photoblogger Mike Connealy recently self-published a thin, charming book of film photographs he’s taken with a few of his box cameras.
You might not think that such simple cameras can be used to create fine art, but page after page Mike’s book shows these old boxes’ artful capabilities. You can look at Mike’s book online here. If you’d like to own a copy, you can buy one here for a price so nominal that he can’t be making any real money off the venture.
After viewing and enjoying Mike’s work online for years, I really enjoyed seeing it printed. It’s easy to forget in this age of digital imaging that photographs were, for most of their history, a physical medium. And in printing a photograph, you exert final control over the image, not only in its size but in its density and contrast and how it renders highlights and shadows. An image on a screen is subject to the screen’s vagaries. The screen could be calibrated in any number of ways that affect the photograph and potentially take it far away from the photographer’s intentions.
Mike’s self-publishing experiment has triggered an interest in me in trying the same thing. I’m not entirely sure what I want from it beyond seeing my photographs bound and in the hands of others. Do I just want my printed work in a few peoples’ hands for their enjoyment, or do I want to make a little money off it perhaps to fund further photography? Do I want to do the work of marketing the book, even if only through this blog and Facebook and Twitter? How would marketing my book affect the relationships I’ve built with you here? And would anybody want to buy something that’s not too different, in content and style, from what they get on this blog for free anyway? And finally, where will I find the time for all of this?
I don’t know. But what I do know is that I started this blog on a lark in 2007, unsure what I wanted from it — and with experimentation and persistence, in time its purpose took shape and people like you started visiting regularly and enjoying my work. I can take much the same approach with this venture and see what happens.
If I decide to move forward, I’ll chronicle the journey all along the way here.
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