Publishing with a publisher vs self publishing


I published two photo books with established publishers, the first one in 2004 (MOKO JUMBIES: The Dancing Spirits of Trinidad) and the second one in 2014 (LA FRONTERA: Die US-Mexikanische Grenze und ihre Künstler). The third one, which came out in early 2021 (Keep Going New York) was designed and published by myself.

Working with publishers and book designers was an amazing experience and I was very happy with the results in both cases. I was toying with the idea of self-publishing the Moko Jumbies book, a project about a stilt walking school in Trinidad. I attended a few book making workshops and learned about photo book editing etc but I never got close to sequencing the photos in a way that would make the project into a book. I had photographed for it obsessively for seven years and I had more than enough material. Luckily I found a publisher (Pointed Leaf Press, NY) and their genius book designer (Stafford Cliff, England) who turned my project into the most beautiful coffee table book, beyond my wildest dreams! The second one, LA FRONTERA, a book about artists who live and work on both sides of the US-Mexico border, was published by Edition Faust in Germany, and I have only equally good things to say about the collaboration with them. My latest and third book, Keep Going New York !! is about the streets of New York City during the pandemic in 2020 and those challenging and isolating times made it kind of natural to start working on the book on my own. At first just playing around with the idea around November of last year I approached my friend and New York based journalist Claudia Steinberg with the project, asking her if she would write an introduction to lead the reader into a portfolio style series of photographs. She agreed enthusiastically. I was familiar with the easy-to-use design tools of the self publishing online platform Blurb.com and so I started playing with it. The easiest part was designing the cover, for which I chose my photo of Sean Marshall, whom I photographed on the observation deck The Edge at Hudson Yards. We did not know each other at the time, now we do – photography connects!

The title of my book, Keep Going New York, came to me by looking at some of the first photos I took at the beginning of the pandemic in March of 2020. I realized that I started taking pictures with usually one person walking through my frame (I was often waiting for a person, any person, for a long time, the city was so empty!) , and they all had this unmistakable New Yorker way of walking, determined to get from A to B, no matter what. So the letters on the cover had to be bold, because the message is bold, and encouraging: Don’t give up, keep going.

It took a lot of tweaking and fitting the letters onto the photo while keeping the respect to the photo and the person in it intact … but the harder part was selecting and pairing the photos inside the book. It took me about 6-8 weeks, with the help of Claudia and my wife Christine, to finalize the selection of 58 frames, out of thousands of photos. There are two reasons why I am showing only a small number of images: the message is clear, the story is told with these 58 frames, and, I had to consider that the price of the book would raise with every added page.

The design of the pages was comparably easy, I wanted a clear and simple portfolio style form, with no changes throughout the book. I placed all the captions on one page at the end. The pairing of images on a double spread was very time consuming, the spread had to work ‘as one’ and I was pretty nervous to press the “publish” button in January 2021. I am very happy with the result and the very encouraging feedback from people who bought the book.

Like publishing with a publisher, I don’t have to keep an inventory of books and I have no upfront costs. I do all the advertising. The book, any book, doesn’t sell by itself. I am literally selling one book at a time, but it is lots of fun doing it (see 1 minute video below).

Now here comes the downside of self-publishing on a print-on-demand platform like Blurb: the price !! It is understandably more expensive to print a book or two whenever one is ordered instead of 500 or 1000 at a time. My Keep Going New York book, only 62 pages thick, costs you as much to buy as my first two books with over 200 pages each in a bookstore.

My softcover book sells on Blurb for $49.99 / Hardcover $74.99

I know.

But, it is worth noting that in todays publishing world the photo book photographer is usually asked to substantially help with the costs for printing etc; the publisher who will carry the entire financial burden of a photo book is becoming an increasingly rare species !

So this little book is a labor of love, something that I am proud of, something that kept me busy during those challenging months, and something that became – from my personal view – a lasting record of the streets of my chosen hometown New York City during the pandemic in 2020.

Preview and/or order book here

Preview and/or order book here

Categories: Keep Going New York book, video

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