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Publishing with a publisher vs self publishing

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

Black Lives Matter Mural

Black Lives Matter Mural

Steve ESPO Powel‘s (@steveespopowers ) great mural in Union Square in Manhattan (2020 above) was moved just around the corner (in 2021, see video) from it’s original location in front of the Daryl Roth Theater on Union Square West, to 15th street ; in my book I paired it with my photo of the Houston Street mural for George Floyd (art by @fumeroism), who was murdered by the police in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.

Preview and/or order book here

Macys in 2020 and 2021

Macys in 2020 and 2021

I photographed Macy’s department store in Herald Square, Manhattan, for my book during the pandemic in June 2020 when their flagship store was boarded up in anticipation of large protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, and the filmed it again last week, in May 2021. What a difference a year makes, the famous annual Macys flower show is attracting lots of people, the store and the plaza outside were as busy as I hadn’t seen them since the beginning of the pandemic.

Preview and/or order book here

Keep Going Times Square !!

Keep Going Times Square !!

Then and now:
A recent visit to Times Square, with my promo postcard leading the way. The tourists are still missing although it is definitely getting busier than it was just a year ago, like in the photo from March 2020 (book page above). The Naked Cowboy, who used to work in Times Square every day with throngs of tourists surrounding him, was the first person I encountered on one of my first photo walks at the beginning of the pandemic. It was eerie to see him all alone, masked when nobody was masked yet, nobody there to listen to him. The pandemic became real to me at that moment.

Preview and/or order book here

Welcome to my Keep Going New York !! blog

Welcome to my Keep Going New York !! blog

I created this new blog to showcase and promote my new book

Keep Going New York !!

I self-published the book on the print-on-demand platform Blurb.com (blurb.com/b/10620426-keep-going-new-york) in January 2021, after photographing the streets of New York during the pandemic from March – December 2020.

I focused on the resilience of my fellow New Yorkers, on moments of normalcy under exceptional circumstances during the worst time of the pandemic. I kept a positive attitude walking around my chosen hometown during those challenging times and photographed New Yorkers doing what they always do: They keep going !! 

I keep going too, by shooting new videos and photos about the book and publishing the results here on a regular basis. So this blog is not only about the book but also about my new photo adventures in New York City. Having worked as a professional still photographer for a large part of my life, I am starting to enjoy shooting small and entertaining videos as well and I will share them with you here too, like the one above.

I hope you enjoy my new blog and if you like, you can preview (and/or order) my book here !!

Best, Stefan Falke

Preview and/or order book here

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