Had I known, what I know now, I'd never have published Embody. Thank God, I didn't know…
The past month I’ve been busy with book launch and press in Denmark. It’s been nerve-wrecking to get every little part to sync up with events, press, etc. and even if I know this is how it goes, it feels vulnerable to finally put my book-baby into the hands of the world. What will they say? Will they like it?
Luckily, the response is good. My heart swell, it emboldens me as I feel affirmed in my original vision – what I saw and felt called to create, the effect I wished to evoke, it seems to work.
Here I am, happy, exhausted and celebrated after the first book receptions at Design Werck in Copenhagen and at the Aarhus Woman Museum.
If I'm not dancing with my hands above my head in constant jubilation, it’s only because it requires a lot of work to promote, sell, ship and handle a book launch in two countries. Even if I've launched many projects and published a book before, paid my dues, done my research and hired experts' help along the way, I keep encountering surprising dilemmas, unknowns and detours I have to figure out, circumvent, detangle from or wait out. Hence the title of this post.
On one hand I'm glad that I have the ability and experience to wear the many hats of creator, designer, producer, speaker and PR agent to do this. On the other, I've had plenty lonely nights of anxiety, because I'm carrying all of this, alone. When you take a risk or a chance, on something important to you, you are bound to feel a little crazy.
But this is the thing: we'd never embark on beautiful, crazy projects, life dreams, even love affaires, if we knew every little detail, obstacle and how-to-do we'd encounter along the way. The mountain would feel insurmountable, scary, and most sane people would stay put instead. Some things you just know you have to do.
So how do we do it? We keep hold of the initial impetus and impulse, we water the seed of our dream, we trust a lot, we do our best, we lean on supportive friends, we keep our eyes on the ball, and keep enjoying (and staying curious about?) the view, as we climb. A good sense of humor helps.
After the book, the launch...
A lot of people ask me for advice about their own books and creative projects. Do you know I offer project coaching with focus on writing, visual storytelling and the overall creative process from idea to execution and completion? Learn more here // For Danish here.
Since I'm hard pressed to answer each person individually, let me share my experiences with book launching in both Denmark and the U.S. here, including notes on press and positioning, distribution and delivery.
Please know, there's many ways to do this, and you gotta find your own path somewhere between your skill level, experience, wallet, idea and intention.
On press and positioning.
These days we all seem to need our own PR agents. They come in all shapes and sizes, often at a high price, so I've mostly done my own PR with a little help from friends. It's daunting to sell yourself and your work, and I'll be the first to admit how I'd love to lean up against 'expert savvy and surety'. But it rarely works perfectly.
A couple of well-meaning journalist were drafting a press release for me. Waiting a precious week, while the launch clock was ticking, they finally returned with a slim, emotion-free pitch. When I read this sentence "the women pressured themselves to undress…,” my heart sank. Pressure implies being forced to do, while my work has always been about finding the freedom to be. For all my talk and writings, they'd not understood the essence of my project. Exhausted I was fortunate to have a friend to turn to for help in the last hour. Together, we formulated a press release with passion, feeling and truth. And this press release has helped opened doors to events, press and attention in both Denmark and USA.
Your press release needs to sing your song and have substance rather than relying on cheap use of sensation and trends. You know best what your project is about, and if you do seek help with PR and positioning make sure those 'experts' love you, see you and get your project. I created a pdf preview of my book to send along. It has often been sufficient. I only send the real book to those who want to write about it.
Call first, so they can hear your voice (passion), then send the press release, photos of cover and of yourself. Or send first, then follow up with a call. In Denmark you need to get it out just a few weeks before your launch event date. In America you may need to send out a few months before, and then follow up with a call. Again, having local events scheduled and local audiences to draw on helps garner interest.
Sex, Power and #metoo.
I have done a lot of interviews over the years, and author Q $ As. I actually love it. Journalists come from another spectrum of life and see things I don't. The conversations tend to shed new light on the work I'm so emmeshed in, and I learn things, I even surprise myself sometimes by what I say.
For Embody the first journalist to feature it kindly sent me her first draft. Her headline read: Photographer of new erotic photo book: My book is counter to #metoo. And my heart sank.
In the Press words of fight (power, #metoo, counter) and fuck (erotic, nude photos, sexuality) work well for capturing readers attention, but I asksed myself, will these people be truly interested in my book?
I hadn’t thought of Embody as erotic in the sexual sense. To me it promotes eroticism as a way of being in a body, alive in the tactile and textural world. An inner sensuality. And #metoo is of course relevant, also for my work with women, but my project started long before #metoo was a thing, and I worried it would put the women's experiences in the wrong light. With Embody I actually wanted to take the sensation out of the body and female sexuality, and help women empower themselves.
While #Embody and #metoo both navigate the terrain of body, sex and power, each 'movement' comes from opposite ends of the spectrum: to empower or disempower. The journalist was kind to take #metoo out of the equation all together, letting Embody be its own thing. (I'll write more about #embody and #metoo in the next blog, stay tuned).
Don’t leave it up to others to frame and position your work in the world. News media have their audiences in mind. You need to keep yours in mind too. Always ask for the right to read and suggest changes to the final article. Be discerning in what you share. I’m like an open book and can talk and weave threads and reflect on ‘camera’ so to speak, while a journalist is looking for conflict, curiosities, core points and only have so many words to work with. Be respectful in your feedback, but firm.
On deadlines, distribution and delivery – A few hard swallows.
I set myself some hard deadlines for this book. Two months for design and production. Two months for Danmark Launch. 6 weeks for USA launch. I'd spent years on this project and felt this was the timeframe I had to fully devote myself, while of course staying open to what might occur, what doors might open and opportunities arise in the wake of the first push.
Like any publisher, you gotta set up your own imprint, apply for ISBN, and if you want to offer your book beyond your personal sales channels (website, events, etc.), you need to get your book into general distribution.
In Denmark we have bogportalen. DBK.dk. For a fee, they offer delivery service to book stores. Dafolo is another such service.
To accommodate my bi-lingual world, I made my book in Danish and English to be distributed both in Denmark and the U.S. Having already published one book in the U.S., I thought it’d be easy to get my new book into American distribution.
Turns out, it’s complicated and costly to acquire American distribution with the big guys, Ingram or Taylor, for a book printed in Europe. Not only will shipping, storage fees and book store discounts eat up any puny profit, you will also have to promote your book to the bookstores yourself. There are companies such as Radius Books, who can handle distribution with Ingram, but they are likely to push for printing your book in America, and still, you do the campaigning.
For indie authors, there are ways to self-publish in USA (Createspace, Ingram Spark, Blurb, Lulu, etc.), but none of those services offer offset printing fitting for an artistic photo book. CreateSpace and IngramSpark will distribute your book to Amazon and the like. US-based indie-authors may find it easier to reach international markets than the other way around. Europeans, for instance, are happy shoppers on Amazon.
No matter your choice of path, you have to sell your book to stores and buyers. For online (Amazon) selling only, you have to be super savvy at online marketing. To get your book in bookstores, great reviews, local communities to draw on and ability to campaign for your self help. Some book stores are reluctant believers in beautiful photo books, they want sales.
American bookstores schedule author events 6-8 months in advance. Most (franchised) stores prefer to order books from the distributors (with option to return unsold books) and are less likely to host events for books to-be-sold on commission.
The American press, in turn, tend to only review books in general distribution, unless of course, you have a great news angel on your book or are a ‘celebrity’ of sorts. Local papers will only feature books that have author events in their city.
So... I’ve had to swallow the big dream and adjust expectations for my American campaign. For now, I've shipped a load of books to the U.S. and will do events at book stores and venues, where I’m known, trusted and they sell on commission. Rather than doing a big cross-country book tour, and exhaust myself and my wallet on travel and lodging on every little event, I focus on places where I can make the most of what I’ve got. San Francisco, New York, maybe Paris. If the book is well-received, I may offer American publishers the opportunity to do an American edition. :)
As independent publisher, you need to consider your distribution options, budget and strategy. Being ‘just me,’ I know the game and try to keep my feet on the ground and pace myself. I think in stages of launch across the span of a year. You never know how a book will do, what doors will open, and if you’ll sell very much. Some of it has to do with chance, good connections, trends and timing, and your own persistence. Choose the few things you WILL do and do them well. Follow through. Move on.
Logistics, logistics, logistics.
I’ve now become the book lady. 700 1 kg books take up space. I have books at a Danish distributor, at various cities with friends and family to bring to events, at select book stores, and a palette is on route to San Francisco.
Consider WHERE you books will live until sold and WHO will package and ship. If you have the money to outsource distribution, I highly recommend doing this. If not: It really helps having a garage.
By being able to also ship books myself, I'm able to keep it personal and dedicate the books if buyers want it. I like this.
Great packaging is not cheap, but necessary for a heavy-duty book like mine. Just sayin’. Shipping is crazy expensive outside of Denmark. Note to self: keep you book under 1 kg.
Steep Learning Curves, Trust and Intentions.
Though I dreamt of having a real publisher do this book, I'm happy to have done it myself. I need to be hands-on in my creations, because the project's raison d'etre often reveals itself in the last moments of 'everything coming together.' A traditional publisher wouldn't have allowed me this level of involvement.
Through Embody I've educated myself further in the ins and outs of the book making from idea, image curation and preparation, manuscript, copy editing, graphic design, color, cover, paper, printing processes and choices. I run my own campaign, press and event planning. I'm even packaging, distributing and delivering some books myself. It is a lot. A full-time gig. For now.
If you want to make your own books, whether you publish yourself or not, you need to understand the elements, the process, the stages of production and the launch timeline.
The process, timeline and price are different for a photo book and a text-book only. I've done both. I've needed to hire designers, producers, copy editors, and more for both. Production plans and clarity around responsibilities and expectations to each other are good to have. Remember, you are the one hiring; you call the shots.
There a plenty of resources and self-pub companies out there to support indie authors, both in Denmark and USA. I hope this 'overview' helps you understand the nuts and bolts of a book launch. I wrote about the becoming of this book and the design process in this blog.
If you have questions, let me know below. I will try to answer.
Need project support? Email me for a free 20-minute consultation. Let us explore and find out how or if I can help you unearth, create and bring forth and live your dream.