Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Secrets of Rejection

WHAT? Who wants to talk about rejection?

Ok, I hear you thinking..."He's lost it, gone over the edge, flown the coup, not the sharpest knife in the drawer"...... Ha!

The truth? In this business of editorial photography, the marketing of ideas to magazines and publishers is riddled with rejection. You learn early on its not a personal thing. There are so many reasons why a project is rejected. It could be that the topic had been visited within five years and the editors didn't want a new take on that topic just yet. It could be the subject is timeless and the publication needs something more newsworthy. Its all a timing thing. If you take rejection personally, as if your ideas don't have merit, you will needlessly suffer. If your ideas are sound and fresh, don't give up. More often than not, the hardest part of this job is finding a home for good ideas.

"An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love this quote by Emerson. A gifted writer, his words carry meaning through many layers and are most appropriate here. As mentioned in the previous post, I am going to walk through the process of developing a book idea here. I am thoroughly convinced this idea has merit. I've presented the concept to numerous peers and friends and the feedback has been positive. And, I know outright, I'm setting my self up for rejection.

So, let's dive into the deep end and see if we can swim.

I've never entertained the thought of doing a book for kids. Over a decade ago I wrote and photographed an article for the National Wildlife Federation's kids' magazine, RANGER RICK. It was on a subject I knew very well. Wolves and wolf research. I had wonderful images from numerous assignments and thought to myself, "the writing will be snap." I submitted the photographs and story. The photographs were accepted and the story was rejected. I was torn up. My first story for kids was rejected? How dumb could I be? Unable to write a simple article for little kids.

Bob Dunne, my editor called me to talk about it. He was so gracious and calming. He began the conversation with a story about a famous author who also penned a story for Ranger Rick. His story too, was rejected. Bob went on to say that writing for kids is very difficult. We can't write in adult language. We need to simplify our ideas. And, for adults used to writing for adults, this can be more difficult than we appreciate. We worked on the story together and the works were published. I learned firsthand one of the secrets of rejection.

This brings us to; CROIX AND THE MAGIC BURL.

A combination of many personal experiences forced this book idea to the surface. I'm a parent with three kids and my interests both personally and professionally exist in the natural world. Years and years of covering assignments on conservation and environmental topics have gifted me a wealth of insight into the wilds. My photographic collection has ample visuals to illustrate a variety of topics. But, still I never had an idea for a kids book. Until, I started turning bowls as a hobby. One afternoon in Northern Minnesota looking at a birch burl on a downed tree, the light bulb clicked on.

For woodworkers, the burl is a magical thing. Its grain patterns and irregular shapes are unique. Many think the burl is a diseased part of a tree when in fact, it is not. I see it more akin to the making of a pearl. Its a treasure created by nature. A burl holds a certain spiritual power with woodworkers and that feeling caught my attention. Perhaps the burl could be a vehicle to use in teaching kids about the value of trees in the forest?

The idea was born. Once an idea is recognizable, its easy to develop. The most difficult part for me was the science issue. I see the world in pretty factual terms. I became concerned if I made the magic burl a talking voice with a personality, could I keep both the imagination of fantasy and reality in tune? As I let my own walls down, the idea of a talking burl in the forest communicating with a young girl begin to really make sense. What a wonderful way to introduce the life of the forest, the value or trees, to kids. Certainly, in today's explosion of learning to "go green" understanding the value of the forest at such a young age in terms they can appreciate can benefit us all.

So, I'm off and running. The first major decision was how the photographs would be used. Again, drawing on personal experiences, I love those kids books that are illustrations, paintings, watercolors, etchings, ect. In fact, one of my favorite kids book is Betsy Bowen's woodcut's of northern life in her epic ANTLER BEAR CANOE book. Betsy teaches the alphabet through the use of her marvelous woodcuts illustrating a slice of life in the North for each letter. Stunning. Her woodcuts reached my soul instantly.

It was my opinion, and some have contested me on this, that I would convert my photographs to watercolors in photoshop. I gave this considerable attention. Of the images I shared with peers and friends, most agreed they like this approach. My gut feelings were that for a kids book, photographs were too defined. The clarity of a photograph made things quite exacting. In converting the photographs to watercolors, I felt reality was softened and there was more room for personal imagination to blossom i the minds of kids. Let them put themselves in those locations without such photographic definition.

Above are examples of the very first drafted pages. After these, the story and pages developed quite nicely. I'm thrilled with all the wonderful lessons Croix learned from the old burl. Her grasp on the value of the forest and the wilderness life surrounding it will surprise readers of the many uses the forest provides. It is my wishes of course, these lessons from the old burl will translate into conservation values and the need to protect and manage our forests for the future. We'll see those other lessons as this blog topic continues. The design, text and images will be refined as we inch forward. Right now, its getting the idea down so we can see and feel it.

I encourage any comments you wish to share on this.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Create Your Own Book

I think its safe to say that every photographer dreams of having a book containing their creations. Its kind of the ultimate portfolio expressing a personalized vision. And, let's face it, the true rewards for a shooter don't come from money (although it helps). A shooters real passion comes from discovering the world around them with a lens. Whether a photog's outlet is a gallery exhibition, a blog, or a book, the realized joy is sharing the work.

I've been fortunate to have five published book titles under my belt on subject matter I feel passionate about. And certainly, that sense of worth is amplified when a publisher agrees to publish your work. But, the publishing industry is a state of flux these days. It scares me to think it might go away. I honestly don't believe the public is ready to give up on books. The iPad and Kindle have their place, but holding a book, looking at exquisitely reproduced photographs in a book, will always find a home on my bookshelves. And I know I'm not alone.

However, as the publishing industry finds it foothold in today's horrible economic climate and the volume of published titles dropping, there are alternatives for publishing a book. Technology has gifted writers, artists, poets, and photographers the opportunity to publish their work with minimal investment. You can publish a 80-page color hardcover book of photographs for example, for under fifty dollars. I'm not fooling. I can see you are shocked. But, it's true.

I've done several of these self-published books now. I initially set out to test the waters and more succinctly, the quality. Always a major consideration in such an endeavor. It wasn't until I had seen fellow shooter Dave Black's Book "THE WAY I SEE IT" ( It was so beautifully done and printed so well. Instantly, I was hooked.

So, for my first book test, ( 47º NORTH-Grand Marais & Beyond, I pulled together a collection of images from my favorite Minnesota town, Grand Marais. Grand Marais is a gem all in itself. It benefits from its mother figure, Lake Superior, and its population of around 1,500 fine folks. Its the foothills entrance to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and its summer population swells in numbers just like the mosquitos. Its the kind of town you fall in love with instantly. But, from a book publishing perspective, its too tiny to tickle the fancy of a publisher's investment. Can enough books be sold to warrant the expenditure? Its a tough sell to any sized publisher.

The availability of self-publishing, now a reality and easy to do, can become the vehicle to create a book on areas like Grand Marais that probably will never attract a big publishing effort. I combed through my files, located a collection of images that I felt reflected the area surrounding 47º North, limited the text, used wonderful quotes about photography, and splashed images together to form a collective mood of the Grand Marais area. Its been very popular and I'm thrilled with the quality of the book. And, customers can purchase the book directly online and preview the entire book with Blurb's slick website even before buying the book.

Ok, your asking, and I can hear you .....what is the downside? I said it was cheap, under $50. Yes, that is cheap to publish your own book. But, when you go to the bookstore and buy any book for $50 you are expecting it to be big and thick and full of surprises. You just published your own book for under $50. Cool. But, if you want to sell it, what price do you put on it? Hmm, that $50 at the bookstore gave me pretty good buying power. But, if I want to make any money on this book and it cost me $50 to publish it, will anyone buy it for say, $75? Good question. This is the downside to self publishing. Its basically, Books On Demand.

Books on demand is not a fatalistic approach to self-publishing. Its just a different way. In the case of 47º NORTH, there is never going to be a book like this unless someone self-publishes it. It will be more expensive, yes. I think I make about $5/book. But, my reasons for doing this (remember the first paragraph) was to share the images of an area so close to my heart. I'm not alone. I know many others cherish this area and its a treat to have such a collection of images tell the story of 47º NORTH. If lots of 47º NORTH sell, I make a few bucks.

The benefits of self-publishing are far reaching too. Let's not dwell on the downside. Creating your own title, and I have been using, and there are many others like My, MPix, ect,, the idea that only a few books are ordered at a time, save on paper being used, warehouse space taken up, shipping and transportation costs, and so on. You want a book-you order it and two weeks later its on your door step. How cool is that?

I bring this concept of self-publishing up for a reason. Over the course of the next month or so, I am going to create a Children's book on this blog. I'll show pages, images, and the reasoning behind the theme. And, I'll publish it. But, my end goal may surprise you with the publishing of this book called; CROIX AND THE MAGIC BURL.