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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Publisher as Casino

To answer some of the questions that have come in about the book project:

"Which do you want to do?"

I want to write a book that will sell. I already have unpublished, unpublishable manuscripts in my desk drawer (or hard drive). In this case—on this occasion—I'd like to write a book that people actually want to buy.

"When will it be done?"

Well, it won't be, as things stand this second, because it's not going to be a book. It's going to be a book proposal. Then if an agent can persuade a publisher to part with an advance, it will acquire a timetable. At that point, it will have an estimated time of completion. Until then it's not even a project, really.

The work of writing books is way too front-loaded for a guy in my situation. Which would be fine if there were a reasonable guarantee of a payoff eventually; law school is expensive too, with a lot of front-loaded effort, but the law school student who is putting in all that money and effort up front has a pretty reasonable prospect of a payoff down the road. You don't have that with a book, which is why it's more reasonable for a large corporation to undertake the risk.

So why demand that a corporation take on a risk that that I won't take on myself? It's like this. When a publishing company takes on the risk of a book project by funding it with an advance, it's functioning sort of like a casino. It places a great many bets, some of which pay off and some of which don't (about 70% of published books lose money), but it can usually manage its odds so that it comes out ahead overall. A casino doesn't really care if it loses or wins any one particular bet. A person making one single wager is not in that position, so the risk in the case of a single wager is a lot greater if the person placing the bet can't handle the downside (i.e., losing).

Bottom line is, either a publisher will have to be persuaded to help amortize the risk or the project won't go forward.

But at least now I have an answer for the publisher who asked, "Why not do a book on how to choose a digital camera? That sounds like it might sell." I have a little more ammunition now for saying, well, maybe, but probably not to people like my blog readers.

"Before you write another book, where's my copy of The Empirical Photographer?"

If you paid for but have never received a copy of The Empirical Photographer, please contact me by leaving a comment that starts "NOT FOR POSTING." But you must leave your email address in the comment or I won't have any way to get in touch with you. Please don't forget to include your email address.



Blogger Eddy said...

If you want a book that will sell in quantity then your potential publisher might be right. The population difference is there. Besides, the polling here is a bit biased.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you really want it to be a best seller, I would call it "Harry Potter and the Unsharp Mask". Or "Harry Potter and the Darkroom of Secrets".

Think about the entire new market segment you could reach out to that way!

12:18 AM  
Blogger Joe Goh said...

Your situation is remarkably similar to what independent software developers face and i've written a blog post about it over here

Good luck with finding a publisher Mike!

12:45 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Thanks for your comments, Joe, here and on your blog--


5:24 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Joe's comments reminded me of an even more extreme example of the software development "cycle":

1) Announce a new product for release. A picture of the box somehow makes it more real.

2) Evaluate the market's reaction.

3) If there's sufficient interest, develop the software!

This is efficient because vaporware is very cheap to develop. The down side is that you just might have to build something in a hurry.

Oh wait, didn't Pentax use the same method for the digital 645? I guess it works for hardware, too.

7:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not self publish on dvd or cd. Arthur Morris has self published his "Birds As Art II" on DVD and sells the 800+ page book for $30. Quite a bargin! When his first "Bird As Art" was paper published he told me he received $2 for each book sold. You can be sure he is making more than $2 per sale of the DVD item. BTW the new book is outstanding. I have read and reread my copy.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Why not throw it in as a part of the blog? That is how I am approaching mine at the moment. Down the road after you have written everything you want to write as individual posts, you package it as a book (self-published) for sale on on your site (wouldn't be the first time this approach has been used and proven sucessful). You already have a readership and following which is half the battle.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Steve R said...

I am concerned about the obvious potential bias reflected in your poll. I, for one, find all of your writings to be pretty interesting and would be quite interested in reading your views on "Game Theory for the Photographer". So if you ask me (or the people who are motivated enough to comment on your BLOG) if I would like to read a book written by you on this subject, the answer is, yes!!

Does that mean that such a book will sell more than 140 copies? I kind of doubt it. This sounds like a book that is aimed at the thinking photographer, at someone who cares about the aesthetics, who will invest in reading a book in an effor to elevate their "game". Someone who wants more guidance than "set the aperture to 2.8 if you want a shallow depth of field to improve your portraits!" I just don't know if that will sell many copies. I know that there are a lot of gear heads out there. Also a lot of pixel peepers. But people who are willing to genuinely work on improving their photography? Not so sure. How many copies of "On Being a Photographer" do you think have sold in all of its printings?

4:40 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

Here's some free advice; I'm sure you'll get your money's worth.

The book I'd really like to buy is a set of essays about specific photos: making, interpretation, why it works, how it fits into the 'canon', etc

Two of my favorite photo books are Adam's 40 photos and Way Beyond Monochrome. They give the chance to watch a master over the shoulder.

You could include the photos you have recently been selling, plus your faves from your portfolio.

I'd buy this in a second.

5:44 PM  
Blogger mike said...

I thought LULU was the answer in self publishing.

3:50 AM  
Blogger Ted said...

Another photo book I love and loan to many of my friends when they get a new camera is "Learning to See Creatively" by Bryan Peterson. What I love about this book is that he shows the evolution of the idea. Most of the time he has several similar photos, most of them bad and one good. You can see him hunting the interesting shot.

When I used to be serious about chess I bought a lot of books with annotated master games. I was always trying to get in their head. I rarely actually read this books, but the point is I bought them.

You are proud of your printing skills. I'm sure it's a process of searching for the interpretation. Some trial and error, some guesses, a little bit of pixie dust, and a lot of work. That's what I'd like to read about.

Sorry to belabor my book request, especially since it wasn't an alternative.

In any case, I applaud your market research.

8:49 AM  
Blogger nvonstaden said...

you shoud contacht and do your OWN thing you don't need any stinking have enough of a fololowing here to start you out....

11:31 AM  

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