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How to score a photobook publishing deal

Securing a photo book deal with a major trade publisher is rare but Australian animal photographer, Peter Sharp, did just that. Here he shares his experience for others to learn how to pitch, negotiate and navigate a photo book deal of their own.

Peter Sharp is a Sydney photographer who has printed albums for his animal portrait photography business with Momento Pro for many years. When he shared his desire to publish a photo book, we recognised that his project had legs due it accessible and popular subject matter.

We advised on how he could self publish his book, and also put him in touch with local publishers, professional designers and industry experts. In October 2018 he scored a major publishing deal for Lost but Found, and he kindly shares the details of successfully securing and navigating his way through below.

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Who is Peter Sharp?

I worked in the music industry and corporate sales and marketing up until 2011 when I discovered I had a rare form of osteo-arthritis causing accelerated spine degeneration. Back surgery went horribly wrong and I could no longer work in my previous careers. I also had to learn how to live with and manage pain. So I picked up my camera and re-entered the music industry as an event photographer.  I enjoyed it but was looking for a greater sense of purpose. I loved animals and wildlife, so I worked with a coach to bring my animal portraiture business to life and Tame & Wild Studio was born.

PS_Lost But Found_Book_Cover_2How did the Lost but Found book project arise?

Chronic pain meant I had to battle mental demons on a daily basis. My pets were a great comfort for me, and I loved my work for Tame & Wild Studio, so I decided to also volunteer as a photographer for Sydney Dogs & Cats Home (SDCH)Lost but Found was a personal project born from my work  with SDCH.

Whenever I was there I heard amazing stories of animals and their new owners. I felt that sharing these stories would show people why animals end up in shelters and help ensure their pets didn’t end up in the pound. It would also raise awareness about the incredible work of the SDCH, and highlight the benefits of adopting a rescue animal.

The stories and photographs are not just about how the animals have been saved but also about how the animals have saved their new owners. The mental health benefits of owning a dog became a strong theme in the book, and I’m now looking at how I can work with a mental health organisation to encourage those who suffer to adopt a pet.

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Was your personal project always destined for a book?

To be honest, I never thought this was something a trade publisher would be interested in so I was planned on going down the self-publishing path with Momento Pro. They advised me on how this could work, how I could fund it, and how pre-orders and printing in batches could help keep the costs down, but they also introduced me to book publishers and designers at the Volume Art Book Fair in 2017. This was invaluable and gave me confidence to also consider a trade deal.

PS SCDH AmbassadorSo how did you get a publishing deal?

In August 2018 I met a rep from Pan Macmillan on a photography job I was assisting on. We got along well so I later contacted him about some book ideas. I was just looking for advice but he pitched two of my project ideas. They loved the story about the Sydney Dogs & Cats Home and how it changed the lives of both animals and humans, and in a few months I had a deal that included 100% of the royalties going to the SDCH.

PS_BlueyWho was responsible for each part of the process?

The team at Pan Macmillan were incredibly supportive and this project has been highly collaborative. From the outset I insisted on working with a designer and copywriter to bring this book to life. The designer worked with the images I provided and then in the proofing stage I provided feedback on any changes I felt were important. While the copywriter took the stories that SDCH and I pulled together and turned them into three different voices – the Lost (SDCH), the dog and the Found (the dogs’ new family).

I also decided I wasn’t going to let perfectionism get in the way of anything Pan Macmillan or SDCH felt was important to creating a book that people would want to buy. Initially I thought it would feature a range of different animals but following discussions with Pan Macmillan, it became a book just about dogs. So while there were changes made to my initial ideas I have no regrets. By having a positive attitude and by working with the right people, I never felt like I lost any creative control. At the end of the day neither of us ever lost focus on the educational aspect of this book.

Selecting-photosHow did you select the photos for the book?

When I select photos for my annual Tame & Wild Studio portfolio my aim is to show off the different types of shots I take and the variety of animals I shoot, but with Lost but Found I didn’t want the book to feel repetitive so it was important to present a variety of shot. I decided to capture photos of the dogs at the park, at the beach and in their home, with and without their owners.

Unlike my studio work though, I wasn’t looking for a perfect photo,  I just wanted to capture them in their environment and show their personality. This worked really well as I not only got a good range of images, I also got far greater insight into their story.

I then gave Pan Macmillan a shortlist of photos with some design ideas but I wanted to see what they came up with as this was my first book. They were the experts.

PS_Hank-DPSWhy did you include text?

Ha! Because I’m good at talking 😉 In all seriousness it’s because the purpose of the book required words. My photos on their own were never going to do this project justice. If if was just about the photos I don’t believe it would have won the attention of a trade publisher, and I would have to have self published.

What was the biggest advantage of working with Pan MacMillan?

They handled all the printing and distribution which allowed me to focus on the content. Distribution is also something I know very little about, and seems to be the biggest obstacle for most photo book creators.

 

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How did you publicise and promote the book?

Presales were key to not only publicising and promoting the book but to the success of the launch and sales so far. I drove a preorder campaign via the Tame & Wild and SDCH websites, email list and social feeds. We encouraged our personal networks to order a copy before Pan Macmillan officially released the book on 29 October. They benefitted from a lower price and we benefited from them talking to their friends and building excitement.

To increase interest I also organised for paw-tographed copies – to be signed  by the dogs featured in the book of course 🙂 and a competition where entrant’s could win a year’s worth of dog food.

Pan Macmillan seem really impressed with how many books I pre-sold and Amazon noticed pre-orders coming through so they approached me to ask if they could distribute Lost and Found on their website through the US and UK! Lots of pre-orders were also placed via the online bookshop The Nile. It’s also sold at Booktopia, Angus & Robertson and Dymocks.

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Pan MacMillan focused on generating publicity, securing a:

  • Four-page feature in The Weekend Australian magazine
  • Spot on Channel 7’s The Daily Edition with one of the dog’s from the book
  • One hour radio interview on ABC Radio National Conversations with Richard Fidler
  • Feature story and Editor’s Pick listing in Apple News

I actively worked with them though, following up and ensuring I did everything possible to maximise promotional opportunities, and sent some media releases to photography industry and lifestyle media myself. Remember though that others may not be as interested in your story as you are!

A book launch event was my responsibility – financially and administratively – so I chose not to host a big gathering and focus on a few book signings instead.

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How did you decide the RRP?

I was targeting $25.00 or under, so the book was designed as a smaller softcover (18.6 x 16.8  x 2.0 cm) in order to achieve that. The decision to sell at $24.95RRP was made by Pan Macmillan, and was based on a print run of thousands. While I don’t personally benefit financially from book sales, I am hoping that the promotion of this project will benefit my business and open doors for me and the other projects I am working on.

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How long did the publishing process take from shooting the images to launch?

About two years from conception to launch.

  • Oct 2018 – Met publishing rep
  • Nov 2018 – Rep pitched idea
  • Dec 2018 – Contract issued
  • Jan 2019 – Contract signed
  • Jan-May 2019 – Photo shoots and content creation
  • May-July 2019 – Design and editing
  • July 2019 – Printing
  • 29 Oct 2019 – Release

_DSC2995How do you feel as a trade published author?

It doesn’t feel real. I’m still pinching myself because as much as this is something I wanted to do, I know how hard it is to achieve and never thought it would happen. I have always been stubborn and single minded so to people who know me well, they don’t seem surprised that I have achieved this. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to the people who helped make it happen – it wouldn’t have happened without their support.

PS_The_GodfeatherWhat’s your top tip for someone wishing to publish a photo book?

To come up with a personal project that speaks to who you as a photographer, and be clear on why you are creating the project. If you can easily articulate why people need to purchase your book, and who they are, that’s the first step towards publishing.

Cards_DSC2640What’s next for Peter Sharp and Tame & Wild Studio?

I have now expanded my studio into the commercial photography space, I’ve partnered with Sydney Wildlife selling my animal greeting cards (printed by Momento Pro), and have two more book projects up my sleeve. It’s a good thing that with chronic pain I don’t get much sleep!

Read more successful photo book publishing stories from 2019 

About the author Momento Photobooks

Co-founder + Marketing Manager of Momento, creators of premium photo books + custom stationery. A 100% Australian owned + made company dedicated to helping amateur, enthusiast + professional photographers preserve their images in style at www.momento.com.au.

All posts by Momento Photobooks →

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