Publication of Photographing the American Southwest (for Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, etc.)

So after spending weeks and months photographing the Utah parks, months and months fine tuning each paragraph, the eBook is out. I feel like most of it is good, sometimes very good. But each time you reach high, you take a risk.  And there are always folks who will point out the mistakes and miss the good stuff. That’s part of the deal. But let me go over what the book’s about before getting into the comic details.

The book pulls together what I feel are the best photo locations at the Utah parks. It’s written for photo enthusiasts and amateurs — these parks are considered premiere landscape photography parks after all. And I think this book will be a fun and useful read for anyone who’s making the trek.


Quoting What’s In the Book

  • The best photo locations in each park
  • 60+ representative images
  • Details on each trail
  • Specifics on settings, lenses, lighting, composition
  • Landscape photography tips
  • Lightroom post-production chapter
  • In-depth writing on related issues

The Writing

The photos will speak for themselves. But the thing that surprised me most about this project was the writing, the creative exploration. I’ve been a professional writer in the high tech world for years — and I got paid nicely for it. That’s your deal with the devil when you do corporate work.

I’m not saying working on corporate projects is “evil” in any way. Adding Lexus GX specs to a web site or creating a software brochure isn’t deceptive. It doesn’t screw anyone, at least at the companies I was with. It’s just boring. And for the longest time, I did my creative work when I had an hour or two on weekends.

But nothing is wasted. And  the ad copy, brochures, corporate interviews I did over the years allowed me to master a range of writing styles. That came in handy when I was interviewing Seth Hamel about Zion or describing the scene at Mesa Arch — photographers nursing their coffee as they wait for the dawn.

Good writing should be about human experience and software functionality isn’t that. So my goal has been to take all the elements of a photo/travel book and make it personal.

Now, people will see my Utah book and think, guidebook for photographers. And it is — one of the few that’s out there. But guidebooks tend to be kinda boring too. And if I were satisfied with that kind of writing, I’d still be working for The Man.

My choice was to make this book personal, something I would enjoy writing and reading. And my hope is that people realize the value of that. These days artisanal beers (and cheeses and even butters) are the rage. And there is something cool about a flavor that’s more personal. So maybe this  is an artisanal guidebook.

Writing, of course, is a far more flexible tool for communicating human experience than the brewing of beer. (I know, but it’s true.) At its best, writing communicates thought and feeling. And I’m starting to see that a more personal, travel writing style of photo guidebook can deliver insights that the typical Fodor’s can’t come close to. We’ll see if that can get communicated.

eBook Conversion: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The challenge of writing is you want it seen. So I hired Bookbaby, a print-on-demand and eBook conversion publisher. Their approach is to take all the grunt work off your hands so you can focus on the good stuff. And sometimes it actually worked that way with Bookbaby.

Getting the cover art worked as you’d expect. I’ve worked many good designers. If you can communicate well, these folks can be miracle workers. So I gave Bookbaby some specifics in terms of color choices — this is a book about Southwestern parks, after all. And I asked them to include my shot of Mesa Arch in the design as an example of the kind of landscapes we’d be photographing.

Their first cover design had about 60% of what I wanted. And I spoke with a designer there on ways to tweak things. We ended up with a look (see above) that reflects the thrust of the book beautifully.

The biggest challenge was in the conversion process. I sent them the manuscript with all images embedded. When they sent me their first proof, the doc had about 30 spelling errors that hadn’t been in the manuscript. OK. Well, I had stuff I’d written that needed to be tweaked as well. So I put it all into the list of fixes and they started work on proof #2.

A week later, proof #2 comes back. A bunch of links were suddenly broken. And there were 20+ spelling errors that weren’t in my manuscript. Six of these mistakes had been on Fix List 1. I guess no one checked the fix list before sending it back to me. So, does Bookbaby not have spell check?

I called and asked to speak with the conversion team. Can’t do that. Bookbaby doesn’t want you to speak with the folks who do the actual work. So Plan B, I explain that I keep getting new mistakes in the document. I mentioned that every mistake means that my manuscript goes to the back of the line, an approach that will add an additional 6-8 business days to my launch date. And I pointed out that many of these were mistakes that were on the Fix List I sent. She promises that they’ll look at my fix list more closely this time.

A week and a half later, proof #3 comes back. Same number of spelling errors, the links that had been broken were still broken. I sent them back Fix List #3. No point in calling.

A week and a half later, proof #4 comes back. Now there are only 3 errors, the links are finally fixed. The process has taken a month longer than expected but there are only 3 mistakes. BUT these are obvious mistakes that a picky reader like myself will notice. That’s why writers sweat those details.

I figured, “Hey, three mistakes. They can do those in 10 minutes and then we have a pristine document ready for Amazon.”

So I called the nice customer service folks. “Sorry,” they said, “you can’t talk to the conversion team, they don’t have phones.” (Wow, no phones. That’s harsh.)

But I persevered. “It’s just three little mistakes. Should take them 10 minutes to make the tweaks, we can do it right now, over the phone.”

Nope, nope, nope. No-can-do. The project goes to the back of the que, that’s corporate policy. “But we promise to get it back to you within 6-8 business days.”

“But, hey, these are all mistakes your team added. Why push my launch date into June for mistakes your team made?”

Their customer service person explained nicely how much they cared about my book and that they would be sure to get the fixes done within 8 business days.

At that point I realized, this is as good as it’s gonna get. With these folks it seems that another proof is another chance for errors. It’s mid May now. And by June 2nd I’m on a plane and starting to work on another book. There is no time. So I pulled the trigger, approved the proof and filed the whole experience under lessons learned.

And now the book is out there. Not perfect, but then nothing ever is. You do what you can and let go of the rest.

Here’s the Amazon link. The book is also on all the other epub sites.

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