Exactly one year ago today we received the first 3000 copies of my self-published coffee table book, Love Letters to Art. Ceiling-high, it was like The Great Wall of China straddling my studio. Simultaneously, deliveries were made to my galleries (50 to 500 books each) and a few other distributors directly from Friesen Printers in Altona, Manitoba, Canada. We weren’t trying to win the Booker Prize here — the book had a specific purpose. I wanted to highlight my current interests, give a few more tips and show a variety of recent work. I’d like to go over the stats so you can see if the idea might work for you.
The book cost around $90,000 ($15 each), not including my labour. The whole effort, including designer and printer, was a joy from the get-go. We doubled our investment in about four months. Here in the studio we have about 300 left.
Most dealers — buying them in quantities for $25 each — have now sold about half their stock and more than doubled their investment. As well, many copies were simply given to serious buyers and friends. My personal book signings in galleries were great, those in bookstores not so wondrous.
Last December, when subscribers reacted to my book-launch letter, this studio turned into Amazonia. It was me signing, and Sarah, Sara, Michelle and Carol Ann wrapping and taking three trips a day to the Post Office. We got pretty cozy at the P.O. Even Dorothy did a lot of running back and forth.
It took two weeks for the Wall to come down. We made a few errors. Some folks were mailed two copies. Some buyers in South Africa and other spots didn’t get theirs until after Christmas. One guy, who paid only once, got three copies on consecutive days — all of them inscribed with, “For Jack, Good luck with your excellent watercolours and oils, best wishes and thanks for your friendship. Robert Genn.” Go figure. I was getting punchy, talking like Groucho Marx: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
While most buyers reported the book to be “beautiful,” things are never perfect. Come to think of it, I’ve never painted a picture that totally knocked my socks off, either. In the Acknowledgements, I got the wrong wife’s name for one of my best collectors. There were a few colour separations that were not dead on. Like with the lady’s name, I’ve taken the flak.
Esoterica: So, we’re going to do it again. I swear on a stack of Korans that if you order in the next few days, you’ll get yours by Christmas. These last few copies are $50 each with shipping anywhere in the world as a gift from us. You can pay by cheque or PayPal. I’ll be happy to take my time and put in absolutely any dedication you wish — to just you, your friend, or your club. You can get them unsigned, too, but you need to let us know your wishes. It’s my sincere hope that you’ll find the book beautiful, useful and fun.
Self-publishing with lulu.com
by James Culleton, Montreal, QC, Canada
I too just published a book, on a slightly smaller scale, but it may give your readers some insight on another way to get a book out there. There are two websites to publish books yourself, one is blurb.com, and they provide software for you to do it yourself, and the other is lulu.com, which you need only choose a format of book and supply them a PDF file. I used lulu.com, and I printed a softcover book with a color cover and over 150 b/w pages for a mere $7. I ordered about a hundred and I have almost sold them all. I had a successful book launch at McNally Robinson Booksellers (who are super helpful and supportive of local authors). The beauty of lulu.com is that they have your book on their site and anyone can order it from them at any given time. The drawings themselves were done with the financial help of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Quebec. I paid for the book myself, and after paying a photographer and a graphic designer, I’m no longer in the red. A worthwhile investment!
Self-publishing with blurb.com
by Kate McCavitt, Oceanside, CA, USA
Blurb.com is a great option for ANY artist to create their own book, whether for PR or just to remind themselves how much they’ve grown through being an artist. The software is first rate and I only visited the online help section twice during the production. I give it four stars. It prints like it looks in the program so…. WYSIWYG. I don’t know too many artists in my stretch of the sand who can sink 90 grand into a book. Are you famous or something? Because before my friend Rich (artist) turned me on to you, I never heard of you. Don’t take that personally; I’m sure you haven’t heard of me either.
Problems with self-publishing
by Carolyn Edlund, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA
Congratulations on the success of your book! I’m not surprised that it was successful… your wonderful letters are eagerly anticipated and read by persons near and far with the added benefit of considerable name recognition and PR for the book. Your equally wonderful paintings attract that much more attention because of these letters. For the rest of us, I urge great caution on the prospect of publishing one’s own book. It’s a risky business. My spouse has a very successful editing business. Early in our relationship he confessed to a burning desire to be a publisher. To that, I responded in the affirmative — I’ll support you any way that I can. Thus began our flirtation with publishing. Despite his lengthy experience in the field, a good amount of research, publishers’ workshops, and a lot of sweat equity, the business went nowhere and we only accumulated significant debt. We published 5 books by a diverse group of authors. The most significant contributor to lack of success (sales) was insufficient funds to effectively promote the books.
Art books are attractive to a select audience and may or may not have a marketing edge (or “hook,” as the publishers refer to it). Those contemplating such an endeavor need to examine several factors… among them: author name recognition (how well-known are you?); funds (amount of cash available for PR) including 1- production costs, 2- publicity (to distributors and target audience), 3- distribution to vendors. Proceed if you will, but do so knowledgably and well funded.
Book printers in North America
by Rip Sihota, Boston, MA. USA
The popular method for North American publishers these days is to have coffee table books printed overseas, particularly in China and Hong Kong. While the quality is often excellent and the prices somewhat cheaper, there is often a greater lag time and less last-minute control. Domestic printers right here in the USA and Canada often offer further benefits such as warehousing, drop shipping in small quantities, and of course speedy reprint and delivery of further editions. With the high cost of overseas shipping the cost differential is narrowing. Paper stocks in North America are not as expensive at the present time, and with the current economic downturn it just makes good sense to keep the business at home.
The ease of self-publishing
by Marilynn Brandenburger, Decatur, GA, USA
I’m one of the happy owners of your lovely book. Yours wasn’t my original inspiration — I had already started self-publishing my own little book before yours graced my door — but I know that seeing you putting your work out into the world in both images and words sure put a fire under me. I’m happy to report my first self-published journal (and I mean truly self-published: hand-printed on my Epson and hand-bound with needle and thread) went online last week. Others can be viewed on my website. Thanks for sharing your experience and also for including the SPOD (self-publishing on demand) websites, like Lulu. You’re helping all of us realize there are many exciting new ways opening up for artists to get their work out now — and that a book of one’s work for reasonable cost is now an option. Hallelujah!
Solution found in Bob’s book
by Kim Blair, Edmonton, AB, Canada
I purchased ‘Love Letters to Art’ from you at the West End Gallery here in Edmonton during your day of book signing. I browsed through the book off and on over the next few months. I have been working on completing a small painting every day and treating myself during my lunch break to reading a page or two from your book. When I attempted to paint a larger piece the other day I felt totally lost. When I completed it my husband said…”This does not look like your work at all and it seems too busy.” (Exactly what I was thinking) What happened? Well, that day at lunch as I turned the page to read the next letter guess what the title was… “Small to Large” (page 102)! After reading it I went online to your archives and read the entire letter (November 2, 2004). This was pure serendipity. I had my answer(s) as to why I was struggling with this large piece. I thought through what I was doing wrong… and then went out and purchased a larger, better quality brush and came back to the canvas, wiped it off and started again. Not only did the next piece turn out pretty darn good, it also pushed me to try painting on a dark primed canvas since the oils I wiped off created a dark sienna-toned ground. The second attempt was looser, expressive, and more spontaneous than the previous one and I stopped myself from overworking it by letting your words replay in my head and laying down my brush and walking away from the easel. Hurray!
Despite the errors
by Mary Ann Gerwing, Chemainus, BC, Canada
I think it is great to have a collection of contemporary artists and despite the errors (why should you be an exception) I love having “Love Letters to Art” in my collection. I just got back from Wales and I realize from your book that you too were there. What a blast it was! Of course the National Art Gallery is to slaver over. I visited Pembrokeshire only and to my delight there were no tourists around. I missed a lot because of that but no elbows in my back the whole two weeks. My next indulgence will be a series of paintings of Wales. Can’t wait to start!
The story of a book
by The Molinari Family
An author’s greatest fear is rejection. Artists who venture into publishing are risking two levels of rejection — art and literature. Congratulations on your successful economic venture. May I share our story?
My family is “artistic.” Honey is an artist, kids sell comics, graphic novels, and all things Manga. Momma is a writer and everyone’s worst editor. For several best forgotten reasons, we decided to publish a work of “art” as a family. We dreamed of economic success to support more purest ventures.
We commenced work. The book filled our thoughts and actions. We brainstormed during car trips to the psychiatrist. We convened designer meetings around board games. Ideas blurted out after showers or nightmares. Since we all have “other lives” we squeezed in important meetings during other activities. Executive huddles occurred under covers. Peer reviewers commented over cold cereal. Pilot pages were entrusted to target audiences with debriefing sessions over simple small refreshments.
The development period lasted two years. We reached a point where development seemed perpetual. I was convinced we would produce pages in the retirement home. The activity seemed appropriate for a second childhood. We perfected the development process. Everyday another page became routine, familiar, and comfortable. The difficulty was leaving the creation and entering the next publishing phase.
We prepared by joining a professional illustrator and author organization. We went to meetings and even trusted members to critique selected pages. We researched and revised. We word wrestled, rewrote titles, reformatted pages, and sweated the “small stuff.” By the end of the marathon we both loved and hated our outcomes. We incubated our baby like an overdue pregnant lady. We wanted to give birth but feared the process. Labor might be uncomfortable but we weren’t sure we wanted to face delivery. Self-doubts prompted questions. What would we do if our book didn’t receive critical acclaim?
Bob, at least you knew your child was beautiful. You took the high road to self-expression. You can feel righteous if the world rejects you. Your book makes an attractive dust gatherer. Homemakers can even employ the cover to measure cleanliness levels. Isn’t that why they call it a “dust cover”? If your book never leaves your studio you can employ it as insulation. Yes, you had it easy.
Our family’s first foray into self publishing was a specialty coloring/activity book. We aren’t able to claim our wisdom isn’t understood or our art unappreciated. Rejection for us is a simple but clear, “We don’t care about children’s activities during disasters.”
Coloring books are a tough sell. Don’t let the idea of a product for young people fool you. Not only does one need to please the child, but one must open the parent’s wallet. The color book market is dominated by big names like Barbie and Dumbo. We brought hometown bunny folk of Hollowville to the big city. Think of the barriers we faced. We didn’t even aim for best seller status. We just wanted to meet the needs of real people under difficult conditions. Marketing was our biggest challenge. One must create a marketing plan without using the regular marketing channels.
No galleries host color book signings. Journalists and talk show hosts ignore the genre. Think back. When was the last time someone discussed the artistic merits of the Tasmanian Devil’s biograhy? Bookstores don’t sponsor parties for “Harrison’s Coloring and Activity Emergency Preparedness Plan.” If I were honest, I suppose signings really should be avoided. Think about it. If you take a book from a child to write “Best wishes in all your artistic endeavors” on the front fly, the child is liable to scream. “You didn’t stay in the lines!” Pain! Such public attacks hit both the literary and artistic aspects of an author’s soul.
Our first marketing plan included grocery store signings. We bought a small white table and a folding chair and set up between hotdogs and go-gurts. We should have consulted with a Feng shui expert. Six teens and high spirits between carts create mayhem. Play grounds didn’t work out too well either. Sprinklers can ruin the inventory. If you decide this is a good venue for you, be sure to consult with the parks department.
We considered value added products like crayons, but we are a barebones operation. We can only afford one crayon per customer. I objected when I thought of a totally black bunny bulldozer or a red bunny marshmallow roast. I shudder at the idea of a totally yellow flood. I know there are all types of artistic styles, but I will only support a multicolored survival rabbit canvas.
We may schedule a signing in a large toy store after the feng shui consult; perhaps between art supplies and books. Really the perfect setting for marketing our creation is a tornado, tsunami, or earthquake. So far I’ve missed every one and haven’t yet contacted the master scheduler for the next opening in our area. I suppose I should, success is all a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
Do I recommend family self-publishing? Well, that is another story involving parenting philosophies and family business. Not all artistic self-publishing efforts are the same.
by Leslie Anderson, Sedgwick and Portland, ME, USA
How you transition from summer plein-air painting to winter studio work? I live in Maine and paint landscapes all summer. Having lots of commissions, two painting partners, and regular open studio hours form the framework of discipline. In the winter we move from our farm in the country to a condo in the city, so I have the physical upheaval to deal with along with the weather issue. I do have painting partners here as well and usually take a class or two at the local art college for trying different things, but I find getting over that transitional hurdle gets harder every year. Any advice?
(RG note) Thanks, Leslie. As a painter who alternates between cabin fever and outdoor fumbling, I know the feeling. I’ve found that the more you make the transition, the easier it gets. Also, you have to come to terms with the understanding that some artists are more cut out for plein air, and others are more sure of themselves in studio application. There is no antidote better than just squeezing out — at either end. I’ve found that when returning to the studio environment, I’m best off to have unresolved yet doable field reference at the ready the very minute I walk in the door. To be free is magic, but it’s so nice to have a studio to come home to.
Mix of joy and misery from printer
by Doris Cooper, TN, USA
The U of A hired me as their business college’s graphic artist in the 1980s. Oh, how I could relate to your letter about the book. We once got a publication back from the printer. The editor, the Dean and a couple of contributors and myself were all giving it the 1, 2, 3. The Dean, standing across from me, glanced at my copy, upside down to him and asked, “What’s that, Doris?” After that we coined the phrase, “It doesn’t show up till it’s back from the printer!” So many people proofed it and still errors slip by. That was in the days before computer graphics. Sounds like computer mania still gives graphic artists some quirks. Thought you may enjoy hearing from one who understands the mix of joy and misery when it comes from the printer!
Enjoy the past comments below for Book report…
Still water pond with red and yellow
acrylic on canvas, 22.5 x 16.5 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Elaine Deyo of Branson, MO, USA, who wrote, “As a writer and a tapestry artist, I have come to an important conclusion: If you want to sell your book, become famous first.”
And also Simia Bulabo of Guinnea, who wrote, “This was the best book I ever did read.”
And also Sharon Cory of Winnipeg, MB, Canada, who wrote, “I would like to get another copy of your book as mine was confiscated by my son on a visit home.”