Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

News from an editorial, corporate, portrait, reportage photographer. Based in Scotland, tel. +44-(0)7831-138817

On The Road Again

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So hands up who wants to publish a book of their photos? Most of us I expect, and no doubt some already have.

Today’s TokyoLand entry is generously donated and written by an esteemed colleague from London, Homer Sykes, on how he courageously went about self-publishing his book of images shot on road trips across America, a book called ‘On The Road Again’. This article was first written a few years ago, but none the less it is of much interest I feel.

‘ON THE ROAD AGAIN’ by HOMER SYKES

4th OF JULY 2002. I published ‘On the Road Again’ this is a series of photographs from four road trips across America taken over thirty years. The photographs are from 1969, 1971, 1999, and 2001, all are shot on a Leica M3. During the thirty year gap I was a very busy magazine and news feature photographer, working for many of the major magazines around the world.

AUGUST 1999, was a quiet month, I re-found my early American photographs I made prints, and I showed them to my agent Neil Burgess at Network Photographers who expressed surprise, smiling, he asked if these were mine, and what I had been doing for the last thirty years? It was decided that I would try and do a similar set of photographs once again travelling by Greyhound bus and occasionally hire car. The new photographs were a great success, and on my return with renewed confidence I started planning a book. One more trip was needed and I went back during the Easter break of 2001 to complete ‘On the Road Again’.

AUGUST 2001. I had a 32 page dummy book or as they call it in the trade a ‘blad’ designed and printed. I ordered 12 paperback copies, and one hard back, 136 page-bulking dummy. In all I spent about £800.

SEPTEMBER 2001. I went to Visa D’or in Perpignan with my ‘blad’, and sets of prints. I was hoping that Network Photographers various subagents who all gather there for the photographic festival would help me find a European publisher. I began to realise that my great idea may not have the appeal I thought it deserved. Any publisher to make it financially viable was going to have to tie up the British, European and American rights, and this seems to happen usually once a year at the Frankfurt book fair that takes place each autumn. Everyone I talked to liked the work, but they all envisaged problems that I just couldn’t see, or wanted too. On my return to London, their view was reaffirmed.

OCTOBER 2001 While trying to find a publisher for ‘Shanghai Odyssey’ which I had been shooting for the Grimstone Foundation I met with the publishers Dewi Lewis and Chris Boot. After the meeting I showed them my dummy of ‘On the Road Again’, and they suggested that I publish the book myself. Though I had absolutely no publishing experience I made the decision then and there to become a one book, one-man-band publisher.

NOVEMBER 2001. Dewi Lewis agreed to publish ‘Shanghai Odyssey’, and at that point I realised I could probably learn an awful lot about publishing, if I took his advice. I got some quotes from a printer I knew in Shanghai who had done a great job on a Network Photographers book, and also quotes from Dewi’s printer EBS in Verona, Italy. The Chinese printer was cheaper but with all the additional costs involved, the final price almost matched the Italian one. I decided to print with EBS Verona.

NOVEMBER 2001. I then tried to find some sponsorship. Several of my potential sponsors had travelled around America on the Greyhound bus in the 1960’s, or had wanted to, and the fact that I did it then and again thirty years later seemed to appeal to them. However it wasn’t that easy and in the end they all said no, except for Uli Hinter of Leica Camera Ltd.

DECEMBER 2001. I live on an overdraft, so I regularly talk to my bank manager. I needed I had estimated £11,500 to cover all the costs of the book. This included the dummy, the designer, the black and white prints, the printer in Italy, return flights to Verona, the hotel and the rest. I drew up a business plan based on a print run of 1,000 copies that I would retail at £20. I told my bank manager that I would pay the money back with in two years, and he lent me what I asked for against my flat.

FEBUARY 2002. I had the money, a designer was working flat out on the mechanics of my book concept. I needed a name for my imprint, and I decided to call it after the block of flats I live in. Mansion Editions was born.

MARCH 2002. I signed a contract with EBS Verona, they would print 1,000 copies in duo-tone, with a firm back cover, shrink wrap it, and deliver it to London by the end of May.

APRIL 2002. The weight and characteristics of the paper had to be decided, along with the type of printer’s ink to give the quality I desired. Printed flat proof sheets came back for me to check, and got sent back with the corrections marked very clearly. This stage is terribly important. Every sheet has to be signed off, and any defects for example, little black spots, and white “holes” need to be noted. Lost images found, and miss-sized images corrected. Contrast, and ink density has to be agreed. I am interested in the detail of things, and frankly that counts for a lot in publishing. So much can easily go wrong.

MAY 6TH 2002. A printing schedule had been agreed, the book would go on press on Tuesday May 7th after lunch, and come off the following Saturday. I caught 6.40am flight from Stanstead to Brescia, an hour north of Verona and then a bus to the printers. I had arranged to arrive a day early to do any last minute corrections and check everything was in order.

At the factory they greeted me, “thank goodness you have arrived”, the printing has been brought forward a day, we are going on press this afternoon. Can you do the final copy corrections now, and check the flat sheets. Claudia will take you out to lunch. The image sizes on the flat sheets still were not correct! Eventually, and after much standing over people everything was in order.

I was still worried about my unit price, which would not give me the profit margin I felt I needed if I was going to sell it myself and through a distributor. And so I decided to spend another £700 and have a run on of 400 copies. Even through I had been advised that in the UK there are only between 800 and a 1,000 people who regularly buy photographic monographs in the £20 bracket. The 400 extra copies would bring my unit price down to £7.50. I felt that if I could sell the book myself into retail outlets, and also sell 200 copies over the following two years to family and friends. If a distributor would look after those shops I would not be able to get to, I would be able to make the sums add up and break even. Just. Perhaps even make a small profit.

The lunch was great, but by Italian standards hurried and at 2 o’clock sharp, the first sheet was run off. My mini Italian English dictionary came in useful as I looked up the words for, more ink, less contrast, I support Manchester United, and everything else that I would need to communicate with an Italian printer. When eventually the first flat sheet that they, and I were happy with was printed. I was asked to sign it off, the final adjustments were secured, and the presses began to roll. I was on press that day until nine o’clock, and for each of the next three days.

MAY 8TH 2002. I changed my mind about the one spot colour on the cover and instead of having an orange title, I decided that
red would be more eye catching, and look more stylish. I also increased the density of the pantone to make it slightly darker on the editorial pages.

MAY 10th 2002. The cover was printed in the morning, and I took some extra copies, along with twenty ‘signatures’, (unbound sections of the book) with me on the plane home that afternoon, to prove to myself that I had a book. Also of course to use as a selling tool until the real thing arrived.

MAY 2002. Armed with the ‘signatures’, the cover, and a press release I visited three distribution agents. The first two I met said they liked the book but couldn’t make a profit selling it, as I was a one-book publisher. They wanted several titles, and what books was I preparing for next year? They would not anyway be able to do anything with ‘On the Road Again’ until the September season, and if they were going to work with me they would need to have the whole of the UK. By the time I met with a third distributor I knew I was going to have to do it all myself, if I was to make any sort of profit. The publisher, and distributor, and bookshops all take about 30% each, which leaves the traditional 10% for the author, and that’s, if you are lucky. If I could cut out as many middlemen as possible, I COULD make a profit. To date I average a return of over £13 a copy.

MAY 23RD 2002. ‘On the Road Again’ was delivered in the evening and I humped and heaved it off the lorry and stored it temporarily in Networks Photographers office basement. I now warehouse it under my bed and in my flat. It was a very exciting day.

MAY 24TH 2002. Shooting all day.

MAY 25TH 2002. I phoned Claire de Rouen at Zwemmers Photography bookshop in Charing Cross Road, and asked if I could come in and show her a book that I had just published. Two hours later I had made my first sale, and shortly after that I wrote my first invoice and was paid on the spot by Bill and Jasper at PhotoBooks International. That first week I sold 102 copies. At the same time I was sending copies out to reviewers along with a press release, making follow up phone calls and generally letting anyone who would listen know that ‘On the Road Again’ was the next best thing since sliced bread. I set up deals with the three main wholesaler’s, and generally spent a lot of time calling book shops if they were out of London and sending them a cover, “signatures”, and a press release. Several of the main chain books shops took it, and several others were not interested. The absolute joy was that I was getting a response. I had never sold into retail outlets before, and I was very happy to discover a wonderful group of interested people who responded to my phone calls. No voice mails in bookshops!

I originally estimated I would need to sell about 1,200 copies to break even. This was however guess work, as I had nothing to go on, and I had optimistically imagined that a distributor would look after all the retail outlets that I didn’t want!

In the first year I have sold over 500 copies. I need to sell another 75 copies to reach the magic £10,500 that I promised my bank manager I would return to him plus interest within two years. The £10,500 has grown with additional costs to £11,500 that includes over £300 in postage and packing alone.

The spin off’s I had anticipated have been extremely useful in making the whole exercise financially viable. I add into this equation lectures that I have given on the back of the book, and magazine articles that use the photographs from ‘On the Road Again’. Lectures fees have been anywhere from £25 to £400. Even the £25 lecture is worth it, if you can sell and sign half a dozen books at £20, and begin to build an audience, and an email database.

Would I do it again? When you purchase an isbn number, you get ten consecutive numbers. My next book will be published in a year’s time. As for world distribution, I’m still working on it, but I can now afford to take the percentage risk I couldn’t to start with.

Homer then went on to publish ‘Hunting With Hounds’,which like ‘On The Road Again’ can be purchased via his website, or copies are available through all good book shops, also available from Amazon.co.uk, and other on-line booksellers.

Images from inside both the books can be seen by visiting Homer’s archive website, and following the appropriate links.

And if you want original prints by Homer, (or by me…), then please visit Galleryf.

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