Self-Publishing Success Story: Pacific Northwest Wildlife

Pacific Northwest Wildlife is another interesting self-publishing success story. I met the author and photographer, Aaron Baggenstos, at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. I was there because of my son, Lorenzo is also wildlife photographer.

Coffee table book design, book jacket design, photography book design, self-publishing
Jacket cover design for Pacific Northwest Wildlife
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Aaron and Lorenzo at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

As I got to know Aaron, I learned he was transitioning to a new career as a photographer. Making a living as a photographer is a hard thing to do, and I was skeptical that Aaron could sell enough photography. But his vision included the idea of leading wildlife and photography tours. For that I thought, he certainly had the right personality and skills, and I knew I could help him. A beautiful coffee-table wildlife photography book would be a great marketing and promotional tool for letting people know about his skills and talents.

As time passed, we stayed in touch, and Aaron’s portfolio of wildlife photography grew in quality and size. When Aaron knew he was ready to create a book to showcase his new work, he came to me with a project idea.
Early on, we needed to discuss the budget, because one of the biggest challenges of creating a color coffee-table book is the print cost. It is a significant amount of money when you’re just starting a business. There are cost-saving strategies for both state-side and off-shore printing, but it is essential to not sacrifice quality. The book marketplace is competitive, and buyers have plenty of good choices. The book needs to be unique and immediately recognizable. Above all, it needs to be high quality. Looking at the costs, we calculated a cover retail price of $34.95. This left some room for occasional discounts and the retailer cut (usually 40–50%).

Before investing any money in printing, Aaron pitched the book to Costco, the largest American membership-only warehouse club. Generally speaking, getting a book into a store that is not bookstore is a great opportunity, because there are fewer books to compete against and the buyer rightly assumes the books are cherry-picked for the audience. To increase the book’s chances, we were careful to make it conform to important Costco criteria and use good presentation images. They agreed to take 1700–2000 copies, and he could be at locations to sign books. Even with a 50% distributor cut, that could be worth more than $30,000. This one arrangement could cover all production costs and hand Aaron a nice profit. Plus he would still have copies remaining that he could sell and use to promote his business. Most businesses have to spend money on advertising; few get to sell that advertising for a profit! Publishing is one form of content marketing that pays back.

Aaron took my advice and agreed to follow publishing best practices—professional editing and proofreading, design, a marketing strategy, and a printer who specialized in color books. As a designer, I focused on creating a product with a high perceived value that would showcase both his work and introduce him as a photographer. To achieve this, I would do a number of things, including creating custom maps and chapter icons. The maps reinforced an important concept behind the book—travel across the Pacific Northwest—the region where the wildlife habitats are located. This would help communicate the “tour” aspect of his business. The maps were both decorative and functional. The first map is designed to create a distinct and striking table of contents spread at the start of the book. It is a very simple depiction of the Pacific Northwest and shaped to suggest the contour of the globe—no labels or markers. The second map is more functional, giving names and details of the various locations for National Parks and habitats found in the book.

Coffee table book design, page spread design, custom map design, self-publishing
Table of contents design showing custom map design for Pacific Northwest Wildlife

 

 

 

Coffee table book design, page spread design, custom map design,self-publishing
Page spread design showing custom map design for Pacific Northwest Wildlife

 

The chapter icons represent Aaron taking photos. It is a small touch, but it helps convey and remind the reader that Aaron is the person behind all the beautiful photographs in the book. It also helps communicate to the reader that photography is a skill and an adventure activity that they too can experience.

Coffee table book design, page spread design, chapter opener design,self-publishing
Chapter opener design showing custom icon and text wrap.

Rather than simply “self-publish,” Aaron set up a publisher identity, making himself an independent publisher. He could use this identity for the book and any future projects. I redesigned the logo to create one that would go with the perceived value and elegant style of the book—simpler and cleaner. The new logo was also more functional for applications on book products.

Coffee table book design, title page design, self-publishing
Title page design of Pacific Northwest Wildlife and publisher logo design for Nature’s Prime Publishing.

 

Coffee table book design, publisher logo design, title page design, self-publishing
Book jacket showing publisher logo design for Nature’s Prime Publishing.

The story of Aaron’s book got interesting again when the Costco buyer changed her mind. While we were working on the book, Costco had agreed to carry a new anthology from a very well-known and famous wildlife photographer. This was not a huge problem because the book would sell. But it was an unfortunate setback. However, I was reasonably confident that if he took a copy of Pacific Northwest Wildlife and showed her how nice it had turned out, the original offer would hold together. It worked. Once they saw the book, the show was on again.

Coffee table book design, page spread design, self-publishing
Page spread design in Pacific Northwest Wildlife

It is a lot of work promoting a book, doing the book signings, and managing the fulfillment with the stores, but Aaron did it, and it paid off. The book remains an important showcase of his photography work in the Pacific Northwest. His tour business grew and now includes amazing trips to Africa, Costa Rica, and Alaska. He has expanded his portfolio vastly and is now an Award-winning wildlife photographer, recognized by National Geographic, Nature’s Best, Outside, NANPA, and the Audubon Society. Recently, several of his images were chosen for both final rounds in the prestigious 2015 & 2016 BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year. As someone who knows Aaron personally, he’s exactly the kind of guy you would want leading your tour and helping you with your photography skills. When I met him, his goal was to earn of living selling photography. Now, he does the photography he loves, but he also makes his living doing something just as valuable—creating memorable life experiences for his tour clients.

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Market Yourself with eBooks: Volume 2 (Free ebook)

Market Yourself with eBooks: Volume 2

Volume 2 in our new free ebook series Market Yourself with eBooks is now available.

Like volume 1, you can get it for free now and you don’t have to give your email address or fill in an opt-in form. Just click and download. Share the link with whoever you think will be interested.

Volume 1 explains the concept of publishing as a form of content marketing. Volume 2 shares six features of great ebook for marketing purposes. This information is useful to anyone developing a content marketing campaign, especially for business professionals who can benefit from an ebook strategy.

Content marketing, ebook marketing strategy, content development, ebook design
Volume 2: Six Features of great eBook for Marketing Purposes

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR COPY: Volume 2, Market Yourself with eBooks: Six Features of Great eBooks for Marketing Purposes

If you like it, let us know. If you would like an ebook for your business, give me (Michael) a call at 425-771-2905.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Twitter to get more publishing and content marketing tips.

 

Book project, Living Large in Small Spaces: The Cottages of Lake Worth

I love self-publishing success stories. Sometimes success comes just by chance and sometimes by thoughtful decisions and a commitment to quality. The book, Living Large in Small Spaces: The Cottages of Lake Worth is the latter case.

Cottages, Lake Worth, small homes, self-publishing, independent publishing, book design
Living Large in Small Spaces: The Cottages of Lake Worth. Front cover jacket. Under the jacket is an adhesive case with the same cover design and image.

I knew from the start I was working with smart people who had a brilliant idea and a lot of great content. Too often self-publishing authors are thinking “sell globally” on the Internet when, in fact, success is much easier when you start with “sell locally.” If you’re selling a coffee table book that is $32.95, like The Cottages of Lake Worth, direct sales for even a small print run of 3500 books, adds up to $115,325.

As Alex Shephard recently wrote in the New Republic, what sells books is discoverability. “Guiding audiences to a book is the key to successful bookselling. Word-of-mouth buzz can turn a book like The Girl On The Train into a cash cow, as can reviews and other media coverage…” Obviously, Word-of-mouth buzz is much easier to start locally than nationally or globally. That’s good to know, because it can steer many aspects of a book project.

The group behind The Cottages of Lake Worth book project were themselves cottage owners and an award-winning photographer, which is why there are so many excellent photos in the book. The book brings together popular topics that are of interest to audiences everywhere—inspiring cottage photography, garden design ideas, and solutions for living in small spaces. But getting almost instant success comes from having many local advocates, beneficiaries, and stakeholders such as the cottage owners featured in the book, the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, and various supportive individuals and local businesses. There are also many local venues and opportunities for selling the book. So, not surprisingly, I received this email shortly after the book was published:

Hi, Michael—“Can you believe it, we are going for our second printing of our book? On Monday, the board gave a collective thumbs up for more books. . . . We are down to fewer than 150! Thank you again for making our book so, so successful!”

Cottages, Lake Worth, small homes, self-publishing, independent publishing, page design, book design
Chapter openers feature a custom sun and wave design.

Yes, I could definitely believe it. Their success had nothing to do with Amazon or national bookstores—which they didn’t use to sell the first print run. In fact, it was mostly word-of-mouth marketing and commitment to creating a quality product.

A big part of the book’s success comes from the creators’ decision to go beyond self-publishing. That started with creating their own publisher identity to become an independent publisher. They carried this through, following publisher best practices with the editing, design, branding, printing, and marketing strategy. They were receptive to professional guidance and made decisions guided by marketing ideas that you would expect from an acquisitions editor at an experienced publishing house. The result is a book that anyone would find interesting and enjoyable to look through. Not only does it not look “self-published,” it is easily competitive with the best books in its category.

“. . . it was wonderful that we chose to work with you after receiving a recommendation from mutual friends.  Our book has been a huge success and you are a great part of that success . . . People love it and smile when they look at it.  You were always available to talk to us and guide us through some important decisions . . . AND the book is beautiful, thanks to your design! We could not have asked for more . . . By the way, we are selling so fast that we are depleting our supply of hardbacks . . . We should have listened to you when you wanted us to print more! The Best to You.” —The Cottages of Lake Worth Book Committee

“Well, it seems we ALL did a great job on our book. The public loves it, and they are selling fast.” —Janice Snearer

Cottages, Lake Worth, small homes, self-publishing, independent publishing, book endpapers, spot varnish printing, book design
Flaps with spot vanish and custom endpapers.

Here’s a video that shows the spot varnish effect:

Cottages, Lake Worth, small homes, self-publishing, independent publishing, book design
Page spread design showing photo, caption, and lizard decorative element.
Publisher logo design, Cottages, Lake Worth, small homes, self-publishing, independent publishing, book design
Publisher logo design created for the Cottager Press

The photographer who created the photos in the book was kind enough to send me this nice endorsement:

“Michael Rohani . . . guided us through the production of the book . . . Without him, we are certain, that our book would not be the successful tribute to Lake Worth and its cottages. His sage advice saved us money and helped us make good decisions to ensure that we produced the most beautiful coffee table book our region has ever seen. In four months, we have sold 80% of our print run. I wish Michael could hear the wonderful comments from those viewing the book. He would hear praiseful words such as “wonderful,” “professional,” “gorgeous” and “spectacular.” We always say, “Well, the best decision we made was hiring Michael.” We appreciated his warm, patient and personal approach through the laborious process of getting our book to print. . . . He completed his tasks quickly and expertly, and our pages reflected his immense talents. We can’t recommend Michael Rohani more highly.”
—Taylor Jones, Photographer for Living Large in Small Spaces: The Cottages of Lake Worth

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