Eddie Ephraums talks with Ian Macilwain
Last December, Ian Macilwain wrote a piece for us about his latest book Under My Very Nose – A Year of Walking, Wonderment and Wildlife. He shared his experiences of walking the same home patch outside Aberdeen every day for a year and since many fellow OSW workshop participants are interested in book making, we thought it would be helpful to talk with Ian about the production and sales side of the book making process.
As a fellow book maker, I’m always interested to know where and how the idea for a book arises, and therefore how Ian had the idea for his. Apparently it was after about three months of walking, when he found himself designing it ‘on the hoof’. He printed a Blurb copy to help him formulate his ideas and to make format-type decisions. As most of the images were landscape format Ian felt a landscape design was self-evidently the right choice and he soon decided upon a very simple image-per-page layout. “I wanted nothing to detract from the images, other than a small amount of monthly and season text. The factual information was included at the rear of the book.”
His previous books were printed in China, but the minimum print run was 1000 copies, which, as Ian says, can be difficult to manage. If a book is self-published, having that many copies can make a photographer feel more like a publisher, with the associated pressure of storing and needing to sell all the copies. So, Ian searched for a reasonably priced short-run printer and found Kopa, in Kaunas, Lithuania, who had just won plaudits for printing three successful books at the Arles Photo Festival. He printed 400 copies with them. Why 400?
He has found that sales outlets are rarely willing to take more than 10-20 copies each. He therefore needed to find 15 local outlets willing to stock the book, then rely on publicity and a good website to sell the rest. His economic case rested on a 50:50 split with the sellers taking a 40% cut from the £20 retail price. Only one mainstream bookstore refused, wanting 50%. “So I punished them by raising their price to £24.” The 15 outlets were cafes, restaurants, hairdressers, kilt hire shops, bookshops, castles (Scottish National Trust), plus his website, using PayPal which he found essential.
His previous books had made him aware of his limitations. Without a background in design he felt he could only produce an amateur looking book layout. I suggested he might work with designer-photographer and fellow OSW workshop leader Andrew Nadolski, who soon whipped Ian’s draft layout into shape. Ian also had the text professionally proof-read, which cost little, but which in his view is always essential. He wanted the text to be poetic in character and a distillation of his experience of each month and season, so he favoured a more contemplative style, which he hoped would encourage the reader to reflect on the images.
Ian wanted this particular book to appeal to local people who live in his walking territory. The book needed to be designed and edited for them, rather than for photographers. This meant that it had to retail at £20 in order to sell locally. His image choice favoured impactful and pleasing images, over artistic content. “This was not an artistically sophisticated audience. I market tested each image on Facebook as I shot them, to gauge people’s reaction.”
How did he publicise the book? On the internet through Facebook and through his publishing website.He paid for advertising in the local community paper (Culter Courier) and found them keen to accept an editorial piece as well. The Press and Journal (the main north Scotland paper), sent their features editor to interview him and they produced a string of illustrated articles in their colour magazine.
The books were delivered on October 27th – perfect for Christmas. People came to Ian’s house to buy copies. Many bought several and one even bought 25, which the buyer gave as gifts to lucky recipients all over the world, including America, Canada and Russia. Working out postage and packing costs is always important and Ian found that being just under a kilo his UK postage cost was £3.05. If he was nearer to a courier drop-off point, then it would have been less.
Under My Very Nose sold out by the end of January – in three months – and Ian has recouped his investment and 50% more. He’s keen to retain the proceeds for a subsequent project, as opposed to doing a reprint, as he thinks that going out on a high is very desirable.
Note: Images of Ian’s Under My Very Nose can be seen in the December Blog-Article
If you have any articles you would like to contribute or news you would like to share, such as books you are publishing or exhibitions you are working on, that are relevant to the OSW community, then please do email Linda or myself:
Email OSW editorial: