This past year, for me, has been the year of the book. The year I achieved a dream. The year I gave birth. The year I became a father.
I’ve been a little hesitant to write about my book. Maybe because it still doesn’t seem real. But I’m slowly coming to terms with reality, that it is in fact real. Very real.
Another reason I’ve put off this entry is because of how truly personal this book is to me. Not sure if I can express it in words. I know when I tried at Geekfest Denver, I got weepy. It was Geekfest Austin in 2005, with TBrown, that my life changed.
That all said, this
may will become the longest post in the 4.5 years I’ve been babbling on this here blog. Fuck it.
(There are photos and even a video for those that simply like looking at visuals.)
On a total lark, I traveled to Frankfurt in Oktober 2010 for their annual book fair. Sure, it was an excuse to see Mr & Mrs Marky Mark. But it seemed like a good place to show off my project. Germans – and all Europeans for that matter – love the stupid things that Americans do to entertain themselves. And I’d rather be an American in Germany than an Oregonian in New York City. Felt like more caché.
The Frankfurt Book Fair is a total zoo, something like 8 air hanger-sized halls, with different type of vendors at each halle. Some sections specialized in dictionaries or health books. Others travel literature and children’s books. I focused my attention on the 2-3 hangers that included photography/art books. Oh yeah, I’m a clever one.
I set out with a photo book I made with Apple software and edited by Mike Davis. Those in the industry realize how brilliant of a picture editor Mike is. I’ve always felt that he makes me look way smarter than I am. I need more people like Mike.
No secrets here: I simply walked up and down all the aisles at all the vendors, taking notes, asking questions and sharing my book. Some were monster publishers with large booths, like Phaidon. Others small and nondescript, such as Schilt.
I stumbled onto a pretty decent booth that had a shit ton of kühl photo and art books. The name on display: Kehrer Verlag. It was there I met their acquisitions editor, Alexa Becker, who changed my life forever.
When I introduced myself, Alexa asked me what I photograph. The book dummy I brought represented sports culture as a whole, both traditional and bizarre sporting events. But I told her I photographed weird sports, largely because it turns more heads.
“Like what?” she asked on cue, at which point I started listing the litany of weirdness I have been photographing over the past few years. Underwater hockey, Redneck Games, Big Wheel Racing, etc.
“Oh yeah, I know your work,” she told me. “Didn’t your dad die when you were a kid?”
Ok, did I mention I’m in Germany at the world’s largest book fair and not only has this stranger seen – and remembered – my work, but she also knew that I had lost my dad when I was 2?!
Turns out, Alexa was a judge for Critical Mass, a Portland-based book contest of sorts, that aims to expose photographers with art buyers and publishers from around the globe. You pay to enter, and if you make the preliminary round of cuts, you pay again to have the players in the biz look over your entry.
I’m thinking the same thing you are: BEST. MONEY. SPENT. EVER.
Now, I didn’t win that contest and the free book publishing that was awarded the winner. Shit, I didn’t even finish in the Top 50. But I did get to share my work – and my story – with over 200 prominent, global art buyers, including Alexa Becker.
In my mission statement, I talked briefly about why I love sports, how it filled that gap growing up as an only-child with a single mom. Sports taught me how to be a guy and gave me something in common to be passionate about with the neighbor boys.
Alexa looked through my entire book, considerately, curiously, deliberately – from start to finish – catching the nuances of the book sequence that Mike had crafted so beautifully.
For the record: I didn’t have a single other soul do that that entire weekend. They all skimmed the book, some from the front, others from the back, some from the middle. Some said they don’t do sports books. Some said to submit work via their web site.
To be fair, this book fair isn’t really about finding a publisher for artists. Sure, it happens. But it’s really more about vendors licensing work and networking with their colleagues within the book realm. What I was doing was sorta crashing the party and seeing if anyone was interested in a dance.
Alexa sat down with me and told me the process of getting published. Not surprisingly, it involves money, which I knew.
Photo books are not cheap to make, store or distribute. And they don’t sell very well. Also not surprisingly, most of the vendors at the book fair were either showcasing photography by the likes of Cartier Bresson, or they were selling erotica. Usually both. (I’m not kidding.)
When I asked an Italian vendor if her company produced photo books, she handed me a fine art book with tight photos of genitalia. Another vendor said they only license work from “famous photographers,” at which point I told her that I was famous. (She laughed.)
Ok, so it’s about having funding. And it’s the photographer’s responsibility to allocate those funds, by finding sponsors or by paying out of pocket. This isn’t a scam. It’s the current business model for most photographers living and not named Cartier Bresson. (And yes, I thought about changing my name to CB.)
I had been in touch recently with a wonderful client about doing a monster, long-term project, that ironically paid enough to cover the costs of publishing – and a few months of mortgage payments. I mentioned this to Alexa, who seemed a little surprised when I told her I thought I could flip the bill myself. But she said to email her after the fair and she’d reply with a letter of intent, whatever the fuck that was. (I seriously had no idea.) But I did feel like something big had happened, so I escaped from the halle and grabbed a celebratory bier outside before lunch.
Turns out that letter of intent is a handshake agreement. Kehrer Verlag agreed to publish my work if I ponyed up the cash. Pretty simply, right?
The rest of the weekend went as expected. No one was really interested in my book. And those I was told would be – like Chronicle Books from SF – weren’t. Fuck it. I had Kehrer.
So again, that was October of 2010. I spent the next few months editing with Mike, all the while shooting as many weird sports as I could track down. To make the European Fall 2011 catalog, I needed to turn in everything by May. (I really like deadlines.)
In June, I flew to Germany to supervise the press run.
Everything about Kehrer has felt right from the very beginning. And looking back, I couldn’t be prouder to be associated with them.
The designer they assigned me to work with, Katha Stumpf, is pure gold. Again, I lucked out.
This past spring, Katha and I had exchanged emails and phone calls about literally every aspect of the book. Layouts, fonts, paper quality, size, dimensions, possible cover images, text. Everything you can think of.
Once in Heidelberg, we spent the week leading up to the press run making minor tweaks and final changes.
Just like Mike makes me look like a better photographer than I am, Katha made the book more beautiful than I could ever had hoped for. She is awesome. There’s a fine line between pushing creativity and creating schlock, and I always felt I could trust Katha’s judgment.
So with Katha holding my hand, I signed off on literally everything about this book. Scary as shit, because any and all of the fuckups could be blamed on only one person: me.
That said, it’s also rewarding because this is an opportunity that I never had working for a newspaper. There was so little I could control over the final production of the newspaper, it was very frustrating. After awhile, I learned to ignore the paper and focus on my photography, something I could control.
This process with Kehrer brought back the excitement and enthusiasm I had when I first started working for papers. Only difference: I was the bossman.
For the longest time, I was trying to imagine what the hell Kehrer meant in German. Turns out, Kehrer is a man. Klaus Kehrer.
I cannot think of a more friendly, disarming, engaging person than Klaus. And the dude was my publisher. Hells yeah.
Early in my week, I was über stressed. The color proof we got back looked like total Scheiße. The colors looked flat and craptastic. My heart sunk. I wasn’t sure what to expect. (Did I mention this is my first book?) Would the adjustments we made be enough for the press run?
Katha sensed my anxiety and talked privately with Klaus, who personally sat down with me and adjusted the photos with me. And then he encouraged me strongly to get another proof made. It might push the date off for the press run, and it’d cost me another grand. But he wanted me to be happy with this book. Klaus cared.
Throughout this entire process, I kept thanking the people at Kehrer for their help and support. They’d smile and say, “Of course, Sol. It’s your book.”
But I’ve heard tales from other publishing experiences where things weren’t so smooth. Whether it was the money or the design or the distribution or what have you, there are horror stories out there about book publishing. This ain’t one of them. This is a sappy love song.
The week leading up to the press run was an interesting experience. I finally got to work in person with people I had only talked with over Skype. I got to know the people behind Kehrer – and them me. As excited as I was about the press run, I was equally sad to be wrapping up this project.
In fact, it’s been 6 months since the book was published and I miss exchanging ideas with Katha. Most of life as a freelancer is a solitary experience. This was communal. And wonderful.
On that Friday, I woke up early to catch a ride with color guru Jürgen and protégé Patrick to the press, which was about an hour outside of Heidelberg. Everyone else stayed behind at the office, which kind of bummed me out. I wanted to share the birth with them. As things stood, the book would be printed on Friday and I was outtathere. I was scheduled to fly home on the following Tuesday.
Thankfully, the press broke down midway through. I say that because it gave me a reason to stick around Heidelberg for the weekend. On Monday, July 4, Marky Mark joined me for the rest of the press run. Afterwards, we swung by the Kehrer office to share the tear sheets as well as say auf Wiedersehen.
The press run was also an interesting experience, with tons of down time. Here’s a video I made with my iPhone:
Soon after I got home, Katha emailed me a photo of the bound book. Looked awesome.
They FedEx’d me a box of 10 copies. I’d be waiting a few months for the remaining 340 books to arrive.
How it works: as a return investment for paying the costs of publishing, I received 350 books to do with as I wanted. The retail price is $45. The limited edition – with print and crazy popular luchador mask – is $113.
So if you buy a copy of Weird Sports from me, what you’re doing is directly supporting this book project.
I could have done something like Kickstarter to raise funds or solicit corporate sponsorship, but I felt it’d take too long. Plus, I was tired of trying to convince people that what I’m doing has merit. It mattered to me and I could wing the payment, so that’s what I did.
Soon after the book was bound, I got an email from folks at Kehrer. They were negotiating with FedEx for a special deal to ship my palette of books to the US. So instead of waiting several months for a slow boat to deliver my books, I could have them in 2 days. Huh?
On Friday, Aug. 26, 2011, FedEx delivered a half-ton of books to my front door. From that moment, I’ve felt a bit like a book retailer.
Why did I do this book? For me, it’s about legacy, first and foremost. This is what I saw while on this Earth and what makes me laugh. As photographers, we are pretty lucky to leave behind evidence of our presence and personality.
It’s also about marketing. I want clients to see what I can do. Like I said, I’m responsible for every part of this book. Nearly the entire project was funded out of my own pocket. Wonder what kind of fun I could have with a corporate budget…
I’m also curious what happens when you have a book published. Am I taken more seriously? Is sports photography taken more seriously? Is weird shit taken more seriously?
Even Penthouse Mag ran some of my Pig-n-Ford pics in their December issue. Happy Holidays, indeed.
It’s a new year, and I’m excited about the future.
2011 was the year of the book. The year I achieved a dream. The year I gave birth. The year I became a father.
2012 is the year I continue work on the second book.
Yep, this is just the beginning.