The Story Behind the Book
Discovered by Chance
I received an e-mail asking me if I was interested in writing a photography book. At first glance I thought it was spam. I was within two seconds of deleting it unopened when something said "You better read this one." So I opened it. I was still skeptical as I read the e-mail so I went to the nearest bookstore and looked up the name of the person who wrote the e-mail in the Guide to Literary Agents, and learned she is a legitimate and highly respected literary agent.
I went home and did some online research and found dozens of books for which she was the author's literary agent, and the authors were singing her praises. Not only that, she has written a number of books herself. So I wrote back, we set up a date for a phone call, and she spent over two hours explaining how the book publishing business works and answering my questions.
She told me a major book publisher was looking for a photographer/writer to write a book on photographic exposure. They were on a tight schedule and needed someone who could turn out a book in a very short period of time. I was interested.
So who is this literary agent? Barbara Doyen. You can learn more about her and a lot about writing and publishing books by going to Barbara Doyen.com. Curious how she found me? She came across this Web site (JimDoty.com) and liked my photography and my writing. If I didn't have a Web site, she never would have found me.
Getting a Contract
The screening process for a prospective writer is rigorous, especially for a brand new author. I spent two months writing and rewriting book outlines and sample chapters and sent them to the publisher. One sample chapter came back with a critique that was almost as long as the chapter. Editors pull no punches. I said to myself "Who am I kidding? I can't do this." I tended to my wounds, talked to Barb (who was very encouraging), and rewrote the chapter. All of this is done with no guarantee of getting a contract offer.
I didn't ask, but I found myself wondering if a first rank publishing company might have more than one prospective author writing outlines and sample chapters for the same specific project before making the final choice as to which one will write the book.
After all of the sample chapter writing, the publisher offered me a contract to write the book. I signed the contract and we were off to the races.
Writing the Book
They assigned me an editor, and over the next 4 months I wrote the book. They told me it was better to write too much and have to trim the book down to size, than not to write enough. So I wrote like crazy. In fact, I ended up writing a book that was over 500 pages in length including 600 photos. It was trimmed in the editing process to 384 pages and 271 photos.
Most chapters took about 40-45 hours to put together, which included writing and rewriting plus getting all of the photos ready. I would write a chapter once or twice, send it to my editor, and she would work on it while I started the next chapter. Then she would send the first chapter back to me and I would work on it again while she went to work on the next chapter. Sometimes we had several chapters going at once.
We started off doing a chapter a week the first month, picked up the pace as we moved along, and ended up cranking out 3 chapters a week the last month. We both put in long, long hours. I would get a text message at 2 or 3 AM, "Still up? I have a question about paragraph 4 on page xyz." And I would answer.
When the last chapter was in, I breathed a sign of relief. I had a week off before the process of reviewing and rewriting began. I went through the entire book 4 more times with a team of three more editors. Lots more rewriting, plus we had to trim the book down to size since I exceeded the initial goal of 368 pages (which was eventually changed to 384). That process took three more months.
As chapters were finished they would go off to the printer. A couple of weeks after the reviewing process was over, the last few finished files were off to the printer. Two weeks after that the book was in stock at major online bookstores.
Obviously, I am grateful for Barbara Doyen, my literary agent, and the editors I worked with: Jennifer Connolly, Tim Gallan, Jennifer Tebbe, and Caitlin Copple.
Backstory: A Strange Chain of Events
Part of the story behind the book began long before the e-mail from Barbara Doyen. There are some people who had a big impact on my photographic journey.
Camera Theft and Mike Baroli
In 1984, some low life person stole my camera. Insurance would replace the camera, but nothing could replace the photos that were still in the camera from a recent and very special family vacation. Insurance money in hand, I headed for a local camera store and found myself talking to Mike Baroli. He sold me a camera, lens, and camera bag (I told him the bag was too big but he prophetically said I would need a big bag), and I walked out of the store. Fortunately for me, he was not only a salesperson, he was an avid and passionate photographer.
A few days later, I came in to pick up the first roll of developed slides taken with my new camera. He spotted me, came up and took my yellow box of processed slides (before I had a chance to open it) and went back to his corner of the store. He went through the slides and sorted them into two stacks. He pointed to the stack of 4 slides and said "Keep these." When I asked what I should do with the other 32 slides, he said "Throw them away." I didn't like that. I gathered up my slides and left.
The next time I came in to pick up another box of slides, he did the same thing again. Although I found the process annoying, it became a challenge for me to make the keeper stack bigger. That didn't happen for a while. So I finally said to him "Why should I keep these and not them?" That's when he started teaching me how to be a better photographer. He started sending me to the best books to read, he converted me from Ektachrome 200 to Kodachrome 64 (a much better film). He challenged me to be a much better photographer, our visits became a source of inspiration, and his critiques led to my first published landscape photos and my first magazine cover. I have Mike Baroli to thank for sending me well down the road to being a better photographer.
A Gift and Jim Riegel
As a gift, my wife signed me up for a class in B&W Photography taught by Jim Riegel, the chair of the photography department at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA). Jim Riegel liked my work so well that he offered me a job teaching nature photography classes at the KIA. I was reluctant at first. I traveled a two state area for my "day job" and I didn't think I would have the time to take on a photography class. But Jim persisted and he talked me into giving it a try. He suggested a combination of classes plus field trips that would work around my travel schedule. In 1995 I taught my first class at the KIA. I loved it. My class each semester involved 9 or 10 class sessions (3 hours each) plus I would take the class on 4 or 5 field trips that would last about 3 hours. The combination of classes and field trips was invaluable for me.
Jim Riegel and I talked regularly about my class and I have no idea how many times we chatted about photography in general. I wrote a modest set of handouts for my very first class sessions, and every semester after that I would add more handouts or rewrite old handouts. I soon learned what clicked and what didn't. The collection of handouts grew to over 200 pages. Jim encouraged me throughout the whole process. The experience of writing all of those handouts provided the background material for a lot of my book.
Broken Ribs and a Web Site
Family and friends, along with my photography students, had been urging me to put up a Web site, but I never seemed to have the time. A little incident at summer camp with a foot race and broken ribs resulted in serious limitations on my travel time. Under orders from my doctor to stay home, I had a few weeks mending time which gave me the time to put up a simple Web site. (Thanks go to Kim for the broken ribs!) I began a small site with a few photos and some articles adapted from my handouts. That evolved over time into JimDoty.com.
The teaching, photo field trips, writing, and Web site experiences paved the way for my book. In fact, a lot of the book came from ideas I had originally developed for my handouts and Web site articles.
So I have my wife to thank for signing me up for a class at the KIA.
A big thanks to Jim Riegel for the opportunity to teach photography, both in the classroom and in the field, and the chance to write about photography and try out the handouts on a wide variety of photographers at all kinds of experience levels. I learned a lot about what works in teaching photography and how to write in a way that is helpful to photographers.
I am grateful to Mike Baroli for showing up in my life, taking an interest in me, and making a huge difference in my photography.
And thanks to Kim who has finally forgiven herself for challenging me to that foot race over rough ground with a strategically exposed tree root to trip over and a nice, hard boulder to land on.
Copyright © Jim Doty, Jr. All rights reserved.