How to publish your first photography book

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Today’s PhotoProfit show, I interviewed an amazing photographer from New Jersey, Neil van Niekerk. He’s got a huge online following, he’s published a number of books. We are going to talk about how to publish your first photography book and why it is a really good thing in your photography business to have a published book and how you can leverage that.

Joseph will walk us through about his journey, a couple of really interesting software packages that you can use to publish your book and how long it actually takes to do it if you don’t get picked up by any publishers. You are going to love this episode.

Enjoy. Brent

In this episode
(01:04) – Huge amount of credibility
(01:39) – Allows you to network at a higher level
(02:49) – Fired from a job twice
(03:19) – Everybody has to have their cut
(03:59) – The first thing to do when publishing a book
(04:20) – Direction and quality of light
(05:00) – They don’t really understand what they need to look for
(05:37) – Seeing the big need
(06:08) – Something that solidifies what they vaguely understood subconsciously
(06:29) – Book about posing
(07:22) – Full time career out of just being an author
(08:06) – The big financial risk
(10:15) – Scrivener
(12:12) – Galley proofing
(13:40) – On camera flash
(16:50) – Guy Kawasaki’s “how to Publish a Book”

Show Notes
Neil Van Niekerk – SITE>>>

The Importance of Publishing a Photography Book

  • Publishing a book gives you a certain amount of credibility
  • It makes you an authority in a certain circle that you are in
  • Opens an opportunity to network/market at a higher level

Knowing what the audience needs

  • When writing a book, it’s important to know what your audience need
  • Communicate and answer their questions
  • Find out what the problem is in their common questions and write about it
  • Be the solution to their problem

The process of writing

  • Software called Scrivener is very helpful when writing and editing
  • You only get a small percentage each book
  • You can’t make a career out of it but it puts you in a higher position i.e. expert in your field
  • If no publishing picks up your book, self publish
  • Use Amazon or any sites that does print per order



Brent: Hey Guys, Brent Mail here and welcome to another episode of Photo Profit, the business of photography. Today my special guest is Neil van Niekerk. He’s an amazing photographer from New Jersey. Originally from South Africa. He’s got a huge online following, he’s published a number of books and today we’re going to talk about how to publish your first photography book and why it’s a really good thing in your photography business to have a published book and how you can leverage that. We will go through his journey, a couple of really interesting software packages that you can use to publish your book, how long it actually takes to do if you don’t get picked up by any publishers and that type of thing. I think you Guys are going to love this episode so let’s jump right into this episode with Neil van Niekerk. Just remember all the show notes are at

Having an Authority in a Certain Field

Brent: How are you doing Neil?

Neil: Hi there Man, I’m doing very well.

Brent: Awesome! Good! So Neil, why is it a good idea to create a photography book and publish it through Amazon? What do you think?

Neil: Well the big difference that it makes me to be a published author is that it gave me a huge amount of credibility and that definitely raised my profile so instead of just fighting out of the trenches like everybody else around here gave me a circumstantial and certain cliché turned me into an authority, proved that I’m an authority in a certain field. Definitely that but then there’s also a knock onof benefits. I got asked to speak in a certain trade shows and certain conventions. Now, again the money there is not really that wonderful. It’s not something you would aim for “This is what I’m going to do with my career” but it’s an additional benefit to being recognized and accepted in certain circles within the industry and it allows you to network with higher level you know, different people than you would in just your local area so the natural reward might not be immediate or might be obvious, different respect comes with being a published author.

Brent: Yeah, for sure! I totally agree with you, Neil. I did the same thing in my area. I’ve published a book when I was just starting out. A tourist book on landscape images it definitely positioned me as the expert in my area and from there that’s kind of how got it started so that was the first thing I did. Now when did you publish your first photography book?

Neil: Now the first photography book, sad to say this didn’t come out of my own. A publisher approached me. We migrated to America six years ago and then my wife worked permitted hours and I was a stay at home dad and during that time I sort of writing some stuff and the website that I’ve posted it on eventually started snowballing to something much bigger and the publisher approached me if I wanted to write a book. Now there’s a bit of a story there. At the time that I was shooting for different studios in the area of New Jersey and the one studio owner who I was shooting for primarily fired me twice and the second time he fired me was a ridiculous argument on the phone and I’m like “I can’t deal with this anymore. I’m done being shouted at for stupid crap”. So I put the phone down and called him back an hour or two later and he said “Listen, you’re really fired” and I go “Okay” and I put the phone down again. So suddenly I was without work. I have no contracts for the next few weekends, nothing. I had to rethink what I was going to do and the strange thing is the next day, the very next day I got an email from one of the publishers asking “Do you want to write a book?” “Okay” that was interesting so that was part of the culture and accidental fee. The royalties that book publishers pay aren’t really wonderful. And if you think about a book being $20-$25 and you know, everybody has to have their cut. The bookseller whether it’s Amazon, Nobles, the printer, the people, the distributor, the publishers, the editors and finally this tiny little percentage for you as the author. So the financial reward is not immediate but as we mentioned there’s a definite wider ripple that goes out from it.

Brent: Just so people know. When they actually publish a book or get it published through a publisher, what kind of financial reward is there? How much do you actually get?

Neil: Well, I’m not sure I should divulge this but I think it’s 8-10% is about the norm to get and if you think about what a book cost, $20 or $25 it’s not that much money.

A Book with No Specific Genre

Brent: Sounds good. Alright! So Neil can you walk us through the steps that you’d take or what would you do? Say you’re going to publish another book right now and you would go through how you would actually do it, what is the first thing you do?

Neil: Well my process is a little bit different that somebody who’s writing from scratch because I have the Tangents blog, there are thousands of articles on photography and lighting and I answer people’s questions so there’s a long conversation between myself and thousands of other photographers so I’ve got a really good sense of what people need to know more about. My third book was “Direction and Quality of Light”. It did very well as it’s still selling very well and I think the reason for that is that it deals with not a genre specific topic. That’s not baby photography or off camera lighting or something like that but it’s just the fundamental of light, the fundamental of photography as seeing light and being able to understand what you’re trying to do with light. In that sense it frees you up with the use of available light, studio lighting, off camera flash, on camera flash, video light, and it doesn’t really matter because the principle and light principle is the same. So that’s my third book and the reason I wrote on that topic is because I’ve been getting the same questions from people about off camera flash, on camera flash and I realized the root misunderstanding though is they don’t really understand what they need to look for so when somebody says “Oh I use available light”, I get skeptical as to whether they actually use an ascended available light and positioned the subject and positioned themselves and have a great conscious thought process or algorithm steps to make sure that the available lights works as supposed to being scared of the off camera lighting or the visual lighting and just placing the subject in the middle of somewhere with the available light and it’s really bad available light. That is not using available light. That is just being compelled.

Brent: So what you’ve done here is you’ve actually found a problem. You’ve found a problem that a lot of people are talking about on your blog post on Tangents so you’ve decided to write a book because you’ve seen a big need for this. There’s a big problem.

Neil: Exactly and in terms of how well the book is selling and still selling it definitely filled the gap and I used a lot of the material existing in my website and I compiled it and reworked it and rephrased it and sweetened it into a cohesive narrative over two hundred pages or whatever it might be so that anybody that starts to read the book and finishes all the tips will step away from it with “Oh okay” and maybe not even a lighting bulb moment. Just be something that they never knew but it might just solidify something that they vaguely understood subconsciously but never really had it verbalized or the book might as well have something that they inherently understood but never quite used in a specific direct way. So that’s what I did with the book is not just using the existing literature but also really guided by what I felt was lacking, guided by people’s comments. So if I had to write a book, it would probably be about posing. Every time I post something, people are really interested about the posing how I get the pose and the finesse and so do I structure it? So that’s probably the next book if I had to write another book.

The Process in Putting it all Together

Brent: Okay, how long does it normally take you to get all the materials, put them all together, see what’s in the scene, see how it might flow you know? Which chapters, what goes into what and how it’s cohesively needs to be read? How long does it take you to get all that together?

Neil: It’s tough because I use existing material but also shoot additional materials and I’m compiling it but I would say that it could be anywhere from 6 months, 9 months or maybe even a year in compiling this stuff but also this is doing it while being an active photographer. I don’t think there’s enough money or actually let me tell you there’s not enough money writing a book to make it the only thing that you do as a photographer because photography has a really big audience but unless you hit Oprah’s best seller book list it’s unlikely that you’ll make a full time career out of just being an author. So writing a book is definitely an interestingly something that you want to do as an active photographer.

Brent: Yeah for sure! And with me, my experience is I published the book and we actually distributed it so we self published, paid for it to be printed in another country and imported and then we distributed it so we obviously got a big cut from the beginning. A question for you Neil is does the publisher, in this case is it Amazon? Is that correct?

Neil: Amherst Media is my publisher.

Brent: Amherst, okay do they cover all the cost of printing the book once you have written it?

Neil: They cover it. So obviously they take the risk of publishing the book because you have to print a certain number and etc.and must sell well enough so they take a big risk for it.

Brent: Financial risk yeah. So they get the probably the big chunk of financial reward also.

Neil: No, the people that take the biggest cut are the sellers and the resellers Amazon, Bonds and Nobles, all the booksellers because especially people like Bonds and Nobles, they bind socks and put it in the shelves for months or even years before it sells while they’re paying for the property, the rent, the people, the utility so they have a massive outlay on the off chance of selling the book.

Brent: Yeah, the retailers.

Neil: That’s why I think bookshops nowadays are more extensive coffee shops with a lot of books. The real money is in selling coffee and cake.

Brent: Totally, because you can move coffee quicker than you can move a book I suppose. Alright!

Self Published, Less Financial Risk

Neil: So the distributor I think takes the biggest percentage and also takes the biggest risk. I think the only person in this whole chain that really is sure in making money is the printer. They get the order, they get paid and they print out so many books and I think that’s pretty much every people there are sure of making a specific income on books. I think all book publishing you can just kind of tell. Now, you self published and your percentage is higher but then you left your own devices and you have to generate your own audience or market. I take a smaller percentage and I get paid less but now I have a bigger marketing ahead of me.

Brent: Totally, yeah! And I think that’s a smart way to do it even though you put in six to nine months producing this book and you get a small cut but at least the financial risk is not that heavy. It’s not all on your back and you don’t have to get out there and actively have your feet on the street and be running towards Bonds and Nobles and you know the amazons out there trying to sell to them so they can sell it for you. Now that’s a great way to look at it. Let’s run through how you actually do that. Putting the book together and then send it to the publisher. What kind of software do you use to write the book? Is it In Design?

Neil: Yeah, I have to put it in a piece of software. The first few books that I wrote I used Microsoft Word and there’s a specific pain involved in assembling three thousand words in one Microsoft document or in multiple documents and then moving and changing stuff around. I was told about this software and if anybody is thinking of writing a script or writing anything where they have to chop and change little things and move paragraphs and chapters and words and sentences around they have to use software called Scrivener.

Brent: How do you spell that? S-C-R-I-V-I-N-E-R?

Neil: Close, S-C-R-I-V-E-N-E-R and I think it’s only about $40 or probably $50, 460 or whatever it’s cheap and it actually changed the way that I write.

Brent: Is it a stand-alone software or is it a plug-in system.

Neil: Stand-alone software and it has a lot of support on Facebook. This software has it’s definite fans for a reason. If you do script writing, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, whatever it might be, this is what you want to use because now I can have all my paragraphs, all my chapters, everything laid out in sequence. If I want to move a whole chapter, I move the entire chapter, if I want to move a section, I move a section. It is really in for chopping and changing and moving and I can scroll through and I see the way it flows, I’m really enjoying this software it really changed for me and I would say that the amount of time that I would spend chipping away edit is now a fraction of what I used to do with something like Word. Now I don’t do the layout. The publisher does the layout.

Brent: Sounds good! So you’ve used the Scrivener software and you’ve written everything, does it include all the images and everything that goes into the software?

Neil: Well, what I would do is I would drop in a little screen capture. A small image just to and then I would name it and say “Image 94” and I would say more or less where the image would go in on the script and then I would generate it as word file and I’ll send that to my publisher. Now my editor then rewrites stuff, changes things, she questions what I explained because it doesn’t make sense to her so she’s my editor and is very useful here in being the first viewer of the book and the book I just spoke about “The Direction Quality of Light” and my editor came back to me and had a few suggestions and said it doesn’t quite make sense how I edited the book so I had to rewrite from scratch the whole chapter one so they made a proper intro of the book made the rest more substantial. So there’s a bit of to and fro and then I get an initial script just for words now checking for spelling errors and whether things are correct and I send that in and then I get the Galley Proof which is now the corrected text and where the images has been laid out and now let’s say that the images on the right sequence, I have to pick up any error that I can and very often it’s adding a coma or making the readability really good. So by this time especially since blog posts, I’ve read through these stuff and minimum. If it’s not a blog post, I’ve read through the stuff five to ten times, if it’s a blog post I’ve read it thirty, forty, fifty times by now. So it’s a challenging reading and trying to stay awake.

Brent: That’s funny. Alright! So it goes to the editor and then it comes back to you and then it goes back to the publisher and then it comes back to you for final proof right? Or what do you call it the Galley Proof?

Neil: Galley Proof and then I’ll send the late proof in and then from the Galley Proof it’s about three months before I get my first buck of all the copies and then a few weeks later it actually hits the shelves.

Brent: Okay, so once you’ve proofed it from the Galley Proof, then it get’s printed?

Neil: Gets printed yeah. So whatever they do, so obviously they keep to a specific publishing schedule before our 2015 whatever it is so they softly release all the books. My next book, I say that the Galley Proof I started it in July almost the end of July and the book will officially be published in November but I expected that it will appear in October and that will be four weeks ahead of schedule.

Brent: That’s awesome! So this is a new book you’ve written, Neil?

Neil: No, the book that I’ve just rewrite my first book which was the best seller so far on camera flash.

Brent: Oh okay, awesome.

Neil: And now 6 or 7 years later my voice has matured and I’ve roughly explained this through hundreds of workshops, seminars and presentations and again by the questions people asked I know what I need to teach a complete rewrite of the first book which I would say 80 or 90% new images and I hope this one does very well. This is the way I would have wanted the book.

If No one will Take your Book

Brent: Alright! Well, thanks for explaining how it happens. Now, what can someone do say they’ve got all the material, they’ve put a book together, they’ve used the Scrivener software to put it all together, they’ve got all the images, they think it’s good enough, how do they get in touch with a publisher and get the publisher do the rest to take the financial risk and actually publish a book? How did you do it? I know they came to you but if you ever do it again.

Neil: If I did it now my suggestion I would just say contact publishers. You see them at the trade shows if you to WPPI or PPA conventions or PDM New York or every country has a big trade shows. Book publishers will try to sell your books but speak to them, ask them, keep telling them why you think it’s such a good material, and then contact the editor and obviously they have their pulse, their finger on the pulse of the industry. But they also have to sell the books to the distributors or they call it the buyers to see whether there’s a market. If you have a great photographs, good voice and there’s a potential market for this then definitely just get in touch with any of the publishers that you see in the book shops and the book stores.

Brent: What if no one takes your book? Would you self publish it?

Neil: I would self publish. There’s ways on Amazon as well that they print to order so you don’t have to keep hundreds of books stocked in your basement. There’s a way of printing to order on Amazon where people order the book and printed and shipped.

Brent: Is that kind of like Blurb?

Neil: Assuming it’s something similar to Blurb where they print it as one off basis as needed.

Brent: Obviously the printing cost a lot more because you’re not printing in mass and but you don’t have to lay out all these money and have your garage full of books. Actually I did that when I published my “Moods of Port Stephens” book I had five and a half thousand printed in Hong Kong I think it was or somewhere. I imported them and I went down to the shipping container terminal down in Sydney and I just had a little car at that time and I loaded them all into my car. My car was so weighed down that the wheels were scraping on the wheel arches for my two and a half hour drive back to where I lived and then I parked them into my garage and I filled up one half of the garage and for the next four years I couldn’t park the car in the garage. I had to park in the streets because I had books inside while I was distributing them.They’re all sold out now and people are asking me every time I see people “When are you going to reprint that book” and this is really interesting for me because I don’t want to go out and spend another $10,000 or $12,000 to print 5,000 copies and have them sitting in my garage four years. I definitely have to look at this Amazon print to order or the Blurb somehow where you can print lower volumes and you don’t have to lay out so much money you know print on demand. I think that’s a great idea.

Neil: Oh before we go, there’s one book I need to actually mention. If you’re thinking of self publishing, spend the $10 order might be for this book the author is Guy Kawasaki and the book is subtitled “How to Publish a book” and the book title is “APE – Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur” So Guy Kawasaki who’s very well known take you step by step in everything you need to know and it gives you the steps of publishing a book on Kindle or Apple’s iBooks etc. So if you think of authoring a book, spend 410-$15 and order this book APE How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki

Brent: That’s good. Guy Kawasaki, didn’t he wrote the “Rich dad, Poor Dad”?

Neil: No, not him.

Brent: Okay, I must be getting mixed up with all my other books around here. Awesome!

Neil: If you’re thinking about authoring a book, first get this one, read it, study it and then take it from there.

Brent: Awesome! Thank you so much Neil for being on the show and explaining how to do it, how to take an idea of a photography book publisher and use it to position yourself to give yourself a credibility and everything flows from there. So let’s just have a quick little summary of what we have spoken about you know why it’s a great idea to publish a book. And then we’ve gone through how you actually do it, taking your blog post and finding the need, what’s the problem. Using the material that’s already available to you that you’ve already used or that you’ve already created. Putting that all together then finding a publisher. We’ve gone through the steps of actually publishing the book and then also how to find a publisher and also if you can’t find a publisher what do you do? I think this has been a very useful Podcast for anyone listening, any photographers listening actually wants to position themselves to be the expert industry in the area so thank you so much for being on the show Neil. If people want to find out more about you or buy one of your books, where can they go?

Neil: My website where I post everything is called Tangents. If you just Google “Neil Tangents” you’ll get there. Alternately in my old website you can still get two or three tips. You go to That will get you to the Tangents spot as well.

Brent: Awesome, I’ll have all the show notes and all the links in the show notes if you just go to, you can find it there. So thanks so much Neil for being on the show. I think we need to catch up again sometime next time in the states maybe I can visit you and have a glass of red with you.

Neil: We should hang out in New York.

Brent: Sounds good and if you ever come to Australia same thing

Neil: Yeah Man! Take care.

Brent: Awesome! Thank you, Neil, see you later!

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