Saturday, September 14, 2013

Success Plans and How-to Books

I’ve never been one to follow written directions well. When I was younger and worked a “real” job, I always found it easier for someone to show me the process and let me take notes so the directions would be in “my” words. That is true for today, too.

In learning and developing my artistic talents, I’ve never taken many professional workshops. The older I get, the more I realize I don’t want my head stuffed with information I am not currently going to use. It’s a waste of time and money as what’s not used is often forgotten. (At least this is my belief.) So, when I need to know something, I find someone to teach me that little bit.

Today, there are many DIY (do it yourself) and how-to books out there. This is definitely a DIY world now and of course, all the ads make it look easy. It’s never easy for me and I wonder if others have troubles, too.

The latest how-to book I’ve read started out very well with explanations for some simple things like the importance of copyrights and the differences between ISBN and EAN numbers. There was even a list of terms and their meanings. However, as I got further along in the book, there were other terms used which I felt I should know, but didn’t. Then there are sections that don’t pertain to me or my project, but there was enough gray area and I sometimes couldn’t really tell. I began to wonder…

There’s a lot of money to be made in self-help and DIY books. There’s a big market for that now-a-days.
I began to wonder about some authors’ intent on writing these books. (And I don’t mean all, but some, if any… okay, maybe this is my own thinking and it comes from my trust issues.) People who work hard all their lives and come up through the ranks, so to speak, how willing are they to give away all their secrets? How many feel that as they worked for years to get where they are, why should others get a free pass?

On the other side of the coin, most successful people do want to share their expertise. But, by the time they are “professional,” how many of the steps have become so automatic that they don’t realize that some readers may not fully understand? There’s the terminology, too. The author knows exactly what he means and assumes that the reader will, too. Also, he doesn’t want the book to sound juvenile. He can’t assume the reader knows nothing because that’s a turn-off for those who know something.

Where’s the line? When I started working for the newspaper, I was told to “Write as if the reader knows nothing. Write as if writing for sixth graders.” Okay, that’s for a newspaper, but what about DIY books? Is it assumed that a person buying a DIY book knows something?

When I worked on a marketing plan for my charcoal drawings, I decided to write a step by step article on how I did the drawings and what tools and materials were used. It often occurs to me that most people have no clue about the processes of many artists. They assume that the artist picks up a pencil or paintbrush and just begins to work. They have no concept as to the amount of work that goes into the preparation; how much planning and study goes into the piece before the actual drawing or painting takes place.

Even hearing the first terms, people make assumptions; we all do it. For instance, I mention I do charcoal drawings and people assume I use pencils. (I do, but only a little in the very end for intricate detail.) Someone mentions they do watercolor paintings and most people picture those little watercolor sets we used as kids. A photographer is seen as someone who just takes snapshots, and in this digital world, she only has to download onto the computer and print. Some photographers still do darkroom work and again, most people do not fully understand what that means and the time spent in creating the perfect shot. Editing work on the computer can be very time consuming, too. Nothing is an easy, one, two, three, done process.

So, this week with my purchase of a DIY book about publishing a book, I have found more questions than what the book could answer. The author has been most generous in offering clarification, but even he cannot supply me with all the information I need for my project. (Leave it to me to start off with a huge, complicated piece of work.) What’s been most hard for him, I think, is that I needed explanations on terms that many people probably already know. It’s been frustrating for me because I think I should know. I’ve been a writer and photographer for years and I’ve been using the computer for years and yet, there’s still so much I don’t know, AND I have to understand the terms in my own words.

I am determined not to give up. Once I “get it,” I’ll have it down. I’ve been working on this project too long to let it fall by the wayside. Plus, learning this aspect will allow me to write and design more books. I already have another in the works. I’m excited about being able to do this all myself.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Writing Between Adventures

My brain is going 'round and 'round with ideas and things to do and project to finish and... Ughhhhh, breathe in, take a deep breath, let it out slowly, relax. I can't even think of the Open Studio Tour on September 21 and 22. I am so caught up in getting the book finished and putting my day trip stories together for the next book. I don't even have one book finished and the next one already has many chapters. Aiieeeee!

What's this doing to my other art projects? I do have printed photos ready to mat and there are two big drawings on the stand-up easels that had been started last year and there's two new ones in process on a table easel. There's the one I had considered finished before I went on my trip in January, but now that I look at it, I may work on it more. No, wait, I have to leave that one be and finish these others.

But what about my paperwork and filing? It's been piling up since the first of the year and I haven't made any effort in recording the information and putting the papers away. The only thing I have recorded this year has been mileage.

My mind is like a north-point needle and keeps going back to THE book. I can't get my questions answered. I know what I want to accomplish, but I don't know if it is feasible. What if I've spent all these months working on this and it turns out it's too expensive to print, let alone have anyone be able to buy it?

I want to go off on more day trip adventures. There's places I want to go, sites I want to visit, and people to meet. I want to explore old ruins and find where the trains once ran. I want to write about these adventures and take many photographs of my findings. I want to research history of the area and talk to residents.

But THE book has to be finished! I can't abandon it. I've put too much effort into it and there are people who are waiting to buy copies... if I can keep the price affordable.

This is so difficult. I am a person who works in-the-moment and I have to do things when I'm inspired or it all falls into the black hole of dreams-that-never-came-to-fruition. Right now I want to jump in the truck and head out, but I have an interview/adventure on the books for Friday, so I really need to stay in and get other work done today.

Oh, life is so fraught with decisions, ha ha. At least I am out of my funk and feeling good and excited about life again.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I have spent months working on my book with the goal to publish through, a division of amazon. I chose CS because of the better marketing opportunities through amazon. My last book was originally done through, but I had to do my own marketing – which meant I'd take the books to shows or sold to friends and people I'd meet. It looked like the CS design was similar with dropping text and photos into a template. I chose the size book I wanted and downloaded the corresponding CS template. I copied and pasted the first sections from MS Word to the template. Then came the hiatus in which I dealt with loss and grief, but I eventually got back to it. I have other books building inside me that need to be written. This one needs to get completed. I feel that if I don't finish this that I will be a loser for the rest of my life. I HAVE TO DO THIS!

For the most part, the writing of the book is finished. It's been edited and proofread a number of times. Nan, who helped with the editing, noticed a couple discrepancies in my math when recording the mileage of my trip. She also graciously drew maps for me. In my, what I was hoping would be, final read-through to correct the mileage errors, add the maps, and copy and paste each section into the template, Word started Auto Recovering every change I made and that was not quick. I'd be in the middle of something or trying to move back to the next chapter to do the final edit, and the template file would do an Auto Recovery. I have a lot of photographs in the book so this made the process and the wait long. Every time I added another section to the template, there would be a long wait. I was not even half way through loading onto the template and if it is this slow now, how would it be the further along I got?

I went to the CS website which I found confusing and I had difficulty finding answers. I finally went to the community forum and spent hours reading. Nothing seemed to fit exactly what I was doing, so I posted my first questions in a forum. I received answers, but they confused me further. I don't understand some of the terminology. For instance, what does it mean to “Format/Anchor the photo as a Character?”

The first thing I was told was to not use MS Word, but to download a free Open Office program, which I did. However, when I tried to copy and paste my Word docs with the photos to Open Office, the photos bled past the margins and I couldn't fix them. Further conversations ensued and I was given good advice, however, I became more confused. I was given formulas to figure out margins. I was told I could download a different template, but I'd have to re-configure the inside margins. What? How? Why? I'm even more confused. If templates are available, why would I have to re-do or re-format margins?

I was also confused about the pictures. When I edit and save, I often reduce the size for e-mailing and posting purposes and even though I do that, I can never seem to get it through my thick skull what exactly that means. I've asked often and I never seem to get an answer that clarifies it. If my photos are imported at 5184 x 3456, I'd reduce the size to 2592 x 1728. I also save any that I am going to print as 300 dpi.

So the next question is, what does this do for printing in a book that will be less than 8 ½ x 11 inches? Will these photos still be okay? Or do I have to go back and re-edit the original photo and save it in its full size, still at 300 dpi? The biggest a photo will probably be is 5 x 8 inches if that. One person said that I need to multiply width times length and divide by 300 to know what size the picture will print. Huh?

I spent time during the long weekend trying to decide what my next steps would be. Should I convert everything to Open Office? Should I re-do all the photos? (I have 187, not counting the maps which are also JPEGs in the book. The maps are full size.) During the time of decision, I figured I could keep working in Word and finish the text edit making sure I had the mileage correct and was consistent in the use of route and interstate where appropriate. However, Word kept going “unresponsive” and the program froze.

I was back on the forum after the weekend. I am unsure as to some of the terminology they are using. What I am deducing is that if you are doing a book with just text or having only a couple of pictures, it can be done in MS Word and the CS template used. However, if it's to be a book with a lot of photographs, then it needs to be done in Open Office and “printed” to a PFD creator. “Printed” in the term means created as a PDF file.
I've also come to the conclusion, which was also alluded to in the forum, that CS makes it sound easy, but they are really pushing the purchase of their various publishing services... which is not cheap. So, if you really want to do your own design work, other ways need to be found.

A decision needed to be made. I am so tired of MS Word crashing on me. Okay, so this means I have to remove the photos and maps from my text documents, then copy and paste the document to Open Office. Once that's all set to my liking, I can insert the photos and maps back into the document. I ordered the book one of the guys wrote on how to design a book using Open Office which gives step by step directions with pictures. I am hoping this will answer my questions about templates and photo sizes. He said he does a lot of book designs for people and it's expensive. I figure as I plan on doing more books, I should learn to do it all myself.

Like I need another project!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Portrait Photography

I've never considered myself much of a portrait photographer although I've taken some very good pictures of the kids and grandkids throughout the years. I've occasionally photographed others for one project or another and now, with my work through the newspaper, I am taking more people pictures.

The way I work isn't conducive to good portrait photography. When I go out on a photo shoot, whether for the paper or on my own, I carry as little as possible. The camera is slung over my neck and shoulder and a small notebook and pens are stuffed into my pockets. There isn't any lens changing or flubbing around with a tripod. I don't “set a scene” or use external flash. Seldom do I want my subjects looking at the camera. I prefer candid shots where I can capture a spontaneous moment. That means the photos I take are very in-the-moment and quick. I take dozens of pictures. The notebook comes out for jotting down names and comments. For me, it's like a treasure hunt because I don't know what I'm going to find when I sit down to do the editing. So, when the layers are finally peeled away and a wonderful picture is discovered, I am filled with joy and excitement.

A comment I often hear is, “I don't take a very good photograph.” I usually think that myself. Sometimes I have to convince people, and do so without being pushy. (After all, we are taught not to like our own image. How would cosmetic companies make money if we think we look good enough?) I never want to force people to do anything. But I also totally believe that there is beauty in everybody!

I am an artist! If the person is caught in the right moment, with the right expression on his face, and in an interesting light, the photograph can be beautiful. It may take many photos to get the right image. I love capturing the character in people's faces, especially older people. There is life in these pictures and story behind the expressions. These people have lived through thick and thin. They've experienced a lot. I am drawn in.

I tell people that I never keep a picture in which the person doesn't look good. I don't like goofy pictures or ones that are detrimental to the person. Many pictures are good enough for the newspaper, but every once in awhile, I'll get one in which I feel is a true work of art. I am fascinated. This leads to another side of the subject – permissions.

There are two types of work that I do. One is for the newspaper and the paper's Facebook page. The images are used within a short time frame and usually have to do with area events or interviews. Photos on news print paper are usually grainy and fine details are often lost. Facebook photos are posted at a lower dpi, so again, there is less detail. For these photos, I usually get verbal permission with names to be printed.

The second type of work is from an artist's standpoint. These photos may not be used right away. It may take a long time before I am ready to do a book of photographs or arrange a show of portraits. The quality of the paper on which these images will be printed will be higher allowing more detail and beauty. I will still need permission, but in these instances, the names of the people probably won't be used. It's more about the expressions and character in the face that draws my artist's eye with the pictures being given titles, not the person's name. It's not so much about that person as it is about the art of her expression.

I've done research on permissions and there are different views out there on how other photographers go about this topic, which I'm not going to go into here. For me, this is an issue of ethics. I don't like the thought that my picture is being taken without permission. I don't even like knowing that I am being photographed at traffic lights. I feel that's an invasion of privacy and it just feels wrong and intrusive! It certainly doesn't make me feel safe!

I want to honor other people's feelings. I want to show their beauty. My... problem... is when I'm in my shy modes I don't dare talk to people. I don't like getting in people's faces, and yet, I am intrigued by these pictures I am sometimes able to capture and for that, I need to ask. I feel I miss out on a lot when I don't dare approach someone. I'm getting better! I love what I do and when I can see awesomeness in a person's face, I am incredibly pleased. I want everyone to see that beauty.