Saturday, May 25, 2013

Feverish Diligent Photography eBook Authoring

Yesterday, after picking up my high school-aged son from school and while we were in the car talking, I mentioned to him I've been working "feverishly" on my new ebook. BTW, he lives with his Mom, not with me. But I see him very regularly. He spends much time here, at my place. He always has. He and his Mom live fairly close by. They've always lived close since he was quite young and his Mom and I decided our co-habitation was not such a good thing.

"Feverishly?" He asked with a chuckle and in that all-too-common, slightly mocking tone that many teenage kids are apt to use with their friends... and parents.  "I wouldn't use that word for what you're talking about."

"What word would you use?" I asked.

"Diligently," he said.

So, I've been diligently working on my new ebook, "Flash-Free Portrait Photography."  I was calling it "Flash-Free Model Photography" but decided that sounds too focused on models. The book is about shooting all kinds of people for all kinds of portraits, albeit in natural light, and not just models.  I want to avoid any possible confusion about the book's intent and its contents. I might even add a sub-title to make it even clearer regarding the book's contents.

Unfortunately, I've been having some gnawing doubts, some genuine insecurities about my voice, my writer's voice. Specifically, the writer's voice I was using for this new ebook. Just so you know, I can write in more than one writer's voice. I'm like a writing impressionist or ventriloquist or whatever that would be. Sort of, at least.  Anyway, I sent off some of the book's freshly written text to a friend, another photographer and ebook author, and asked what he thought. Specifically, regarding the "voice" I've been using to author the book.

My friend wrote back. Here's what he said: "I sometimes struggle with my writing voice too.  While I think it's important to be yourself in your writing, it's also important to write in such a way as to make it easy on the reader and their expectations for a text.  This is an instructional text, so there might be a little less room for humor, lengthy asides, or sentences that look like they're transcribed from actual speaking.  I'm not saying that most of your writing sample here is like that, but there are hints of it and some phrasing that would be easier to hear than to read."

That's what I like about having friends and associates who are honest and straight-up with their answers and opinions. What my friend said has now motivated me to go back and re-write everything I've written so far. While I don't particularly relish doing so, his words validated what I was already feeling, thinking, and fearing: That I had veered off course, style and format wise.  In the end, before its release, I likely would have altered the book's current tone, style, and format, hopefully for the better, but not after going through a lot of writer's angst. (Not to mention re-writes and re-writes and re-writes.) 

Bottom line, my friend likely saved me from what could have been a fairly lengthy (lengthier) process of settling on a style and format that better serves the contents of this book as well as its future readers. Writing can be lonely. It's just you, your brain, the keyboard and the screen. I have a cat who is my near constant side-kick while I'm at my computer. Unfortunately, she's not a very good editor or writing critic. I sometimes ask her what she thinks of something I've written. You know, I read it to her. It's usually then that I realize I need to take break, get another cup of coffee, or maybe call a shrink. 

I'm not going to take the "me" out of my ebook. It will still have a touch of humor and a slightly conversational tone.  But, at the same time, it will also have more of those traditional instructional  qualities, voice-wise and in other ways.  I want the book to be what it needs to be to help people learn and develop their skills and abilities shooting in natural light. I want it to be easy to digest and its contents and techniques just as easy to put into practice. I want it to satisfy its readers' expectations for it. I also want it to be successful from a commercial perspective.  (Duh, right?)

My friend also suggested, "You might want to approach all of this differently... A very successful writer I work with is big on bullets, photos, tables, etc.  He and the publisher figured out what people wanted a long time ago and it works.  In an instructional/technical guide, get to the point, don't try to entertain, and use plenty of illustrations. As they say, my two cents."

Actually, his two cents probably saved me a lot more than that in time and effort and, possibly, will turn out to be worth much more in terms of sales.  I have no intent of writing a bland technical manual. There's plenty enough of them in the world of photography instructional books. There will still be some amount of humor as well as a slightly conversational tone, but I will find the balance between those elements and, in the end, I believe a navigational course correction, one like my friend suggested, will yield a much better text and make for a better, more helpful ebook than the one I've been feverishly writing.

Alrighty then. Time to get back to some ebook authoring on this beautiful Southern California day. I hope everyone has a terrific Memorial Day weekend. If you don't live in America where Memorial Day is celebrated this weekend, I hope your weekend is just as terrific.

The pretty girl at the top (click to enlarge) reflects all natural light. (i.e., Daylight only.) As you can plainly see, the sun is behind her and somewhat to camera right. I employed two reflectors, either side from the front, to light her up.


Bill Giles said...

For me, illustrations are very important in understanding what you are trying to say. In most cases, a shot of the setup along with the finished shot will tell me what you are doing. The why is something that will have to be put in words.

Rick Horowitz said...

Not to say that your friend is wrong, but I don't totally agree, either.

Every writer (including you, including me) has a voice that is their own. If you haven't just naturally recognized it already, then you're not writing enough.

I've probably read -- I kid you not -- over 150-200 books on the subject of writing. I've also taken writing courses, including a pretty good course from Gotham. (If you don't know the Gotham Writers Group, you might want to Google for it. It's worth what it costs.)

From personal experience, though, I can tell you that when I look for instructional guides on photography, I will AUTOMATICALLY put a book back on the shelf if there aren't enough good examples demonstrating what the book is talking about. Stupid little thumbnail shots, or poor demonstrations, or uninteresting photos -- I'm not buying that book.

Lighting diagrams are nice, but since I'm going to study the images anyway, your dialog can cover that for me. But without the images, no sale.

In fact, lately I'm on a mission to try to find the kinds of books that are just chock-full of inspirational images that will help drive my creativity.

So there's MY two-cents worth. ;)

jimmyd said...

@Rick: I don't know how inspirational the photos I'm including are. Many of them are shot specifically for the book in order to demonstrate natural light portraits and how the tools can be used to manipulate and exploit the light. I'm less interested in making memorable images for it than I am images which illuminate the reader. (Pun intended.) As for voice, I write a lot. I've been writing for much of my adult life. That includes script and treatments, technical documents, business writing (I taught a class for a few years), some magazine articles, blogging, and more recently, ebooks. I can't say I agree that my writer's voice should be the same for all those varied writing projects. In fact with scripts, character dialogue means writing in more than one voice, i.e., each character has his or her own voice. I haven't read as many books on writing, creative writing or otherwise, as you have but I've read a few in my time. Perhaps more than a few.

Lorenzo said...

SeƱor JimmyD,

I've read (i.e. I own) your three books -Zen and Guerrillas-, I have been following your blog for over a couple of years now. I honestly read it carefully before clicking to enlarge ;). Your style of writing is engaging and pretty easy to follow (I am fluent in English but not a native speaker, I live 1900 miles south of you) and the things I most enjoy are your opinions, sometimes spontaneous but always honest. I really like (admire) is you speak of the craft, not the dependence on gear.

I like that in this coming book you won't be using "models". I photograph competently people, some beautiful, some not, but all interesting. I am looking forward to reading your lessons on this.

Following on Rick Horowitz's comment I have been looking at the use of light by some painters (Sargent and Sorolla come to mind) or the Weston nudes, great images under definitely flash-free light. If possible you could try to use those kinds of images as examples too (I've no idea of copyright rules so this might not be possible).

I, for one, will get your book as soon as it is available. I know I WILL learn something.



Rick said...

When I entered this wonderful hobby of people photography I sought out books that included BOTH an image and an illustration of the lighting set up. I still studied the image to see what the light was doing according to the lighting diagram only because I'm a skeptic and thought the author was maybe slipping something else into his light set up that he/she didn't put in the diagram.

My skepticism came from the conundrum, "Hey I did everything the book said to do and my pictures don't look like that." However, a few thousand images later they started to look like they did in the book. So much for instant gratification. The author never said I had to practice.

The voices you use in preparing your book NEED to be your voices. All authors have a style and you have a following because of your writing style. So ignore the voices in your head and pay close attention to the ones coming out of your finger tips.

Rick Davenport

jimmyd said...

@Rick: Thanks, Rick, for reminding me to underscore the value of practice in my new book. I know I've done so in my previous and I will do it again in this new ebook. Practice, Practice, Practice!