Saturday, June 11, 2011

Self-Publishing for the Painter

"Morning Hike" 12x24, oil - SOLD

I'm still working on larger paintings for my St Andrews show in August.  The apple trees are nearly done, but the lupines have just started blooming.  I'll be painting those next!

[UPDATE 6/15/11:  I've just learned that is phasing out digital content such as my videos, which will force me to find another venue for selling them.  (See for more.)   If anyone knows of a service like Lulu that does not charge an upfront fee but only takes a percentage of sales, please let me know.  Not a good move on Lulu's part.]

Recently, I passed 1000 units sold and shipped directly through  This includes portfolios, books, videos and calendars since early January 2007.  When I started work on my first self-published book, Through a Painter's Brush: A Year on Campobello Island, I had no idea of how successful this endeavor would be.  I thought, Well, if I sell just a few and don't even pay for my own time, I could consider it an advertising loss.  But the project has pretty much taken on a life of its own, generating cash flow.  (I like to think that it also inspires the readers and takes their painting skills to a new level!)  It's not a lot of money, but it sure helps pay for paint.

Some of you have asked why I self-published.  I've gone the other route - working with editors and publishing houses - and although we've always had a good relationship, I've never been able to do the project exactly the way I wanted it done.  For example, Through a Painter's Brush straddles the fence between two genres, Art Instruction and Personal Essay.  Any publisher worth his salt would have pushed me off the fence, one way or the other.  But I wanted the book my way, and the only way to do that was through self-publishing.

I also chose to go through a print-on-demand (POD) house, rather than a traditional vanity press.  POD means the book gets printed only when ordered.  I didn't have to first come up with the cash to print 5000 copies plus pay for warehousing.   But you do make a tradeoff, in that the POD house typically gives you limited design templates, whereas a press will often have in-house design-layout staff who can fully customize your project.

For those of you thinking about self-publishing, I have a few warnings.  First, get yourself a good copyeditor.  You may think you're a top-notch writer, but even those of us with miles of magazine articles behind us will fall asleep at the wheel now and then.  Nothing says "amateur" more than poor spelling and grammar.  Second, get your photos professionally done or learn to take pro-quality images and to use Photoshop.  Finally,  if you don't have a template available and are forced to do your own layout, learn how to create a simple, effective design or hire a professional.  If you don't know what CMYK is or how to create a print-ready PDF file, you might want to find a design-layout firm.

I've enjoyed what I've done with self-publishing.  I've learned a lot - though I'm still not sure I can create a PDF file that is print-ready - and  it's been fun and profitable.

Speaking of Lulu, they are having a 20% off on print materials.  Use TOP305 as the coupon code.  Good through June 13.

By the way, I have one space left in my Zion National Park painting retreat, which is April 16-22, 2012.  If you're interested, let me know - you'll need to also show me a sample of your work, as this is for advanced painters.  Price is $1000 for lodging and two meals a day.


Mary Pyche said...

Thank you so much again, Michael, for sharing all this wonderful information. It's very nice to hear about the in's and out's of the self-publishing business--just another area of your expertise. I'd love to do the Zion trip, but not this year.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Mary. We're full now, but I'm starting a waiting list.

Renee Lammers said...

Thanks for the information Michael. I am going to write a book. Which package did you use through Lulu? Thanks! Zion looks tempting!!!

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Renee. I used MS Word to create my books.

Cheryl Hill said...


Although, the question was asked , but I hope you do not mine me asking again. Which package did you chose. My ABC book is already illustrated by a wonderful artist who will lay it out as well and put it in a state of readiness to simply be uploaded. I'm new like in extremely green at doing this.

In my "newness" , it seems that I only need to purchase an ISBN Number and select the global distributor's package.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Hi Cheryl - I didn't use any of the packages, but did all of it myself. Written and laid out in MS Word, no ISBN or "package" chosen.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

That is, I do my own distribution. We did have them put it up on Amazon - can't remember what Lulu called it then - but they didn't do a good job of it.