My first book (my 37th comes out in Spring 2010) was a thin, but mighty photo-driven tome titled Driftwood Whimsy: The Sculptures of the Emeryville Mudflats. I had lived on the fringes of the San Francisco Bay Area town of Emeryville since 1971 and had marveled at the sculptures people surreptitiously constructed in the Emeryville Crescent, a wedge of swampy land nestled between busy Interstate 80 and the Bay Bridge. Locals called the area the Emeryville Mudflats for obvious reasons. I was a budding photographer and would often tramp down to the mudflats, usually under cover of darkness to photograph the odd and whimsical constructions. Eventually my photographs wound up illustrating a feature article in Smithsonian magazine. That was all good and wonderful, of course, and it did boost my flagging photographic self-esteem.
Then some well-intentioned friend suggested that my photographs of the sculptures would make a fine glossy photo book. I agreed, but had no experience whatsoever with the high-tone publishing world. Eventually I found an agent who actually took a look and sent my modest proposal to a BIG TIME NEW YORK CITY PUBLISHER who quickly turned it down noting that it was far too local and specialized to garner the audience a big time publisher required. Somewhat deflated I shelved the project. Then another of my well-intentioned friends suggested I self-publish the dang book. I cautioned him that VANITY PUBLISHING was just that and big time publishers knew best. He replied that he'd round up some friends and they'd fund the book. Okay, said I. They found a printer in Hong Kong that did short-run printing and a couple months later my friends and I trundled down to the docks at the Port of Oakland and picked up 3000 copies of the 48 page soft-cover 10"x10" full-color book. It was thin but glorious. Copyright, 1985 by Douglas Keister. I had a book with my name on the cover!
My friends rapidly distributed and sold the book to all their friends, friends of friends and relatives, leaving 2800 books remaining. End of story? Nope. On a whim, I sent a copy to a fella named Herb Caen who punched out a daily column for a morning newspaper named the San Francisco Chronicle. Turned out Herb liked it. So much so that he gave Driftwood Whimsy a glowing review and added my name, address and phone number. My phone rang off the hook (this was at a time when phones did such things). Did I take credit cards? Could I ship to France? What sort of discount did I offer for multiple copies? Was I married?
I had no marketing plan. No publicity plan. No wholesale pricing. However, I was single. I can't really say I totally missed the boat, since Driftwood Whimsy became my calling card; my foot in the door leading to big time New York City publishers. So much so, that one year later I was hired to take the photographs for a "Painted Ladies" book of Victorian homes that was judged by Publisher's Weekly to be one of the ten best books of 1987.
Misstep? What's the saying? Ah, yes, "Any publicity is good publicity." I'd expand that to say that any step even a misstep is a step. Stay ambulatory!
Oh, I still have 30 copies of the book. Buy an autographed one here:
Doug Keister, Chico, California (formerly of Emeryville)