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The Making of a CHINA Photography Book | Part 1: Inauguration and Introduction

The Making of a CHINA Photography Book

Behind the publishing scenes with photographer Tom Carter, author of CHINA: Portrait of a People

Part 1: Inauguration and Introduction

It has been nearly 4 years now since my photography book CHINA: Portrait of a People was first published in Hong Kong, and 1.5 years since it debuted internationally.  It remains the highest-rated Asian travel photography book on Amazon, and is widely considered the most comprehensive book of photography on modern China ever published by a single author.

I continue to receive a fair amount of attention for my as-of-yet unsurpassed, 2-year, 35,000-mile odyssey across China that led to the creation of that book. Interview requests regularly arrive in my inbox, and I am presently in talks with a television producer interested in filming a documentary about my career as a travel photographer.

In spite of these laurels, little has been reported about the actual MAKING of the 638-page, 888-image coffee-table book that is CHINA: Portrait of a People: finding a publisher and agent…writing and editing the text and captions…the photo selection process…design and layout…pre and post-production…printing…publicity, marketing and reviews…distribution…sales…licensing foreign rights…

Indeed, to quote myself: “I don’t know which was more challenging: traveling across China, or publishing a book about it.”

Just as making-of featurettes and behind-the-scenes extras on a DVD appeal to fanboys as much as an actual movie, as an avid reader I too always find myself curious about the creation of literature, yet few authors ever reveal such details.

I myself often receive emails from aspiring authors and photographers inquiring about the creation process of CHINA: Portrait of a People or asking for publishing advice.  And while I am hardly any kind of publishing professional or literary expert, I am always happy to share my experiences as an indie author and impart my accrued knowledge about publishing.

Hence my new blog here on Red Room, whom for which I will exclusively begin writing about this topic.

To be sure, I am a photographer first and writer second; blogs have never appealed to me, primarily because I prefer to be out wandering the world taking snapshots instead of  indoors hunched over a keyboard. However, as I am often asked to submit travel articles along with my photos, writing is a craft I need to maintain as much as my camera gear, so I will give blogging a go.

I also plan on featuring guest posts from those individuals directly involved in the creation of this book, such as my publisher in Hong Kong, Pete Spurrier at Blacksmith Books, and other writers and photographers in China and abroad who have influenced my work.  I have been based in Asia the past 8 straight years (6 in China, 1 in Japan, 1 in India) and have been blessed to meet many talented and creative people who, like me, simply seek to facilitate global awareness and intercultural harmony through art and literature.

Due to my sporadic schedule as a freelance photographer, and also owing to the fact that I am currently and concurrently working on 4 other book projects (which I will discuss in later posts), I should say here that I am unsure how frequently I will be able to update this blog - at least weekly I hope. As such, I may occasionally intersperse my Making-Of posts with exclusive, “behind-the-lens” details on specific photos that appear in CHINA: Portrait of a People, such as how I stumbled upon certain people or situations, or what reaching a particular destination entailed.

This will be the very first time I am publicly sharing any of this information with the blogosphere, and I hope it will be of interest and of use to other authors and photographers trying to get published – either traditionally or self/POD - in this uncertain literary climate.  It’s rough out there, but the underdog success of CHINA: Portrait of a People is testament to the DIY ethic of determination and resilience, and proof that the journey can be as rewarding as the destination.

Tom Carter


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Promoting yourself is a new passion

My mind is stuck on the comparison of publishing to your travel across 33 provinces in China. There's a lot of truth to it, even though I have done neither. I had the taste of both. One thing is true: You're learning and adapting the whole way. At the end, you find yourself a new person. One strange thing I did in 2010 was to promote myself. It was so hard to grow a passion for it because it goes against the teaching I grew up with - to be modest. I'd rather be that rare gem in the sand that somebody of importance stumbles on. But time is running out while I wait. And of all the stories I heard about people becoming known, 99.99% was through self-promotion. Perhaps "being found" has been a fairy tale from the beginning and we just don't know it.

Thanks for an interesting post and your thoughtful, matter-of-fact approach. I look forward to more!