Personal Project: A Custom Book And ePub Odyssey

It’s getting harder and harder to find publishers for photographic coffee-table books. They cost so much to produce that most of them never make back their investment costs. Photographers, of course, want to see their work on the printed page, and books are the best venue for many of those projects.

All Photos © Al Satterwhite

I did a large coffee-table book in 2009 on Muhammad Ali and Arnold Schwarzenegger, called “Titans.” It was a hard sell getting that one published with an international publisher. When I decided I wanted to do another book on my endurance motor racing work from the 1960s and ’70s, I knew it would be even harder, as it was such a small niche market. After getting turned down or offered unrealistic “deals” from numerous publishers, I decided to do it myself. But not wanting to end up with a garage full of books, I decided to make it an eBook for the iPad. I did tests with the Kindle-type eBooks and decided against them for photo books as the gutter is a wide gap splitting the middle of a two-page spread, there is no audio available, and no way to “lock” the page so that it would look exactly like I wanted it.

After deciding to do an eBook, I set out to find someone to convert my layout to .epub, the language of the iPad. There are more and more services available for .epub conversion, or you can even do it yourself if you’re patient and willing to learn another digital program. I have neither time nor interest in learning another program, so I settled on a company that was willing to do a test for me up front to show how it would look. I did a four-page layout, added some sound since the iPad can be an enhanced eBook, and let them have a go at it. I got back results that told me I was on the right path.

I’ve done the design and layouts of my last two books, not because I’m a great designer but because I feel I know the material better than anyone. That’s important, as I try to get a “flow” going with my design that’s intuitive. It either works or it doesn’t.

First I went through all of my black-and-white negatives covering the Daytona and Sebring endurance races from ’63 through ’73 that I had covered and selected all of the images that I thought would be interesting. I then scanned all of them using the Nikon Coolscan 9000, one of the best scanners for 35mm film. Unfortunately, it was discontinued by Nikon several years ago and they never updated their software, so it won’t run on an Intel computer. I keep a Mac G5 running just for the scanner.

After scanning all 600 of my selects, I uploaded them to my digital assistant who cleaned up all the dust and scratches by hand (no software programs, please). That took about four weeks. In the meantime I fooled around with small JPEGs, putting them in chronological order and doing sample layouts. When I got the cleaned files back, I proceeded to start laying them out. I use Photoshop because I know it well and feel very comfortable using it, and I’m fast with it. Plus, I can resize or adjust an image rapidly if I need to when doing my layout.

There are several layout programs available for those who want to use them. By not using one I avoided adding another step in my workflow. I would send my Photoshop layout to an editor who would “drop it” into InDesign, convert it to a PDF, and send it back to me once I had a final layout.

Before I sent the Photoshop layout to my editor, I added captions, quotes, and other things to my layout. I did it scrapbook style because I decided I liked that idea the best. No one has done a racing book that way and it looked good to me. For example, I’ve kept all of my racing credentials over the years. I photographed them all and converted them to transparent layers so that I could layer them within all my layouts around the photographs.

I laid out each two-page spread separately and in sequence. I had a lot of two-page spreads where the photograph ran across both pages, sometimes with another photo over- or under-lapping it.

Once I uploaded my PDF to the .epub converter, I decided to make a limited edition printed book. I had researched this before I started with the eBook and had gotten all of the printer’s specs to minimize my having to do too much changing. Of course, before I started any of this I spoke with the printer who was going to be handling my print run of 100 books. I decided on using a new system called “lay-flat” whereby the gutter is almost a nonissue and two-page spreads look great printed using an Indigo press. It’s much more expensive than regular printing, but I felt it was worth it since I had so many large images across two pages.

When I got the first printed sample, it was stunning. I decided to find a proper case for it. I ended up having a black aluminum box with a custom printed cover on it. More expense. So, I decided to go all out, added two archival 8x10 prints and priced it accordingly…$750 a copy…for now; the price will go up after the first 35 books are sold (18 sold to date).

Meanwhile, my eBook was finished and sent to me for corrections. Typos and slight adjustments were made and then it was uploaded to Apple for them to check. After a few more weeks of waiting it finally went “live” on iTunes. Then I had to start promoting it, which I’m still in the process of doing. The people who have seen or bought it seem to be quite impressed. I’m happy with it and may do another one. I like printed books, but publishing eBooks is more affordable. And who knows, this may be where we’re headed. Did I mention I really like printed books?

“I’ve done the design and layouts of my last two books, not because I’m a great designer but because I feel I know the material better than anyone. That’s important…”

“When I got the first printed sample, it was stunning. I decided to find a proper case for it. I ended up having a black aluminum box with a custom printed cover on it.”

Author Bio
Al Satterwhite started working as a photographer at a major daily newspaper in Florida while in high school, covering major news stories in the Southeast. After a year as the governor of Florida’s personal photographer, he started a career as a freelance magazine photographer. Over the next 10 years he worked on assignment for almost every major magazine. In 1980 he moved to New York City to form his own production company and concentrate on advertising. For the next 15 years he did a wide range of national and international advertising work, becoming known for his saturated color images and keen sense of design and composition. In recent years he has focused his attention on making films. He has shot commercials, features, and award-winning feature shorts as director/cameraman. He is currently working on several book and gallery projects.

Book Synopsis/Where To Buy
The 1960s and ’70s was a magical era of innovation and endurance at Sebring and Daytona racetracks. Photographer and Nikon legend Al Satterwhite was there, covering these races for major magazines and as a fan.

Today his unprecedented collection of images of the races, cars, drivers, and behind-the-scenes poignant moments are available in his latest fine art collector edition book, “the Racers.” The exquisite 100-page layout is a must-have limited edition for serious racing collectors. It’s a limited edition of 100 books using the new “lay-flat” technology that makes the many two-page spreads look fantastic with no gutter to ruin the viewing experience. It comes in a custom laser-etched black aluminum box with (two) 8x10 archival prints; the book and the prints are all numbered and signed.

“the Racers” limited edition book can only be purchased directly from Al; it is $750 + $25 for shipping/insurance; contact Al via e-mail at for details. The iPad version is available only for the iPad at iTunes for $19.99; search for “the racers” or “al satterwhite.”

(Author’s note: One glaring problem with iTunes; they don’t have a workable “search system.” I keyworded the metadata for everything I could think of relating to racing. But you can only find my book by typing in my name or the title of the book. Bummer. Hopefully they will fix this.)

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