Writers have National Novel Writing Month, where the challenge is to write 1667 words a day for 30 straight days. Now, imagine that challenge stretched out across an entire year! While taking photographs might seem simpler than writing a story, I bet many photographers would beg to differ. Good friend, photographer, exceptionally talented artist, and occasional book cover designer, James Cornette took that challenge in 2013 and succeeded, producing an enviable breadth of fantastic photography in the process. He recently finished putting together a motivational book aimed at those who might attempt the same feat.
Artist, photographer, graphic designer… author? You’re a modern-day renaissance man! What made you take the leap into self-publishing your book?
I love torture! I never fancied myself as a writer and it was never a desire. But, after looking back at the project as a whole, the “how did I actually stick to something this long?” had to be told. The amount of effort the “photo- a-day” took kind of sunk in. A few friends commented on how they didn’t know how I stuck to it for a whole year and how they could NEVER do that themselves. That was my cue.
I was actually excited to share just how I did it and what a great payoff it was personally. This idea of sharing took more shape after listening to a Dan Miller podcast about ebooks. Curiosity took over and I jumped into “figure it out” mode. It amazed me that sharing information was such a driver for me. As an artist I love to show work but I tend to get a little “guarded” on my process. I realized this was nothing more than insecurity. If I could show work AND share how, that was a win-win situation.
You and I talked throughout the process of creating this book and I love the way it turned out. It’s really great. What did you think of Kindle Direct Publishing and the path to publication?
Thanks, Scott! You were definitely a motivating factor in seeing this through. KDP…That is a tough one! I LOVE the platform and what it offers. The Help Topic section was thorough and helpful but a bit overwhelming at first. A video guide would have been a bit more reassuring.
One issue that came up right out of the gate was what format was best for my book. Initially I laid the book out in Adobe InDesign. This set me up for false expectations of how my book would look. I was in full on Graphic Designer mode and had 2 columns, dropcaps, nested images. My book was 50% text and 50% graphics so I naturally wanted certain chunks of text to be grouped with specific photographs. I gave the Kindle Pluggin for InDesign a go. FAIL! This churned out text and graphics all jammed together. The wind was sucked right out of my sails. I am sure you remember that conversation!
Regroup! Next up was Kindle Kids’ Book Creator followed by KindleGen v2.9. Kindle Kid’s Book Creator gave me the look I wanted but rendered out massive jpgs of each page. The result was a file too large and text that was fuzzy at a zoomed in view. If I were to go this route I would use Createspace instead. KindleGen never actually worked. I would get a command line popup (that scarey black box with lines of code on a PC) that would crash immediately. My ADD kicked in hard here and I left KindleGen in the dust.
I was determined to figure this out. Next up was HTML. I am no developer but have spent some years building site in HTML. There was enough guidance in the Help Topic section to get me on my way. This was the best option for me and got me the closest to the original book layout. It was not 100% but if I wanted to get this book out the door I was going to have to make some compromises. The result was live text and photos that were in the correct proximity to the text. I then zipped up the HTML, CSS, and images to upload to KDP. It was a bit tedious… upload, review, make edits to formatting, repeat. KDP has a great emulator that shows what your uploaded book looks like on multiple devices and gives you the option to view it horizontally or vertically.
So, when’s book #2 coming out?
Hehehh! I got the writing thing out of my system. I am leaving that to you professionals!
You’re a really great photographer and your art is pretty damn awesome too. Do you think the two go hand in hand?
Way to butter me up! Great question! It so difficult for me to separate the two. One skill feeds the other and vice versa. At times I believed both skills were different outlets for the same content. But that ignores the nuances of each practice. They are siblings that get along. Make sense? I don’t believe it is a requirement to be multi-disciplined but it sure helps! My art background provides me a different way of looking at and composing a photograph. Being an artist allows me to be more abstract in my approach. I use some of my art suggestions in the book. The artistic approach keeps you engaged in the process and the project. We are doing so much more than just recording an image daily or writing a blog post… we are “painting” a story, emotion, or thought.
The thing I always try to remember is an artistic bent is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that we try new things and engage in discovery. The curse is that we are easily bored and have trouble with follow-through. This is why I wrote the book… follow through.
You’re in the process of finishing up a “sketch-a-day” for a year project. Which project was more of a challenge?
HAHAHA! I am starting to twitch! The sketch-a-day is killing me! Let me start by saying that “a-day” should be pulled from the title. Let’s call it “365 sketches.” So, why am I not keeping the same pace? I get lost in my sketches. The photos were better thought out because I followed my 12 step process! I stuck to the plan. With the daily sketch I tend to make it more of an illustration than a sketch. I will finish all 365 sketches but not without some angst. The thing you will notice more readily in the daily sketches is the level of engagement in each sketch. I have some solid ones and some duds.
What’s the best thing to come out of this whole experience so far?
I wanted it to be personal growth. That is just a side product. The true benefit is the ability to time travel… to sit down and go through a year of photos with your family. To remember the day, the weather, the sounds, the vibe, the laughter, the pain. It all comes rushing back. To share a journey and encourage others to join in is such a great feeling!
So, photo-a day, sketch-a-day, …what’s next?
A 6-pack a day! Actually, a few friends and I were considering a weekly project. This would obviously be more a study in time management and fighting procrastination. The end goal is always the same though… growth! I know I can’t just coast.
Awesome stuff. James, thanks for giving us a little insight into what went into the creation of your book. I’m sort of proud to have been able to contribute to it, as you’ve always helped me out without asking for anything in return.
Be sure to check out James Cornette’s new book on the challenge of taking a photo a day for a year. It’s informative, inspiring, and motivational on many levels. You can see James’ full collection of photographs here, his online portfolio here, and his sketch-a-day work here. I look forward to seeing and sharing more of his work in the future.
Comments or questions for James? Drop a note in the comments section and thanks for stopping by!