Back when the London-based, fine-art photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten was figuring out a plan for publishing her forthcoming photobook, Looking Out From Within, she called up the British photographer Brian Griffin and asked for his advice.
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Having published a number of books by both self-publishing and working with publishers, Griffin was well-equipped to help. “At the time,” Fullerton-Batten says, “I was speaking to four different publishers and I really wasn’t sure about which direction to go in, but then Brian said, ‘why on earth aren’t you self-publishing this?’ and I realised he was right.” She’d published several books prior to this, but she hadn’t taken this route before.
Forward-wind a few months, and Fullerton-Batten has launched a highly successful Kickstarter campaign to fundraise for the book, and it’s now in its final stretch. “I was 80% funded within a week, and 100% funded within 10 days,” she explains. So how did she do it?
The first important thing for her to identify was why the photobook was the right format for this project. Made during the Covid-19 lockdowns in London, Looking Out From Within is a series of portraits the photographer took of people in her neighbourhood, shot in the cinematic and richly-lit style that she’s built her award-winning career on. Because of the nature of the work, which in itself deals with ideas of community and connection, she knew she wanted it to act like a record of shared experience – something that could be held and kept and looked back on from time to time.
This is also what makes Kickstarter such an attractive option, she says, because it’s a way of self-publishing that directly engages her audience. Some of the pledges she’s offering, for instance, have been shaped by their requests. “When people began contacting me privately about specific prints in affordable sizes, I added a couple of new pledges to make those available,” she recalls, “and this will be the final and only time to invest in one of my limited edition prints for first time collectors and those with smaller budgets too. I wanted there to be options for everyone.”
“I wanted there to be options for everyone”
– Julia Fullerton-Batten
Of course, that isn’t so easy if you go through a publisher, she acknowledges, but there are important pros and cons to consider with each route. “With a publisher, you may be less hands on, but you also get access to everything they come with – the designer, the expertise, the network,” she says, “and that’s all really important. Working with a publisher is a brilliant experience, and self-publishing may not be everyone, it all really depends on the project. If you are going to self-publish, though, and especially if you are going to fundraise for it, it’s exciting, but you need to be prepared for the time commitment.” You also need to learn how to manage your own communications, she adds, and one of her biggest challenges has been figuring out creative ways to keep her audience engaged after the initial excitement around the launch.
Fullerton-Batten is now busy putting together the Self-Publishing Masterclass she will be teaching in partnership with Academy 1854 later this year, and plans to share what she’s learned throughout this experience as a part of it. Split into three, one-hour parts, the course will guide participants through the process of publishing, advise on the benefits and the challenges, and equip them with helpful, practical strategies to get the most out of the journey. It will cover everything from how to know when you’re ready to publish, to tips for approaching publishers, and even the best times of year to consider fundraising. Several guest speakers will also be invited to present, including Griffin, and photographers Marc Wilson and Alys Tomlinson, who have also both run incredibly successful Kickstarters.
Meanwhile, Fullerton-Batten says, she’s preparing for an intense final few days as her campaign comes to a close. “The build up to launching was really important, and I spent a lot of time before it went live sending out previews, sharing videos and explaining the different pledges that would be available, so by the time it came to launch day people were ready and the response was phenomenal,” she says. “My task now is to close it with as much momentum.”