Now, as for the official Scouting NY book…
Over the past two years, I’ve received countless emails from readers pushing me to do it. I’d certainly love to – but like the film industry, the world of publishing seemed like a well-guarded fortress, and I had no idea how to break in.
Then, last summer, inquiries from several publishers appeared in my inbox asking if I’d like to explore the possibility of writing a Scouting NY book – and I didn’t want to miss my chance. So I sat down, studied up on how to write a proper book inquiry and proposal, consulted with a few in-the-know friends, and fleshed out a few ideas of what I’d like a Scouting NY book to be.
Bottom line, it’d have to be a photobook. The whole damn site is built around telling a story with pictures, and to do anything other than that just wouldn’t be right. I didn’t want to write a text-heavy travel guide or a history book, I wanted to put together something that could be enjoyed just by literally opening to any page.
The first concept would simply be an extension of the website, focusing exclusively on New York. The second would be to open it up to a national, or even international level.
The third (and I really, really think this one would be a winner) would be to expand on my New York, You’ve Changed series, in which New York shooting locations are compared on a then-and-now, shot-by-shot basis to see how the city has changed – but go all out, covering movies from every decade, with interviews, history of a production, etc. And again, with an emphasis on being able to pick it up, flip to a random page, and immediately appreciate it.
Anyway, this email exchange represents pretty much all of my conversations with various editors and agents:
“Thanks for your e-mail back [with your proposal]. I think these are both great ideas. The only problem with photo books is that they can be expensive to produce and people are sometimes wary here of big, expensive, glossy coffee table books unless it has a name like Annie Leibovitz slapped on it.
I’m going to talk to my colleagues about a way we could get around that – maybe we do it in black and white with a photo on one page and a description of the spot you’ve scouted on the next…Also, do you have contacts in the film world (big-name people) that would be willing to contribute a blurb? That will help me gain traction here moving forward.
Let’s stay in touch – I think this could be big.
Ha, because the one thing Scouting NY has been missing is black and white photography, right?
Well, I wrote back to say that I absolutely wasn’t expecting a major glossy coffee table book. In fact, I’d be perfectly happy with a level of quality similar to the “Weird” line of books put out by Barnes & Noble (Weird NJ, Weird USA, etc.), which are published on the low end, but still get the point across perfectly at a $19.99 price tag.
As I talk to my colleagues, the thing for us to figure out if we want to make a book out of this is what you could write about that isn’t already available for free on your blog. If people can get something online for free rather than buy a book, they will, with the exception of huge internet sensations like LOLCats.
If you think of anything that you could write about/photograph above and beyond the content already on your blog, please let me know. I’ll be thinking as well.
I passionately elaborate on all three of my ideas, providing numerous examples of content that has never hit my website.
She writes back:
Your blog is very compelling, but in the end, I do not see a big enough market nationwide for the NYC photo book.
[As for your then-and-now movie locations books idea], I think this is a great idea for a book, but, unfortunately, it’s very hard to sell any sort of film analysis book unless you’re basically Roger Ebert or someone very famous like that. I fear securing the rights for the then and now book would be very cost prohibitive for you. The author, not the publisher is responsible for securing and paying for permissions for the use of copyrighted work.
However, I would be interested in seeing a proposal for a memoir, if you wanted to reconsider. I know you said you didn’t think it would work but I think it’s a better possibility for us than this project. Let me know if you want to discuss that idea further.
And that’s pretty much how all of my book dealings have gone: we don’t want to deal with the hassle and risks of a photobook, but would you mind writing a memoir?
Now me writing a memoir based on a five year career is a bad idea. I simply couldn’t imagine generating 100,000+ words of amusing anecdotes and the trials and tribulations of scouting in New York.
Meanwhile, a fellow scout with YEARS more experience than me (who runs the very entertaining blog Scenes from an Unglamorous Life) has finished a manuscript about her life working in the movies, and has been having a hell of a time shopping it – and I KNOW her stories are better than mine. For example, this response from an editor after she tries to wow him with stories of having been harnessed to the roof of the Empire State Building and the Woolworth Building to take pictures:
“Well, have you smoked crack? Been a prostitute? Homeless? Had any kind of addictions to overcome? Disease? That’s what makes a memoir work. That’s what people want to read.”
Don’t get me wrong: I get it. TV shows cost money, advertisers want ratings, and it’s safer to go with the tried-and-true nutcase reality television model than try something new. Photobooks are expensive, I’m no LOLcats or Stuff White People Like, and it’d be safer to go with a somewhat amusing but ultimately forgettable memoir. But just because both ideas are risky doesn’t mean they wouldn’t work.
A few editors have suggested I self-publish. Hey, I’m all for it – but the price for print-on-demand full color photobooks is ridiculous. You’d be paying $50 for my book in paperback, which is silly. There’s no way the print-on-demand quality would live up to such a price. And without a designer or editor to help steer my ideas to the page, I’m afraid the whole thing would come off amateurish – again, not what I want you buying for $50.
That’s probably why I like doing Scouting NY so much: it’s just for fun. I’m certainly happy to field any offers to branch out, of course! But otherwise, I’ll just keep on doing it as I have been, and just be appreciative you guys care to read. I just wanted everyone to know I have made the effort!