Tuesday, 13 September 2011

On being a gamekeeper turned poacher

Guest Blogger: Sophie Goldsworthy

As a publisher by profession, I find I'm often lost for ways of beginning the sentence where I tell people I've also written a book. Particularly when I'm talking to other publishers. (Well, we do tend to flock together. I wonder what that collective noun might be?) It's so utterly our stock in trade - people write books every day, we publish dozens of books every week, hundreds every year. Where's the big reveal in that?

I tend to stumble into it half-heartedly, with a "so, I wrote a book". Knowing that they're immediately assessing the situation. Sizing me up before my next sentence. Hmm, I wonder. Might she have self-published some bad poetry? Is she on the verge of revealing some kind of sex and shopping predilection? Or (the ones that know me best of all), aha, I bet it's a misery memoir. All of them digging deep, dredging up a half-smile and preparing to look interested. I do it myself. A lot.

When I tell them it's a book about photography ... in fact, a Rough Guide ... well, the Rough Guide, you know, for the people who publish all those travel guides and things, they suddenly perk up a bit. Turns out almost everyone's interested in photography, one way or another. (And everyone's heard of Rough Guides.) And that's kind of the point of the book after all, which is written to appeal to anyone with even the slightest photography fetish.


You may have found an old film SLR and a bunch of lenses gathering dust in the roof, got hooked on snapping Instagram pictures on the iPhone as you go about your day (other cameraphones are also available), or be trying to size up the best point-and-shoot to buy for your holiday. Whatever floats your boat, there's an awful lot going on in the world of photography at the moment, with endless ways of capturing and editing an image and another heap of places to share it. Hopefully the Rough Guide will not only help people navigate their way through some of these options, find what works best for them - or just what's most fun - and give them some useful tips, but will also help feed their passion in the process, with lots of suggestions on where to go for ideas and inspiration.

I'm not sure whether having written a book will make me a better publisher, but it was fascinating to hop over the fence for a while. Turns out there's no real magic to the writing process, no lounging around waiting for inspiration to strike. It's just about showing up at the computer often enough to get the words down on paper (well, that and some pretty thorough planning before showing up for the first time).

I had 7 months to write the book on top of a pretty full-on job, so my "often enough" happened to be 5am every morning, and then weekends. You can get through a lot of coffee in 7 months. But there's a certain quiet calm to being up when everyone else is asleep, rattling away at the keyboard as the sun starts to come up and the birds outside wake into life. (Though my social life may have suffered a bit: it's hard to convince people of your hardcore partygirl credentials when you're nodding off into a mohito.)

They say you should write about something you know, and I'd say more than that, write about something you love. Despite the shadows beneath my eyes, and a permanent state of over-caffeinated jitteriness, I loved having an excuse to wallow in all things photography-related for all those months. It gave me a chance to carve out the time to learn some of the things I know I don't know, and to realise and think through some of the things I do. Paradoxically, the one thing I really didn't have time to do was get out there much with the camera, though I've been catching back up ever since.

And despite the thousands of new books that have passed through my hands over the years, when that advance copy dropped through the letterbox, I was as giddy and dumbstruck as if I'd never seen a book before in my life. I mean, it looked like an actual book. And it had my name on the cover. Now I'm just ticking off the days until publication.



Sophie Goldsworthy is a publisher and author, and blogs about photography at http://blog.sophiegoldsworthy.com. The Rough Guide to Digital Photography publishes on 3rd October 2011.

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