A husband-and-wife team takes their photography to the best-seller‚’s list
By Ibarionex R. Perello
The Real Work Begins "The work doesn't end when you have the finished book in your hands," Sams points out. "In fact, the hardest part is yet to come," especially since their initial publishing run left them with no money for distribution or marketing. "When we went home with the final press sheets of our book, we were excited, exhausted and realized that our work had only just begun. We now had to figure out how on earth we were going to sell 20,000 books."
Adds Stoick, "The most challenging aspect of self-publishing is learning how to promote your book and how to distribute nationwide."
Despite that daunting task, they still were encouraged by the favorable response they received from the people who had become regular customers of their fine-art prints.
"During the art shows, I'd show my customers the layout and they immediately wanted to buy," says Sams. Even before the first print run, they had already sold 250 copies based on the proofs alone. That was only the beginning.
"It was November before we finally had the finished product in our hands," he continues. "We knew if we wanted to make any of our money back that year, we had to get them in the market before the holidays. So Jeannie and I loaded carton after carton of books into the back of our car and drove them to Northern Michigan."
Although the couple had no money for advertising, the press and television news stations became interested when they learned that some profits from the sale of the books were being donated to several nonprofit organizations.
Says Sams, "We teamed up with the Grand Traverse Land Conservancy and the Little Traverse Land Conservancy, and offered to donate a portion of our profits toward the conservation of Michigan's wild places." The couple also involved the Rainbow Connection, a organization that helps make dreams come true for children suffering life-threatening illnesses.
When a national chain bookstore showed interest in the book, Sams and Stoick insisted that they follow through with the donations as well. To their surprise, the bookstore chain agreed.
"This came back to us tenfold," Sams recalls. "When the media caught hold of what we were doing, the stores began selling out of books quicker than snow melts in July, and Stranger in the Woods was soon number one in Northern Michigan's best-seller's list. Our initial print run disappeared before Christmas."
Today, there are more than 1.1 million copies of Stranger in the Woods in print. It has won seven awards and spent 26 weeks on The New York Times best-seller's list, hitting the number-one spot in December 2002. The success of the book also meant nearly $50,000 for the trio of nonprofit organizations.
The Follow-Up Now, with Lost in the Woods, the photographer team has hopes of enjoying the success of their previous book. That success made the idea of a second book a little intimidating, however.
"The reaction to our first book was amazing," says Sams. "That's why it was so hard to finish the second one. We wanted to make sure that it was as good, or better, than the first. We had a tough act to follow." Many details changed with the production of the second book. One of the major elements was the couple's use of digital cameras.
"Our images are all shot digitally now," says Sams, who explains that the couple uses Canon EOS-1Ds cameras. "There's no scanning involved, with the exception of those images we pull from our slide archives. Now we can spend a morning shooting and know almost immediately if we have the shot we're after. Where we used to fill file cabinets with our slides, we now fill them with DVDs."
The results have pleased Sams and Stoick, as well as their faithful readers. The story of a lone fawn in the woods, Lost in the Woods was number one in the Midwest within two weeks of its release, and has been nominated for Book of the Year in the Great Lakes region. It's currently on TheNew York Times best-seller's list, easily competing with more heavily marketed books by major publishers, including The Polar Express.
"We want our readers to remember gentle lessons," says Stoick. "We want them to appreciate the natural world and the uniqueness of its birds and animals."
To learn more about Carl Sams and Jean Stoick, visit their website at www.carlsams.com.