10 Tips for Self Publishing a Photography Book through Kickstarter

In January 2016 I launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to get my first book, Animal Soul, printed. Here I will share ten things I learned that could perhaps be valuable for those wanting to follow this path. 


Success in Kickstarter is not measured by if you are fully funded, for that is only part of the process. In order to host a truly successful campaign, you need to fulfill each of the following. 

  1. Your campaign is fully funded 
  2. You actually manage to produce the product with the allocated budget.
  3. The product is shipped within your estimated timeframe with minimal delays. 
  4. The product quality meets or exceeds expectations.

When your project is fully funded, you have a responsibility to your backers to meet all the claims you made throughout your campaign. If this is your first time publishing a book, I would recommend allotting yourself an extra 2-3 months ahead of your bona fide timeline estimate. There will ALWAYS be unexpected setbacks. As Victor Hugo once wrote, and I paraphrase, "foresee the unforeseen". 


Kickstarter is not a shop. Backers know this. They are not buying readymade products. The Kickstarter community exists to support individuals who are going against the grain. Most people hosting a Kickstarter campaign are new to whatever it is they are trying, so trouble will always be over the horizon. Be as clear as you can with your audience about the hurdles you foresee and how you plan to overcome them.

If problems that you hadn't even considered show up, update your backers and explain your plan to approach the problem. I was very hands-on with Animal Soul, and as a result most of the reviews of the campaign explained how the backers felt as though they were a totally up-to-date and informed part of the project, as opposed to simply being the consumer. The more honest and transparent you are about the project, the better the project is likely to fare. If you plan to host subsequent crowdfunding campaigns in the future your reviews will be scrutinized. Showing that you made good on your promises goes a long way. 


Host it early in the year. I found some research (here) that concludes that Kickstarter hosts the fewest amount of projects right after the winter holidays. There may be less traffic on the site but there is far less competition. Trust me, this can make all the difference. 


Getting the buzz going about your crowdfunding campaign is the next step to reaching your funding goal. 

When pitching a book project to traditional publishers and literary agents, you are often required to submit a proposal. In the proposal there should be a competitor analysis. Which books that have already been published will you be sharing a market with? Which artists have been producing similar photos to the ones you are doing? 

Once you have established who your competition is, find out who wrote about it. For example, there were about 5 books and another 10 artists whom Animal Soul would share a slice of the market with. I had a very simple search strategy, which went as follows: 

"(Name of website / publication) + (description of competition) + (keywords like: photographer, coffee table book, etc.)"

Or if I plug in the variables for an example: 

"The Guardian Seth Casteel dogs underwater" or "MyModernMet dog portraits" and so on. 

The search results will then yield articles published by a particular website about your competition. Go through these pages and find out who wrote the articles. Most of the time there is a credited author to each article. Next step is to research some company email formats. Try to find out which format the site of your choice uses. This information is generally not public, so I am not able to share my findings for all the major sites, however the following formats are common: 

  • firstname.lastname
  • firstinitiallastname
  • firstnamefirstinitiallastname

With the right format in mind, plug in the name of the person who wrote that article and ask if they would be interested in running a story about your work. After all, journalists and reporters make a living off of generating content, so you're not doing anybody a disservice if you legitimately feel your material is worth writing about. 

I got about a 65% response rate from these, which yielded ultimately about a 30% chance in a published article on a big website, per email I sent. Check out where I've been published here, to see that this actually works. 


If you haven't self-published before, I would recommend lining up all your affairs before venturing into the crowdfunding platforms. If you are simply trying to finance a book, make sure you have at least 95% done, so that your campaign is essentially a pre-order campaign. This helps your campaign run as smoothly as possible. 

However, disregard this if your campaign also needs to fund the actual process of making the photos for the book. 

Copies of Animal Soul being prepared for shipping in Belgium. 

Copies of Animal Soul being prepared for shipping in Belgium. 


Finding the right printer is the first step I would take, once the digital production of the book is reaching its final stages. You can either research and find a local offset printer, or you could get in touch with authors who have published similar books as yours and either ask where they printed their book or just take a look in their book. Most of the time the printer is reported. This will give you a good idea of the type of books a printer is able to produce. The primary reason for getting the printer beforehand is that you will have an accurate estimate for the brunt of your funding goal. 


Shipment 1 out of 15. I didn't have the space in the car to ship everything at once neither did the French post like it very much when I brought too many. I spent two weeks shipping about 50 copies a day. 

Shipment 1 out of 15. I didn't have the space in the car to ship everything at once neither did the French post like it very much when I brought too many. I spent two weeks shipping about 50 copies a day. 

I can't stress this enough. If you're new to crowdfunding and self publishing, THIS will be your biggest hurdle. It will take longer than you expect, sturdy and safe shipping boxes that fit your book will be hard to find, shipping carriers will charge more for international shipping than you expect. Figure out exactly what shipping is going to cost you, and then add at least 30% of that on top of your projected costs for your funding goal. This will hopefully cover your bases. The private shipping companies just aren't feasible if you want to keep the shipping cost down. 


If you're doing a photo book, as nice as it is do it your way, I would recommend getting a market sample audience made up of friends and family. What does this mean? I arranged a group of friends and essentially ran a slideshow of potential page choices, potential successive page choices, and simply just photos that haven't been put on the page yet. I would give each of them a scorecard with a 1-10 rating system. At the end I'd process the data and draw up some statistically validated conclusions (the more friends you bring, the more accurate your sample, naturally). Publishers often have focus groups to get an indication about how the book will be received. This really paid off for me. 


There are people out there who want to have a significant impact on your project. They are far and few but they do exist. Offering a perk that may seem outrageous to most could just make or break your campaign. It made mine. I put up the option to photograph somebody's animal anywhere in the world. A generous benefactor in Jordan chose this option and had me fly over to photograph their beautiful cat. 


Backers are people who have decided to trust the claims you're making and have gone ahead and put their money on the line. Kickstarter offers no guarantees that they will ever see a product, but they are excited about your work and want to help. Reward this trust with being hands-on. Be thankful, be appreciative and answer in a timely manner. From all the books I sent out, about 15 packages arrived damaged or didn't arrive at all. Although this is not my responsibility per se, it is important to make it so. I sent all these people new copies, because luckily I had expected a number of unforeseen expenses when setting my funding estimate. 

That's all folks. 

The Animal Soul Story [Part 1]

When I first started photographing cats and dogs I didn't have a specific end in sight. I enjoyed doing it and left it at that. I was in my final year of university and I had but few ideas about my next professional steps. Animal Soul emerged as an unlikely contender. I had imagined that at this point I would be making films, and that is where my passion has been from the day I picked up a camera. Photography was always a natural by-product, but had I expected to dedicate myself primarily to it? No. Had I expected to be publishing an art book of dog and cat portraits before my 23rd birthday? Not in the slightest.  Had I expected to be publishing a book, full stop? Absolutely not. 

A few months after I graduated from university I began to feel a little lost. I had no specific professional direction other than some small-scale video projects. After a brief stint unsuccessfully working in Jordan, I posted an article about my animal photographs on a social media platform for artists to share their work. The article picked up incredible momentum, and before I knew it I was contacted by a publisher in California interested in bringing my series of animal portraits (then entitled 'Faces') to bookstores worldwide. I hadn't even considered a book at that point, I had about twenty viable images (only four of which made the final cut for Animal Soul) and I had zero experience in the realm of publishing. After speaking to a few published authors, I quickly learned that blue moons occur more often than publishers reaching out to first time would-be authors. I was highly encouraged not to squander the opportunity and to do everything I was told, lest I lose the publisher's attention.

I made a fifty day plan to make all the photographs for a book to be published three months later (how naïve I was). About three weeks later, I was on my way to my 30th shoot. I would be photographing German Shepherds when I received an email from the editor I had been corresponding with. He and all the other editors were committed to bringing the project to the bookstores, however as it turned out, the acquisitions board did not feel the same way. I received the email the same way one would a receive a rescindment of an acceptance letter to a university. Needless to say, I was devastated, for about twenty minutes. I had come this far, why stop now? I pulled myself up from the proverbial bootstraps and went to photograph those dogs. Except this time, instead of explaining to the owner of the animal that a publisher in the United States was going to publish my book, I explained that I was doing it myself. Just like that, without any deliberation, I had signed my verbal contract. I had another forty appointments ahead of me and I was not about to cancel them all. So I drove all around the Netherlands for the next three weeks, making some photos of animals in between all the driving. But after that six week period, I had enough photos to make a book. I actually thought I had enough to make two books (naive, once again). 

How hard can it be to fill about 200 pages with photos?
— Robert Bahou, May 2015
Animal Soul being printed in Belgium. April 19 2016.

Animal Soul being printed in Belgium. April 19 2016.

At first I approached the book as a portfolio. I would find the photos I like the most and just place them on pages. I had a 300 page book, but it felt lazy. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I put the book aside for a few weeks to look at again with fresh eyes. Upon coming back to it, I realised that I wanted the images to speak to each other, as opposed to simply displaying my best work. I wanted to surprise the viewer with each new page, I wanted people to look at the images and see the silent conversations. I dived back into the archive of 20,000+ outtakes, picking photos (that I didn’t consider previously) specifically because of how they could complement another photograph in the book. I’ve found that two average photos can become incredibly strong when juxtaposed. 

It took about six months of coming back to Animal Soul to settle on an edition of the book that was ready to print. However, I don’t think it will ever be ‘done’. I even changed around some photos hours before it was printed. What I can say however is that it is as close as I can get to finished. 

Animal Soul Updates

For those of you that missed the Kickstarter campaign. Animal Soul is available to pre-order through my site. I only sell signed copies through here which go for £40. The official public release date for the book is September 15By purchasing a book through my site you directly support my work and help me continue making photos.

It has been a busy month for the production of Animal Soul. It is all going smoothly, I am just beginning to see how incredibly thorough one must be in order to send a finished product to the printer that is virtually flawless. When I say flawless I mean without any avoidable errors. 

I would have been ready to send the book to the printer over 3 weeks ago but as the Kickstarter was drawing to a close I was approached by a publisher who was interested in joining the project. The negotiations and discussions set me back a few weeks, but also helped me see the project in a new light. It is with their help that I am confident that Animal Soul will see all the corners of the world. 

I am working on finding the balance between self and commercial publishing. I have designed the book entirely by myself. All the photos, layout, text and everything you see in the book (with exception of the foreword) was created by me. So in that respect, the book is exactly the result of how I would imagine it to be produced. On the flip side, the newly attached publisher offers me the support of a traditional publishing house, meaning the book can be distributed, sublicensed, registered and marketed the proper way, meaning you will most likely be able to purchase it in all the major stores in the coming few months. 

I am now in the phase of doing the final colour work on all the images. The printer has asked me to deliver all the images in a specific format so that's all I'm doing now. I will post more updates when the book is actually rolling off the presses.

Animal Soul Kickstarter is Live!

Hi all,

I'm very excited to share with you that today Friday the 22nd of January at 18:00GMT I have publicly launched the Kickstarter campaign for Animal Soul. The first 100 backers receive a discounted price for the book.

Click here to go directly to the project page.

Kickstarter is all or nothing. If the project doesn't meet the funding goal, it won't get funded at all and I won't be able to produce the book. If you have friends, family, acquaintances or know anybody who may be interested in the project, do let them know. I would greatly appreciate any support I can get so that I can be sending you all books in the coming few months.

Thank you for supporting my work over the last year, it's been a long road to this point, but hopefully it's about to pay off.





My name change and the self publishing endeavour

Professionally, I now go by Robert, instead of Rob. 'Rob' was a snap decision I made making my photography page on Facebook when I was 16. Robert is pronounced the french way (Ro-bear), that's what my mother calls me and that is officially what I'm called, so I thought it important to go back to my roots before I publish something officially. 

So once again, self publishing is on the table. The compromise I've worked out with myself is that I would like to do a collectors edition for all the people who have shown me support over the last few months, and it will be a limited run of about 1000 copies, perhaps more depending on if there is enough interest in it. I will hopefully launch the kickstarter campaign before the end of the first week of december, I just have a few things left to figure out regarding that part of the project. 

More than once have I heard now to separate the book into two books, Canine and Feline Soul. I'm sure the titles speak for themselves. Part of me feels as though I'd be letting go of a fundamental part of the project if I split the dogs and cats. I love looking at them next to each other, against each other, to complement and contrast one another. This is why, the self published collection of my photographs will be with both. 

Below is a raw still from the kickstarter video I'm working on. More on this later!

Have a great Friday!



The book and my next steps.

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about my book and potential galleries that could feature my work. The book is ready, but I can't help but feel as though there is something missing. I think I may set out to do another twenty to thirty shoots to really solidify the portfolio and get just a tiny bit more diversity in the selection. 

Once I'm done with this series, who knows. It's quite easy to get pigeonholed into one specific facet of your craft, for me that is animal photography and it is what I have grown to be known for. My animal series is a relatively new series and I feel as though I yearn to work with more colours, just like I used to before this particular project. This isn't to say I will give it up but rather I plan to diversify. I truly love animals, but I feel as though I am ready to step into new ground as well: people. Who knows what that might yield but I will have to see. I have a number of ideas, many of which will take me back to my home country Jordan. In the mean time, here is one of my more recent additions to my quiet collection (click on it for more). 

Distribution for Self Publishing

As far as I am concerned, my two priorities for this book are as follows: 

  1. It is inexpensive, especially for what it is. 
  2. It is beautiful.

I don't plan on making a profit neither do I want to. Realistically, this is hardly even in my hands, but I would like to have this principle intact nonetheless. 

Distribution is my primary concern when self publishing this book. I had a great meeting with a printing company in Belgium yesterday. I truly believe they are the best qualified printer in the region to bring this book to life. As I await a quote for the first 1000 copies, I need to think of how I actually plan to get it to the people that buy it. I do not think I am planning on going through the large scale booksellers like Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the like. As much as I would like to see my book on their virtual shelves, it will just cost me far too much money and I will end up incurring a major loss. The remaining option is that I handle it all myself. 

Now, shipping a product of 2kgs from The Netherlands or the UK (where I am moving for the foreseeable future) looks like it will cost almost more than the book itself, so this isn't particularly feasible. If anybody reading this has any experience/suggestions, please reach out to me. When I have worked out a reasonable shipping/storage option, I will start creating the business plan to eventually run a crowdfunding campaign in November (if all goes according to plan). 

To Self Publish, or to Find a Publisher... [Part 2]

In my last entry I discussed the process I have to go through to get Animal Soul produced through a publisher, now I'll go through what it takes to do it myself. Mind you, this is really just a summary, there is so much more to it. 

  1. As opposed to going through a publisher, here I would need to be in charge of every element of the production process, or pay others to handle certain tasks. There is considerably more risk involved with this track, not to mention a huge amount of work.
  2. The first order of business would be to get a working draft of the book, the details of this process I highlighted in this post. Then I send it to a print-on-demand service just to get a hard copy to show around. I will then show it to as many people as I can and request they spend a certain amount of time with the book, write down their most honest comments and return them to me. I will compile all the comments, compliments and criticisms in one place and draw up a sort of market research analysis from this. 
  3. Once I am almost certain of what the final book will need to look like, in terms of trim size, amount of pages, layout, text, photos used etc, I will be able to approach an industrial-scale printer. I will sit with a representative from the print company and work out what the final edition of my book would cost me, per copy. A benefit of this track is that I will have full creative control over how the book ends up looking. 
  4. With the printing price in mind I can start working out my business plan. I need to consider distribution, which looks to be quite complicated without a publisher's network. I've only done some surface level research so far, but what I have discovered hasn't been pretty. The cut amazon takes for storing, selling and shipping each book is so high that I would effectively be incurring a major loss on each copy. The best option so far seems to be to sell it directly through my own website, and store all the copies in my studio, I just don't know yet what shipping would cost for a book of this weight, especially if it is being sent to the U.S or to the far east. 
  5. Once I have a concrete business plan which involves costs, distribution, projected figures and so on, I can approach sponsors. For this, there are two options: a private sponsor or crowdfunding. I honestly prefer crowdfunding, it could be a lot of fun and I would offer some great perks for those contributing a higher amount to the project, including me traveling to their houses (anywhere in the world) to photograph their animals. 
  6. After I have secured the necessary funds, I will send all the copies of Animal Soul to the backers, depending on the perk-packages they have opted for. The remaining copies will be listed for sale on my site and on any site that can offer me a reasonable enough cut for me to sell the book at a normal price and not incur a loss. 

This is not about profit for me. I have long since accepted that there isn't too much money to be made. I just want to create a beautiful book to share with anyone who loves animals as much as I do. My primary concern is selling the book at a reasonable price. I do not want it to be expensive, the price point I have in mind is sitting at about 35, but this all depends on the the conclusions I can draw from my business plan.

I wouldn't know how to start marketing for a crowdfunding campaign, but rest assured, I won't start before I know exactly what the game plan is and what I would do with any sum of money that comes my way. 

Keep an eye on this blog for updates. If you just want to know when the book is released and aren't too concerned about the details, fill in your name and email here and be notified when it's out. 

I think the main conclusion I can draw from the self publish versus commercial publisher debate is that I honestly still know nothing and cannot make a decision yet. 


To Self Publish, Or to Find a Publisher... [Part 1]

To self publish or to go the traditional route. This is the question that has been on my mind for the last few days. Both are viable options, but both come with risks and challenges. Here is what I have learned: 

Publishing with a Publisher

  1. I would most likely need to find a literary agent to represent my work. As percentages go, apparently these people have a 3% response rate to potential clients, let alone acceptance. This isn't to say that it is impossible, it would just take a great deal of grit and perseverance to acquire one. Why? Because most publishers don't accept unsolicited work that isn't sent through an agent.
  2. Once I have acquired an agent, they will approach publishers on my behalf (and on my payroll). The acceptance rate for publishers is also dismally low, as there no longer is too much profit to be had in print, and risks aren't embraced. 
  3. Once a publisher accepts your project, it isn't uncommon that they ask you to front a great deal of the expenses, effectively minimising their risk. This doesn't however happen all the time. The most common practice is that you are given a fee for your book, and then they subsequently take it into their own hands. 
  4. The fee will be a one time cheque, and if I'm lucky I'll also get a back-end clause on my contract. This implies that I get a cut of each copy sold, but this is unlikely, considering, as a first time author I don't have much leverage. 
  5. Once a deal is agreed the project goes through designers, editors, proofreaders, production managers, printers, first drafts, second drafts, and then when the final one is ready, the publisher decides when would be the most profitable time to release it, which could even be years. 
  6. A benefit of going through an established publisher is that they have excellent contacts and distribution networks, meaning I would be able to focus on other things while the publisher handles a the brunt of the work. I will of course have to work on it as well, but the work is considerably less because a lot of the tasks would be delegated to experts and professionals.

Part 2, Self Publishing, can be found here. 



Animal Soul Progress Update #1

Working on Animal Soul (which is the working title) has consumed most of my days for the last few months. I suppose it's easy to overlook how much work goes into something like this, ultimately to make it look as effortless as possible. 

The idea is to have the pages look as though they just fell into place, when in truth, the work is heavy. There were seven weeks of three photo shoots a day in different locations, often up to 200km between each, followed by a month of sorting through the 16,000 photos, organising contracts, making my selections and editing each of them. Mind you, with so many different photos in the collection making a cut was by no means easy.

Each photo takes me approximately 30-60 minutes to get print ready, this involves basic tonal adjustments but lots of small tweaking work on the pixel level to make sure the backgrounds are truly black, this is is really what takes the most time. Now repeat this process for about 400 photos and we've got quite a lot of time spent in front of the editing station.

After that came the laying out. I started out with a 112 page gift book concept that has long since been abandoned. After laying out all the photos and trying to figure out which order of photos is most effective (there are literally trillions of possible combinations), I prepared it for printing and sent it off. I had that copy printed and took note of everything I wanted to change. 

I have now spent the last two weeks arduously working to get draft #2 ready for printing. I'm currently waiting to receive the hard copy before I can go back and make adjustments. The current edition stands at 216 pages, has a finer paper than the first draft and is a lot more meticulously put together.

Once I receive the proof copies I can get moving. For now, I'm exploring options. I'm faced with two major ones: Self publish or seek an established publisher to take the project under their wing. Either way, the project is moving. 

More updates later!




I'll be in and around Vancouver from tomorrow til the end of August. I've never been that far west so it's all very exciting. The landscapes look incredible, especially when compared to the dutch surroundings we've unfortunately grown accustomed to in the last few years. It's not that The Netherlands doesn't have nature, it's more that none of it feels naturally occurring when compared to Canada's vast and untouched expanses. 

I'll finally have some more entries to add to my travel album. The album has been quite lonely lately as we've been busy with client work for the last week. 

Back in September to work on my book and two solo exhibitions.

Tips for Photographing Animals

I'm often asked how I get dogs and cats to sit still for my photos. I honestly never really gave it too much thought. It's an obvious hurdle when it comes to photographing animals, but one that you can't avoid. 

Sometimes the animals are curious, or energetic, uncomfortable, tired or even angry; but after about half an hour of trying most animals will let go and pose for the portrait. I won't reveal all my secrets but I will say that I give them some incentive to sit still, if they won't on their own. Understanding the psychological motivations of dogs and cats is fundamental to photographing them, here are a few tips: 

  • Cats are territorial, if you take them out of their territory, or the house they live in they can easily get stressed. If you do manage to get them to sit still for a photo, your cat is among the minority of adventurers. If you're going to photograph a cat, I highly recommend doing it in the comfort of your home. 
  • Dogs are easily distracted and often will not focus on one thing at a time if they are in a new environment, or if there are too many people. Ideally, photograph them at home, have as few people as possible in the room, and give them one focal point of attention. As the photographer, attract their gaze, call their name. It is important to have someone to help but otherwise, keep the room free. 
  • Cats enjoy high places. Instinctually, high places are considered safe. This is why you see leopards hiding in trees, and domestic cats finding their way up them as well. I put a stool in the room, and then just sit and wait. You'd be surprised how often this works. When you introduce something new to a cat's environment, they need to assess the danger, and they need to discover it. Most of the time, because of the fact that it is higher than the ground, they will pounce onto it. It isn't large enough for them to stand comfortably, so they sit and observe the world from that point. 90% of my cat photos are due to this one little trick. 
  • Make a sudden noise that you haven't made before, make sure your camera is focused and your finger on the shutter, because you'll have a very brief moment to get it right. The only difference is, when the dog or cat looks at you, the look lasts seconds, not even, but the photo is immortal. 

I do think that the fact that I am a stranger to many of the animals plays a part. I am new, and have yet to be discovered. This curiosity works in my favour. I know that I am completely unable to get our cats and dogs to sit still for my photo, and I have tried a few more times than I am willing to admit. So with this in mind, I can understand why lots of people have trouble photographing their own animals. 

This being said, it really just boils down to patience. If you have the patience to sit down for half an hour and try and get a good photo, I can almost guarantee that you will succeed. Unless you've got animals as difficult as mine, then I can only wish you luck.

Photographing Rogue. Photo credit Alesi Enriquez. 

Photographing Rogue. Photo credit Alesi Enriquez. 

The new website

Welcome to the new home of robbahou.com. I don't know if I can stomach how much money I spent on getting this right, only to end up going with a really simple and very affordable option. I'll do my best to keep a blog at least once a month to send an update about how everything is going. 

Thanks for stopping by and for joining me on this adventure.