Musings on Photography

SoFoBoMo Quo Vadis

Posted in Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on May 13, 2008


I’m by nature the sort of person who, after doing something, tends to sit down and pick apart what happened, look for insights and lessons, and think a bit about what might be done differently. I do realize, though, that not everyone is like that. Fair enough.

I also realize that SoFoBoMo 2008 isn’t over. There are a lot of folks still in the middle of their projects. So on the one hand I’m not eager to start some sort of postmortem analysis with an eye to doing it again next year, because it’s sort of jumping the gun a bit. On the other hand, I’m eager to catch people’s feelings and impressions before they start to fade.

So, with all those implicit caveats in place, I’d be interested in hearing from people about their SoFoBoMo 2008 experience, with a view to setting up something to do it again in 2009.

The obvious questions are:

Was it fun?
What sort of things did you learn?
Was your experience pretty much what you expected, or it did turn out that doing the book was wildly different from what you’d pictured when you signed up?
What aspects of the whole thing were frustrating?
What aspects were most rewarding?
Having participated this year (regardless of whether you finished it or not), would you ever want to do it again?
Do you have suggestions about ways to change things to make it more successful/fun/educational/rewarding for participants in future SoFoBoMo events?
What resources did you find helpful?
What aspects of SoFoBoMo were positive surprises? What aspects were disappointments?
How about that fuzzy month thing? Did that work for you, or not?

I’m not so much putting up those questions expecting people to drill through and answer them (although if people do I’m very interested in reading your answers) as much as I think such a list of questions might be a good way to start a low intensity, ongoing discussion about whether there’s enough interest in SoFoBoMo to do it again and if so, what we might do differently next time.

Feel free to put your thoughts in the comments here, or if you’d like to share your thoughts but not in public, just email them to me.

16 Responses

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  1. Glen said, on May 13, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Having completed SoFoBoMo, I can say without question it was a fun and educational experience. The learning aspects included working within a limited time frame and finding my way around a page layout program (in my case, Scribus). My experience was different from expected: I assumed there would be no problem collecting 35 satisfying (to me) photos but that page layout would be a struggle. It was just the opposite: layout was completed early and painlessly but I went through continual indecision over photo selection. I would certainly want to participate again and also hope to continue with the themed book concept outside of SoFoBoMo (although probably without the 31-day and “only new” photo guidelines). I must say that throughout the process I found reading the ongoing SoFoBoMo dialogs to be most helpful and examining each finished book the most rewarding. We should all take a bow, I think, for such wonderful accomplishments.

  2. Erik DeBill said, on May 13, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    1. It was fun. Very fun. Also lots of work. An excellent excuse to put off working on home improvement projects.

    2. Beyond the mechanics of PDF making, I learned something about working with groups of pictures. I’d never really done that before. I also learned a bit about the impact of print-size and viewing distance on subject matter.

    3. My experience was roughly what I expected. There were some surprises, but I expected that.

    4. Some of the mechanics of working with inDesign were horribly frustrating. Learning the tools better would have been a big help. Maybe using a simpler tool (since I don’t really need the full power of inDesign) might have been a better option. Having to do my own research on POD publishers was frustrating. Having a central resource with POD information (submission format, print sizes, rough pricing) would have been wonderful.

    5. The most rewarding part of this was getting out to shoot more. I ended up taking an hour or two after work each day, in addition to photographing on weekends. The additional time out in the world was really wonderful.

    6. Sign me up for 2009. I plan on refining my rough draft book and getting it printed in the meantime.

    7. A lot of my headache with the process was trying to figure out what size the book should be. I’d suggest specifying a size or small selection of sizes as part of the project requirements. Then you can include a list of POD publishers that print that size, and save everyone the headache of researching them.

    8. I followed what other people were doing via their blogs, which was somewhat helpful. Google got me through a few rough patches (I can’t believe what you have to do to make black pages in inDesign…). Mainly I just plowed through things pretty much on my own.

    9. I was surprised that getting enough images wasn’t harder. The additional hurdle from having a PDF to getting it printed was a disappointment. I felt like I had it all done, but it turns out that no, I need to reformat to have bleed and make a separate cover file before I can submit.

    10. I mentally ignored the fuzzy month. I went out to take pictures for the first time on April 2, and finished on about April 28, so it was all during April. If I’d let myself put off starting, my subject would have disappeared and I might never have gotten started. I needed a hard start date to make sure I did it.

    All in all, SoFoBoMo was really great for me. There were two or three “A Ha!” moments where things suddenly became clear. I’ll be getting benefits out of those for some time to come.

  3. Anita Jesse said, on May 13, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    1.Fun? Yes a thousand times with exclamation points.

    2. I already knew that limitations are essential to the creative process, and the truth of that was reinforced. This was a welcome and effective reminder. I finally buckled down to learning how better to work in Pagemaker. (I know it’s outdated.) I had a lot to learn about preparing large PDF’s for the web and that was valuable. All that intense shooting with a theme in mind helped me continue to develop my photography skills.

    3. Part of the fun was in the discoveries such as ending up with a book that looked nothing like what I had originally pictured. As the book revealed itself, I had to stifle the voice in me that often wants to be in charge when it should just shut up and listen.

    4. I was most frustrated by the software issues–being a klutz at Pagemaker and never having dealt with large PDF’s. I got a valuable education and it’s just too bad I hadn’t done that long ago. I haven’t finished dealing with the frustration of taking the book to print and that is thoroughly exasperating—but I suppose if it were easy, then everyone would be doing it. I am still plugging away at it, and I’m convinced that each time I do it, it will be just a little easier.

    5. First, exactly what the challenge had offered: learning that I can produce a book provided I buckle down and give myself some realistic limitations rather than falling for the someday, about something, when I have time, when I’m good enough malarkey. Second, relishing the amazing generosity people are capable of.

    6. If you don’t set this up for next year I will, I will… Drat. You are a long way away. Well, I’ll be sorely disappointed, and I guess I will just have to do it alone. Pre-sign me for 2009.

    7. I hope we all continue the sharing of information, continue to learn the skill sets needed, and do test runs to maximize what we have learned so far. Because there is a wealth of useful body of information out there now (even though it is spread out over several blogs) but this may be even more fun (if that’s possible) in 2009.

    8. I spent time with Help menus (better late than never), did some research on the web, looked at photo books at Barnes and Noble, and pored over info at POD sites. The most significant resource was the sharing done by all the other participants.

    9. Please forgive me for repeating some points. I had no idea what I would learn about myself and my craft, but knew that would be part of the experience and embraced it from the beginning. The biggest surprise was the depth of help provided by other participants. The only disappointments were the times I let myself down by succumbing even briefly to doubt and how slow I am at some things.

    10. The fuzzy month worked great for me. A longer period of time would leave more room for questioning and procrasinating. I will do other books for myself for which I may get indulgent and allow myself two months and at other periods of the year. At some point, I might also do a “Paul Lester” and put together a small project in a weekend, or a series of a few evenings. Right now, I am working on a special project as a gift. It includes photos taken over a long period of time, but many of the challenges are the same (for example, working with that Blurb profile and out-of-gamut headache). I have a hard deadline and getting it to print is the only option. Before SoFoBoMo, I would have continued to put this off until I imagined I had time. I am determined to solidify my SoFoBoMo learning experience.

  4. Anil said, on May 13, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    1- Yes very much so! A lot of fun.

    2 – Learned that the making of images was the easiest part really. the hard part was yet to come! Stringing-together of images to make a proper sequence; writing, and the technical side of producing a book were all new experiences and I am still learning from it.

    3 – I made several about-turns from the original plans! A bit frustrating at first but gradually one realizes that it is best not to try “force” the way. Being open to new ideas and directions as things progressed helped ease out the kinks and let me shoot with more fluidity. I can see a big difference between my beginning and end images in this short span of just 2 weeks shooting already!

    4. Frustrations? Mostly with POD services and software only.

    5. Rewarding experience: ALL OF IT! Every minute!

    6. Yes, definitely I’d participate again! And I might not only wait for SoFoBoMo 2009 – I already have plans to make several online books now that SoFoBoMo 2008 gave me the confidence and the knowledge of publication tools.

    7. The best part was the sharing of knowledge between SoFoBoMoers. Great!

    8. Fuzzy month: Absolutely necessary! if the dates were to be too rigid, I would not have been able to participate this time. There are so may variables in our lives that we don’t have control over, so a bit of flexibility to accommodate for such unforeseen twists turned out to be most helpful!

  5. Anil said, on May 13, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Oh, I almost forgot: I also learned that TIFF is king and the key to creating a good looking PDF. JPG = junk.

  6. Eric Jeschke said, on May 14, 2008 at 12:33 am

    I thought it was almost perfectly set up (even if it wasn’t planned that way). The month period, the number of images, etc. It all felt “just about right”.

    Couple of suggestions:
    1) the part about actually getting it published (printed) seems to me to be an extremely useful part of the process, and rather than making that an afterthought, making it part of the journey would be better. I agree with the poster above about having all the POD resources centralized would have been *extremely* useful. I spent a couple of nights searching around and there doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive site like that. The best I could find was a few notes on a blog here or there (Dave Beckerman’s was very useful). That sort of info could all be compiled on, along with participant’s comments. Maybe even a discussion forum somewhere.

    2) The SoFoBoMo pipe was a cool resource. That should be repeated and a prominent link placed on the web site. Ditto the map thing.

    3) I like the concept of the “fuzzy month”, but in practice I don’t think it works as well as it could, mainly because the later starters feel like they are missing a sort of collective closure. A month after the early starters are finished many may have lost some interest already as the last starters finish. Maybe a fuzzy 6 weeks? I’m not sure about the best way to deal with that.

    All in all a great idea, executed about as well as could be hoped for a first round. I learned a lot and would definitely participate again. (I plan to make some books on my own, but the group experience was definitely a part of the fun).


  7. Tigraki said, on May 14, 2008 at 12:50 am

    1. This project from start to finish has been really fun! A million thanx indeed to you, all those that helped with the website and of course to all the photographers that participated.

    2. For starters I was really surprised that I was able to finish the project. While I have been taking quite a lot of photos, getting up to the 35 related photos that could be put into a book was something I was really unsure of.

    3. When I signed up I had no clear idea what the process of this project would be or what the final book would look like. I had no idea what the theme or the presentation would be and had strong doubts that I would be able to complete it.

    4. In the end getting the photos for the project proved to be the easiest part of it all. The frustrating and most difficult aspect of it was producing the actual book from putting the actual photos in some kind of related order to the presentation of each photo on each page.

    5. Completing the project and looking at the final book was the one thing that gave me a great sense of achievement.

    6. I would certainly participate in a similar project and I have actually started to think of producing a few similar projects on my own.

    7. I find that I need to research more the aspect of producing the book, once I have captured the photos. So any hints or educational resources (websites, books) that deal with these aspects, from choosing the book size, to laying out the photos, to finally getting a printed copy at hand would be very welcome!

    8. Your blog ( as well as the blogs of other participants proved really helpful!

    9. No disappointments really with any aspect of SoFoBoMo!

    10. Having a fixed start date and end date was really important in getting this project completed! I didn’t seem to require the fuzzy month though. The main reason for this is that once I had the inspiration of what I wanted to do I was able to capture the photos in a short amount of time. I believe this might be different in other (similar to SoFoBoMo) projects I would do if I were to capture an average of 1-2 photos a day. So while not quite necessary now, I believe it is a good and potentially useful rule.

  8. Martin Doonan said, on May 14, 2008 at 6:26 am

    I could ramble on all day about this so here are some condensed thoughts (although I’mnot quite finished yet):

    Yes, it’s been fun and rewarding.
    Mainly I’ve learnt a lot about my own thought processes when I’m photographing. It turns into much more of a philosophical exercise in practice. The book helps cement some of those thoughts.
    The other important learning is about streamlining my process for putting a book together. I’ve now got a pretty smooth system for all the layout stuff, which means I can think more about the creative side.
    POD publishers are by far and away the most frustrating. pdf to print should be quite straightforward, but they make it hard. Getting output onto the web has also been frustrating (I definitely need my own website).

    I’d definitely do it again but next time I’d wait until later to fix my project. Travel plans caught up with me, restricting the time I had to do my chosen theme. The big difference between SoFoBoMo and NaNoWriMo is that for photography you need to be physically present in a given location. At least I could write a novel in the airport or at night in my hotel. I think the fuzzy month helps a lot with that.

    The whole thing has also flooded my head with potential ideas for projects and has cemented 2 definite longer term efforts. I probably wouldn’t have got to that without SoFoBoMo.

    blogs have been useful, Gordon putting the pipe together was a great idea and is too. Having a place to see all the output is really good – no point finishing then locking it all in a closet. Might be nice if could expand to hosting (reasonable size) pdfs as well. I’m amazed at the quality of most of the output.

  9. Gordon McGregor said, on May 15, 2008 at 6:15 am

    My answer was long and rambling, so I posted it on my blog.

  10. Gordon McGregor said, on May 15, 2008 at 6:15 am

    My answer was long and rambling, so I posted it on my blog. I’d post a link here, but your blog software seems to think I’m a spammer and eats the url.

  11. Gordon McGregor said, on May 15, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Seems I’m going mad, or URLs get pushed into a queue for validation. Sorry about the double post (now compounded to be a triple post)

    I do like Eric’s suggestion of a 6 week fuzzy month, to ensure some overlap with all the participants.

    I don’t much like the idea of a fixed page size, but some sort of resource that walked through all of the common gotchas for PoD output wouldn’t be bad as a resource for those coming to it for the first time. Certainly knowing where the destination will be before you start out along the road really helps to avoid backtracking and rework. Things like knowing which PoD company you plan on using and thus what page size you plan on targetting really helps, even in the early stages. The first thing for putting a book layout together is getting the page size, bleed, margins and trim regions set out and trying to effectively rework that later is a royal pain in the backside.

    That filters all the way back to sizing images to add to the layout and can maybe even influence how you shoot (if for example you decided you wanted to do a 7″x7″ full bleed book, with square images, suddenly you have to be composing for a square crop)

    I wonder if a wiki resource would be best for this sort of collaborating PoD wisdom repository. Easy to edit with multiple authors, easy to access, easy to update (because my one concern is the PoD space is moving so fast that anything we write will be partially out of date by next year)

    A wiki in general would be a good resource for all things SoFoBoMo making a book related, not just PoD specific. Links to InDesign templates, recommended books on Amazon, best of the blog posts related to SoFoBoMo (over 300 posts so far), pointers to desktop publishing software, (scribus et al)

  12. Paul Butzi said, on May 15, 2008 at 8:31 am

    Any post which has two URLs gets held for moderation.

    Your comment was marked as spam, I rescued it.

  13. Bryan Willman said, on May 15, 2008 at 11:04 am

    I’m not done yet, but expect that I will be.

    It was a great exercise for “forcing” things to actually happen, rather than just be contemplated. Even if I for some reason don’t get done as a whole, I’ve done lots of useful sub steps.

    The fuzzy month was/is key for me.

    I have again learned that lesson that often, when you think of some task as “how hard can it be?” the answer will be “vastly harder than you thought” and when you think of it as “oh my that will be very hard and take forever” sometimes it’s mostly easy and takes 45 minutes.

    In short, a lot is learned just by trying to do it, let alone actually doing it…

    Having others trailblaze (try this layout app, use this file, try this…) helps a great deal, especially when you are trying something radically new in some other area.

  14. Anil said, on May 15, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    I submitted my completed SoFoBoMo link at yesterday – strangely it does not show up at

    any ideas?

  15. Paul Butzi said, on May 15, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    I submitted my completed SoFoBoMo link at yesterday – strangely it does not show up at

    To prevent abuse, the submissions are moderated. Currently, there’s one moderator – me.

    Sometimes there are longer periods between my checks for projects to be approved. I have to sleep every once in a while, for instance.

  16. Anil said, on May 15, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    Ah. I see it is listed there now.


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