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Lessons learned from publishing my first book - Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne

I would like to share my experience of creating and publishing Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne book. This was my first experience in creating a complete project from scratch and there are more than a few things which I have learned in the process. As I have told this story to quite a few people since the book was released, I believe it will be interesting to many to read it in full.

While my experience, described in this article, is limited to a book publishing, I believe it can be easily applied to many creative projects.

Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne
Promotional photo

Concept for the project

The most important part of any creative process is having a visualization of what you are doing. In my personal opinion it is really hard to finish anything if you do not have a clear goal in sight. You can argue, that it is more important to start first and see where it takes you. This can be potentially applied at the early stages of any project. But even so, there will be a point, where you have to come up with the concrete plan and the visualized ending.

Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne
One of the early iterations of book cover

When I started working on the book, I did not have the end goal in mind. There was a very rough idea of what I was doing - I knew it will be some sort of textual document accompanied with photographs. The ideas were hectic - there were plans to include equipment and weapons into the book, to incorporate documental photos into it and even to make it three times bigger to include all regiments and service in one manuscript. I don't think that explanation is needed to why this was a flawed idea.

Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne
And another one

So, my advise is following: have a clear end goal before you started to invest time and labor into your project. In my case it would be a book cover, book description and contents plan. Basically, everything that I have on this website for the upcoming projects. For other projects this visualization will be different, but you get the idea. And of course, you do not need to worry about the accuracy of this visualization at this point. The project will change in the process of its creation, that's a given. But you will, at all times, have a clear goal at the end of the tunnel.

Creative process

I started making the Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne book in 2016. I have mostly completed it in late 2021. The final touches were done in late 2022. Now, I understand, that this schedule is completely inappropriate on many levels. In this paragraph, I will try to explain why it is crucial to have strict deadlines for each stage of the creative process.

Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne
Creativity is the key!

As was mentioned in the previous paragraph, I did not have a clear plan for the book in 2016. I was just making photoshoots with friends and was writing some paragraphs in my own time. This was the case for two or three years - we have only started putting everything together into a finished form in 2019. At the starting point I thought that this was "okay" - I did not have any high hopes for the future work, neither I regarded the process as something serious. And I guess that this approach is all right - why not to just have some fun? Yet, this had to change in 2019 when the project started to get some meaningful boundaries.


Time and schedule

Now, based on the experience gathered from the first book, I have made some rules for future projects. I am implicating them right now, while working on the Soviet infantry weapons of the Afghan War.

First of all, the timing and deadlines have to exist. It will solve a lot of problems, both technical and existential. Open-end project would, in most cases, end up as an unfinished work on your hard drive. It happened to my friends, it happened to me with the other projects, it happened to everyone. While it is common, it is not desired.

Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne
Team needs to be looked after!

Secondly, everything changes. In the process of making the Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne book our team has changed three photo studios, four cameras and six lenses and two photographers. It was a natural process - photo studios have closed down, cameras broke and one photographer has relocated. Now, while these all seem like minor problems which are easy to overcome, they all backfired at the final stage when we were putting photos into the book. Different lighting, different distance from the camera to the model, different quality of the photo - this is not the whole list of the problems that had to be solved by our designer, who was in charge of retouching the final versions of the pictures.

So, in my future projects, which involve models, I will have a very strict protocol:

  • One photo studio

  • One camera, mounted on a tripod, which is fixed in one position

  • Lightning settings locked

  • Jackboots to be screwed into the floor to ensure the correct position of the model

  • Everything to be done within three to four month period

The last bullet point is probably the most contra versional one. It does not apply to every project out there. Some need way more time. However, in this particular case of making a photobook - to do it swiftly, within the period of no more than a year is advised. Apart from the obvious technical reasons mention in the list, there is another one. As time goes by, your skills improve - no matter the industry. This happened to us with the book creation. Overtime, older photos would not satisfy me anymore and I wanted to retake them. Well, as you can already guess, this process can be literally endless - it is impossible to reach the pink of perfection.

Same goes for the texts. As time goes by, you learn more on the topic, your writing style changes and the idea of what is appropriate for the book evolves. If you are writing a book, my advice would be to finish the main bulk of the text withing reasonable time frame.

Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne
One of the very early photoshoots, which still managed to get into the final version of the book

Team and delegation in the project

Here comes the personal stuff. I was very lucky with the team that has helped me a lot and supported on every stage of the production process. Being an airsoft/reenacting team, we naturally recruited people from our ranks - photographers and models. As everyone was incredibly interested in the process, no financial motivation was required. This is nor systematic, neither sustainable. In fact, it is not applicable to the majority of projects or situations - you can easily have a very narrow interest or live in the location with no fanbase around.

Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne
Remember to have fun

In most situation you will have to either get into a partnership with someone or to hire people. My personal advice, which I stick to on any project - do not get into partnership where you can hire. Getting into a partnership on a business or even on a one-time project is not different from getting married. You have to have infinite trust in your partner and the compatibility have to be on sky level for everything to work out at the end. This is a rare situation.

While hiring is self explanatory, one little advice I want to give on it. If there is some particular area which you are not very good at, or can't do at all, let's say drawing or photographing - do hire a professional. Learning a new skill from scratch will, in 100% of situations, cost you more in terms of money and will take much longer. The results, however, are likely to be not as good.

Money spent and money made

Now, to the most interesting topic of the article. My first project, the Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne book was never planned as a commercial thing. In fact, when I was working on it, the plan was to print around 100 or so books to distribute among those who participated in the book and to the biggest fans of the topic. In all the honesty, I never thought that the demand for the manuscript will be as big as it is.

But before talking about money to be made, let's talk about material resources to invest into the project. If you are reading this article, you are probably working on your first ever project. The advice is simple - invest comfortably. Do not take from the family and do not overspend. Basically, pocket money. Then again, it all depends on your ambitions.

At this point you have to decide for yourself if this is going to be just a passion project, a side-kick or a career choice. The decision is deeply personal, but my advice is to stick with the passion project and have hopes for it to become a side-kick. This is what it is for me right now. Even now, with the established e-shop and some reasonable sales I work on my next book just for the sake of it - I like how it turns up. Even if it will be a financial failure, I will be happy with what I have created.

Regarding the potential financial gains, I can only give one advice at this point. Make sure, that you agree with everyone, who works on the project, what share they get, if they do. Ideally, this has to be written on paper. Having such an agreement will save nerves, time and friendships.

Uniforms and history of the Soviet Airborne

Summary

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. As our publishing house gets more projects in, we are looking for new authors and new ideas. If you are into military history and have a project in mind - do not hesitate to contact me at safar.publishing@gmail.com and I can guide you through it. No string attached!


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