25 Years Ago Today: Literary Paris Is Published

Writing a book is truly a labor of love, because the journey to publication is a rocky road that takes years.

In looking back on how my first – and so far, only – book came to be purchased, published and promoted by Watson-Guptill of New York, I have only gratitude for everyone who helped me along the way.

The book concept remains simple: a collection of my black-and-white photographs of Paris paired with quotations of famous authors who loved the city. It was to be promoted as an “evergreen” gift book for Francophiles. And that’s what eventually happened.

It took three years.

It began as series of happy accidents when an interior design friend first asked me to enlarge some of my photographs for one of his clients. He promptly sold them and told me I should do a book. (I laughed; he was serious.) I mentioned the idea to a neighbor; his ex-aunt happened to be a literary agent. My wife, a graphic designer, helped me format a book proposal. And suddenly, during a business trip, I was in a midtown Manhattan office pitching the concept to Claudia and Richard, two hard-boiled New Yorkers who agreed to take it on even though I wasn’t either a famous or a dead photographer.

One year later, I got the call: Watson-Guptill bought the book. I’d be receiving a small advance. That’s when the real work started, because a proposal is not a finished work. Not by a long shot!

  1. Select 50+ of my photos from 15 years of negatives. Travel to Paris when I realized I needed to take more photos.
  2. Source 50+ quotations related to Paris. Include a few American writers among all the classic French authors.
  3. Translate all the French-language excerpts into English.
  4. Group photos by themes to guide the reader and write introductory essays for each theme.
  5. Finally (oy!), negotiate and pay all the permissions and international copyrights for every writer whose work was under copyright.

In that earliest Internet era, this all required another year of intense, library-based research (in downtown Chicago’s Harold Washington Library), plus much back and forth with editors while I worked full-time and helped Frances raise our two girls. Then almost another year went by owing to production and marketing considerations: final book design, printing in Italy, and migrating from hardcover to paperback to meet the desired gift book pricing.

Yet it’s quite something when a box finally arrives and inside you slim, perfect volume distilling your love for a place. Yes, it was worth it. For several years after its 1999 publication, it was a heady, scavenger-hunt-like experience to find my book in most bookstores. (I had a moment and almost had to sit down when I found a copy for sale in the boutique at the Musée Carnavalet, dedicated to the history of the city of Paris.)

If you take time to look through this book, please ask me anything. Every photo takes me back to a time and a place. And I remember the moment.

Jeffrey Frank Kraft @jeffkraft