An Interview with Author and Artist Pat Fiorello

Pat Fiorello

                Pat Fiorello

Pat Fiorello is a respected painter and art instructor. She published Bella Italia: Italy Through the Eyes of an Artist in October 2013. In this interview, she shares her experience of developing, publishing, and marketing the book.

Michelle Hutchinson: Your book contains images of over eighty of your paintings from your travels to Italy. Had you traveled to Italy before you started painting there?

Pat Fiorello: Yes. All four of my grandparents are of Italian lineage, so I had gone there on vacation in my early thirties, primarily hitting the touristy cities: Rome, Venice, Florence, and Milan. I returned as a painting student and then as an instructor. During my instructional trips, we either travel to Tuscany, an agrarian area of vineyards, or to Lake Garda, which is near the border with Switzerland. With elegant towns and the Alps in the background, it’s very picturesque.

MH: What motivated you to make Italy the focus of your book?

PF: Part of it was my family heritage, but from an artistic standpoint, I was interested in the landscape. People have been going to Italy for hundreds and hundreds of years to paint because of the light and the esthetics. I started thinking about a way to show that to my students, so the book lets them see the diagonals in the landscape, lights and shadows, and color harmony, all those things that are naturally there.

After showing a fellow artist friend my photos and paintings from a trip to Italy, she said, “You should write a book.” I had kept telling myself to do that, but she lit the spark. At 53, what was I waiting for?

MH: Most of my blog followers are writers. Your book is eighty percent visuals and twenty percent narrative. As an artist, what challenges did you encounter in writing the narrative sections of your book?

PF: The narrative was more intimidating than the pictures because I already had the pictures of the paintings stored on my computer. I printed them out and grouped them by themes: lakes, architecture, gardens, etc. I was comfortable with the images. Then I wrote a little bit about what I observed in terms of the esthetics of Italy, but the publishing agency wanted more about the places I had stayed and a background story on each painting explaining why it was meaningful to me. So coming up with something I thought would be interesting and relevant to someone else was a challenge.

MH: Once you completed the narrative, how did you go about choosing an editor?

PF: I knew I would self-publish, but I also knew I needed help because even though I had the content, I didn’t really have it formatted in a way that could be printed. So I interviewed three people who help self-published authors. I ended up choosing Michelle Morton of Morton Media Arts because she had a lot of experience with digital images and art books. She was the best fit for my needs. Michelle was the editor for the book. Towards the end, she had someone else do the proofreading and a graphic designer help with the fonts.

MH: What was working with an editor like?

PF: It was great to have a partner, someone to bounce things off and give me another perspective. And because Michelle was experienced, she knew all the technical terms and provided formatting ideas. For example, she actually thought it might be nice to break up the book by having some images spread across two pages, which we ended up doing.

Pat examines a print run.

Pat examines a print run.

There’s also a pacing and rhythm to the content…between pictures and words, the sizes of the pictures, and how the pictures are laid out on the page so that there’s some visual variety. She was more tuned into that than I was. She also provided a second opinion on the stock paper for the pages and the fabric for the cover. Sometimes you’re so close to your work that you really get lost or you just choose the cheapest or most expeditious option, but that isn’t always the best, so it was nice to have Michelle’s point of view.

MH: In the past, you’ve mentioned that while developing the book, you discovered the need to delete some paintings as well as the need to create new ones to add in. Similarly, when writers work with editors, they often discover that some of their copy needs to be deleted and other areas of their manuscripts need to be more fully developed. What criteria did you use to determine what should be removed and what should be added to your book?

PF: Some of the decisions were based on practicality. For example, in some cases, the photos I had were not crisp enough, or the resolution or lighting was not of high enough quality for printing, so those got deleted.

Some were deleted because they were too similar to ones we’d already chosen for a chapter. We wanted variety.

Some new paintings were added specifically for the two-page spreads because they had to be of a different size than I normally paint. The book is eight inches by ten inches, so to fit across two pages, I had to paint some eight-by-twenties. It was nice to have paintings like that to break up the content.

And some paintings were added because I’d look at a chapter and say, “I just want to beef this up a little more.”

I actually did a painting for the cover, and then when we looked at it with the type, we chose a different one. The original cover painting wound up inside the book. We tried a few different images for the cover and tested them with different fonts. And we also looked at where the title was on the cover so that it wouldn’t be over a busy section of the image and would be easy to read.

Front cover of the book Bella Italia

                         Front cover of Bella Italia

MH: How did you finally decide upon the cover image?

PF: We liked the one we chose because it gives the view of looking in, of leading you in. And it has the mood, colors, and romance of Italy. And water is soothing.

We picked the red font because there were some accents of that red in the painting. But I also chose red on the fabric cover for contrast; it peeks out around the edges of the dust cover.

Red also goes with Italy; the flag is red, white, and green, and you might even pick up a sauce that’s red.

The cover has some pops of red and orange in it, so I thought that would be attractive.

MH: I’ve heard you say how much you appreciated Michelle Morton’s attention to detail as well as the attention to detail exhibited by those she added to the team. In what ways did Michelle and her team demonstrate their attention to detail?

PF: Since there are so many images in the book, we included an index with the title and page number of every painting, so if we moved a painting to another page, we had to make sure all the other page numbers in the index were correct or change them. That was a pretty tedious process.

Also, just keeping track of all the images required attention to detail because every image has a title, size, and art medium, and after you’ve worked with them for months, it’s easy to think, “Oh, I already have that.” But things change and get moved around, so if you’re not constantly on top of the details, you could end up having some errors.

MH: I notice that you don’t sell your book on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. Why not?

PF: When I researched those sites, I discovered that they discount the list price significantly and then they take a cut of the sale. I didn’t mark up the price of my book very much—it sells for $35.00, while many other hardcover art books sell for up to $80.00—so I would be losing money with every book sale on those sites.

I wanted a price that would make the book accessible. I never had visions of selling millions of copies. I was more interested in quality of audience than quantity. A lot of what you do as an artist—and I include writers in that category—is bring meaning and pleasure and beauty to people through your creativity. This book was really a labor of love and something that would help people get to know me. I wanted to create something enduring and share it with people I might never meet.

The book wasn’t meant to be a major profit center. It is a way to familiarize people with my artwork and my trips. So I look at it as marketing piece. And someone who can’t afford my original paintings still has access to my art through the book.

MH: While your book is a great marketing tool for your art workshops, trips, and private lessons and for selling your art, the book itself also requires marketing. What strategies have you used to market your book, and what has been the degree of success with each of those?

Pat at a book signing

Pat at a book signing

PF: Book signings are the best opportunities to sell a bunch at once. When I speak to book clubs and travel groups and do art shows, I do book signings at those events.

Students at my workshops buy the book, and I sign those.

I have a dedicated page on my website for the book and take orders through there. That has worked very well.

I also have a Facebook page just for the book.

Some of the people I do Italy trips for have put a link to my website or book page on their sites, so I’ve been found through those back links too.

I also sell the book in some art supply stores and in the gift shop associated with the school at which I teach.

One thing I wish I would have done is to have taken preorders. When I announced the book before its release, people were excited. I should have capitalized on that and had people place orders right then and there. If I’d had a good sense of preorders, I might have even changed the number of books I had printed.

MH: In a  prior career, you were a marketing vice president for Nabisco and The Coca-Cola Company. How much did that marketing background help you in your efforts to market your book?

PF: I think it helped with the basics, but the basics aren’t that sophisticated. Identifying and understanding who your audience is a fundamental premise for selling anything. The audience for my book is people who love art and travel, especially Italy.

I also teach an art marketing class for other artists, and there are three fundamental questions you ask:

  • What are you selling?
  • To whom are you selling?
  • What are the benefits of your product or service to the people to whom you’re selling? In other words: What’s in it for them?

So every writer has to be able to answer those questions upfront. You have to get in the shoes of prospective readers and ask yourself, “Why would somebody want this book? What’s in it for them, and what does the profile of that person look like?”

And then there’s pricing, which we’ve already talked about; placement, which is what we were talking about before (Are you going to be on Amazon? Are you going to be in a bookstore? How are people going to get the book?); and promotion.

With promotion, I’ve reached out to other people who have a similar audience. So I’ve had a guest post on the blog of Dream of Italy. I figure those readers love Italy.

Or I’ve reached out to other Facebook pages and groups comprised of people interested in art, Italy, and travel. And those also happen to be the people interested in paintings.

Pat holding a copy of her book

“This is a book you want to hold in your hands.”

MH: Did you ever consider selling Bella Italia as an e-book?

PF: I did consider that, but because it’s such a visual book, I thought, “This is a book you want to hold in your hands and linger over.” It’s meant to be read and enjoyed slowly, so I felt people would enjoy it more as a printed book.

MH: In a previous conversation, I heard you talk about the costs of developing and printing your book. Have you recouped your costs yet?

PF: Not quite yet, but I’m pretty confident I will. I’ve sold about a third of the books so far. My intention is for the book to really help my overall art business, so I’m not looking to sell as many books as I can. Instead, it’s more about going to a book signing and meeting thirty new people who might become customers for paintings some day; it’s worth having the book for that.

I’m using the book to create events and make connections with people with whom I might develop a longer term relationship. It might take three or four years to sell out of the book, but I look at the book as investment, not a cash machine.

The book establishes my credibility and expertise. It’s a door opener. The life cycle in art is much longer than in other industries. It could be five years before someone who buys my book commissions a painting, but if I’m presenting my art in a polished professional way, it reinforces what I stand for. It’s part of my branding and marketing expense. It’s not like a coupon where you would see an instant jump in sales.

MH: Was there anything that surprised you about this book project?

PF: I was surprised by how many decisions I had to make, like font styles, what color to pick for the metallic press lettering on the fabric cover, what color the end pages should be. It was like building a house: What color doorknobs will you have, what color paint, what color rugs?

Those are just some of the little details. But if someone is thinking about writing book, I would definitely encourage them to do it. It was a terrific growth experience and sense of accomplishment. It’s a great way to share your message and express yourself in the world.

And I would definitely recommend getting professional help. It really does add value to have a second set of eyes and have someone challenge you on the content and give you an objective perspective. Once you have you have the book done, it’s very exciting to get that first copy in your hands.

Learn more about Pat, her art, and her book at patfiorello.com.

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