The Wildly Intrepid Jan Latta – part 2

Jan portraitIn Part 2 of finding out how intrepid pioneer Jan Latta carved out for herself a publishing niche, Jan talks about some stories behind her adventures and her marketing and promotion strategies. To recap part one, click here.

Jan, how do you walk the fine line between fact and fiction in bringing the animals stories to life? How much do you attribute human emotions/motivations to them? 

The True to Life Books are called creative non-fiction because the animals ‘talk’ to children in the text. I always get a scientist or professional to check the final copy to make sure the facts are correct. I think children will always relate to animals, and the photographs and videos help the stories to come alive.

Your books have activity pages for children as well – do you make these or outsource the creation of them?

I always outsource. Serena Geddes and Thomas Hamlyn-Harris for the puzzles, illustrations and colour in pages.

What is your aim in writing these stories?

My aim is to educate children about endangered animals, so they can be aware that some animals may disappear from earth. At question time a young boy said he had an ivory ornament at home, but he didn’t realise an elephant had been killed for that ornament.

jan and slothWe hear very often of the difficulties in selling self-published books, and yours have been very successful. How have you gone about marketing and promoting your books and where are they available? 

 

This has been the most challenging part of publishing. Years ago I was lucky to have two big distributors, but unfortunately they both went out of business. My next distributor was INT books, but the owner is closing down and retiring. JB books stock my books if the animals are in regional zoos.

Some bookshops are happy to stock their ‘local author’s’ books. Paul MacDonald at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft, is wonderful promoting authors and their book launches.

But, the majority of my book sales come from school presentations and festivals in Australia and the Asia Pacific region.

You seem to have a loyal following – I know teacher librarians who are keen to get their hands on your latest book! What do you think is the secret of their success?

I think I’m the only writer creating non-fiction books on endangered animals through photographs. They are true to life books about the animals’ life in the wild. They are not stuffy boring books, and great for information gathering in the curriculum. They have stunning photographs, sometimes cute and sometimes funny. Also free educational videos of the animals in the wild from the books. Teachers say this is great for reluctant readers who get very excited watching the animals and then want to read about them.

They are certainly books I would have pored over as an animal-mad school girl!

Jan Wildlife-Photographer

You are asked to speak both nationally and internationally – how did you forge those avenues for speaking engagements? 

Hundreds and hundreds of emails!! I’ve been lucky, I’ve given talks at the Beijing Literary Festival twice, The Shanghai Literary Festival three times, Hong Kong Festivals twice and last year the Singapore Literary Festival. I email teacher librarians at international schools in those cities to give author presentations. Schools love a visiting festival speaker!

In Australia I send a proposal to the festival director, but word-of-mouth is usually the best recommendation. I send a reminder every three years to ask if they want another presentation.

There are a thousand stories behind the making of each of your books – and I’ve heard some thrilling ones! Which one or two stand out for you?

The magic moment of my life when two cheetahs came up to me in the wild. And in contrast, the night a lion chased a wildebeest right through the middle of the mess tent. I was in the tent having dinner!

sleepy sloth book

It took 5 years of research before you were able to photograph sloths for your latest book. What was the difficulty with sloths?

It was very difficult finding a location to photograph sloths. They live high in the trees, and their camouflage is excellent. When the Jaguar Rescue Centre said they were looking after injured sloths, and then releasing them back into the wild, that was the answer to my search.

How has what you do and how you do it evolved over the years? What did you wish you knew when you started that you know now?

I wish I had known more about wild animals. It took years for me to be calm when lions walked up to the jeep and herds of elephants surrounded me.  It took years to understand that animals, especially the big cats, react to human emotions. Now I’m being rewarded with wonderful experiences when I’m not afraid.

On the technical side, I’ve had to adapt to new technology – photography equipment, printing, digital learning, computers, and all the new marketing on social media.

I’m so lucky. I love what I do. It’s great talking to school children about my adventures in the wild and the animals in the True to Life Books.

Debra Tidball with Jan Latta (2)
Debra with Jan Latta

Thanks so much, Jan for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview. Wishing you all the very best with your books and mission to help endangered animals.

To read more about Jan and share in her travel via her videos, visit her website here.

To find more about me, go here.

 

The Wildly Intrepid Jan Latta – Part 1

Today’s interview is a break from my usual focus on up-and-coming children’s book creators, to look at someone who has forged her own way into a niche market in children’s publishing, and from whom much can be leant. Jan Latta is the only woman in the world who is the author, wildlife photographer and publisher of books on endangered animals. Each of her books is self published and distributed widely in schools and she is a sought after international speaker. On the publication of her 17th book recently, she is also very ‘on trend’ – ‘Sleepy the Sloth’ has come out at a time when the world is crazy for sloths, as a stroll around the local shopping centre will attest.   

I’ve come to know Jan from being on the committee of my local CBCA sub-branch. She is a surprise package! Quietly and properly spoken with a dignified presence, it’s hard to imagine her scaping around in the wilds of the world!  

 In writing ‘True to Life books,’ Jan has followed her  passion and has become a unique and important voice in children’s literature. I hope you are as inspired by her story as I have been.

Jan, I’m fascinated in your background and how you came to be an intrepid wildlife photographer and writer! Could you tell us what you were doing before and how this interest came about? 

During my advertising years in Hong Kong, I created a design and editorial concept for the Regent International Hotel magazine. I left advertising to publish the magazine.  When I saw Karl Ammann’s photo essay about African animals, that was it, I had to see Africa.

Karl organised a trip for me to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and when I came face to face with one, it changed my life, and my career. My guide said there were only 600 mountain gorillas left in the world. I wanted to do something to help them survive.

How has your background in advertising helped you?

In advertising I learnt design, copywriting, TV and print production and marketing. I use all these crafts now to create the True to Life books.

How did you get into the field of both photography and writing? Did they evolve separately or side by side? What did you do to improve these skills needed? 

I was always interested in photography, but Karl Ammann taught me how to take photographs in the wild. I had to learn how to write for children, so I did many hours of research and I’ve always had good editors checking the copy.

How did you initially come up with the original idea and realise the potential?

After seeing the mountain gorillas, I thought I could draw the animals, or buy stock photographs, to create a book. But if I wanted to create a true to life book about wild animals, I had to learn to be a wildlife photographer to tell the animal’s story.

After the first gorilla book was published, I realised distributors weren’t interested unless I had a series. Gordon Jackson of Koala Books had faith in me and I started to publish the series.

How much research goes into the book before you go overseas to photograph?

A lot! 5 years of research for Sleepy the Sloth book. But the challenge was finding a location  to photograph and film sloths.

Have you written the story before you photograph the animals – do you have a storyboard in mind when you are considering the shots you will need?

The concept for the series of True to Life Books is the animal talking to children about their life and survival in the wild. Each animal has a different problem and solution, so I need to do a lot of research. Then I plan the storyline of the book, and this is my ‘wish-list’ of photographs I hope I’m going to get in the wild. I’m so lucky when animals do something unusual, and when that happens, I rewrite the copy.

How long does each trip take for you to get the all the photos you need? 

When I started 23 years ago, I went to Africa for a month. Now I go for 2 weeks because I know the guides and the camps. Lennie the Leopard book took 15 years, with many trips to Africa and one to Sri Lanka, before I could tell the leopard’s story in photographs. This was a very expensive book to publish.

Who goes with you on the safaris? How do you know where to source the best guides etc.?

I always travel alone and often I’m the only person in the camp, so I get the best guide. On four African trips I had the same guide, so that was great. He knew what I wanted and he kept me safe.

Jan and Debra

I was astounded at how quickly your Sleepy book was published on your return from Costa Rica. How do you do it?

July: The Costa Rica Rescue Centre gave me permission to photograph their sloths.

August: I wrote and designed the sloth book and video script. My flights were 50 hours

of travelling, 7 hotels and four and a half days to photograph and video sloths.

September: I designed the photographs with the text and the final production of the book. A rewrite and a final professional read. Then off to the printer. Sleepy the Sloth video was created and live on YouTube.

October: 3 weeks of 48 school presentations at Hong Kong, Singapore and Johore schools. (The reason I wanted to produce the book so quickly!)

November: Thanks to Paul MacDonald of The Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft, Sleepy the Sloth was launched.

How amazing and exhausting! You can see that Jan is a power-house! Next month we’ll continue this interview with Jan, find out some stories behind the creation of her True To Life Books and look at Jan’s marketing strategies. In the mean time, check out her website for amazing videos and hear Jan for yourself:

Jan’s website is here

 

My website his here