Gary Fong is a world-renowned photographer, inventor and entrepreneur who has made multiple fortunes in business and real estate. From his inauspicious beginnings in a tiny, hairspray-saturated apartment that doubled as his parents’ wig studio, he went on to become, at a very young age, one of the world’s most successful wedding photographers. After making millions by revolutionizing an industry traditionally reserved for small businessmen, he “stumbled” upon serial successes in photo printing, software, real estate and camera accessories by making unconventional decisions based on his own quirky impulses. Gary has photographed celebrities such as Sylvester Stallone, Paul McCartney and Ronald Reagan, invented and marketed the Lightsphere, and co-founded Pictage, which became the largest dedicated online digital/web solution in the United States and sold for $29 million.
His latest book is The Accidental Millionaire: How to Succeed in Life Without Really Trying.
You can visit his website at www.garyfongaccidentalmillionaire.com.
Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Gary. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
This is not only my first published book; it’s my first attempt at writing. So I’m thrilled that it got published.
Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
I didn’t go through any rejections. I was basically writing my memoirs as a creative exercise. The first draft of the book was done in about three and half weeks. And then, I forwarded a sample of it to a New York Times best-selling author. She then referred it to her publisher, and in my book was published.
Q: When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
I didn’t really have a choice of publishers because I wasn’t in search of a home for my book. Before the book was completed, I already had a publishing deal. And I feel like I really lucked out. Glenn Yeffeth of BenBella books is the publisher and he taught me a lot about this business. He taught me about how to mold the content of the book to make it more media friendly, and how to effectively publicize the book so that it gets a good amount of exposure.
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
The whole process was pretty surreal. I still haven’t stopped to reflect on it because it all happened so quickly. I know that when I first went to the Borders bookstore at the mall, I basically hid behind my wife as she asked where my book was located. And the one I saw it on the shelf, between Jane Fonda’s and Michael J. Fox’s memoirs, I tested there in a funk. It was really thrilling. It still is.
Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
I actually did a book tour. Since I’m heavily involved in the photography world, it was easy for me to collect audiences at different cities. I want throughout the United States and international locations as far as Serbia, Belgrade.
Doing a book tour was a heck of a lot of work and quite stressful, but I’m glad I did it because when I do live meeting interviews I’m very comfortable. Live interviews, if you get stuck, are a disaster. And no amount of practicing alone in a room is going to substitute for lots of experience with different life groups in different locations. It’s like having a focus group.
Authors should know that book signings or appearances like this will not result in a lot of direct book sales. The true value of doing a book tour is that you can practice presenting your message to small, live audiences, and judge how your explanation of the message in your book is received. You find out what connects and what doesn’t connect, and this comes in handy later for radio and television interviews.
Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
Nope. It was effortless.
Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
The first question that an editor or publicist will ask you is, “why did you write this book?” That will always be the most important question that you answer for yourself when you decide to put the effort into writing and promoting your book.
I’m currently working on my second book, and now that I know a little bit more about the book publishing industry, it makes it easier for me to mold the book so that it falls into the definable categories that the book publishing industry demands. For example, is your book a memoir? Is it a biography? Is inspirational?
Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
Considering that this book went from a digital tape recorder to a publishing deal within six months, I really didn’t have time to make mistakes and I don’t know how it could’ve been done any faster. Once the publishing deal was signed, my publisher was really fast. The artwork for the cover can very quickly. As did the press release materials, all of the things that a publisher does to make the book a success.
One of the most important things I’ve learned as an author is to ask who the publisher uses for distribution. If your publisher does not have an affiliation with a major distribution company than your book is never going to see the major retail outlets. So the way that it works is, your publisher has to pitch your book to the distributor who is then going to try to get the distributor excited, who will then try to get the bookstores excited. And then comes the hard work, interviews, reviews, and working with your publicist.
I actually think there’s more work in publicizing a book than there is in writing it.
Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
What I really cared about was the reviews. It is a very personal thing to put your memoirs out there for the world to see. If my book sucked, and the consensus was that it was an amateurish effort that would be very sad and hurtful to have to live through.So when the reviews started to come out one by one, it was thrilling. And the consensus is that the book is a very worthwhile read. That is really more of a relief that it is a thrill because again I meant more as a very personal thing. If your story is rejected, then basically the reader is rejecting you as a person.
Knowing that, I think it makes a lot of sense to put as much effort as possible in editing and refining the book until it is really excellent before you allow the process to run. Rushing a book to publication, I don’t think is a really good idea.
Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
I still don’t think of myself as an author by trade or profession. This is something that I did as a creative exercise. Having been a wedding photographer for 20 years, I’m used to telling stories in a tangible form, but I’ve never tried it with words before. A wedding photographer is there to record memories and capture detail. There are a lot of similarities between being a photographer and being an author. You’re telling a story, and it’s a craft.
Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
Again, I don’t think of myself as an author professionally in terms of my career. Intellectually I know that I’m a published author with books in bookstores everywhere, but I don’t feel like it would be really genuine to really hang my hat on that.
Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?
The strongest message in my book is that the moment I gave up trying to accomplish one goal after another, or hit expectations of myself, that’s when my career started to skyrocket. Oddly enough, the book illustrates how everything I planned didn’t work out, but all of my biggest successes were never planned, nor were they predictable.
So I have learned to not try to envision myself in the future, because that would implant expectations for my future. And one wonderful thing about having no expectations? It’s impossible to be disappointed if you expect nothing.
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
For me, I think if I really had a dead set goal on becoming published; it would have had a repulsive energy to it. When people yearn too much, for some reason (and this certainly applies to me) life deals from blow after blow to remind them that as a mere mortal, we really have no control over our future.
So I think that it would be a lot more fun to just enjoy the process of writing. Write because it’s fun, and it’s creative, and it’s wonderful to be able to read for yourself words that you’ve written. Ever since I was age 10, I have written in a journal. Those words for sure are meant only for me and I do what I can to make it entertaining.
So I think that writing is so wonderful that it makes more sense just to write for the sake of writing than to write for any particular goal of, say, being “published”. I read a statistic that there are more than half 1 million books published every year and only a few hundred ever make it into bookstores. And now, with the advent of low-cost, low volume personal presses, being published is extremely easy to do.
It’s finding your way into the distribution network that is the big hurdle. Getting into bookstores is impossible without a major distribution company backing your book. And because they have so few from the nearly half-million published books to dedicate their time and resources to, the book has to be not only good but marketable. And that itself seems to be such a daunting task that had I known all of this-I probably never would’ve started.
And that’s the beauty of having no expectations. If I knew the odds, I would have started. And if I knew the odds and convinced myself that through grit and determination I was going to be (come hell or high water) “published” then I would be setting myself up for a lot of disappointment.