After 30 years as an IT infrastructure consultant for acute care hospitals, Pino (Deval) Shah decided to pursue photography on a full-time basis in June 2016. “I felt it was now or never,” said Shah, who had remained in the Rio Grande Valley after earning an MBA at Pan American University in 1987.
Although Shah had previously taken on freelance photography projects, his focus for the new venture was documenting architecture. His business plan called for capturing images of the architecture of a geographical area, creating a book of the photographs and distributing them to the target audience.
Within the past 18 months, Shah has completed and begun selling four books: “Architecture of the Lower Rio Grande Valley: An Introduction”; “Quinta Mazatlan: A Visual History”; Galveston Architecture: A Visual Journey”; and “Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.” He has two other books nearing completion – on Brownsville and on Ahmedabad, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is his hometown.
When Shah saw no single document covered Valley architecture, he decided to create a comprehensive reference for future generations. “The younger generation will be the ones deciding to preserve something or not preserve it,” Shah said. “I also see an opportunity to market the Valley as a whole for its heritage, beyond eco-tourism or economic development.”
While Shah had worked with online publishing, he started from scratch with book publishing. “On the first book, it was a learn-as-you-go approach. By the time I did the second, I had a better feel. The research was intense with a lot of experimentation exploring print-on-demand. I spent a good chunk of time sending my books to different printers and comparing them to see who did the best.”
The book printed on photographic paper was spectacular but cost $200, which meant few sales. Searching for a level where the visuals were optimally presented at the lowest possible cost, Shah finally located a printer whose quality met his standards at a reasonable price. PODs use digital rather than offset printing.
POD books have disrupted the publishing industry, Shah explained, and industry boundaries have blurred between publishers, printers and distributors. Sometimes one company has all three functions. Book distribution and sales were intrinsic to Shah’s new business, so he next researched access to the largest outlets and how the submission process works for e-books, hardcover and softcover.
“The process of getting a book into the format each distributor needed was a big learning curve for me,” Shah said. Amazon, Nook and Kindle had different specs. Ultimately he also got on board with distributor IngrahamSpark, which distributes through 39,000 retailers worldwide. “Now after books three and four, I have a template with fixed costs and variable costs covering narrative, distribution and number of images. Each project has multiple formats of publication with a different target audience for each.”
Shah conceives each book with a tight timeline and a project plan, pulling together a project team. Rice University architecture historian Stephen Fox has been essential in the Valley books. Shah tapped former VBR editor Eileen Mattei for the text of the Quinta Mazatlan book, which took less than four months from conception to printed product. The Galveston book “from start to store was 80 days.”
Shah said he has been successful with his ratio of 70 percent visual images and 30 percent text, along with the fact the books are published POD in many formats.
Shah noted that people who grew up here have been surprised to see buildings they aren’t familiar with, such as Quinta Mazatlan and Rio Theater. “This is your heritage,” he said. Currently Shah is negotiating with different cities to document their heritage in POD books.
Last fall Shah began teaching a “How to Self-publish Your Book” course at Valley libraries. “The whole idea came up because I was frustrated with experiences I had. Sometimes we go through experiences for the benefit of others.”