Jan Latta – author, wildlife photographer and Independent Publisher
In 1994 Jan came face-to-face with a mountain gorilla in Rwanda and the experience changed her life. When her guide said there were fewer than 600 mountain gorillas left in the wild, she decided to publish books for children on endangered animals. But first she became a wildlife photographer so she could tell the animal's stories in pictures as well as words.
She went back to Africa to learn wildlife photography. She followed elephants, dangerous rhinos, prides of lions, gentle giraffes, and had a wonderful experience with two cheetahs. Then to the Wolong mountains in China for pandas, jungles of Borneo with orangutans, Sri Lanka for the elusive leopard and Uganda for Dr Jane Goodalls’ chimps. She has had some amazing adventures, and near-death experiences, following her dream to help the survival of endangered animals.
As a very successful independent publisher what has been the key aspect of your success?
A lot of hard work because I had to become the author, wildlife photographer, designer and publisher to make the books affordable for schools.
How do you deal with distribution?
I've been lucky to have a good distributor in Australia, Tom Danby of INT Books, Frank Cai of Blue Fountain in China, (where I go each year to talk at schools), and I'm just working with a new Hong Kong distributor, Fields & Associates.
Tell us about your books and why you decided to independently publish?
The concept for the True to Life Books are the endangered animals talking to children about their life in the wild – where they live, what they eat, how they hunt, and how they survive. So it was important to become a wildlife photographer to tell the animal's story in photographs as well as words. Each trip is very expensive – flying to the animals natural habitat, living in a tent and paying a special guide who supplies the facts about each animal. He also keeps me safe! No publishing house is going to finance me to go into the wild with the possibility of getting usable photographs. I became an independent publisher so book sales could help finance my adventures creating the next book.
Which book of yours do you love most and why?
That is difficult to answer because each book has been my favourite when the printer sends the first sample. It is such a thrill turning the pages for the first time and seeing months of hard work in colour. Lennie the Leopard took 15 years to complete, so that was the most expensive book to produce with trips to Africa and Sri Lanka. The Diary of a Wildlife Photographer book was a challenge when the ABC asked me to write a journal covering 20 years of adventures creating the True to Life Books.
How important is it to get design and layout right?
Very important. I like a simple design and use the strength of the photographs to tell the story with a simple text. It is especially important to have clean typography with a large font for children's books.
How do you achieve the balance between income and passion for your topic?
I went from a highly paid creative director to a self publisher who had to fund nine trips to Africa, two to China, Borneo, India, also Ugunda and Sri Lanka.
I love what I do so income is not as important as children learning about the animals and librarians supporting the series of True to Life books.