Chatting with Jan Latta, children’s writer, wildlife photographer and publisher

Helen Ross writes supports independently published authors, as well as small press and independent publishers.

I think you all know by now my passion for showcasing talented Australian authors and illustrators, and in particular, independently published authors of great books.

So this week we meet an adventurous author who often risks her life to create books for children on endangered animals.

Jan Latta is a writer, traveler, wildlife photographer and book-designer/publisher. To create her True to Life Books Jan follows wild animals every day, taking photographs and writing about them in their natural habitats.  Jan has played with chimps in Uganda and pandas in the mountains of China. She has walked with lions in Zambi, and has been charged by elephants in Amboseli and orangutans in Borneo. A cheetah came up to her in Nanyuki and she has held the horn of a rhino!

So, it was through good timing  that I was able to catch up with Jan before she heads off to China this week.

Welcome Jan. I know you have just returned from Taiwan and are off to China this week, so appreciate your time.

Thanks Helen for inviting me.

Could you tell us a little about yourself, and when your foray into photographing and writing about endangered animals began?

In 1994 I came face to face with a mountain gorilla, and the experience changed my life. When my guide said there were only 600 mountain gorillas left in the world I decided to create books for children on endangered animals. But first, I had to learn wildlife photography. Karl Ammann was my mentor. He said, do your research on every animal you want to photograph. One, this will keep you safe, and two, you will know the animal’s next move and be able to get a great photo.

Are there any writers or writers/photographers that have influenced your style?

Photographers Johnathan Scott, Karl Ammann and the wonderful David Attenborough

Could you tell us a little about your writing process? ie. how, generally speaking, does each story evolve?

I do research first, then write the story. This becomes the “wish list” for the photographs I hope to take in the wild. But magic always happens and the animals provide the new copy. Then I rewrite the story to the photographs.

Some writers have a preferred writing schedule.  Do you?

I always work early in the morning so I don’t have any interruptions.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

I have a wonderful studio with a garden outside. My visitors are bush turkeys and a water dragon that look through the glass at me.

What inspires you to write and photograph animals in their natural environment?

To add to Q1, I want to write books on endangered animals for children because they will be the keepers of our endangered animals when they become adults. To inspire one child is such a thrill.

Of all the places you have travelled to, do you have a favourite place? If so, why?

The Masi Mara in Kenya is my favourite place. I live in a tent with no running water and I love the simplicity of it. Elephants eat leaves from the tree next to my tent and there is the sound of lions roaring close by. The sunsets are magic!

You have published twelve beautiful books to date. Why did you decide to publish your own series of books – True to Life Books?

Every trip to Africa, China, Borneo, India, Sri Lanka is so expensive to take photographs and write about an animal in the wild. No publisher is going to give me $15,000 and hope I can get good material. So I need to finance myself, and publish the books for the sales revenue.

How did you first get started?  ie. in relation to designing and publishing your first book.

Before I started designing the book I did some research on other books on endangered animals to see what was on the market. I wanted to keep the design simple with large clear type for children. The photographs tell the story. Printing the books was easy as I was living in Hong Kong at the time. When I returned to Sydney to live I found how difficult it was to get my books in shops. So, I found a distributor and that increased book sales.

Generally, speaking, how long does the process take? ie. from the beginning to the release of your books.

Ollie the Orangutan took only four months from start to printed books. Lennie the Leopard took 15 years because leopards are the most difficult animals to see in the wild. So it depends on the wild animal and how easy or difficult it is to photograph and research.

Did you encounter any obstacles when you first began publishing your books?

Yes. One book impossible, as no book shop wanted to take it. Then two and three books later I started to be accepted; then the series was sold as a set.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing independently?

Advantages – you own the company, you own the rights to sell overseas, and you receive the profit from book sales.

Disadvantages – a self publisher is not welcome in stores because of the computer accounting system. (Strange but true) Stores like to buy through their selected distributors.

How do you market your books?

I market my books through schools, libraries and festivals in Australia. I’ve been a guest speaker at festivals in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing and I do school presentations in those cities.

What attributes do you feel are necessary to be a successful writer and publisher? eg. determination, patience, organisation, sales and marketing experience…..

All of those.

If you were offered a publishing contract with a mainstream publisher, would you accept it?

It would depend on the contract. The ABC asked me to write and design the Diary of a Wildlife Photographer book and it was a good experience.

Is there one person you can think of who has played a significant part in your career?

Susanne Gervay and her network group. Susanne gave me such valuable information and helped me.

What projects are you working on now?

I’ve converted all my books to a PDF for teachers to use on the smartboards. The books have additional pages with activities and a video so children can see the animals in action in the wild.

What words best describe you?

Energetic, adventurous and living life to the full.

Do you have any tips for writers about the writing process or the path to publishing?

Just do it. It’s the most rewarding challenge and such a thrill when you hold your first book.

And Jan, just to finish up, could you please complete the following:

At school I was painfully shy…

When I was a child I wanted to be an artist…

I relax by watching a journey of giraffes, a beautiful sunset, a glass of wine with good friends…

For more information about Jan:



Where can we buy your books?

Thanks Jan so much for sharing your amazing journey. You truly are an inspiration.

Please check out Jan’s website, and in particular the videos. They are just glorious.  They really do whisk you away to another place. Just magical.

Helen Ross writes supports independently published authors, as well as small press and independent publishers.

Helen Ross interviews Jan Latta  20 February 2012.

About Helen Ross

Welcome to my creative world. I have many passions; some of which I write about in my blog posts. I have a quirky sense of humour, and dance to the beat of my own drum. Thanks for dropping by and hope you visit again soon. I always have tea, coffee, wine and cake.
This entry was posted in All my posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Chatting with Jan Latta, children’s writer, wildlife photographer and publisher

  1. Pingback: Chatting with Jan Latta, children's writer, wildlife photographer and … « ludebusyg

  2. Julie says:

    Not only am I inspired by the lengths to which Jan goes to bring information about these animals to children, it’s also fascinating to learn how the story drives photography and vice versa. Great interview!

  3. Pingback: Chatting with Jan Latta, children's writer, wildlife photographer and … | okupeligalab

  4. Pingback: Blog with Blue Dingo WordPress – Updates with Helen Ross & Rebecca Timmis. « The Blue Dingo Blog

  5. Hello all,

    Keep sharing such nice blogs. It really shares good knowledge. Thanks.

  6. Pingback: Chatting with Jan Latta, children's writer, wildlife photographer and … | Train Travel Toddler

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s