In the early stages, as I just starting writing, I mailed a survey to the directors of all 18 zoos which included a statement about them agreeing to photo usage. I only received 8 surveys back (even though all 18 had self addressed and stamped return envelopes).
I've studied sociology and did some surveys in my time, and I can tell you that you can be extremely happy about this return. Usually you can expect max. 1/3rd people reacting unless you pay 'em or they've got an active interest themselves.
I wonder how these people (both gift shop buyers and the media relations people I referenced) can keep their jobs when they are to my mind incompetent?
Simple: Their job which is evaluated by their bosses isn't to interact with you as a pro photog trying to grab a permit, but with either media (i.e. newspapers) or people buying their stuff. This is becoming really hilarious if it's not a commercial* zoo, but a state-sponsored one (probably coupled with academic research) as the public is a mere "extra" there to deliver a bit of money, but not to generate work or to be interacted with... that's certainly the case in Berlin where I live.
I've got the same experience, if you just write somewhere being a photog you can expect that there'll be no response at all. Either photogs have a bad reputation or they get bombarded with similar requests, I dunno.
I agree with Marsu and I have frequently requested permission from people whose actual job it is to authorize photographers and other media. In most cases, I haven't received a reply. For other types of people, I have had roughly a 5-10% response rate. In these situations, I have kept records of my communications - i.e. emails and the dates/times of my calls + employee I spoke to as back up in case they come after me. Non-profits generally don't care and corporations will usually come after you only if your use "hurts the brand" or is a huge success.
In other cases, I have paid the exorbitant fee and passed it along to my clients, which obviously isn't a good idea if it's personal work
I do not think this has been mentioned yet (and if it has forgive me for repeating).
If you plan to do a physical book to be sold in stores, you need to have an ISBN (Internation Standard Book Number) and a bar code. If you live in the United States, these are obtained from Bowker: http://www.bowker.com/en-US/
Interesting post. Some fantastic hard-won knowledge and wisdom kindly shared here.
I want to add my own two cents as a photobook collector.
1. There is absolutely no requirement or convention toward organizing photobooks into chapters. I have ~700 photobooks in my library and I would estimate perhaps 4-5% at the most have chapter designations. Your pictures should work in the same way scenes in a movie or songs on an album flow from place to place. The full sequence of a book is one of the ultimate expressions of a photographer's art and to break it up into "Flowers" "Cats" "Landscapes" is to ignore the power of a fully-realized, blended and unified sequence.
2. There is no need to put a blurb on the back about you. People can Google you on their phone quite easily and learn about what makes you special. The less writing in and on the book the better.
3. Learn about photobooks and photobook culture. Buy some of the classics and learn the design language. Maybe you are making a typography, maybe new topographic-style landscapes, Japanese provoke-style high contrast freakouts, maybe it's a long-term project or the basis of a gallery show. You don't have to know everything about book culture but exposure to the art form will do wonders for transforming your project into something people might want to own.