On Making and Publishing a Book – For Photographers

- - Book Publishing

Guest Post by Carl Corey

PASSION, PURPOSE and PERSEVERANCE

“Passion and Purpose” – The credo put forth by Robert Frank as the necessary ingredients to creating successful and meaningful photography. I would add to that another, “Perseverance”. In any endeavor it would be impossible to attain true success without Passion and Purpose. Many photographers exhibit either passion, purpose or perseverance but the ones that succeed exhibit all three.

To create a successful photography book you must exhibit these three traits. Your work must have a purpose, it must communicate and strike a chord with the audience. This will be impossible if you are not passionate about your pictures and it will not get done if you can not persevere through some failure. Good work requires one to take risks and everyone who takes risks occasionally fails, however those failures can and will make you stronger if you allow them to.

RESEARCH

I strongly recommend you research the work which has preceded you. Look at the masters’ books and then look some more. Determine what it is about these books that makes them successful. You’ll see lots of passion on those pages, the work will have a purpose and clearly exhibit such. It will strike a chord with the viewer and hopefully initiate a creative or intellectual a response from them. If you wish to have some of that limited shelf space allotted picture books then your work must elicit a strong response.

EDITING

Assuming you have a strong body of work it needs to be edited into a stronger body of work to meet this publishing criteria. Editing is a very important component to creating a cohesive and strong book. It is also a very difficult process. We all know how hard it is to toss a picture we love because it just doesn’t fit. We all become infatuated with the newness of recent pictures or those that proved technically difficult. Unfortunately no one cares how hard it was technically for you to complete, or how fresh the picture is to you. It is the content that matters and good editing will assure that your content is as strong as it can be. Many of us tend to work in a vacuum, focused on the task at hand while completing a series of pictures. Once photography is completed it is very helpful to get a second or even third opinion on the book edit. You may find you need to create some new pictures to round out the book. I appreciate working with a good picture editor and find that their contribution manifests itself in the success of the book. If you are serious about your project I encourage you to solicit the help of an experienced picture editor working in your genre.

Keeping the work as simple and honest as possible works best. This does not mean you need to make simple pictures but rather should strive to eliminate any element that does not contribute to the purpose of the picture and subsequently also the book. Adhere to the credo that you are only as good as your weakest link. Show less but stronger pictures that engage the audience, don’t over tell the story. Leave a little open to interpretation for the audience to connect with.

DESIGN

Work with the best designer you can and be sure they are as passionate about the book as you are. It’s their work on those pages that will show yours in the best light possible. I like simple design. I adhere to the Bauhaus principle of “less is more”. I believe good design is unobtrusive and efficient but also compelling. Remember you are making a picture book and it is about the pictures. No amount of flashy design can mask poor picture content.

PUBLISHING

The decision to self publish or work with a publisher can only be made by you. It’s your book and your career. The same goes for ebook vs ink-book. The ebook has made it easy for anyone to put together a “book”. I use ebook format as a e-maquette editing tool. It helps to see content in order and adjust accordingly. While I am not affiliated with any companies I find the new version of Lightroom® 5. to be very accommodating in this regard. If you are not familiar with the Lightroom® book options you may wish to investigate it.

Publishing is a business. Businesses need to turn a profit and while some publishers are quite passionate about their titles and authors they never loose sight of the bottom line. This is responsible business practice and necessary for success. A first time author is a big risk. Picture books present even more risk as they are very expensive to produce. Publishing is also a tough business and getting tougher therefore the risk allowance is diminishing. Many publishers will ask a first time author to guarantee a return on investment. Requesting the author either purchase a quantity of books or contribute financially to the volumes production costs. It’s not unheard of to request a first time author pay all costs associated with producing the book.This is in addition to the cost of producing the original photography for the book. Adding up all these associated expenses makes it apparent that publishing a book can become quite an expensive endeavor. This will test your passion.

Be prepared for non appropriate deals to come your way from publishers and have the strength to say no to them. You have no negotiating power if you are not prepared to walk away from a deal. I encourage the first time author to be patient and wait for the right deal, to persevere. It took 7 years to get the right deal for my first book. It was frustrating at times but I am very pleased I waited for the right publisher to work with. Beware the vanity press that exists solely to profit from production of your book. Once they have delivered your book you will find yourself all on your own. I consider producing a book a partnership with the publisher, a joint effort with mutual benefit.

The advantages of working with a publisher are many and beyond the scope of this essay to allow for me to detail each. The most important benefit you gain by working with a publisher is credibility. Self publishing and vanity presses fall short on the credibility front. However vanity books can be viewed as promotional pieces and work within that venue for the assignment photographer, but only if done very well. However as an author credibility is very important and quite frankly the best return you will find from publishing a book is the credibility it affords you, the author. What you will get with a good book is a piece that, if used properly, will open doors for career growth.

Unfortunately as previously outlined there is no substantial author income to be had from your book. This is true whether you self publish or work with a publisher. If you are making a book with the intent of generating an income you will be disappointed. If income is your only goal invest the money and time elsewhere. You make a book because you have to, you are passionate about doing so. In my workshops and seminars I break down the associated costs of book making, the business of publishing and the ways you can use your book to help generate a livelihood. Remember the credibility associated with authoring a good book tops the list for opening doors to further opportunity.

Some of the advantages to working with a publisher are less or no financial risk, distribution and warehousing services ( you don’t want a garage full of 5000 books and be running to the Post office for every order ), guidance in editing, quality book design, production expertise and solid marketing. I cant stress this enough. Publishers want your book to succeed. Remember it’s all about the bottom line for them and sales of your books make a better bottom line. In addition more sales of your book means more credibility for you.

Self publishing has some merits as well. If you should be fortunate enough to create a best selling book your profits will be substantially better. You may actually recoup all the original photography and book production expenses and break even. That is a big “IF” however, and quite hard to almost impossible to do with out a publishers expertise behind it. Another advantage, if you view it as such, is that you will have complete control over the edit, design, production specs, warehousing, distribution, marketing and PR. However you will also have the expenses and responsibilities associated with the above. I am biased to working with a publisher. I am a photographer. I focus upon making pictures and let others more experienced than I in book production deal with the publishing aspects of making books.

WORKING WITH A PUBLISHER

If you decide to approach publishers here are several key items you need to know to assure your book receives the best possible opportunity to get published. I have outlined these below.

Define your goal with the book.
What is it you want from the book? Write down your goals think about them and be specific.

Select a topic that has a purpose.
Research is very helpful here. Look at where there are gaps in the medium. Does there need to be more coverage of a certain genre.

Select a topic you are passionate about.
People can feel if you are passionate about your pictures. Passion is conveyed by your demeanor but even more so from your pictures. If you are not passionate about what you are working on stop working and find something you are passionate about to do.

Be sure the book engages the audience.
Tell the story in your voice. Lead don’t follow, but never loose sight of who your audience is or you will loose them.

Estimate production costs of photography.
Be sure you can complete the book before you start. Find funding if needed through grants or corporate sponsorship.

Edit.
Remember you are only as good as your weakest link. A great picture diminishes when in the company of mediocrity.

Edit again.
You never get it perfect the first time.

Go ahead and edit a third time.
And rarely on the second.

Create a maquette or book dummy (these are the same thing but “maquette” sounds smarter).
“Maquette” is French defined as a sculptor’s rough test sculpture done before hitting the marble or casting the bronze. The maquette is very important in bookmaking. It is a rough of the book made prior to publishing. It’s also a very tricky item to get right as you want it to be rough but also enticing. Too finished and the publisher may feel pigeonholed and limited in input. Too loose and they may not be enticed to investigate further. I recommend you share a few pages from the book as a maquette, a “this is what I was thinking” sample and follow up with a color corrected and detailed PDF of just pictures. You may find other avenues better suited to specific publishers. Read the publisher’s submission criteria and adhere to it.

Research publishers that are appropriate for your work.
Like photographers publishers specialize. Fashion, documentary, landscape, reportage, narrative are all genres that some publishers limit themselves to. Be sure the publishers you contact are appropriate for your book. They like knowing you do your research as well.

Respectfully approach publishers with the maquette.
Publishers are dedicated hard working people trying to survive in a dwindling and ever more competitive marketplace. It’s a tough job, be nice to them.

Negotiate a favorable contract for all.
Be sure you are happy with the deal you make. You will live with it. I assure you the publisher will be comfortable with any deal they make. You want a pleasant and honest partnership surrounding your book.

Be realistic in negotiations and prepared to walk away.
What are you getting from the publisher in exchange for all your hard work, original photography financial investment and passion? Be sure they have a finely tuned operation capable of supporting you and your book. Design, production quality, warehousing, distribution, marketing, PR, and payment are the areas you should be concerned with. Ask other authors about the publisher. Bring up these areas when negotiating with the publisher. If you are a first time author it’s a tougher go negotiating.

Persevere.
I doubt the first publisher who sees your book maquette will publish it. Probably not the second, third, fourth, fifth….. You can not let rejection be a reflection upon the merit of your book or more importantly you. There are many publishers and most won’t be right for your book. When your book is rejected politely ask what it that the publisher is looking for. If you see a common denominator from publishers possibly adjust your book to eliminate the problem.

I hope this brief and opinionated synopsis proves beneficial to those of you wishing to publish a picture book. While extremely difficult, authoring a picture book is a rewarding, satisfying undertaking. Your book can serve as the instrument to inform, elicit response, effect positive social change and open doors for you to continue to do even more with your pictures. Just remember these three words and you’ll be off to a good start: Passion, Purpose and Perseverance.

Carl Corey is the author of three books; “Rancher” – Bunker Hill 2007, “Tavern League” – WHS Press 2011 and “For Love and Money” – WHS Press 2014. He is the recipient of over 100 awards from the photographic and publishing communities including the Crystal Book Award for Best Photography Book 2012, National Best Sellers Award 2012, INDIE Publishers Award of Excellence 2014, Pub West Gold 2012 and Foreward Top Ten. He presents group seminars and teaches one on one workshops.

There Are 1 Comment On This Article.

  1. This is an excellent summation of the landscape of photo publishing at the moment. As someone who produces photography and art books and places them with conventional publishers for sales and distribution–and their imprint–I appreciate that he has covered all the bases and considerations that photographers should be aware of before they undertake to do a book. I would add that, in my experience, working with the smaller, art presses does require the photographer/author to provide more of a subvention or purchase a larger quantity of the print run; it’s only the larger publishers who don’t necessarily require that, but they are going to need to feel that they can sell at least 5000-7500 copies of your book and that you will be a very strong partner in marketing it with them through museum exhibitions and the like. Any publisher is going to look more favorably on your project if you can provide that kind of marketing support, but it’s essential with the larger presses. They simply cannot afford to take chances on books whose authors are not well-known because, as Corey so astutely notes, publishing is a business and they do need to sell books.

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