Publish Your Photography Book
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30 The Nuts and Bolts of the Publishing World
Well done. After batting around thoughts with friends and colleagues,
youve hit upon a great idea. Perhaps youve been working on it for the last twenty
years, or perhaps it came to you in a fitful dream last night. It doesnt matter. Before
you go any further, lets take a good hard look at whether or not its a great book idea.
The Big Idea
The single most troublesome area for photographers is defining the concept
of the book. A great book, as with a great photography project, is well-conceived
and has a clearly defined subject. Donna Wingate, a bibliophile who currently
works with book packager Marquand Books of Seattle and formerly headed D.A.P.s
(Distributed Art Publishers) publishing program, perfectly sums up the situation:
Emerging artists are faced with greater challenges. They have to compete for bookstore shelf space with recognized names (and, indeed, some living legends) who are producing vital bodies of work that are published with important museum exhibitions and the support system of their galleries and other cul-tural institutions. What really stands out when it comes to emerging talent is a project that can answer the simple question, What is this book about?
This, then, is the fundamental question to ask oneself as a photographer.
What is your project about? Taking into account things like subject matter, timeli-
ness, and the current status of ones career will ultimately influence what sort of
book you decide to pursue for publication.
The big idea of a book can take any infinite number of forms, and can be
broad or narrow. One recent example is Andrew Zuckermans newest book, Bird
Evaluating and Refining Your Concept
31 Evaluating and Refining Your Concept
(Chronicle Books, 2009), which takes a very straightforward and beloved subject
matterbirds from around the worldand creates a catalog of species with stun-
ning photographs that appeal to a very broad audience. Zuckerman is a talented
studio photographer, and, along with his previous title, Creature (Chronicle Books,
2007), his books have brought him a certain measure of fame, but the birds them-
selves are the main draw and selling point for a subject-driven book like this.
A more narrowly defined (and deceptively titled book) is Martin Parrs Mexico
(Chris Boot, 2006). While the title of the book is the name of the country, the
book contains a very particular view of tourism and economics as seen in border
towns of the U.S./Mexico border. The photographs are all shot in Parrs signature
hyper-saturated style, and while the title indicates a broad subject, it is in fact Parrs
photographic vision and take on the crass side of globalization that is more properly
the subject of the book.
Even with Parrs international reputation within the fine-art-photography
community, sales of Mexico would have been well under 5,000 copies, while the
broad public appeal of birds will guarantee that Zuckermans Bird will sell ten times
as many copies.
Who Is Your Audience?
Defining the audience for your book is nearly as important as producing the
work itself. Many aspiring photographers make the mistake of assuming their book
or project has a huge potential audience: everyone who loves photography, or all
dog owners, or anyone who travels. For the most part, broad generalizations like
this are not true. Most readers, like most art and photography connoisseurs, have
| Andrew Zuckerman, Bird (Chronicle Books, 2009)
32 The Nuts and Bolts of the Publishing World
particular tastes, which means that you must define a core audience to whom you
can tailor and target your book.
Sometimes, the way other industries market to their audiences can provide
clues for how to identify and market to your own community. If your project is
subject-driven, start building a library of other books about this same subject.
Researching magazine sales and online groups devoted to the subject matter is
another great way to determine the potential size of an audience.
While there is no hard-and-fast rule on how large a potential audience for a
particular title needs to be, there is some common thinking that we have discov-
ered in talking with publishers from around the world. In the world of art- and
photography-book publishing, most publishers see three thousand copies as the
upper limit of a books potential market, and the range of quantities varies widely
and depends on various factors, including cross-marketing potential, name recogni-
tion of the photographer, and supporting activities, such as exhibitions or corporate
sponsorship. In truth, small fine-art publishers will print as few as five hundred
to a thousand copies of a book, while the larger houses search for titles that have
a potential audience of eight to ten thousand copies or more. The particular artis-
tic vision of one artistLee Friedlander, for examplemay have a very limited
audience, whereas a universal theme rendered through easily accessible photo-
graphslike Andrew Zuckermans Birdmay sell upwards of fifty thousand books.
S, M, L, XL Book Projects
Some photography projects make great magazine articles but dont have
enough depth to sustain an entire book, whereas some seemingly narrow magazine
Martin Parr, Mexico | (Aperture, 2006)
33 Evaluating and Refining Your Concept
articles end up filling the pages of a book perfectly; other photography projects are
overly ambitious, bordering on encyclopedic in length. Bernd and Hilla Becher
have been photographing a very narrow but deep subjectvernacular domestic and
industrial architecture such as blast furnaces and suburban German homesfor
over fifty years. They have published many books from this overarching project, and
each book focuses on a small slice of the larger project.
Considering how to organize and categorize your project at the start, as
well as visualizing the end at the early stages, is paramount to the success of a
book. Writing a summary or a brief outline of an intended photography project
can often help you to realize the depth and breadth of the project, and to help
approach it systematically.
Sometimes a project is strictly limited simply by circumstance. Paul Fuscos
RFK Funeral Train (Umbrage Editions/Magnum Photos, 2000) is a perfect example
of such a project. The photographer rode on the train carrying Robert F. Kennedys
body from New York City to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. in
1968, making photographs of the mourners who gathered beside the railroad tracks
along the length of the journey.
At the other end of the spectrum is the career-long photographic project of
husband and wife Bernd and Hilla Becher. Taking increasingly obsolete industrial
architecture as their subject, they have applied a rigorous intellectual and formalist
aesthetic to their photographic practice, producing a body of work that continued
until Bernds death in 2007. From this vast body of work of an equally extensive
subject have come numerous, diligently edited books that focus on specific aspects
of their oeuvre.
| Paul Fusco, RFK Funeral Train (Umbrage Editions/Magnum Photos, 2000)
| Abell, Sam Abell: The Photographic Life| Abell, Sam Abell: The Photographic Life
| Selection of contemporary collectible photo books:Michael Schmelling, The Plan (J&L Books, 2009)
Daido Moriyama, Remix (Edition Kamel Mennour, 2004)
Wendell Steavenson, Georgian Spring, A Magnum Journal (Chris Boot Ltd., 2009)
Hiroshi Sugimoto, In Praise of Shadows (Korinsha, 1999)
Geert Van Kesteren, Baghdad Calling (episode publishers, 2008)
Esko Mnnikk, Naarashauki, The Female Pike (self-published, 2000)
Martin Parr, Martin Parr in India 19842009 (Photoink, 2010)