On Making and Publishing a Book, For Photographers – Part 1
PASSION, PURPOSE and PERSEVERANCE
“Passion and Purpose” – The credo put forth by Robert Frank as the necessary ingredients to creating successful and meaningful photography. In any endeavor it would be impossible to attain true success without Passion and Purpose. I would add to that another, “Perseverance”. Many photographers exhibit either passion, purpose or perseverance but the ones that succeed exhibit all three.
To create a successful photography book 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.
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.
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.
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.
If income is the only goal you desire from your book, invest the money and time elsewhere. The actual financial return pales when compared to other investments you can make. 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.
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” and I use the ebook format as an editing tool. It helps to see content in book order and adjust/edit 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.
Self published books and those created by “vanity” presses can be excellent promotional pieces for the photographer, but only if done very well. Should you be fortunate enough to self publish 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 to self publishing, 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.
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 a tough business and getting less profitable, therefore the publisher’s risk allowance is diminishing. Sometimes your only option may be to self-publish.
Next week in Part 2 I will address making the pitch and working with a publisher.