Creating and Publishing Your First Photography Book
Since the advent of the digital camera, photography has become less and less of a tangible medium. Although we are now able to experience more photography online and through social media than ever before, print popularity has declined and it’s the medium that allowed us to own copies of spectacular photos via fine art prints, magazines, and books. Holding a tangible photo in the form of a print or book is a much different experience than looking at one on a computer screen.
There is good news here, though. Since our world has become so technology-driven, there are now more options for a photographer to not only promote their work but also be at the helm of almost any idea imaginable. While the print world may be in decline, it can definitely be an outlet for any photographer with even the smallest of followings. There are a lot of printing resources still out there.
Keeping Sketches and Celebrating Your Photography
Through technology we can now self-publish any print concept in small numbers – this includes a fine art photography book. A little over a year ago I came up with an idea to mark an event in my photography career. I realized that I had been a self-employed photographer for nine years. I felt like I needed to produce something special to celebrate the decade. I typically write all of my ideas down in a little 5×8″ sketch book. I have gone through about a half dozen of these sketch books over the last decade. These books are full of every hair-brained idea that I have ever cooked up. One late evening, under the influence of bourbon, I jotted something down about my first fine art photography book to celebrate a decade-long career. I called it Then ~ Now. The idea was simple: a limited edition print book to highlight ten years’ worth of photos. While many photographers produce limited edition items, some consider a “limited edition” to be something like a thousand books. I decided a number like that didn’t really represent a true “limited edition”. Nor did I have the resources to sell something with that type of print run.
Recommended Companies for Printing Your Photography Book
I began with some online research to figure out how to put my late-night sketch book idea into play. I already knew about the concept of print-on-demand. However, I was looking for a very specific type of company to work with to produce this very special one-off concept of mine. I decided that a print-on-demand service was going to be the way to go here because I didn’t want a garage full of books. After perusing a ton of websites, I felt that there were two online companies that could produce the quality standard of what I needed: Blurb has a larger variety of book sizes available while missing some of the design options of my runner-up company, Artifact Uprising. I ended up choosing Blurb because I wanted a larger-scaled book that Artifact Uprising doesn’t produce (as of this writing). Another reason why I went with Blurb is the ability to gain discounts when printing more than one book at a time. Although the print-on-demand market will allow just about anyone to produce a quality book of their photography work, the pricing model is a retail one so this isn’t going to be a cheap endeavor. However, by choosing to produce a limited edition price point for my book, I could ask for a greater price, which in turn could actually have some profitability in the end.
Update: Since the time of this writing, Shutterfly has expanded their premium book selection as well as started offering premium art prints. These are more affordable alternatives to some of the bigger print houses out there, which include ProDPI, Miller’s, MPix, and White House Custom Color.
Important Questions When Drafting Your Photo Book’s Design
I wrote down my initial idea for my photography book almost a year before I had any thoughts of actually releasing it. In the end, I realized that I used most of that year to produce what became the final edition of a book. Understand that the entire year wasn’t just working on the book – I had to actually run my company, too. If you look at Blurb’s website you will see a monstrous library of print-on-demand books getting published every day. Some of them hit the mark and others fail miserably, in my opinion. My goal was to produce something that my buyer was going to be impressed with. Something that was worthy of a limited edition. Building the book design was no different than building any other project for me and I was fortunate enough to have gone to design school. If you don’t have this advantage, Blurb offers design services. I began by looking through some of the 250 photo books on the shelves in my office. Some of the books were even printed by Blurb so I already knew that I was going to get a quality product. While perusing those books, I started writing down design notes and concepts. I began to think about how I wanted everything to look. You need to think about every minute detail during this planning stage. Here are some things to ask yourself:
• What font(s) are you going to use?
• Is there going to be a lot of text? Any text at all? How will the paragraphs for that text look? What is the spacing of the actual letters?
• What is each heading going to look like?
• How will you lay out the photos on every page and will there be more than one photo layout style?
• What type of paper do you want to use for the book? Different paper types are going to display your work very differently.
• What will your cover design look like and what type of cover style is going to work for your concept?
Any question about the book that comes to mind needs to be written down and then worked out in a cohesive manner so that it all looks great as a final product.
Thinking About Photography Book Themes, Content, and Concepts
Have you noticed how we haven’t even begun to think about the book’s photo and text content yet? During this planning phase I also outlined the book’s concept. The general idea was to highlight a decade of photographs. However, as a writer, I also wanted to tell my story. How did I manage to get where I am today? Like I mentioned earlier, I wrote down the title a year in advance (Then ~ Now) but I wasn’t sure that would become the final title. After more planning and research I realized that my initial idea was going to be the best. So even within my pretty photo book concept, I developed a sub-concept. The title reflected three specific photo styles throughout my ten year career. Even the tilde made sense as part of the book title and became an essay within the book – it refers to a pause in programming language and became the in-between stage of my career.
Financial Considerations for Self-Published Photo Books
Because I was choosing to sell my book within our online store and make it fairly exclusive, I had even more to consider and these are things you must ask yourself as well:
• What was I going to charge for this book?
• How many copies was I going to produce?
• How was I going to let the world know about it?
• How would I get realistic copies into people’s hands to see the magic I was creating?
Designing a Photo Book
If you are an Adobe Lightroom user you can design, build, and export your book directly from the Book Module to Blurb.com. I recently changed my photo management software to Capture One Pro, so I needed to come up with a different plan. Because I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator almost daily for my website and photo promo materials, I chose to use Adobe InDesign to lay out my book. Blurb has a great plugin available for InDesign that makes book creation in their offered sizes fairly painless. Blurb also offers their own software to help you build your book, as does Artifact Uprising, should you not want to purchase additional software like InDesign.
In addition to printing, design services, and software, Blurb will help you sell your book in their online store and create an eBook version of what you upload to their site. They will also help you get the book onto Amazon. It is kind of nice having an auto-generated eBook available so buyers who don’t have the finances to justify an expensive fine art book can get an online edition for much less. I chose not to use any of these features for my Then ~ Now book because of how limited it was going to be.
From the beginning I already knew that I wanted a physically big book. I chose the largest print book available in Blurb’s option pricing – a 13×11″ landscape orientation book. I then downloaded their InDesign plugin, watched a couple of tutorials, and started laying out my book based on the notes I had already collected. I chose a couple of page layout designs for my photos that I liked from when I was looking through my inspirational photo books. I wanted single pages in the book so that my photos would be displayed at their largest. Then I started selecting photos and began dragging and dropping them into my photo book within InDesign. During the whole process I decided to have a friend who lives on the east coast critique what I was doing. Every week as I got closer and closer to my release deadline I would screencast the current design state of the book with him. We discussed layouts, photo choices, and even photo pairings. Then I would reanalyze everything.
The First Printed Book: Make Yourself a Draft Book
This process went on for two months and then it was time to see where I was. The beauty of print-on-demand is that I could just upload my book, create a print copy of it and see how everything physically looked. I am so glad that I did this because I realized some things needed adjusting. Printing a proof copy of the book gave me insight to how my fonts looked, how each selected photo looked, and even how the design read compared to my initial vision. From this point I made dozens of adjustments. I even changed the cover photo. I made all of the text much smaller and changed my font of choice. I also began designing other components of the book. I figured out how I was going to make the limited edition seal and design the certificate of authenticity to be part of the book itself. I also chose to make the cover a printed photo wrap instead of using a traditional dust jacket style. This led me to designing a dust jacket that made the book feel more like a one-off design using inked stamps. I created mock-ups and sketches for just about every component along the way and I even figured out how I was going to ship it to buyers. Again, no stone unturned. This book was originally set for 50 copies but I changed that as well. As I wrote the included four essays, I began to see all of these different connections with what I was doing. Since I incorporated as a full time photographer on the 6th day of the 6th year, I felt that 66 copies made more sense than 50.
Marketing Your Book
Printing-on-demand has a fairly fast turnaround so I decided that when I sold one book, I would buy another. This meant that I didn’t need to lay out money for all 66 books up front and I didn’t need to worry about not being able to sell a single copy. As we got closer to my self-imposed release date, I decided to announce what I was doing to my email list. Almost immediately 10 people jumped on board and reserved a copy of the book. From there I created a marketing plan about how I wanted to keep people informed and how I planned to continuously promote the book. Using my websites, social media accounts, and by promoting individual photos from the book itself, we have gained sales traction from a variety of buyer profile types. The plan still remains to sell the book out before my 11 year anniversary this fall and with about a third of the 66 sold, I think that is completely possible. As the book came to completion, other ideas related to the project came to mind. Because I had so many photos and not enough room for all of them in the book, we created a limited edition print series as well. This gave a different buyer an equally different purchasing option. So far everyone who has purchased a copy of Then ~ Now has sent in glowing reviews. They love it and are extremely inspired by it. Which has totally floored me.
The Benefits of Printing Your Photography
My first self-published book has even inspired me. I have learned that my photography needs to be seen in print more often. There is a quality to seeing your photography in printed form that cannot be fully realized online. Great 4K and 5K monitors and new Retina displays show amazing details within photos but with print there is a reality – a weight. You can feel a photo’s presence, you can smell the ink, and this tangible quality illuminates your senses. It changes your perspective of the photo you are looking at. Many photographers are missing out on this – I certainly was and I started taking photos in 1993 using a film called Fujichrome Velvia as my exclusive medium! I have decided that I want my vision displayed more as a craft and print allows me to achieve this solitary goal.
You may or may not want to self-produce a fine art photo book of this magnitude. After taking on this task whole heartedly and trying to cover every detail, I now know how much time the investment takes up. The bottom line is that anyone can do what I did on a much smaller scale and not even for the sake of generating revenue. The key to creating a book that people appreciate is to give them something special. Something they couldn’t buy at a brand-name store. It is that uniqueness that sells and even if you choose to produce the book just as gifts for friends and family, it’s the thought-out process that will wow them even more.
When asked if I would self-publish a book again the answer is, well, there are already four more concepts on the drawing board! Some will be limited editions while others are set to be open editions where anyone at any point can purchase a copy.