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Author Topic: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know  (Read 865 times)

VincentDJohnson

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Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« on: January 04, 2021, 06:27:06 pm »

I'm going down the road of publishing a photo book on a documentary project I've been working on for 25 years.

I know a few of you all have been published, so while I can ask some very specific questions that I have now, I'm going to go with the old principle that I need to be asking the questions that I didn't know I needed to ask and I'll do follow up later if needed.

So please give it to me, anything you did that you'd recommend. Publishers I should look into. Red flags I should look out for.

Much thanks in advance for any insight you give.

Here's a link to the site Lost Americana if anyone wanted to get a premiss for what I'm looking at doing.

Vincent Johnson
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Alan Klein

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Re: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2021, 06:43:16 pm »

I can't help you with the publishing as I've never done a book.  But good luck with your project.  It sounds very interesting.

Peter McLennan

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Re: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2021, 07:26:04 pm »

I'm going down the road of publishing a photo book on a documentary project I've been working on for 25 years.
Vincent Johnson

The most valuable thing you can have is a rehearsal.  I'd suggest a self-publish effort first, especially if you're new to graphic design and book authoring. 

Blurb works well and is affordable. Wait for the 40% off sales, which occur regularly.

Others may chime in that the image quality is poor, but I submit that it's good enough for learning if not for collectors, museums or fine art sales. It's definitely good enough for me and I'm a retired Hollywood cinematographer with six-foot-wide, self-printed images on my walls. :)

I love browsing through the books, my images look great, and so far, everyone that's read them has been very complimentary.

I've done four coffee table books so far, each one streets ahead of its predecessor. It's a steep, but fun learning curve, easily one of the most satisfying challenges I've met in fifty years as a photographer.

Basically, the procedure begins with tech layout, materials choice (paper type, size, etc.) and then the creative component, where you place images, write text and create a story.  Once you're satisfied, you render out a PDF which gets sent to Blurb. Your finished book arrives soon after - a delightful experience.

The best tool for the job is Adobe InDesign, available as a monthly subscription if you're not a Creative Cloud subscriber. Affinity Publisher might suffice, but it doesn't offer the convenience and guaranteed accuracy that the Blurb InDesign plug-in offers.  Blurb offers their own tool called "Bookwright", I believe. It will probably suffice. It's free.  I wouldn't attempt using Lightroom's "Book" module.  Others may have chime in with more recent experience with this tool than me.

Getting the technicalities of the layout are important at the beginning.  The creative part of the layout comes later and is tedious to repair if your original layout is flawed.  Blurb is draconian with its specs.

My latest book is 120 pages, uses the highest spec materials, and is the largest size available. It cost about $250 for the first copy.

It's a highly recommended, very satisfying endeavour.  It is a time sink.

Good luck!

« Last Edit: January 05, 2021, 11:39:02 am by Peter McLennan »
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Alan Klein

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Re: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2021, 10:38:46 pm »

The most valuable thing you can have is a rehearsal.  I'd suggest a self-publish effort first, especially if you're new to graphic design and book authoring. 

Blurb works well and is affordable. Wait for the 40% off sales, which occur regularly.

Others may chime in that the image quality is poor, but I submit that it's good enough for learning if not for collectors, museums or fine art sales. It's definitely good enough for me and I'm a retired Hollywood cinematographer with six-foot-wide, self-printed images on my walls. :)

I love browsing through the books, my images look great, and so far, everyone that's read them has been very complimentary.

I've done four coffee table books so far, each one streets ahead of its predecessor. It's a steep, but fun learning curve, easily one of the most satisfying challenges I've met in fifty years as a photographer.

Basically, the procedure begins with tech layout, materials choice (paper type, size, etc.) and then the creative component, where you place images, write text and create a story.  Once you're satisfied, you render out a PDF which gets sent to Blurb. Your finished book arrives soon after - a delightful experience.

The best tool for the job is Adobe InDesign, available as a monthly subscription if you're not a Creative Cloud subscriber. Affinity Publisher might suffice, but it doesn't offer the convenience and guaranteed accuracy that the Blurb InDesign plug-in offers.  Blurb offers their own tool called "Bookwright", I believe. It will probably suffice. It's free.  I wouldn't attempt using Lightroom's "Book" module.  Others may have chime in with more recent experience with this tool than me.

Getting the technicalities of the layout are important at the beginning.  The creative part of the layout comes later and is tedious to repair if your original layout is flawed.  Blurb is draconian with its specs.

My latest book is 120 pages, uses the highest spec materials, and is the largest size available. It cost about $250 for the first copy.

It's a highly recommended, very satisfying, endeavour.  It is a time sink.

Good luck!


I've been watching Daniel Milnor on YouTube who represents Blurb. He a known photojournalist and has interesting comments on photography.  Some of his specific videos go into Blurb products and how best to use them.  Blurb has their own videos as well.

Yesterday, I finally finished another video slide show of the last trip my wife and I did.  We were out on the west coast and Las Vegas.  I've been wanting to do a photo book.  So I think now that I finished my last video, I can start working on it.  You've given me inspiration just at the right time.  Thanks Peter.

Peter McLennan

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Re: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2021, 11:54:15 pm »

You've given me inspiration just at the right time.  Thanks Peter.

Excellent! You're welcome.

Like I said, books are among the most challenging and rewarding projects I've tackled.

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Alan Klein

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Re: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« Reply #5 on: January 05, 2021, 08:40:54 am »

Excellent! You're welcome.

Like I said, books are among the most challenging and rewarding projects I've tackled.


I think I'll start with a "zine", a short 20-30 photo book to try it out.  I'll pick out street shots from my Flickr album for street.  I'll keep the text to  minimum.

mecrox

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Re: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« Reply #6 on: January 05, 2021, 09:50:27 am »

These people might be a place to start:

Self Publish, Be Happy

They offer tutorial videos on Vimeo for a few bucks and also run workshops (which I’ve attended). Very helpful.

I have also found Understanding Photobooks by Jorg Colberg helpful though dated in parts. But it contains some very pertinent info and do’s and don’ts. Available on Amazon.

The takeaway from my experience so far is that one needs a very very clear idea of one’s project. What is one really trying to say? Without that, curation and sequencing are difficult. Format and design/grid are important too because redoing things later is messy and time-consuming. Hiring a designer to help with sequencing and a basic layout may be worth it, with you filling it all in yourself. Adobe In Design seems the preferred software. There are good tutorials (pay for) on sites like LinkedIn Learning. In Design has quite a learning curve. Blurb have their own software, Book Wright I think, which is much easier to use but also much more limited. However, it could be a good place to start with In Design for later when one has a bit more experience.

There is a ton of info out there if you search around. My impression is that photobooks are a distinct scene, so it’s also helpful to look through loads of them and find the leading publishers. YouTube has walkthroughs of lots of photobooks. Another good source is Josef Chladek. Many successful photobooks aren’t landscape-format coffee-table size at all but much smaller portrait format ones. See Hoxton Mini Press for example.

What books or books by favourite photographers do you like? How do they do it? One could start with a study of that.

I’ve only done Blurb-type ones so far. Publishing in volume to sell is a whole other game. As a former career publisher my experience is that most people lose their shirt trying to do this. It’s not been called Vanity Publishing by accident. Start small, avoid those who offer you big promises, build experience and go from there.

I like it all. Intensive but very rewarding and not that costly if one starts modestly with a Blurb kind of outfit. Jump in and see! Also, bear in mind that the work you do on a book project can be repurposed into exhibitions, videos and other things so with some planning there is more than one bite on the cherry.



« Last Edit: January 05, 2021, 10:18:26 am by mecrox »
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Alan Klein

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Re: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2021, 10:00:13 am »

In the old days, we'd do photo albums with those little sticky corner holders for each print.  Thirty years later, they're all falling off.  Then they came out with the plastic pages that you slip the photos under to hold.  They worked better and kept the photos from fading so fast.  Of course, some of the plastic got stuck to the photos which was a problem once when I wanted to scan some old photos for my cousin.  So printing on pages using Blurb is just a continuation of past practices.  Of course, it's easier to make copies now for relatives who aren't really interested in seeing your photos anyway. :)

VincentDJohnson

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Re: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« Reply #8 on: January 06, 2021, 11:27:28 pm »

Thanks everyone so far for the help. I have actually made a few Blurb books for personal stuff, but maybe I should have been a little more specific. I am looking to essentially get a book done with a company large enough to help with distribution and such.
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VincentDJohnson

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Re: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« Reply #9 on: January 06, 2021, 11:29:35 pm »

These people might be a place to start:

Self Publish, Be Happy

They offer tutorial videos on Vimeo for a few bucks and also run workshops (which Iíve attended). Very helpful.


Thanks. I'll check that out along with the other stuff you mentioned. Self publishing isn't totally out of the question. Just the last resort.
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langier

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Re: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2021, 05:52:29 pm »

Hi Vincent,

Just took a quick glance and love what I see! Looks like we both overlap in the subjects we love to shoot!

I'll do a short answer for both sides.

If you want a main-stream publisher to you book, you've got to do most of the work yourself, especially determining the market/taget audience then sell them on the content that they will make $$. They may take it and if you do most of the work to promote it, tour and sell it and they make a few bucks (and you spend plenty), they will be happy. Your bank account may not be and you will spend a lot of time to do this. If the book doesn't sell well, you take the blame, your book is remaindered and you'll never hear from them.

OTOH, you can do it yourself. There are many success stories throughout the web: QT Luong's Teasured Lands and Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers... by Nita Winter and Rob Badger are both long-term projects, labors of love and self-publishing tenaciousness that required them jumping into the fire, doing more work in promotion/marketing than they probably spent doing the work and then reaping the rewards.

The tools, publishers and information is out there to do nearly everything on your own and if you figure it out well and have the self-motivation and the business acumen geared toward success, you can pull this off and do it well!

My colleagues have also published their books, some going as far as to do press checks in Europe and Asia... Another even started his own special publishing house not only for his well-crafted work but now taking on the works of others. Each is the result of years of shooting and then doing the math to make these at least break-even and a way to launch and support their next projects.

Another, Doug Kiester from Chico, has made a career based upon main-stream publishing of his photography since the early 1980s and has resulted in more than fifty books, several still in print and recently self-published. He's one of the most successful in the industry IMO.

I have worked with publishers for many years that have usually cut me a check for the work they licensed for their books. A lot of these have been niche and one-time editions through the years. I still do this with one long-time publisher who doesn't pay well but pays reliably and consistently and then makes up for it with cases of books that I end up gifting to friends and families.

I also do very low run POD books via Blurb/MagCloud and now through KDF. They are for the most part inexpensive and quick, but I do my own design, typesetting, etc. However the little I saw with your work, this would only be good for maybe a dummy book or to use as a tool to do a real book with a real publisher.

I'd say you are ready to do more homework and see what may be the best way to proceed. You need to see who your competition is at the very least and then figure out why your work is unique from it. Some of the aforementioned friends went with crowd sourcing to get the ball rolling. Some broke even, a few went way beyond their wildest dreams this way.

My little books that I self-publish aren't color-critical (pleasing color is fine for my market), is a niche but allows me to create collections of my work that would either be placed on-line or stashed away in a box of prints and use my editing and graphic design skills. It's another creative thing that I do as part of my own photo matrix that places my work into another small corner of the world and gives me completion and satisfaction. I'd love to do a monograph but usually happy with the several books I contribute to each year, many that are quite focused and scholarly these days.

In any case start taking a look at other books, find their creators and ask them questions and when you are ready, take the plunge and either pitch your work to a publisher or jump into the fray and start wearing many hats with all the new skills you'll soon have to master and grow with it!
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VincentDJohnson

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Re: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« Reply #11 on: January 09, 2021, 01:51:03 pm »

Larry,
Thanks for that well put together response and also, for a nice bit of encouragement. I hope you have a few younger photographers in your area you are helping mentor. You seem like you'd be a great resource for them.

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langier

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Re: Publishing a photo book, let me know what you know
« Reply #12 on: January 09, 2021, 07:06:56 pm »

You are welcome, Vincent!

Just finished one little book on a medieval church in Serbia that I'll initially print on Amazon to get a few copies then send the file on to the church as part of my "unmercenary artist" gig.

If you mean 79 as "young" that's one of the people I mentor, a former Marine who drives 120 mile round trip to show his work to me and get my comments. Locally, there are several, but mostly 50-70 years old since many younger people seem to "know it all." One local is retired from the printing trades and we bounce things off one another but he's a lot of work but quite competent. Seems like the older we get the more stubborn. I'm now having a great time with a newer iPhone with dual lenses that finally gets me the quality I can accept along with SnapSeed.

With the crowd of even older geezers, former students of Ansel Adams and his cadre of instructors from the 1960s-1980s, some even have run circles around me with their iPhones while others still think they are dinosaurs when it comes to today's electronic photography. Buter there are a few younger folks I hang and I try to help at least plant the seed that this is the way to go. But with the proviso that print preserves what digital cannot and that includes even one-off books and like I once did, hand-made books, ether printed in the darkroom (like I did in college) or better yet, Blurb, MagCloud and the others. It's a matter of JDI-Just Do It.

I miss the symposium called Shooting the West where I've embedded since the early 1990s. Covid has postponed it and may be its coffin nail I hope not. I'm always available to my local community with the proviso that you've got to make the effort to show up on my door step...

A few years back (probably 10-15 years ago), I one of the presentations at Shooting the West was a manager from a university press and that's when the reality set it as to the time they take for a project even if they agree to accept it. But what I learned most was that they expected you to do most of the work and it successful, they get the kudos and if not, you get the blame... We had many publishers though the years and that seemed to be the gist of the end game.

Yet on the other hand, we had many who did there own publishing and put their heart and soul into the effort and reaped the rewards including Christopher Burkett and his wife Ruth. Christopher was a former Orthodox monastic who was functionally blind until age 8 when he was fitted with glasses to correct his vision and the world was within sight. He mastered the art of large-format and the Ilfochorme process but knew if he wanted his books to be the best, that was another skill he needed to learn and that work is stunning along with his Ilfochrome which his freezer contains enough material to finish his career in probably but a few years (he's nearly 70). In double checking his bio just now I found a nugget in that he's a friend of one of my personal Orthodox monks who lives an hour from me, cool!

My approach to everything is to think holistically to better have a clue of the many aspects of a project in order to properly size things up. Since I was a teen, I always wanted to do book and started working in a hot-metal newspaper but never learning how to use a Linotype but did learn all the other production processes as it converted to cold type and offset and that's why I still love design and type today.

Start doing your homework and if you can get a good agent, that's one route to main-stream publication, otherwise, start doing your education and digging into self-published and crowd-sourced books and do your homework. It can be done but finding a market, a paying customer and enough of both to make it pay is your best way to go if you really believe in your work and have the self-motivation and focus to pull it off. It can be done!
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