Books of photography occupy a unique place in the publishing world. Photographers want to have a book of their own work but publishers traditionally have had a hard time making money with them. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part photo books don't make money.

My experience with making books of my work doesn't fit a very traditional mold. After being bruised earlier in my career with publishers wanting to make a book idea of mine into something very different than what we intended, I shied away from publishers when it came to making a book of my pictures in 2005. "American Series" was my first book and it was printed conventionally in Hong Kong. The book's editor was my friend Henry Horenstein and we used his press Pond Press as the publisher. Finally, Consortium Books Sales and Distribution (Consortium) was used to distribute and warehouse the book. I cobbled together my own funds and a couple of grants to pay for this book.

Since then I have worked with friend, colleague and designer Andrea Greitzer to make on demand books. To date there are six of these with another being worked on now. We use My Publisher (MyPublisher) for these as they make a book that is large at 15 inches across and their books are well printed on heavy stock. 

On demand books have many advantages. One of these is that you don't have to pay for books until you need them. If I get an order for a book from my site or my gallery I will order that one book and have it sent directly to the purchaser. This avoids the inevitability of ending up with boxes of books to store after your conventionally printed book has become remaindered, which is the underbelly of the publishing world...the reality that for most of us our books aren't going to the top of the NY Times Top Ten Books list. 

My advice is as follows: if you are new to  books of your work, try a book or two with an on demand publisher. There is little to lose here as you can have just one printed at a time. The quality is not bad and improving all the time. You will be using their software as a template to click and drag your pictures into the book and you can choose paperback or hard cover, smaller or larger sizes, colored pages, your images with text or without, etc. The biggest plus here may be that you will end up with the book exactly as you want it.

I have found, as much as I would like to be one, that I am no designer. Andrea Greitzer seems to sequence my work, lay out a book's pages, design the type and the over all layout in her sleep and yet it always impresses with how very well she does it. Work with a designer if at all possible. 

Who distributes your book? You do. Some on demand publishers will take this on too, for an additional fee. What I do is have the relevant book on display at shows I have and also sell it through this site. Sometimes I will use a book as a leave behind to a curator I hope will purchase work for the collection or a gallery where I'd like a show. And I do give them as thanks to people who have shown me a big kindness on my travels or have been a help to me. 

Finally, books can be a great portfolio. A short story to illustrate my point. A few years ago, while on sabbatical leave I spent about five weeks living in Austin, Texas. I decided to drive to Houston a few hours away to visit the Rothko Chapel (a simply wonderful place on the campus of Rice University) and called Anne Wilkes Tucker  to ask if she had time to see me. She did. Anne is the curator of photography at the Houston Museum of Fine Art and perhaps one of a hand full of the most important and influential curators of photography anywhere.

As I was traveling and photographing I had no portfolio with me, just the "Wheat" on demand book we'd made the year before. She and I talked for a bit and then I showed her the book. As she went through it she said that she liked two of the images very much. I asked her if she would like those two photographs for the museum's collection and she said yes, that she would. I said okay. I would send them along when I got back to Boston. I then asked her if she felt that there was anything deficient in what I had just shown her, could the presentation have been more effective had I brought prints instead of this book? She said no the book represented the work very well. 

Enough said.

Topics: Books

Permalink | Posted December 19, 2012