DIY: Producing Your Photography Book


Back in July, I wrote a review of Publish Your Photography Book by Darius Himes and Mary Virginia Swanson.

I finished that review by saying, “If you’d rather shun the commercial publishing route and travel the do-it-yourself road, be prepared for quite the learning experience. Because you’re not just in charge of producing the book. You’re also in charge of promoting it.”

This is the story of what happens when you actually travel the do-it-yourself road. I'm here to tell you that yes, it is quite the learning experience.

Why I Decided to Produce My Own Photography Book

I've been trying to sell my bicycling photography to book and magazine publishers in the U.S. and elsewhere. I have two goals:

  • Selling my bicycling-oriented stock photography
  • Getting photographic assignments

Which brings us to a mini-lesson on how selling photography works:

  • You contact photo editors, creative directors, and art buyers. Which means that you must become one with your telephone and e-mail, because you're going to be reaching out to dozens, if not hundreds, of people. And the overwhelming majority of them won't be the least bit interested. This isn't a reflection on you or your work. It just shows how competitive the creative arts are.
  • Okay, I just mentioned that overwhelming, uninterested majority. What about those few people who are interested in seeing your photography? Well, they may ask for a link to your online portfolio. If they like what they see, they'll bookmark it. That's a good thing. Then there are those very interested people who want to see your book. That's industry-speak for "a printed version of your portfolio." Since publishers are in the business of producing and selling printed materials, photo editors, creative directors, and art buyers have a vested interest in knowing how your work looks on paper. Especially if they're going to be spending their company's money on acquiring it.

End of the mini-lesson.

Here's how it applies to Martha the bike-tographer: I've gotten requests for my book. So, time to get busy and make one. That was my late summer 2011 project.

Choosing and Using Book Production Software

Just before I got started, my photographic website host, PhotoShelter, announced a promo for a free e-book called Marketing Yourself with Photo Books. How timely!

The e-book included a discount for the publish-on-demand (POD) service. How handy! I signed up for a Blurb account, downloaded the free BookSmart software and set about learning how to use it.

If you're the type of person who learns best via online videos and webinars, you have a true friend in Blurb. Me? I'd rather read through a set of instructions, then try things as I go.

So, Blurb and I have incompatible teaching and learning styles. I decided to work around this problem by opening the Blurb software and starting my book project. Nothing like jumping into the pool, then learning how to swim.

One of the things I learned about BookSmart is the importance of having all of your photos in one place. Be a smart user and get all of the photos for your project into one folder, because you're really going to like the next part: You can click and drag those photos right into your layout. I can think of a couple of publishing programs that ought to be this easy to use. (I'm looking at you, Illustrator and InDesign!)

Since I mentioned the word “layout,” let me explain two things:

  • You'll need to decide what size your book will be. This will govern the appearance of your cover and inside pages.
  • Your inside page layout does not have to be the same throughout your book. Matter of fact, you probably won't want it to be. BookSmart allows you to choose from a variety of layouts. Once you've found the one you like, click on it and it's applied to the page you're working on.

Since we've looked at photos and layout, let's talk about words. Yes, you need them. Even in a photography book. I created my copy in a word processing program, sent the file off to my fellow freelancer and first-rate editor, Judy Vorfeld, for a good going-over.

After I got the edited copy back from Judy, it was time to toss words, photos, and layouts into the mix and make a book out of them. And wouldn't you know it, once I started this process, I decided that the copy I'd prepared wasn't what I really wanted to use. So, I did a lot of rewriting within BookSmart. It's doable, but very slow.

Then there was the Battle of the Fonts. I decided that I didn't want to use the default font that the BookSmart people had included with the book template I'd chosen.

Since I wanted to do things my way, I had to make sure that my fonts were the only ones in the book. That meant checking headers, footers, page numbers, and copy. Whew! That was a lot of work. Perhaps I won't be so stubborn next time.

Proofreading, Editing, and Preparing for Publication

Once my book was complete, it was time to proofread it. You're probably used to hitting the “print” button, then seeing your printout a few seconds later. Well, sorry to break the news to you, but that's not how a book proof works. In a word, it's slow. As in, take a leisurely coffee break while you're waiting for the proof to appear in your printer's output tray.

Proofreading is one of those things that used to drive my editorial office bosses crazy. I wasn't very good at it.

Then I stumbled upon the idea of reading the copy out loud. Word for word. Which meant that I had to find an empty office for my proofreading so I wouldn't drive my coworkers crazy. Since I now work from home, this is no longer an issue. But it might be for you.

I've also found that placing a check mark next to each item is a good way to note what has been proofread and what still needs the red ink treatment.

Here's one more proofreading tip: Once you've repaired all the typos and other beasties that got the red ink bath, print your book proof and go through it again. You'll be amazed at what you didn't catch the first time.

Telling the World About Your Book

Uploading your book to Blurb is as simple as clicking Publish and then Order Book at the top of the BookSmart interface. After your book is on Blurb, you can choose retail pricing options for the formats in which you'd like to sell it – hardcover with and without a jacket and softcover. Be sure to pay the lower wholesale prices on the copies you buy for yourself – and for those photo editors, creative directors, and art buyers who are waiting to see your work.

As mentioned above, a few prospective photo buyers will bookmark your work. Give them something interesting to bookmark by adding Blurb's “try before you buy” preview slideshow to your website or blog. The slideshow can display all or part of your book – it's up to you. Feeling social? Blurb's website offers slideshow sharing via Facebook and Twitter.

The preceding paragraph only hints at the many things that you can do to promote a photography book. Since my own Bike-tography book is still a newborn, I don't have much to share in this area. But, as the baby grows, I'll be back with book promotion news – with an emphasis on what works.

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