How to get a "coffee table" book published?

Started Oct 25, 2005 | Discussions
TheMadScot Senior Member • Posts: 1,656
How to get a "coffee table" book published?
1

I'm in the middle of the planning stages of a photographic project that I would like to see published as a 'coffee table' style book. The project is to support and benefit a major charitable organisation.

At this moment, I'm still working out the logistics of the shooting and subjects that I want to photograph. I'm curious as to whether I should be approaching publishers at this stage or if I should leave it till I'm a little further along the planning stages?

Oh, and to those whom have done this before; whom would you recommend as good companies to approach - particularly in the UK, if possible.

Thanks in advance

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jimcollum Regular Member • Posts: 223
Re: How to get a "coffee table" book published?
1

there's a good article, with some links at http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/100-books.shtml

One thing to note... it's actually pretty easy to get one done.. the reason being in 99.9% of all coffee table books, the money to publish and distribute comes out of the author's pocket. Even the top names in photography put out their own money to have it published.

And if it's something you expect to make money with.. that's also very unlikely. Photographic art books are some of the lowest selling books around. One of the largest selling photo art books (ansel adams, 100 years) was outsold by almost every photographic technical book. there's a good article in Lenswork magazine on the business side of photo art book publishing.

jim

TheMadScot wrote:

I'm in the middle of the planning stages of a photographic project
that I would like to see published as a 'coffee table' style book.
The project is to support and benefit a major charitable
organisation.

At this moment, I'm still working out the logistics of the shooting
and subjects that I want to photograph. I'm curious as to whether I
should be approaching publishers at this stage or if I should leave
it till I'm a little further along the planning stages?

Oh, and to those whom have done this before; whom would you
recommend as good companies to approach - particularly in the UK,
if possible.

Thanks in advance

OP TheMadScot Senior Member • Posts: 1,656
Thanks for the link

I'm not sure how relevant this will be, but I'll keep it in mind.

The charitable organisation I'll be doing this project for is the largest in their sector in the UK; I'm still in the early stages of pitching the project to them so there's a chance that they'll be able to recommend a publisher.

What I'm trying to figure out is whether a publisher will take on the project on a not-for-profit basis i.e. all the money left after printing and distribution will benefit the charity... more importantly, I don't know whether I should be pitching this to publishers now, or if this is something that I should do once I have all the shots finalised.

On the plus point: I can do all my own page layout using Adobe InDesign (so my five years spent as a graphic designer hasn't been completely wasted) and, if i need to make the pitch, I can create a PDF preview document (security enabled) for circulation to prospective publishers.

What I'd really like is some feedback from folks that have done this sort of thing before

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jimcollum Regular Member • Posts: 223
Re: Thanks for the link
1

pick up the latest issue of lenswork magazine (there's a snip of the article at http://www.lenswork.com/lwq60s.pdf ) . Brooks Jensen has been in the publishing business for a long time. He also has an email address that you can send email to.

Bottom line is, there really isn't any money leftover after publishing and distribution, unless your name is Anne Geddes. I know a number of the current top fine art photographers. Publishing an photographic art book is more marketting than a money making proposition.

I do wish you luck... If you're looking to raise money, photographic technical books are much more profitable than the art ones

jim

CharlieDIY
CharlieDIY Veteran Member • Posts: 7,120
Re: Thanks for the link

TheMadScot wrote:

I'm not sure how relevant this will be, but I'll keep it in mind.

The charitable organisation I'll be doing this project for is the
largest in their sector in the UK; I'm still in the early stages of
pitching the project to them so there's a chance that they'll be
able to recommend a publisher.

What I'm trying to figure out is whether a publisher will take on
the project on a not-for-profit basis i.e. all the money left after
printing and distribution will benefit the charity... more
importantly, I don't know whether I should be pitching this to
publishers now, or if this is something that I should do once I
have all the shots finalised.

On the plus point: I can do all my own page layout using Adobe
InDesign (so my five years spent as a graphic designer hasn't been
completely wasted) and, if i need to make the pitch, I can create a
PDF preview document (security enabled) for circulation to
prospective publishers.

What I'd really like is some feedback from folks that have done
this sort of thing before

There is a lot more that goes into a book beyond printing and distributing, as you'll discover when you actually lay out an entire book in any of the popular programs. Publishers who are capable of doing a particularly good job with coffee table books are probably unlikely to want an outsider to handle book design and layout.

In all the charity arrangements I've heard of, the publisher is willing to set aside a percentage of the net for the charity, but not all proceeds after printing and distribution. To put a fine point on it, what's in it for them if they take nothing out of the book? Feeling good? A halo around their reputation?

In any case, if you have some photos put together, it's time to start pitching the book. Get it in the earliest possible stages.

Good luck.
--
Charlie Self

Chris Beney Senior Member • Posts: 1,155
Re: Thanks for the link

TheMadScot wrote:

What I'd really like is some feedback from folks that have done
this sort of thing before

Well I did a coffee table book for an elderly artist friend of her chinese paintings and accompagning texts. Archival inkjet, A4 sideways, wire ring bound with clear cover and a couple of semi-transparent pages I was very pleased with it, so was she, but it was a lot of work getting layout and colour balance and so on just right. I only did about twenty copies.

There was no way that it would have paid as a commercial venture with outside printing (about 40 colour pages) and I agree with others who have said here that making money on these things is very diffcult.
Sponsorship might be a way to go though.

Chris Beney

photo_magnet Regular Member • Posts: 411
Re: Thanks for the link

If it is the case that art books don't make a profit then maybe the charity will be happy to have their name on it and it will do you no harm to have yours next to it, and a book just laying round the studio for customers to look at.

But you may have to pay out of your own pocket for any losses, the charity governance is VERY strict on risk aversion, and no publisher is going to talk a unpublished photographer on and the risks too.

How much is your marketing budget and would this fit in to that, as you will be covering losses.

Will it help the charity in some way that other avenues won't?

Will it bring customers/money indirectly to you? (to cover the costs)

OP TheMadScot Senior Member • Posts: 1,656
Re: Thanks for the link

photo_magnet wrote:

But you may have to pay out of your own pocket for any losses, the
charity governance is VERY strict on risk aversion, and no
publisher is going to talk a unpublished photographer on and the
risks too.

I'm fully aware that this might be an issue (the unpublished bit) but I'm hoping to use some other cards that I have up my sleve to help bypass this matter. As to losses - hrm. I'm glad you've mentioned this, 'cause I now have one more factor to consider and overcome.

How much is your marketing budget and would this fit in to that, as
you will be covering losses.

Not too great at all; I'm quite happy to donate my time and skills whilst personally absorbing expenses such as travel and accomodation; all I need to have organised are the subjects I'm shooting and the permission of the charity in question to either use their name to get access to these subjects OR have them help with the access.

Will it help the charity in some way that other avenues won't?

I would like to think so! As much as they are the largest charity covering their sector, they're not very high on the 'visibility' radar for the general public; this despite the fact that the issues they tackle are relevant to a VERY large percentage of the UK population.

Will it bring customers/money indirectly to you? (to cover the costs)

If I can pull off this project as I envisage it, then yes; I don't need to profit directly from the book - there are 101 other ways I could use the end result to my advantage. I'm hunting for a win-win-win scenario (publisher / charity / me) and I can be a tenacious little sod when it comes to these things
--

OP TheMadScot Senior Member • Posts: 1,656
Re: Thanks for the link

Chris Beney wrote:

Sponsorship might be a way to go though.

Exactly what I was thinking.

I have a fair amount of experience in drumming this up; I used to work for an internet florist and conceived a charitable cross promotion with a major UK fund; they advertised our services to their staff and partner/sponsor companies and, in return, when we received an order citing an ad-specific code, we'd donate 10% of the total order value to that particular charity.

Our order volumes increased by some 60% during this partnership phase and the charity benefited quite handsomely from it. All of the promotions that they ran were circulated by internal newsletters, emails and intranet posts, so the monetary cost to the fund of advertising our services was next-to-nothing.

Charitable organisations have pack quite a punch when it comes to getting other companies / individuals to donate time, skills or resources to them - it's an angle I'll be exploring with vigor since the object of the exercise is to raise funds for and awareness of this particular charitable organisation.

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OP TheMadScot Senior Member • Posts: 1,656
Re: Thanks for the link

CharlieDIY wrote:

There is a lot more that goes into a book beyond printing and
distributing, as you'll discover when you actually lay out an
entire book in any of the popular programs. Publishers who are
capable of doing a particularly good job with coffee table books
are probably unlikely to want an outsider to handle book design and
layout.

I'm fully aware that the publishing co. will likely want to do layout and proofing themselves, but at least I can provide a working draft of the concept to interested parties; that could make the pitching easier, don't you think?

In all the charity arrangements I've heard of, the publisher is
willing to set aside a percentage of the net for the charity, but
not all proceeds after printing and distribution. To put a fine
point on it, what's in it for them if they take nothing out of the
book? Feeling good? A halo around their reputation?

Yes, it's all about negotiation. I'd rather see the charity get 15% of nett on 10,000 copies sold than 70% of nett on 1000 copies. Ultimately it's really about raising the public awareness of the work this charity does and hopefully getting some money in their coffers too

In any case, if you have some photos put together, it's time to
start pitching the book. Get it in the earliest possible stages.

Don't have shots yet; am hoping to get the first few sessions done in that regard in the next three months.

Good luck.
--
Charlie Self

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jimcollum Regular Member • Posts: 223
Re: Thanks for the link

very good idea. hope it works out for you... something i've always wanted to do as well.. but lacked the funds

i checked out your web site.. some nice images there. .i liked rock cove view and rock pier a lot

let us know if it makes the amazon distribution!!

jim

TheMadScot wrote:

Chris Beney wrote:

Sponsorship might be a way to go though.

Exactly what I was thinking.

I have a fair amount of experience in drumming this up; I used to
work for an internet florist and conceived a charitable cross
promotion with a major UK fund; they advertised our services to
their staff and partner/sponsor companies and, in return, when we
received an order citing an ad-specific code, we'd donate 10% of
the total order value to that particular charity.

Our order volumes increased by some 60% during this partnership
phase and the charity benefited quite handsomely from it. All of
the promotions that they ran were circulated by internal
newsletters, emails and intranet posts, so the monetary cost to the
fund of advertising our services was next-to-nothing.

Charitable organisations have pack quite a punch when it comes to
getting other companies / individuals to donate time, skills or
resources to them - it's an angle I'll be exploring with vigor
since the object of the exercise is to raise funds for and
awareness of this particular charitable organisation.

jimcollum Regular Member • Posts: 223
Re: Thanks for the link

the 1,000 is much more likely. there aren't many art photography books from anyone that sell more than a thousand or two.

Yes, it's all about negotiation. I'd rather see the charity get 15%
of nett on 10,000 copies sold than 70% of nett on 1000 copies.
Ultimately it's really about raising the public awareness of the
work this charity does and hopefully getting some money in their
coffers too

OP TheMadScot Senior Member • Posts: 1,656
Thanks, Jim

though I must confess that the work shown on that website is quite old:

"Rock Cove View" was shot using a 2-megapixel Konica KD200z, and "Rock Pier" was taken using a Sony DSC-F828; there isn't a single picture on that website (yet) that was shot with my D2x.

This is not to say that the D2x takes better pictures... it's simply that, since getting my D2x, my skills as a shooter have come on leaps and bounds; these days I only need to shoot three frames to get something I'm happy with, rather than the 30 shots I'd take with my Konica before I was satisfied - and all of that progress in the space of three years

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BAK Forum Pro • Posts: 25,769
Re: Thanks, Jim

1/ whaever happened with the idea of running an ad in some Scotland / USA magazine?

2/ about your book.

I've spent the past two decdes in the Canadian book publishing business, including have one book with about 300 of my pictures pubished.

Canadian publishing is fairly similar to UK publishing,I beleive, but there are large diffrences, too.

I have no idea of the specifics of your project, but if, for instance ...

You want a 100 page book of portraits of children undergoing medical treatm,ent -- forget it.

You want a 150 page book of landscapes of locations in the UK which are n danger of disappearing unless soem environmental water management program alters or maintains the hydrological aspects of municipal planning -- maybe.

Is the marketpart of the UK, the whole UK, or the UK and overseas?

There are three kinds of publishers.

One kind agrees with your idea, pays you for it (installments) gets your pictures and your words and works with you to make these of publishable quality, produces the book, and orgaanizes distribution.

A second kind, sort of, is known as a packager. A packager, often an individual, does most of the work of a publisher, except for the printing, and then takes the finished manuscript, piictures, art work, layouts, etc., to a printer for reproduction.

Packagers try to arrange deals with publishers for distribution.

And then there are vanity presses / custom publishers.

You take your idea, and a bag of money, to them, and they puboish your book for a fee, which they charge you. Generally, they deliver cartons of books to you, and it is up to you to sell them. Businesses use these to get comapny histories written, an rich old coots use them to get books of their poetry published.

And most smallish, and many big,publishers, are open to new ways of doing things. So, the more publishing execs, often called editors (this word has many meanings in the publishing world), you talk with, the better your chances.

Editors are hard to reach, which brings us to agents.

Agents represent authors, and filtr the ideas of authors. If agents thinks an idea is worthwhile, they'll pick several editors they think will be interested, and approach them with the idea. Whichever publisher will pay the most (or do the best deal, defined some other way than price) gets to honor of publishing the book.

SPONSORSHIP -- Someone mentioned this already. In the book publishing business in the UK, Canada, the USA and probably other countries, book publishing comes under special laws. In Canada, the credits a sponsor gets can severely affect the tax status of the publiscation, and the postage rates if it is mailed to customers. I was on the edge of a book called Photographs Thet Changed the World, and there were discussions with awyers about how big the mentions could be of Kodak and other sponsors.

The whoile Day in the Life Of..... series required special tax treatment because of the heavy involvement of sponsors.

Finally,,,

The toughest question in publishing is how long to make the press run. It's fairly easy to put a fully-text book back on the press for a second or third printing, but it's much harder to reprint a coffee table photo book. If your charity, for instance, promised to buy 5,000 copies...

Hope this helps.

BAK

OP TheMadScot Senior Member • Posts: 1,656
Brian

The "advert-for-pictures" trade is on the go; I specifically requested that they hold the ad till they run my pictures, which should be sometime in either Q1 or Q2 of 2006; given the nature of the shoot the article will be run to coincide with a similar event which will be happening in those months.

As for your question regarding the market for the book - it will be UK wide and could attract overseas attention owing to the subject matter.

Your description of a "packager" is similar to the role I will be undertaking. The five years I spent doing print layouts (amongst other things) as a graphic designer will come in very handy here. Between Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, I can effectivley come up with a draft version of the book itself in PDF format which I can then use to aid in getting the attention of the publishers.

Sponsorship is definitely an avenue I will be pursuing; I'm going to rope in as many people as I can think of, probably starting with Nikon UK since I shoot using a D2x. If I need to travel, I'll stick with a particular airline and hotel chain and try to 'convince' them to contribute in some way - you know how it works; "I flew airline X because they got me where I needed to go on time, every time," slap their logo in the book etc.

The one thing I'm sure of is that this project is going to take a fair bit of time - the shooting itself will eat up twenty days at least (factoring for travelling too), then there's the post-production work and the task of getting the layout done.

Still I'm relishing the challenge, since it will give me something else to do with my downtime other than reading dpreview.com too much

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Rokcet Scientist Regular Member • Posts: 390
How? D-I-Y!

TheMadScot wrote:

I'm in the middle of the planning stages of a photographic project
that I would like to see published as a 'coffee table' style book.
The project is to support and benefit a major charitable
organisation.

At this moment, I'm still working out the logistics of the shooting
and subjects that I want to photograph. I'm curious as to whether I
should be approaching publishers at this stage or if I should leave
it till I'm a little further along the planning stages?

Oh, and to those whom have done this before; whom would you
recommend as good companies to approach - particularly in the UK,
if possible.

Scot,

the other respondents are correct. There is NO money in coffee table books! So, no publisher will invest in this project (unless you're Helmut Newton's heir) and no charity will ever financially benefit from it!

Want to go ahead anyway to see how far you can get? My advice:

do a dozen photos. Create a dummy layout (make it look gorgeous!) of your coffee table book with those photos (only the cover and the first 7/11 pages, the rest blank). Print to PDF. Take the PDF to established quality printers and ask for quotes for 100, 200, 500 and 1000 copies. Then you will know what it will COST you.

Calculate the cost per copy. Then fix the selling price (probably well below cost, because the real price probably wouldn't sell even one book!). Then take your printed dummy – looking gorgeous – and go sell 'm! Get orders for as many as you can from local bookstores and/or the smaller bookstore franchises. After that you will know how many copies to get printed (and what this project will cost you).
Don't even think of making a profit. That's a pipedream.
I will be very surprised if you sell even 100 to the public . . .

However, a gorgeous coffee table book is a gorgeous coffee table book! And it might be good promotion for the charity's goals.

Have fun and good luck,
RS

P.S. 5 years ago I took a thousand eye-popping photos in Antarctica (still film then) with the same intention you have: to make a coffee table book out of it. The printer's cost per copy (64 pages, full color) was/is US$ 210 . . . ! I.o.w. it would cost me US$ 21,000 for 100 copies. You won't be surprised to hear that at that price I didn't sell any! Even at US$ 149 per copy – taking a stiff loss – I took only 2 orders, of 6 copies each. After weeks of knocking on doors!

So it never happened. My "Antarctica Experience" is still waiting to get published . . .

One last thought: if you don't/can't/won't sell any books to the general public through bookstores, maybe the charity could use 'm as really exclusive Xmas gifts for big donors/contributors...?

TomF Regular Member • Posts: 163
Re: How to get a "coffee table" book published?

Having done quite a bit of work for and with non-profit organizations, here are my quick thoughts:

1. Invest time into shooting a portion of your planned subjects. Create a solid mockup – not an entire book, but something that really captures and illustrates your vision.

2. Work closely with the charity to make sure that you are both on the same page, so to speak. Be prepared for an initial bout with bureaucracy. Even non-profit organizations have to answer to board members, legal advisors and the like. The organization may be warm to the idea now – make sure they are still with the program after seeing your mockup. They may be very pleased or they may start suggesting changes to your vision.

3. Investigate production costs. Explain your vision to a few publishers and get competitive bids. Create a real production budget in advance.

4. Once you’ve put together a solid mockup that has been approved by the organization and have estimated production expenses, begin a campaign to secure corporate sponsorship (from a for-profit company) to underwrite the costs. Create a presentation that demonstrates the true value of the project while identifying the benefits that it will bring to the potential sponsor. Even the best plan will be a tough sell.

Like others have said, such coffee table books do not sell all that well. But a well-done book that captures the essence of a reputable charity could be an outstanding social piece that supporting companies would be glad to distribute to employees etc. They could even be shipped to libraries, coffee houses and so on.

In summary, I think the win-win-win result comes into play when you have a reputable for-profit company underwrite the production, publication and distribution cost (in exchange for tasteful visibility in the book), creative distribution creates awareness for the charity and you get paid for photographic talent and hard work. In order for all of this to happen, you need to be tenacious (something you said wasn’t a problem), develop a detailed plan (covering everything from focus to potential distribution), the stars to align (things out of your control) and a bit of luck. Along the way, you may run into people who try to reshape your original idea. Know when to bend and know when to hold your ground.

Best of luck. Let us know how it goes.

1goodeye Contributing Member • Posts: 722
"coffee table" book

I agree - not a money maker as a retail product but like most small publishings, a self promotion tool and "expert" validation to clients. Interesting charity ideas....Thanks for the posts
--
williamwgood.com

BAK Forum Pro • Posts: 25,769
Re: Brian

How about posters?

Instead of selling lots of pictures bound together into a book

, why not shoot a few of the photos, and then offer them, one at a time, as posters.

You could get 100 run using some sort of digitalpress system, with appropriate sponsor / charity info onthem, without getting into the price of a whole book.

Or you could just print five on an Epson 4800, sell them, and repeat until the printer is paid for, and then start giving money to the charity.

BAK

SSalman New Member • Posts: 1
Re: Thanks for the link

Hi,

I saw you have some experience of getting a sponsor and would be interested in talking to you about this.  I am a portrait photographer and have been approached by a charity to collaborate on a coffee table project. I'd love to get some insight into working in this way.  Many thanks.

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