by Steve Simon

Books are arguably the ideal display for a photographic project, giving the photographer ultimate control. You can choose the images, the order, size, text and design that best communicates your photographic vision. I love photo books. I collect them and I use them for reference and for inspiration. I also think that creating your own photo book is the best way to preserve a project for posterity and it becomes a great portfolio piece.

Many photographers I know have book projects they would like to see published and so often ask for advice. In previous posts, I wrote about the serendipity and luck of having my book dummy plucked from the garbage, which lead to finding a publisher. But sadly, you can't always count on this happening.

Photography books are expensive to produce and generally are not very profitable, and it's tough to get a first break in photo-book publishing. But it is easier than ever before to self-publish books-- and the history of photography points to many artists, like Eugene Richards or Ralph Gibson for example, who believed in their work and found ways to publish it themselves. Today, even the most reputable photo book publishers often ask photographers to come up with some financial guaranty, pre-sales or grant money before they decide to move forward.

But regardless of how your book proceeds, your first priority should be the making of a book dummy or the prettier description, the book maquette. I find it surprising that even publishers, who should know better, often don't recognize the book potential of a body of work until they see the images in book form.

The Publisher's Showcase at Photo-Eye Books is a great
resource to see who is publishing photography books today.

The first thing I suggest is to edit down your project to a workable number of pieces. The main reason I grabbed a copy of Aperture 1.0, was an urgent deadline for my latest book Heroines & Heroes. When I first got Aperture, I had pre-edited my selects, which I imported. I then went straight to the Books Panel to create and design the book. I had other software that could do the job, but I didn't want to spend time re-learning software I would rarely use. I was looking forward to incorporating Aperture into my workflow and I hoped the Book function would be easy enough for me to get the job done quickly and without previous experience. It did not disappoint.

I have long made my own book maquettes to use as portfolios. One great thing about Aperture is the integration of the entire archive, allowing me to turn groupings of images into albums and then books, easily and seamlessly. In this way, the book function in Aperture inspires me to experiment with various portfolios, and to create new ones. I find that as I add to my archive, I start to see relationships between images, connecting previously unconnected work, leading to whole new projects and books. For example, it's easy to make new albums which group your images by mood or atmosphere, or specific subjects like night scenes or dogs or whatever you seem to be photographing on a regular basis. Before you know it, you have an interesting new set of pictures and a new project to pursue.

Of course you can order the Apple books, but I like to print my own. In Aperture, I choose File > Print and Save as PDF. You can save a lot of money by burning the PDF's to CD for distribution; or FTP them to potential publishers if they allow it. But many publishers prefer to see hard copies, and I have found that a color laser printer does a nice job of providing decent quality work images for a book dummy. I invested a little extra and got a color laser with duplex feature, which means it will automatically print both sides of a sheet. This is a great timesaving feature. It can print out a book dummy in probably 10 per cent of the time it would take to stand there and manually insert each sheet into the printer, something you need to do if you want double-sided copies for the look of a real book.

This has become a cheap and effective way to create multiple copies for submission, and I usually include a high quality inkjet sample print or two to show the ultimate quality of the work. Of course for those who only the best quality will do, (never a bad thing, only more expensive) you can create the book entirely with high quality archival prints if you like.

AATE Book1.jpg
A sample book dummy for America At The Edge,
created in Aperture.

I'll give more specific tips for creating book maquettes next post. In the meantime here are two competitions you should consider.

The European Publishers Award is a very competitive contest where photographers enter book dummies for the amazing prize of having their book co-published by seven European publishers in different languages. The winner also gets royalties, an advance of $10k Euros and a specially engraved Leica Camera and an all expense paid trip to the award ceremony in Arles, France. But there is only one winner and winner takes all.

More on European Publishers Award.

The Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) at Duke University and The Honickman Foundation (THF), based in Philadelphia, co-sponsor the biennial first book prize for American photographers, who, if lightening strikes, get their first book published, a traveling exhibition and $3k cash. The deadline has passed for this round, so you have until 2008 to work on your book entry.

First Book Award Info.

A new book: Heroines & Heroes: Hope, HIV and Africa by Steve Simon

(Designed in Aperture)


2006-12-14 07:38:27
Have you heard of ?
Steve Simon
2006-12-14 07:55:37
Yes, Micah, I will talk more about self publishing and ebooks next post! Fastback is a good one! SS