Finding a photo book publisher
January 14, 2013 3:12 PM   Subscribe

I had a successful Kickstarter for a photography project, largely thanks to MetaFilter. Now I need to produce the Big Book (photos of every dot on the map in North Dakota), and, while I can print and bind it myself, I'd like to find a publisher. Where do I start? What do I say?

The University of Minnesota Press seems like it might be a good fit. Looking at my bookshelf, I have photo books from Phaidon, Hatje Cantz, Steidl, Richter, Aperture, Twin Palms, Schirmer/Mosel, Prestel, and Kehrer, as well as university and museum imprints, and less-art-focused publishers like Chronicle, Taschen, and teNeues.

Do I just shotgun these publishers with email, point them to the Atlantic InFocus post (thanks to MetaFilter!), and ask if they want to publish my book? If this doesn't work out, I'm happy to print the book myself, but I'd like to give this a shot first.
posted by afiler to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You contact the publishers you think would be interested and follow their submissions guidelines (for example, the UM Press' guidelines).

It might be a good idea to query acquisitions editors by email first (UMP has several, it looks like), particularly if you intend to submit proposals to several publishers.
posted by notyou at 3:35 PM on January 14, 2013

I realize this would seem obvious to anyone that's done it, but I'd like to know what such an email to an acquisitions editor would sound like.

And I read the U of M Press's guidelines, but so much of it doesn't apply to a photography book (e.g. "Table of Contents and chapter summaries", "a description of the theoretical framework and methodology that you employ (if applicable)") that I ended up feeling a bit lost.
posted by afiler at 3:54 PM on January 14, 2013

I'd say talk to the North Dakota Humanities Council, North Dakota Council for the Arts, the North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies (who have their own press), and poke around Read ND and Arts ND. If you can get the interest of one of these places, they might not be able to actually print for you, but I'm fairly certain they know somebody who might be interested in helping you along. If you also make it a goal to use a North Dakota printer (there are several) to publish the book, you might even have more doors open for you.

In a general sense, a publisher makes their money through marketing; they generally do the design and printing too, in order to control the flow of money and keep costs low in bulk. You might not be looking for a *publisher*, you're looking for book design services, a printer, and a marketing plan. Self-publishing is losing its stigma and there are many people very successfully handling their own projects successfully. Getting accepted by Taschen and letting them handle everything would be awesome, but you may find you're more successful, even though selling fewer units, to hire your own designer and order it yourself from a printer, and do your own marketing (you already seem to do that pretty well).

Edit: Really, if you raised the money to publish, you're the publisher.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:31 PM on January 14, 2013

May I also suggest the Minnesota & Wisconsin Historical Societies? They are also publishers.
posted by lyssabee at 4:47 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

What's your goal with this book, ultimately? Is it to get it into the hands of people who love North Dakota? If so, I would start with the state university presses, and if that doesn't pan out, self-publish and partner with local historical societies to market it.

Is it to get it into the hands of people who love photography? If so, I would start with publishers who produce photography books you own and love, and if none of those pan out, self-publish and market on photography sites.

Also, if it's really important to you to have control over the book design process, self-publish. Publishers have their own ideas about book design, particularly with art books.

(I've just assumed that your goal wasn't to make money, because you seem savvy enough to know that every dollar over breaking even here is a giant triumph for a project like this.)

Best of luck! Seems like a fascinating project.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:49 PM on January 14, 2013

The North Dakota Humanities Council does not provide grants to individuals. The North Dakota Council for the Arts does not provide grants to non-residents. I know people involved with the Institute for Regonal Studies, but I did not know they had their own press. I will see what they have to say.

I'm not looking for book design services or a printer. I can do all that myself and have done it before. I've already shipped one smaller book for this Kickstarter using a print-on-demand service. The problem is that if I get this book offset printed, I'll need to do something like 1000 copies. If I do one photo per page, that's two volumes, and if I figure 500 pages per volume, with slipcover, that comes out to $28,130, printed in China. I don't have that kind of money.

I can compromise and jam more photos onto a page, but if I'm going to do that, I'd rather it were because I had a real publisher who could actually market this thing.

The way I see it, I have three options:
1. Spend $30,000 getting this book printed in China and then sell it myself. (Not really an actual option.)
2. Find a publisher.
3. Inkjet print and hand-bind 15 copies myself, for the 13 people who shelled out for this book on Kickstarter, plus two for me. This will cost about $1300 in paper alone.

Printing with Blurb etc (I used MyPublisher for the other book in this Kickstarter) is not really an option. They don't print books that large, so it would have to be a number of volumes, and the costs would be astronomical. They also use color laser printing, which I'm not a huge fan of.
posted by afiler at 4:58 PM on January 14, 2013

I should mention that you're experiencing bad timing: the Ghosts of North Dakota guys published a book too and they are extremely media-savvy, as in "works for a local media conglomeration", so North Dakotans may go, "eh, it's been done."
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:59 PM on January 14, 2013

We're not really in the same space. This is an art book, and it covers every named place on the map. Their book is specifically about ghost towns, and I think it's a different market. My book isn't really even targeted at North Dakotans. I think it's much more likely to play well in Europe, actually, where this physical/cultural landscape is less familiar and so more intriguing. I notice that a lot of books I have with this sort of photography come from German publishers.
posted by afiler at 5:05 PM on January 14, 2013

Sorry, afiler, I should not have been so glib.

I've worked as an editor, an acqusitions editor, even, although it's been a few years. We did not publish photography books. I have not come at this from the other side.

Here's what I wanted to see in a query letter or email:
  • Professional. Formal tone, no typos or errors. Clean copy. Direct language.
  • Clear Subject. "Photo Book Submission Request" or Query, or whatever so I'd know where to file it
  • A Date. So I'd know when to respond to it.
  • Dear Editor. That's fine. You don't need to know my name.
  • First Graf. Summarize the Book. What is it? Include relevant links to your images. Why's it cool? How far along is it?
  • Second Graf. Summarize the market. Is the book like others that I may have seen? How's it different? What's the audience like? You have good data from your Kickstarter project. Include relevant links to the press you've already managed to generate.
  • Third Graf. Summarize your qualifications. Not a resume, but places your work may have appeared already, professional credentials, maybe in your case a brief summary of your process (I drove across ND and snapped photos...).
  • Contact Info. Email address, website, etc.
From there, if the query did its job, I'd contact the author and ask for the full on proposal. We did not mind simultaneous query letters, but we did mind simultaneous proposals (although we had no way of knowing if authors did do multiple submissions).

The queries that got serious attention were those that stuck with the model above. Professional tone and brevity go a long way toward instilling respect and confidence. The queries that got boilerplate were either bad ideas for us, bad ideas in general or shoddily put together (usually both of the latter).

(A quick DDG turned up this sample photo book query. All the elements are there, but it could be tighter.)

Good luck.
posted by notyou at 5:21 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Sorry, I see you've done your math, afiler! The problem is that you've looked at those numbers and gone, "that's a lot of money to spend on a book -- I'm unlikely to recoup my investment." A publisher is going to reach the same conclusion, unless you put all of your efforts into convincing them otherwise.

Publishers are looking for query letters, which notyou has nicely outlined. A lot of people might tell you that agents aren't worth the trouble, but in this case, with a very specific need for help in a complicated industry, you might want to find yourself an agency that can help shop your book to relevant publishers. Everyone with a camera these days thinks they deserve a coffee-table book, and your query letter is going into a slushpile with all them. You've already got media attention, which will help, so make sure you emphasize that you've already done something awesome, which naturally leads to this book; you're not some random person, you've got media history and a book that has some buzz about it. You may not get two volumes with dust sleeves, but you're more likely to actually get a book produced, unless you find another way to raise $30,000.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:34 PM on January 14, 2013

Look at MagCloud which is an HP-run on-demand printing service that uses Indigo digital presses (actual ink) rather than toner. Output quality is markedly better than toner based crap. You can choose different bindings and paper weights. It won't be cheap-cheap, but it is not murderously expensive, either.

I don't know anything about their content platform, just their printing.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:10 PM on January 14, 2013

Definitely check with the Institute for Regional Studies. They publish a pretty decent number of books, though some of them may have more done with them layout and content-wise than others, and your book is right up their alley.
posted by librarylis at 9:01 AM on January 15, 2013

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