Pitching an Art Book
July 11, 2006 2:27 PM   Subscribe

How do you pitch an art book?

My Hamline drawings have made the rounds on the internets, and the response to them has been positive. I'd like to take the project a step further, and publish something. Something much bigger. Something that will be much more work.

I've isolated a couple of publishers that I think would respond to this kind of project, but I don't know what I need to pitch this book. Do I need to have the whole thing already done, or can I include my Hamline drawings and say "it'll be like this, only much more of it", followed by a basic book plot? Does anyone have any experience pitching something that would pretty much just be a really big picture book for adults?

I'd basically like to get permission to start working on something, with a sort of a guarantee that after I'm done with it, it'll be published (if I do it well). I'd also like a little money.
posted by interrobang to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You need to get an agent first. Most trade publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. You might check the archives of Media Bistro to get an idea of which agents represent the kind of books you are pitching (or check the acknowledgements of books you emulate for an agent's name). Plus, you will likely get more money by having an agent negotiate the contract for you.
posted by mattbucher at 2:38 PM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Any advice on how to get an agent (what to send them, etc.) would also be greatly appreciated.
posted by interrobang at 3:35 PM on July 11, 2006

Best answer: It might help you to look at some agencies' websites to see what their submission policies are. This is a typical one: "Begin with a query letter describing your project, background, and credentials, which you may send by mail or e-mail. For this first contact, nothing should be enclosed with the letter; don’t send any sample material until we advise you that we’d like to see it."

Are the publishers you've targeted large or small? This guy has hunted down a lot of agents - it might be a little useful to you. Do you know anyone who has published a book like yours?
posted by mattbucher at 3:46 PM on July 11, 2006

Response by poster: No, I don't really know of any books that are like what I want to do. I guess the best thing to do is go to a bookstore and find stuff that's remotely similar, and get some names out of those.
posted by interrobang at 4:01 PM on July 11, 2006

To say you are "pitching an art book" is a little misleading: it's not a book about Picasso, Leonardo, Impressionists, Conceptualists, what-have-you: it's a book about your own art. As a rule, artists don't pitch books about their own work, and if they do they'd probably expect to pay for it themselves: whether you interpret it as vanity publishing or advertising/promotional material, there seems no good reason why someone else should lay out their cash to promote your drawings. Sorry if that seems blunt. Many of the art books you see about living artists, even about "major living artists", will in fact be sponsored directly or indirectly (via dealers, collectors) by the artists themselves. That's how it works.
posted by londongeezer at 4:50 PM on July 11, 2006

yeah, I tend to agree with londongeezer (disclaimer: I am an editor of art books at a museum, so the books I work on are published specifically in conjunction with exhibitions or -- less frequently -- our museum's permanent collection). The art book world has gotten quite tight in recent years, due in large part to the high cost of producing them (ink, printing, and paper costs all keep getting higher and higher, for example) relative to the (typically) low return. (The ever-expanding Taschen Books catalogue is the exception to this rule, but that's because Benedikt Taschen has money to burn.)

As I said, I work in a specific, small corner of the industry, so I can't state definitively, but it's honestly hard for me to imagine what an art publisher would feel is in it for them by publishing a book of these drawings on their own. This is not a comment on the quality of your work, by the way; its a comment on its appeal to a publisher sheerly from the point of view of cost and return. Have you exhibited these drawings elsewhere? Do you have gallery representation in general? What would the distribution market be for your book in terms of stores, galleries, etc.? Again, these questions are not in any way a criticism of your work (I like your drawings, personally), but rather to sketch broadly how a publisher would think of your work in terms of its commercial (rather than artistic) merits. Publishing an art book can cost tens of thousands of dollars for even a small run (which is why they can be so damn expensive to buy!). No publisher puts out that kind of money unless they believe they'll break even at a minimum.

All that being said, what about trying to arrange a gallery exhibition of the drawings? Maybe as part of the gallery exhibition, you could arrange for a small publication (think large brochure/small paperback monograph type thing produced through a local printer) through the gallery, perhaps by offering to split the cost. It's not as glamorous as "getting published" in the way I think you're thinking of (and no, you won't likely make any money), but it's probably more realistic.
posted by scody at 6:23 PM on July 11, 2006

Response by poster: I wasn't clear. I intend to make a series of drawing similar to those linked above, and to provide a non-sequential art narrative, not an exhibition of my work in book form. This would be like an illustrated novel, with many, many drawings. There would be a story.
posted by interrobang at 6:52 PM on July 11, 2006

Response by poster: It would count as fiction.
posted by interrobang at 6:55 PM on July 11, 2006

from an entirely uninformed perspective, it sounds like something that might be accomplished by working in conjunction with a gallery show and or museum exhibition - i've seen this sort of thing published as a monograph to accompany an artist's exhibition, and ostensibly bankrolled by the gallery/museum with the idea in mind that the books would be sold to the gallery-going public as mementos / mass-produced art pieces in and of themselves.
posted by ab3 at 7:32 PM on July 11, 2006

I dunno. "Art book" may be barking up the wrong tree. This sounds more like a kind of coffee-table concept book to me.
posted by furiousthought at 8:33 PM on July 11, 2006

That's what gets called a "chapbook." You're going to want to find a small-run publisher and plan on about 500 copies, rather than a huge publisher who will run thousands. It's going to be more like being in a band than being an author.
The first thing to do is to look around and see if anyone who has noticed you has connections in publishing, whether a magazine or small press. Consider doing a serial for an art magazine. To do that, you're probably looking at a pitch letter much like any other, though you should consult the editorial guidelines for pitches.
Past that, good luck to ya— a small print run and a website to promote it (maybe even a couple of appearances) is about what I'd hope for.
posted by klangklangston at 8:55 PM on July 11, 2006

Response by poster:
I dunno. "Art book" may be barking up the wrong tree. This sounds more like a kind of coffee-table concept book to me.

Yeah, halfway between that and a graphic novel.
posted by interrobang at 9:51 PM on July 11, 2006

how about using a service like lulu. you could then sell your book through your own website.

i believe you can even get listed on amazon through lulu. might be worth looking into anyway
posted by moochoo at 12:22 AM on July 12, 2006

Best answer: Talk to Fantagraphics or Slave Labor. Though Fantagraphics, despite its general excellence as far as what it prints, has a reputation for screwing people hard.
posted by klangklangston at 7:06 AM on July 12, 2006

Best answer: Though Fantagraphics, despite its general excellence as far as what it prints, has a reputation for screwing people hard.

Citiations please, or I call fanboy bullshit.

Back on topic - Interrobang, look for publishers who publish the same sorts of stuff as what you want to show them, and then find out the name of the commissioning editor. Send your project to them.
posted by ninthart at 7:46 AM on July 12, 2006

Bill Messner-Loebs came to a class of mine and warned against working for Fantagraphics, and Scott McCloud talked about being wary of their contracts. Fantagraphics, according to McCloud, is a much better place to work once you have a name established.
I do know that after Messner-Loebs talked to us, Fantagraphics has done some fundraising for him after he hit hard times, and I don't know if that's changed his mind. I also know that Dave Sim had a long-running dispute where he alledges that Fantagraphics screws creators, but that could just be Dave Sim being Dave Sim.
posted by klangklangston at 9:34 AM on July 12, 2006

Best answer: The thing is, publishing a book that is commercially viable is hard work. Book publishing has like no profit-margin. It requires a team of people who are committed to the content and to making money. If your #1 goal here is to make money, you will have to tailor your work to "commerical" standards and then promote yourself tirelessly to dozens or hundreds of people who will reject you. But, I'm not a hater that says it can't be done. It can. However, it requires some business savvy on the author's end, shameless self-promotion, and some degree of luck (and likely an agent). If your #1 goal is to get your work into the hands of more people, then you probably are better off going with a short-run digital printing financed by yourself (or your friends and family or rich uncle or whomever). I did this for my father, had his books printed up, and now you can buy them at Amazon.com and the Tattered Cover in Denver and he is thrilled. It's sad, but the authors most likely to be published are those who've already been published before--you need to break into the game, and having something already in print will really help. If you'd like I can recommend some printers and walk you through the process of publishing your own book. Good luck, interrobang. I think you are fine artist and I look forward to reading your book!
posted by mattbucher at 10:28 AM on July 12, 2006

off topic, but the drawings are cool - seeing them and hearing you describe the project reminded me of Sam's Bar: An American Landscape by Donald Barthelme and illustrated by Seymour Chwast. The book is cheap enough used that I feel pretty comfortable suggesting you grab a copy or check it out at the library (if you're not already familiar.) The project sounds cool - good luck!
posted by drobot at 4:59 PM on July 12, 2006

Response by poster: I'll check that out, drobot.
posted by interrobang at 6:53 AM on July 13, 2006

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