Monday, October 8, 2007
Book Smart - Creating Your Own Photo Book
The process of landing a book deal is a combination of hard work, critical evaluation and no small amount of luck
What are the keys to a successful proposal? It varies from publisher to publisher and even from editor to editor. Most prefer a concise book description with a selection of photos. These can be in a book mock-up or a simple presentation folder. Good editing of photos is vital. Take the advice of Jay Maisel: “If you're not your own severest critic, you're your own worst enemy.”
I like to show my proposals to colleagues and analyze the reactions they have to my images—which images they pause to look at and which ones they pass right over. The one thing you don't want to do is receive a comment such as that by American satirist Ambrose Bierce: “The covers of this book are too far apart.”
Make sure that your book proposal is designed and packaged in a way that adds to, rather than distracts from, the work. It's much better to hire a designer to do a basic clean layout of your concept than for you to play with every button in a design software program. Steve Mockus of Chronicle Books, the editor of my newest book Inside North Korea, warns against overproducing a proposal. A great idea will come through in a clean presentation and a very produced presentation may be an indicator of a potential wall the editors will run up against when they bring in their design team.
I keep an active involvement in the design of my books, but I've gained immensely from the expertise of the designers and editors with whom I've worked. They know what they're doing, and most are open to suggestions. For Inside North Korea, for example, the designer whom Chronicle Books brought in wanted to crop a horizontal shot I did of the Arirang Mass Games rather than use a shot of North Koreans bowing to a statue of Kim Il Sung, which I had suggested. Three covers were mocked up and shown to an assembled editorial and sales group. The designer's idea was chosen. It did make a better cover. I then suggested that we use the bowing shot on the back of the book, which we did. Just as a director works with world-class film editors, we photographers need to be open to the expertise of others. Yes, it's our book with our name on the cover, but publishers and their staff are putting a lot of time, effort and money into anything they green-light.