Two of the most well known names in photography book publishing and promotion have joined their considerable forces in a new book about publishing photography, called simply enough, Publish Your Photography Book. In their brief introduction, Darius Himes & Mary Virginia Swanson clearly outline the text with their stated aim: "to crack open the door to the publishing world and lead the reader through an exploration of this rich sphere." In short, they expose what it takes to be entrepreneurial in selling your book idea to a publisher and then in bringing your work to the broadest possible audience.
This is not necessarily a book to read cover-to-cover (although anyone who does read it sequentially will feel like they have gotten an education on the ins and outs of the publishing world), but is a reference book to keep close at hand and to dip into periodically as one needs, whether noodling with the first glimmer of a book concept and wondering where to start or looking to refresh your stale marketing ideas. While the focus of the book is on photography, much of what is written applies to the larger world of art book publishing.
As a curator and librarian, my question before I opened this book was and remains now, is the explosion in publishing activity necessarily a good thing? What makes a good photography book? Are we sacrificing quality for quantity? As the authors rightly point out: "the bald statement 'I want a book of my photographs' is on the lips of nearly every photographer; but only a few of them have more than a tentative grasp of the component parts of a book, an understanding of what they want to express and how they want to express it, or why this body of work needs to be seen in book form as opposed to on the gallery wall or in a magazine." While unabashedly promoting photography in book form, the authors do subtly answer my question. They also let other experts in the field of photography and publishing give their take on what makes a good photography book in quotations strategically placed throughout the book and in the Industry Voices section included in each chapter. The Case Studies in chapter 5 provide personal, in-depth antidotes about the experiences of several published photographers, with wonderful books, prompted by insightfully directed questions by the two authors.
Another nice feature of this book is that sprinkled throughout the text are titles and pictures of books and of pages from books that have been published during the last 10 to 15 years, along with the publisher and date of publication. This forms a rather nice list of the books that the authors feel are important, i.e. "good," and could well form a compelling bibliography of books to add to your personal collection -- if you don't already own them. Chances are if you are reading this review, you are interested in publishing your own book, or in collecting books.
The discerning reader will also amass a list of names in the current photography publishing industry to contact concerning potential projects. Before rushing to the computer, one caveat; do your homework and make sure your wild ideas "fit into the overall publishing program from a creative and editorial standpoint." Look at websites: Appendix II is a good place to begin your research with its long list of international publishers. Next go to the nearest public library, find independent bookstores, museum stores, galleries; go anywhere where you can sit down with a book (no coffee, please) to discover what you don't like as much as what you find attractive.
Himes & Swanson take their own advice and the recommendations of other experts in the business. Publish Your Photography Book is as beautiful as it is informative. Kudos to designers David Chickey and Masumi Shibata for producing a book about publishing that feels good to hold in your hands and turn the pages. It's as easy to start at the back of the book with the useful Resources, Appendices, and Worksheets, as it is to begin at the beginning. This is a good book.
—Mary Anne Redding