Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

How to publish a book of your art

2013 . 08 . 06 - Comments / Commentaires (12)

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Printing a catalog or an art book is definitely a lot of work, but it’s not actually that difficult. What’s more, it’s well worth the effort.  Here are ten questions to consider as you start on the project:

1. Are you doing a catalog or a book?

A catalog is a souvenir of an exhibition or of a body of work. It includes images of the work, an artist statement, and an introduction by a curator or other art expert that places your art in a wider context. A book, on the other hand, has a narrative flow of some kind and it probably includes more writing than a catalog.

Apple Pie

My first book was a little bit more than a catalog since it included statements written by the subjects of the portraits along with my artist statement—a sample spread is pictured above, or you can go here to get a better idea of what I’m talking about. My second publication was pure catalog for this series, and my third fell squarely in the world of books. It has an expert introduction, but it’s also a narrative. To browse through that book online, go here.

2. Who should write the introduction?

Art historians, critics, and curators are not your only options. You might also consider finding an expert in a field relating to the subject matter of your art. 

For example, my most recent book was art about science, so I approached an evolutionary biologist to do the foreword for the book. This particular scientist is an important figure in her discipline, giving me and the biology I was presenting with my art a lot of credibility.

3. How to interest the writer in your project?

This question is about two things: your art’s desirability as a subject and the fee you’re offering. 

That first aspect is impossible to address in this forum. After all, it’s hard to know which writer would be willing to lend her-his name to which artist’s work.  That said, it’s always worth approaching a potential essayist since the worst she-he can do is reject the project. And, for best results, I suggest telling the writer how much you enjoy her-his work and then asking for a recommendation for another writer who might be a good fit for your project. This way the potential essayist can deflect your inquiry very politely or take on your project without your request being so stressful.

As for the second part of this question, the standard fee for this sort of work is a dollar per word—as explained to me by the director of a regional museum in 2009. I’ve paid less and I’ve paid more, but it’s good to know where the average is.

4. Do you lay out the book yourself or hire a designer?

A designer is an extra expense, but, if you don’t know anything about layout or the software you’ll need to do it, a designer may be the way to go.

I’ve put together all my books myself, and I’ve found that to be very rewarding, but I also do my own website so I have some experience. In doing design work, I discovered that other people’s art books were my best friends. I got most of my hints about the conventions of catalogs from looking at a bunch of them. 


And now and again, I was pleased with my own inventiveness, as in this case with the first page of the Subjective catalog, shown above. The series was a collaboration with Becca Bernstein, so I thought it would be neat to highlight how Becca and I worked on different supports for the series.

5. Should you self-publish openly or ask for venue sponsorship?

You can publish the book entirely on your own without a publisher or you could ask a venue to back your work. If you’re represented by a gallery, it might be necessary to involve your art dealer and it could be beneficial to sales. But even if you don’t have an ongoing relationship with a venue, it may be willing to claim credit for publishing your book.

I usually self-publish openly. For the most part, I feel that the self-publishing stigma can be avoided without asking for an institution’s help. Instead, I focus on making awesome work and I have a reputable writer introduce it.

6. Should you get an ISBN and barcode?

The International Standard Book Number is a unique numeric commercial book identifier that, along with a barcode, will allow your book to be sold in stores more easily. When I last looked, they were available for $55 online, so it seemed silly not to get them. They are part of the complete book package to my mind, and they help make you look like you mean business.

7. Should you do print-on-demand or a run of the book?

Print-on-demand means you spend less money up front and make less profit on each book. A run means you need a large chunk of money at the beginning to pay the printer, but you have more control over quality and you also have the opportunities that come with having copies of the book on hand.

8. What printer to work with?

Once you’re assured of the quality you’ll be getting, mostly this is an accessibility question, as in: who do you have closest to you? That will be important since you will be proofing your book several times before the run happens, making several trips to the printer.  And then there’s also the issue of time frame. A good question to ask a potential printer is: how long do you take from file delivery to finished product?

I’ve used four different printers over the years and interviewed many more, but for quality, service, and price I was most satisfied with my local FedEx store on NW 23rd in Portland, which I used for my most recent run of Crime Against Nature. They don’t print in-house, so there’s a certain turnaround time for proofing: instead of the usual two weeks from file delivery to finished product, it was closer to two months all told. That said, the quality was high, the service was excellent, and the price was close to half of what it was elsewhere.

9. How should you sell the book?

There are so many ways to get your book out there. Local bookstores may be interested and even your alma mater’s store too, but the Internet is probably the best way to go. 

And along those lines, I know that Amazon seems like the Mecca of online book selling, but my experience with that company was less than optimal. Lost books (which were paid for eventually), an overly complicated process, customer service that was lacking, and a seller’s membership fee were all part of my unpleasant experience, and I’m not sure that the visibility that Amazon provided in return was worth it. I encourage you to do a lot of research before signing up with that company.

I’ve done much better by selling through my own site with an e-commerce service—someone who processes credit card information for me. The first one I used wasn’t a good fit for me for several reasons, but I’ve been using Gumroad for a few months and I’m liking it so far.

10. Are you ready to promote, promote, promote!?

When you publish your art in this format, it’s presented in a neat package and as something of a novelty in a world where most contemporary art is seen digitally. Books allow people who love your art but can’t afford originals to support you, and they make great gifts to potential clients.

Crime Against Nature

What’s more, books especially are an invaluable marketing tool. Since my most recent publication, Crime Against Nature, was a stand-alone piece instead of simply a catalog, I’ve been able to continue promoting it long after the Portland exhibition closed. It’s been featured on Hyperallergic, Apartment Therapy, Scientific American, and About.com among others, all after the show was over. To learn more about how to write a press release for your art, go here.

- An art marketing book as an artist would write it
- What publishing a free e-book does to sales of the book
- To print or not to print

CATEGORIES: - English - Apple Pie - Business of art - Crime - Reviews - Subjective -

Gwenn Seemel on Liberapay     Gwenn Seemel on Patreon

(12) Comments / Commentaires: How to publish a book of your art

-- Kim Stubbs -- 2014 . 02 . 21 --

Great read, and is so informative. Thanks for all your advice and especially for being you!

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 02 . 21 --

Thank you so much, Kim!

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-- Geena -- 2016 . 02 . 03 --

Thank you so much for this great advice, with links, details, and your own experience! Love your work, too! :D

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-- Gwenn -- 2016 . 02 . 06 --

I’m glad it was helpful, Geena! And thank you for your kind words!

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-- nunya dyez -- 2017 . 07 . 21 --

I still don really get it—I mean…. I just want an address to send my stuff to—-somewhere where they can publish it for free….....you are nice but this computer is hard for me——I’d rather send things by mail

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-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 07 . 22 --

You want people to publish your book for free, Nunya? If that’s the case, I can’t offer any help.

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-- Janine -- 2017 . 11 . 11 --

Thanks for the info. I am looking into making a adult coloring book from my drawings. I am going to investigate all different avenues.

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-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 11 . 11 --

You’re welcome, Janine! Best of luck!

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-- Edwina @WINONA, INC -- 2018 . 02 . 27 --

Finally! Useful information. I’m in the process of self-publishing my first art book and just ran across your page. It’s going to cost me a small fortune, but I’ve got my heart set on this now and I can’t turn back. I’m using Bookbaby, who produced a bee-you-tee-ful copy/proof. Selling 500 copies is the goal. Seeking more ideas of how to achieve that.

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-- Gwenn -- 2018 . 03 . 05 --

I’m glad the article is helpful, Edwina! Best of luck!

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-- rebecca -- 2018 . 04 . 17 --

How much would it cost to do a small run of an art book?high quality -maybe a hundred copies?
I just want an estimate. It doesn’t have to be accurate. I just need to know if 4,00 is realistic or would 10,000 be more accurate?

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-- Gwenn -- 2018 . 04 . 17 --

There are so many factors that would have an effect on the number, Rebecca, but it’s probably closer to $1000 or $1500.

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