Blog / 2013 / How to Publish a Book of Your Art
August 6, 2013
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.
- Are you doing a catalog or a book?
- Who should write the introduction?
- How to interest the writer in your project?
- Do you lay out the book yourself or hire a designer?
- Should you self-publish openly or ask for venue sponsorship?
- Should you get an ISBN and barcode?
- Should you do print-on-demand or a run of the book?
- What printer to work with?
- How should you sell the book?
- Are you ready to promote, promote, promote!?
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.
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—you can go to the gallery for the series to get a better idea of what I’m talking about. My second publication was pure catalog for this collection, and my third fell squarely in the world of books. It has an expert introduction, but it’s also a narrative.
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 third 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.
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 their name to which artist’s work. That said, it’s always worth approaching a potential essayist since the worst they can do is reject the project. And, for best results, I suggest telling the writer how much you enjoy their 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, but I’ve been using Gumroad for a few months and I’m liking it so far.
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.
What’s more, books 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 of the show closed. It’s been featured on Hyperallergic, Apartment Therapy, Scientific American, and About.com among others, all after the show was over.
If you want to learn more about promoting your art, try my e-book on this topic!
Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!
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