Photographers who publish a book need to market it. That’s true whether you decide to self-publish your book—acting as your own distribution and marketing team—or work with a book publisher. Many publishing contracts stipulate that the photographer has to purchase a certain number of copies, which means that unless you can actively promote your book, you’re likely to end up with a few hundred copies piled in your garage. Having a marketing plan is helpful in other ways: Book editors are more likely to publish a photobook if the photographer understands the potential audience for the book and can organize gallery shows, book signings or other events that will attract buyers.
A number of veterans of the book publishing business—including many photographers who have self-published books successfully—have shared their advice on how to effectively distribute and market photo books. The articles listed here are available at PDNOnline.com to subscribers.
PDN surveyed buyers for five independent bookstores around the country—including stores that specialize in art and photography books, and some with large and respected photography sections. They explain the many factors that influence what they stock and how they display books within their stores. These include the idiosyncrasies of their customer base, the reputation of the photographer, positive reviews, gift appeal and even the color of the book’s cover. Bob Contant, co-owner of New York’s St. Mark’s Bookshop, describes the books that have turned into perennial favorites, while Cathy Langer, buyer at Tattered Cover in Seattle, names some unexpected bestsellers that she wishes she’d purchased in higher volume.
Fine artists like Lauren Henkin have found that turning bodies of work into hand-crafted artist’s books has helped them expand the audience for their work by reaching a new base of collectors. “Producing handmade books gives photographers the ability to quickly build and extend their audience beyond the photographic community—to university libraries and rare book and art collectors interested in handmade objects. It can also increase a photographer’s exhibition opportunities,” Henkin writes. In this article, she explains the steps she took to publicize and distribute her book, Displaced, through book festivals and portfolio reviews.
Photographers are hiring publicists to perform the tasks that small book publishers or photo galleries don’t have the staff or time to handle. “I’m often working with photographers who are working with smaller publishers,” says publicist Kate Greenberg. At independent publishing houses, Greenberg notes, “There isn’t a whole machine in place” to manage all contact with the press. To meet publications’ deadlines, publicists expect photographers to supply photos and captions as soon as possible, and then make themselves available for interviews. Photographer Janelle Lynch says working with a publicist helped generate “significantly more online press and announcements,” and adds, “I think that anything in that regard has a potential to help promote not just a book, but a career.”
Photographers who want to save money on their publicity campaigns can often find freelance publicists willing to work on an hourly basis just to brainstorm ideas for organizing newsworthy events or to think of some publications to contact. But for those photographers willing to put considerable time, effort and energy into running a publicity campaign on their own, PDN asked professional publicists for suggestions on how to research press contacts, plan a calendar, write a press release and follow up with contacts.
How many books will you need to sell? That may depend on the deal you are able to negotiate with the publisher, as well as the size of your print run. Take a look at the arrangements photographers have made in the last two years with their book publishers, and see how many required that the photographers purchase between 30 and 400 copies of the book.