Whether you have already published a photography book or plan to do so soon, one expert who can help you is Darius Himes. PDN magazine named him one of the fifteen most influential people in photography book publishing. He is a co-founder of Radius Books, a non-profit publisher of books on photography and the visual arts, and spent five years as editor of photo-eye Booklist, a quarterly magazine devoted to photography books.
For the past four years, Himes has been the lead Judge of Blurb’s Photography Book Now Competition. (The 2011 competition has a $25,000 grand prize sponsored by HP and an entry deadline of July 14.)
Earlier this year, Princeton Architectural Press released Publish Your Photography Book, which Darius Himes co-authored with Mary Virginia Swanson. After reading Publish Your Photography Book, I talked to Darius about the book, the competition, and the future of book publishing.
EF: How did the idea for your book on photography books originate?
DH: At the 2003 SPE (Society for Photographic Education) Conference, Mary Virginia and I outlined a series of columns that would address the topic of book publishing from conception through publication and marketing. That outline formed the basis for 12 columns we wrote for photo-eye Booklist until I left the magazine in 2007 and founded Radius Books. Using the columns as a guide, we developed a manuscript for a book that we pitched to Princeton Architectural Press.
Co-authors of "Publish Your Photography Book" Mary Virginia Swanson and Darius Himes.
EF: Had you ever published a book before?
DH: No. This was the first book-length work either of us had worked on.
EF: How did your involvement with the Photography Book Now competition start?
DH: About five years ago, Blurb founder Eileen Gittens came to me and we had a brainstorming session about a book contest. Out of that conversation was born the Photography Book Now competition. The competition seeks out and celebrates the best self-published photo books of our time. It’s open to entries from any kind of reproduction platform—it’s not just about print-on-demand books. It can be any type of self-published book.
EF: Over the four years of the competition, what changes have you seen in the quality and quantity of the entries?
DH: Each year, we’ve gotten more submissions than we ever expected. No other competition offers this kind of cash prizes for photographers.
We have an amazing line-up of judges drawn from the wide, wide world of photography: historian Gerry Badger, Chris Boot of Aperture, Matt Eich of LUCEO, photographer Larry Fink, Claudia Hinterseer of Noor Agency, photographer Henry Horenstein, Whitney Lawson of Travel+Leisure, Larissa Leclair of Indie Photobook Library, Jon Levy of Foto8, photographers Steve McCurry, Laura Brunow Miner, and Markus Schaden of Schaden.com. If you aren’t excited about showing your book to these folks, I’m not sure who you’re waiting for.
The judges will gather at the International Center of Photography in New York in mid-August to review the entries. It is up to the photographers and bookmakers to show us what they’ve got. We can’t wait!
EF: Let’s talk about your new book. One of the most helpful sections talks about whether it is better for a photographer “to be published” or to “self-publish.” Would it make sense for a photographer to self-publish a book first to discover all of the steps that would be involved in working with a third-party publisher?
DH: I don’t think it’s necessary to self-publish first. In the book, we don’t really answer the question of whether “to be published” or to “self publish.” Instead, we provide information that could help photographers think about which approach would be best for them. We really want to help photographers understand everything that goes into publishing, from developing a book concept to producing and marketing the book. It's important to remember there is no formula. For example, some photographers are simply interested in producing a book as an art object, and aren’t interested in creating a mass-market product. Other photographers have amazing subject-driven projects that might have broad appeal. In that case, working with a publishing company would be the right way to go.
It’s true that when you self-publish, you have ultimate control. But working with a publisher means that you are working with a team of experts who can provide insights and ideas you might not have considered.
EF: What do you think the rise of e-books will do to the market for printed photography books?
DH: Like everyone else, we’re all sitting back and watching to see what happens. E-books are exploding for publishing of the printed word. But an e-book is essentially a different kind of experience when it comes to illustrated books. Really, it’s just one more tool for photographers to use to get their work in front of more people.
For example, I have both the e-book and the hardbound book of Christopher Anderson’s monograph Capitolio (published by RM Editores). The e-book is like a mini-website contained in an application. You can watch a video, which is really interesting, but it’s not the same as the book. I am happy that there are both forms, but they are just different.
EF: In an age when photographers can easily display images electronically, do you think photographers will continue publishing hard-copy books?
DH: Absolutely. Books are far more accessible than exhibitions of important work. And while
photographs are now readily accessible online, one can return to physical books repeatedly and absorb the images and text at will—all that is required is a lap, some time, and some sunlight.
Books are conveyors of ideas, mementos of civilization, and harbingers of change. Books, as physical objects, are indispensable to our collective history. Reading a book on an e-reader or tablet can border on a technologically rapturous experience, but it still does not convey the sensuality of a beautifully printed art book.
EF: Congratulations on having produced such a thorough and insightful book. I really liked the way you included case studies and interviews from different photographers and publishers. It shows that while all photo books have some basic similarities, every publisher is different, just as every photographer is different.
DH: Thank you Eileen. We are witnessing and participating in an extremely rich moment in the history of photography. This moment is quite unparalleled; the resources and tools available for artistic expression and distribution are immense. The interest in the photographic book form has blossomed over the last decade due to a variety of factors.
For Private Consultations
If you want guidance about how to proceed with a specific book idea, Darius Himes and Mary Virginia Swanson offer one-on-one in-person or Skype consultations. They are currently accepting appointments for their visits to San Francisco on Sunday, July 31 and Monday, August 1. To schedule a consultation, visit: www.publishyourphotographybook.com
About the 2011 Photography Book Now Competition
In addition to possibly winning the $25,000 grand prize sponsored by HP or other prizes, entering the Photography Book Now competition enables you to have your work viewed by 12 top-name photographers, publishers, photo editors, curators, and photo agencies. The four categories are: fine art, documentary, travel, and student. Each category winner will receive a $5,000 prize from Adobe and have their books added to the permanent collections of the International Center of Photography, the Indie Book Library, and the George Eastman House. The winners will be honored at a gala celebration in New York. For details on entry fees and submission procedures, visit: http://photographybooknow.blurb.com/how to_enter.
About the Book
In their book Publish Your Photography Book, Darius D. Himes and Mary Virginia Swanson not only provide a history of photo book publishing and advice for working with publishers, but also nuts-and-bolts advice for creating any photo book—whether it’s self-published or through a publisher. You’ll learn how to develop, refine, and communicate a strong concept for your book, what to look for when reading a publishing contract, and how to work collaboratively with designers, prepress experts, and other team members. The appendix includes: a diagram of the anatomy of a photography book; timelines for design, production, and marketing activities; a worksheet for preparing for your book; and multiple resource lists.