So You Want to Write a Book?
Why do people write photo books? They do it to for three basic reasons: They do it to become famous, to help people, or become rich. The ratio of these three items depends on the writer. Unless you are very, very lucky—notice I didn’t sale talented—you won’t get rich writing a photo book. On the other hand you don’t need an agent to publish a how-to book and believe me finding an agent to accept you as a client is harder than finding a publisher for your first book.
Except for photographs made on the outer rings of Saturn, everybody has been almost everywhere and photographed just about everything. To publishers this means that who is making the photographs is more important than where. The chance of a publisher seriously looking at a unknown landscape photographer’s book featuring classic locations such as Arches National Park or Yosemite are slim and none but you’ll have a better shot of having your work showcased in a How-To book. The steps involved in getting a How-To book published are simple and straightforward:
Find the Acquisitions Editor. That’s easier than you think. Often it’s on the publisher’s website but don’t forget the old stand-by “Writer’s Market” that sells for less than $20 on Amazon.com. The book lists publishers by category and provides contact information, including how they prefer to be contacted. Writer’s Market includes smaller publishers who you might not be familiar with and who may be more open to unpublished writers and photographers.
Write a query letter or e-mail, whichever the publisher prefers. A query is a concise description of who you are, what the proposed book is about, and why you’re the ideal person to write it. That’s all. At this point, no photographs may be required but if you can direct them to an on-line portfolio they might look at it.
Be patient. If they didn’t like your idea you may never hear from them or get a polite form rejection letter. Don’t be discouraged. Twelve publishers rejected J.K. Rowling’s original Harry Potter book so how much do they know. If you’re idea is rejected, send the proposal/query to another publisher, then another. I sent dozens of queries to a one publisher who rejected them all. One day, the Acquisitions Editor called and asked why I stopped sending book proposals and I explained that they rejected everything I sent so why bother. She wanted more ideas and when I tossed an off-the-cuff idea and she said, “I’ll send you a contract tomorrow.” She did, I signed it, and ended up writing three books for them.
Be persistent. If the publisher likes your idea then they will ask for more information, photos, and may have a whole series of hoops for you to jump through mainly of a CYA nature for them. If you can meet with the publisher face-to-face at a trade show, it might close the deal. I put images from my proposed book “Joe Farace’s Glamour Photography” on an iPod Touch and showed them to a publisher’s representatives at Imaging USA and closed the deal there.
Follow through. When you sign the contact honor the terms. If they give you a deadline, make sure you meet it. That means you’ll have to work on the book every day in order to meet that deadline. If they give you technical specifications on how they want the image files and what form the text should be, follow them to the letter. Not everyone does, so if you make the publisher’s job easy they’ll want to work with you again in the future.
Working through a traditional publisher has its advantages, mostly being that you deliver the raw material; they turn it into a book, distribute it, and market it for you.
Joe is the author or co-author of forty-three books, including the forthcoming “Available Light Glamour Photography.”