Getting a Photo Book Published: From Capturing To Curating and Costs

To have a publisher wanting to produce a book of your work is a dream many photographers have. But where do you start? What costs are involved? And is it really worth doing in the first place?

I never get tired of making hard copies of my work. There's something hugely rewarding about the process that still beats the digital spaces we find most of our images existing in these days. The photo book is one of those rewarding mediums that can be a useful marketing tool or a lucrative stepping stone to other interesting opportunities. This week, photographers Kyle McDougall and Kyler Zeleny delve deep into this very subject as they discuss everything from publishers, to costs, to editing a photo book. Zeleny is no stranger to the photo book world, having already produced four books while McDougall is just about to dip his toe into the waters. This makes for a great conversation, as many of the questions you'd expect to be asked are explored.

The video is a long one at well over an hour, but the time investment is well worth it. For those who may need to digest the content in smaller chunks, McDougall has very kindly provided timestamps detailing all the important areas covered:

  • 0:00:00: Intro
  • 0:02:15: Finding direction and ideas
  • 0:07:19: The importance of failure
  • 0:08:33: Patience and process
  • 0:11:58: Guidelines and framework for projects
  • 0:15:30: Knowing when a project is finished
  • 0:18:10: Story versus poetry
  • 0:22:06: What do you do once the work is shot?
  • 0:24:10: Learning how to curate and sequence
  • 0:26:30: How many images do I need?
  • 0:30:15: The importance of variety
  • 0:32:31: Social media and creating "loud" images
  • 0:34:38: Finding a publisher
  • 0:40:11: Adding creative elements to a book
  • 0:44:44: Finding inspiration in other photo books
  • 0:49:23: How much does making a book cost?
  • 0:51:52: Kyler’s costs and profits with "Crown Ditch"
  • 01:03:29: Should you make a photo book?
  • 01:08:45: Close

I really did enjoy the whole video and was left with much better insight into the good, the bad, and the ugly side of the bookmaking process. It was interesting to learn about the true cost of making a book and hearing about ways to stand out to publishers. The video ends with Zeleny talking about the fact that not every project should become a book. This will be a hard pill for some of you to swallow, but it is an important point to make. This is especially true when so much time and money can be involved in the process. For those who don't really have a desire to make a photobook, this video is still worth a watch, as the universal concepts of making a body of work are lessons we can all learn from.

Paul Parker's picture

Paul Parker is a commercial and fine art photographer. On the rare occasion he's not doing photography he loves being outdoors, people watching, and writing awkward "About Me" statements on websites...

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I wish Fstoppers could allow readers to give a thumbs up for good articles instead of commenting...but anyway great article! Nice write up to compliment a video. Thanks!

I create small photobooks through lulu dot com. I prefer them over blurb. It's fun and they make great gifts. It doesn't have to be a big production either.

A very honest commentary. Good to see the rose-tinted glasses removed.

Books are in a classic 'long tail' market - 1% of authors make 99% of the money - but it is possible to carve out a decent slice from the thinner tail.

He mentions a 500 copy print run - that was a mistake. You need to do 10x that many to have a chance of making any money and that's another ball game entirely. I have done 15 books so far and have never done less than 6000, some over 20,000. They have all made a profit, including factoring in time taken to shoot the work, but not so much that I can sit back and bask in the glory. But it's a long slog and you actually need a real publisher behind you - like Thames and Hudson, Phaidon, Taschen, TeNeues etc. to have any chance of making books into a business proposition.

As marketing aides however, self published books can be great. Just treat the cost as a marketing expense.