Himes & Swanson – Publish Your Photography Book

Copyright Darius Himes & Mary Virginia Swanson 2011 courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

I had started to acquire the quarterly photo-eye Booklist (no longer in publication) founded and edited by Darius Himes after he and Mary Virginia Swanson were already well into their series of articles regarding the ins and outs of publishing a photobook. The back articles were not available on-line, thus I thought I had lost the opportunity to gain some potential insights into the world of photobook publishing. But as it turns out, I needed only a little patience, as Himes and Swanson have just published their collective and expanded photobook publishing narrative, Publish Your Photography Book, aka PYPB (and they have taken their own advice to set up a book specific website for their publication, here).

In the years since their articles were initially published in photo-eye Booklist, Swanson has continued her role as a creative consultant while Himes has subsequently moved on to the role of Acquisition Editor for Radius Books and is working for the Blurb organization in judging their annual photobook competition, expanding his experience with regard to the full gamut of photobook publishing. Together Swanson and Himes provide a broad  background and informed perspective to this how-to book, which is nicely augmented with the inclusion of stories, the voice of other photobook industry experts and published photographers.

They collectively give a sophisticated voice to this how-to book, which provides a wonderful overview of the photobook publishing world, demystifying many of the photobook publishing processes.  The book’s chapters include a historical recap of photobook publishing, basics on publishing, the process of publishing, what do you do with all of the books that were printed (Promotion, Sales & Marketing), case studies by published photographers, and finally a list of publishing resources (I really love this section, as this blog, The PhotoBook is included in their list of photobook resources, Thanks!) This book does lack an index and a definition of terms (e.g. such that marquette is a French word for mock-up, or “book dummy”), thus if using this as a developmental workbook, you will probably find your self dog-earing the page corners and writing notes in the margins.

I believe that they provide sage advice, especially as to determining what you want to accomplish with a photobook, otherwise as the Cheshire cat admonished; any road will do. Think of it as photobook pre-visualization; what is your vision for a photobook, why do you want a photobook of your work, how does it look, how does it feel, how would a viewer experience it? If you can succinctly answer these and the many other questions that Himes and Swanson pose, it will immensely benefit both you and your subsequent photobook.

They provides some interesting pros and cons regarding the self publising versus working with an established publisher and having  self published via print on demand (POD) three projects and one how-to book, I would have still continued down this same POD path for essentially the same reasons they provide for self-publishing. In retrospect, if I had read their book much earlier, I might have obtained the idea that one book that I was about to deleted off of Blurb could be treated as a book dummy for discussion with other publishers. Although this book is now technically “out of print” (edition of three), the photographs and design still reside on my desktop Blurb design folder and I could be easily bring it back to life again. hmmmm. Likewise, my own publishing experience for Douglas Stockdale Ciociaria, which is in the book design stage with the publisher Edizioni Punctum, has essencially followed the sequence of steps to date outlined in their book for working with a smaller photobook publisher.

 I also found the case studies that Himes and Swanson provide to be fascinating and equally informative, as these narratives provide some very personal experiences.  I obtain another dimensionality since I have reviewed a couple of these photobooks that the photograhers discuss, Paula Mccartney’s Bird Watching and David Maisel’s Libary of Dust as well as John Gossage’s The Pond, a book review that I have in progress.

They do not propose to answer all of the questions to publishing a photobook, as the reasons for a publishing photobook are almost as varied as the options. But they do want the reader to understand the underlying processes in order to make intelligent and informed decisions such that the enjoyment and success quota will be greatly increased upon publication. There probably is no greater frustration to spend the extensive time and resources only to determine the resulting books need to hide in the back of the garage for all eternity.

I recommend that for a photographer who is interested in publishing a photobook, either self published or with a publisher, this is a must read. Likewise, I think even an experienced author will find some new nuggents of informational gold in these pages, as even one small idea can be a wellspring of inspiration.

Best regards, Doug

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