Thursday, September 18, 2008

Serious Times; Serious Posts

My next few posts will be dedicated to addressing what I believe is important information about photo book publishing, my professional passion. I am now channeling my frustration over what I felt was thin advice in PDN’s September Book Issue into mini help sessions. Writing proposals is a darling topic of interest and a fine place to start.

Is it a Book?

I have read hundreds of book proposals. When I was an editor at Harper Collins, we received dozens of proposals every week. The vast majority were eliminated for the sole reason they were not books. In other words, the concepts were quickly identified as feature articles, public space exhibitions, photographs of a local event only of interest to that community, conceptual images suitable for calendars or greeting cards, grand schemes beyond financial reality, tabloid fodder or egoist attempts from the photographer you barely broke even on last season who now feels a showcase of their outtakes is in high demand.

To become a photo book, your proposal must have a clear premise and a driving force bigger than the initial concept. This must be expressed right away and here is how to do it effectively.

The book’s proposed title must easily translate into a category. The determination of category is critical to booksellers; they are the ones who decide where to place your book in the store. If you aren’t sure where your book belongs, neither will those who face these decisions daily.

The logline (subtitle or short description) is where to reveal the book’s driving force. Remember the title and logline presented are proposed. As presented they may never see the light of day. Still, the more expert help you seek in getting this part right, the better your chances. Title elements should stand out so sometimes creating a professional logo or branding element is helpful. Also, be aware that subtitles are often omitted from lists and bookseller order forms, but for proposal purposes, use a subtitle to strengthen your idea. Proposals rarely look anything like the finished product but we have to imagine that they could.

Consider the latest book from A Day in the Life veteran author/publisher David Cohen:
What Matters: The world’s preeminent photojournalists and thinkers depict essential issues of our time.
The main title is strong. The subtitle links the title's intrigue and **pow** announces who will be the book's receptive audience. If your proposal only consisted of a two part title (and you aren't David), would an influential person ask to hear and see more?

And then…the first photograph in the proposal must be brilliantly tied to the title and logline. Even though the entire book could, and oftentimes does, morph into something else, in my opinion it is these three elements (title, subtitle, first photograph) along with their independent and collectively unique energy that determines if your proposal will be considered or not.

Coming up: How turn your topic into a great photo book proposal.

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