Monday, September 15, 2008

We Don't Get Fooled Again

PDN's "The Book Issue" arrived last week with headlines promising to bring insights into the mysterious world of photo book publishing. From Perfect Book Proposals to 7 Rules for making a book you can be proud to show and to revealing 15 of the Most Influential names in the biz, readers were eager to plunge into articles that would crack the code for landing coffeetable book mega deals.

For unpublished photographers there couldn’t have been even the remotest “Ah Ha” moment while reading Edgar Allen Beem’s seven steps piece:

1. Have excellent scans
2. Hire a designer
3. Get a sample of the paper from the printer
4. Go on press
5. Be ready to give control of the cover to the publisher
6. Don’t submit photos you don’t want published
7. Don’t get into a shouting match or “throw attitude.” (I note for this final tip, Beem allots only two sentences and it seems to be the most critical of all.)

Jessica Gordon admits in the short opening of her article on the perfect pitch that “…there’s no exact recipe” for a proposal. From there, she writes carefully about three impressive projects but none of which are surprising in terms of being published. We hear more of the same: landing a deal is less about the proposal and more about the notability of the photographer, personal connections, imagery excellence and marketplace value of the subject matter.

Next we get to the Influentials. While the cover promises this will be people—hey, maybe people we can actually talk with or find through our LinkedIn Network—unfortunately, when we reach the article, the inside headline now includes organizations along with people, and they “shaping” photography book publishing. Well, that certainly opens the topic to a few extra signatures. So our people list now mentions a cool bookstore owner in Colone, a few foreign indie publishing houses, the publisher at Aperture who used to be an editor and probably doesn’t take calls from us anymore, an award-winning London designer and so on. It is interesting that not one literary agent makes the list, that Amazon does (huh?), and “Photographers Who Self-Publish” manages to squeeze in (let’s note there are many companies in this category with ads in the issue). Actually, I think PDN writers think Martin Parr is the most influential person because he is mentioned like fifteen times in this article!

The issue’s most helpful bit of information is found in Holly Hughes’ editor letter: “Photo book publishing is full of paradoxes.” PDN’s online story, “Marketing Moves that Sell Books” by Kelly Ebbels is leaps better because here is the heart of the entire matter.

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