I’ve recently published my first photo book called Chasing Amsterdam, a collection of street photos that I took for a Dutch newspaper’s weekly ‘City Life’ column between 2020 and 2021. As I’ve learned much from this process I’d like to share my experience in 15 steps.
1. Why make a book?
There are so many photo books and I’d advise you to think about why this would be the best way to present your work.
To be honest, I never had a dream of making a photo book. I didn’t feel like my portfolio was ‘calling’ for it, until I started to take the weekly Amsterdam photographs for Het Parool newspaper. The individual photos would become stronger together and the series would cover a longer and peculiar period of time. A book seemed the most logical form for this body of work.
2. Working with a publisher or self-publish
This depends on your preference. Some publishers offer a full package deal where they handle the design, distribution and PR / marketing. It’s also possible to work with the publisher just for the distribution part. In most cases, publishers will ask you to collect the funding for printing (and design). You’ll receive a percentage of royalties from sold books, and probably an amount of copies to sell through the crowdfunding campaign.
As it will take a lot of work for the crowdfunding and production, you might consider to self-publish. That means finding a designer, printer, handling the distribution, shipping, marketing – basically everything. I chose for a combination: Ipso Facto, a publisher that consists out of a group of people who help photographers to self publish books. I was free in my creative and productional choices, but I could always turn to Ipso for valuable advise. They also connected me with a distribution company.
3. Team up with a designer
This is a very important step. Photographers work closely with designers, regarding the whole concept and look of the book, the sequencing and materials. For Chasing Amsterdam I teamed up with Sabine Verschueren, who has created several photo books, but has also great experience with magazines and newspapers. This combination was perfect as my series was based on a newspaper assignment.
4. Concretise the concept
In my case, I wanted to include my newspaper photographs, but also several stories from my photo hunts. Through Instagram Stories I was sharing how the weekly photo came into being – the places I went to, the choices I made, the discussions on the streets, the failures and the magic of coincidence.
The title Chasing Amsterdam came up soon and it seemed the perfect fit. Together with Sabine we discussed how to include these stories and I love how she came up with the small numbered photos, positioned playfully in spreads.
It’s good to take the time for sequencing your photos. I’ve printed the images and took them with me on holidays, placed them around my house and showed the selection to a limited group of people. Luckily, Sabine and I agreed soon on what photos to include.
6. Concretise the costs
Me and the designer had to decide on the book size, amount of pages, sort of paper, binding and cover material. Most designers can advise you about printers. I chose to work with Wilco Art Books, a bigger printing company in The Netherlands. Another important issue is to figure out how many books to print. Based on the info above, you’ll get an estimation of costs.
Once I knew more about the financial aspect, I started to think about funding. It’s best to take into account that it will turn out more pricy in the end.
7. Find funding
Most photographers turn to crowdfunding to cover the cost of printing and design. So did I. This process is tough and there are many things to think about. Figure out a realistic amount, what to offer to your contributors (book, prints, shoots). In most cases you’ll have to make a video to motivate people to support you. You have to calculate carefully how much it will cost you to produce the things you’re offering. Don’t forget the shipping costs! And you’ll have to think about the PR for this campaign. People need to hear about it, but you don’t want to be stalking them.
I’ve done my campaign with Dutch platform Voordekunst and they were very helpful during the whole process. Furthermore, I’ve applied for a fund for journalistic projects in The Netherlands, Fonds Bijzondere Journalistieke Projecten. I’m very happy that it was granted.
8. Preparation for production & lithography
Once the funding is covered, the process becomes more tangible. Me and the designer finalised the sequencing and overall design of the book. We asked for a colour proof from the printer and got in touch with the lithographer. This is a super important element as the lithographer will make sure you pictures look good on your chosen paper. We also asked for several proofs of the cover material with the photographs on it.
9. Check, check, double check
In the meantime the texts had to be checked for spelling and mistakes. For this step, it’s best to ask people who are not involved in the process because they can take a fresh look. The book was checked for many rounds.
After a lot of back and forth emailing it was time to give the final go for printing. How exciting! Me, the designer and lithographer were present during the full printing process. This is the last opportunity to make colour corrections.
The book binding can be done at another company. I chose to keep it all at Wilco Art Books. At times it’s possible to oversee this process as well. After a few weeks I came to Wilco to sign the books before they were sealed. Finally I got to see the book!
This part is usually handled by the publisher. If you self-publish you need to figure out where to store hundreds of copies. A part of my books was sent to a central distribution point for the (online) book shops. The rest I stored somewhere else, like in my living room. There’s also the option of paid storage and fulfilment.
12. Selling method
I’ve created a buy button on my website with an online webshop template. This makes it easy for people to order a book. For each sale I receive an email with details. A part of the copies was sold during the crowdfunding and I chose to add a pre-order option when the book was still in production.
13. Marketing & PR
If you are doing this by yourself it means writing a press release and creating a collection of press photos. Figure out what kind of audience to address and then approach the media companies. Some media might also contact you when they hear about your book. I got extra funding for a billboard exhibition in Amsterdam. The photos popped up in the city and people could encounter the scenes like I did with my camera.
14. Shipping and distribution
My distribution company Ef & Ef Media took a preview of the book to fairs and made sure for book shops to buy their copies. If you are self-publishing, you can approach book shops directly and make a deal with them.
For the shipping, it’s helpful to figure out a system for printing shipping labels. It makes the process faster. Then it’s a matter of cycling back and forth to the post office, where they’ll know you by name after a while.
15. Take the time to enjoy
Has it scared you off yet? It is quite a process, but in the end it’s valuable to take a step back and enjoy the fact that you’ve actually produced the book. It’s great to get reactions from people who are receiving their all over the world, have conversations about it, maybe do talks and have this great object with your work in it. When possible, do a book launch to celebrate it. Wohoo, you did it!
Big thanks to everyone who helped me during the production of this book.
© All the pictures in this post are copyrighted. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.