Do you have an idea for a photography book you’d like to publish but don’t know where to start? Photographers Kate T. Parker, Victoria Will and Stephanie Rausser share their first-hand accounts of how they navigated the challenging world of publishing, and saw each of their unique book ideas come to fruition. These women not only create inspiring photos, their photography books are works of art in themselves.
Along with advice from Kate, Victoria and Stephanie, we also share step-by-step tips on how to break into the world of publishing from experts Ashly Leonard Stohl, co-founder of Peanut Press, the publisher of Victoria Will’s first book, as well as William Callahan, a literary agent with Inkwell Management and Megan Nicolay, executive editor with Workman Publishing, the team that launched Kate’s hit first book, “Strong is the New Pretty,” which spawned a movement and a cottage publishing industry with a subsequent line including a calendar, a guided journal and more books to come.
1. Find the right outlets to share.
Find blogs and outlets that share a similar message to your project. There’s such a need for content online. Include a story and images in your initial email. Don’t be afraid to put your work out there, and don’t take a no as a final no. If you’re passionate about your project, someone else will be, too.
2. Use social media for research.
Use social media as a focus group to see how much people like something. Instagram is a great way to see what people think.
3. Be fresh and current.
We try to tap into something fresh and current, but our business model is to find books with longevity. Frankly, anything that’s in right now likely won’t be by the time a book comes out; books take 1 to 2 years to produce, proposal to finish.
4. Make sure a book is the right format for your work.
Before pursuing a book, ask yourself if a book is the right format. Would these photos be better consumed online or in a gallery?
Make sure you have a strong focus and a sense of the competition. We always like to see successful comp titles in a proposal, which shows potential. They don’t necessarily have to be in the same category, or even be photo books, especially if you’re thinking of reaching an audience beyond photography fans. It helps us imagine the audience reach your book will have.
6. Ask for help in editing.
It’s very hard to take an objective look at your own work, so have someone else edit. Go to photo review events. It’s a great way to get feedback and see if you click with someone — so much more personal than just making online submissions.
—Ashly Leonard Stohl
7. Pick the right publisher.
Choose a publisher who loves your work. It’s a personality match — you’ll talk all the time. You don’t want to dread communicating with your editor or be intimidated. And you can self-publish. It depends on your goal for the work. —Victoria Will
8. Do your research.
Go to bookstores to see what subjects get turned into books. One book phenomenon of the decade was Seth Casteel’s “Underwater Dogs” (Little, Brown and Co., 2012). I think it’s the pure model for attracting agents and publishers. When you approach them, include a sentence or two about what your work means to you to convey a sense of mission.
3 Photographers who got published… and how
Having earned book deals, three photographers share their powerful work with the world through the art of print. Read the back stories of how they made their book dreams come true.
Kate T. Parker went viral with her photos and stories of strong girls.
Kate T. Parker, an Atlanta commercial and fine-art photographer and the author of “Strong is the New Pretty” (Workman, 2017), didn’t intend to publish a book. She was just angry. The story of Kate’s journey to becoming a successful author is one of passion, timing, and a pitch-perfect, embraceable message.
It all started a couple of years ago when she was asked to contribute to an exhibition at a local gallery. They wanted a body of work that tells a story. Kate pored through her personal photos, which were primarily of her two daughters and their friends. “I hadn’t noticed a pattern until I selected 20 of the most compelling to me, and then I saw the story,” she says. “They were images of my girls and their friends being fierce and emotional. They weren’t smiling, and a lot of the time they were dirty and their hair was a wreck. They certainly didn’t have on cute outfits. A lot of the [girl] photography I see is just that: bows in their hair, smiling, wearing dresses. I didn’t want my girls to think that’s how they had to look to be accepted or to be beautiful. I wanted them to know they are special. I didn’t want them to change or lose that.”
None of the photos sold, and that made Kate mad. “I’d done all this work and gone to all this expense and, honestly, I thought there was something useful there, even if it wasn’t fully fleshed out yet.” So she wrote an email about being a mom who celebrates her daughters’ strengths, attached 10 images, and sent it to a few blogs. Several blogs published the images, and they caught the attention of CNN, NBC’s Today Show, Huffington Post, and BuzzFeed, among others. Kate’s images went viral.
Soon after, William Callahan, a literary agent with Inkwell Management, emailed. William advised Kate to take a few days to put together a book proposal. He then sent the proposal to publishers, and so many were interested that the book went to auction.
When Megan Nicolay, executive editor with Workman Publishing in New York, received the proposal, she couldn’t believe it. Megan had seen the images online and they had resonated with her. “I thought it was necessary and strong. I got excited about it. In our morning editorial meeting we’d been talking about it, and that afternoon the proposal landed in my inbox.”
When it began, Kate’s project was personal. She wanted to show her girls that in their messy haired, scraped-kneed glory, are exactly what girls should be. But her project resonated with many and this October Kate will publish “Strong is the New Pretty: A Guided Journal”. Next spring, Kate will publish a third book, this time for boys and in 2020 she’ll publish a book on courage.
You can find “Strong is the New Pretty” here.
Victoria Will wanted to create something tangible and unique.
Victoria Will also published her first book last year. Titled “Borne Back” (Peanut Press), the book is a collection of tintype portraits of celebrities she made a few years ago at Sundance Film Festival in Utah. Her project began not as a book but as the solution to a problem.
Victoria regularly shoots at Sundance for the Associated Press. Like other photographers, she’s given a small space every year in which to shoot, and her subjects run the gauntlet, going from one studio to the next to sit for photographers hired by magazines and media outfits. Every year Victoria would try something different to make her pictures unique, but, after a while, the experience was, she says, “starting to feel like “Groundhog Day” for me and I imagined it felt like that for the talent, too.”
Then she attended a photo festival where a photographer was making tintypes, and she fell in love with them. “I thought, if they can do this at a festival with similar time constraints, I could do this at Sundance.” Because she didn’t know the wet-plate process, she had to learn fast. She watched YouTube videos, read books, and talked to photographers known for tintypes. In 2014 she returned to Sundance armed with chemicals, assistants, and a Sinar view camera she adapted for wet plate.
“It was very well received, much more than I anticipated,” Victoria says. “The idea was to make 10 as an artistic project, but when we got there, everybody wanted one.”
The next year she took along a larger team and a Graflex 4×5 camera. Victoria created 150 tintypes, including portraits of, among others, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Robert Redford.
Ashly Leonard Stohl and David Carol, cofounders of Los Angeles-based boutique publishing house Peanut Press, contacted Victoria and suggested a book. Victoria gave them her wish list: a book that would be an art object in and of itself, small and intimate, like an actual tintype.
“For a photographer, your first book is the way a lot of people are introduced to your work. And unlike having your work in a gallery, you can get a book to anyone around the world. We always tell photographers to use the books as a calling card to send to galleries and potential clients. It’s how you present yourself, so it needs to be a finely crafted object,” says Ashly.
You can find Victoria’s book, “Borne Back,” here.
Stephanie Rausser was discovered through a personal project.
Sometimes a publisher wants to publish a type of book and looks for the ideal photographer to create it. That’s how Chris and Nina Gruener of Cameron Books, a boutique publishing house in Petaluma, California, and photographer Stephanie Rausser, who is based in the United States and in Bali, began their relationship. The Gruener’s wanted to publish a children’s book and were fans of Stephanie’s work. They kicked around some ideas, but when Stephanie showed them photos from a personal project called “Kiki and Coco in Paris,” they loved it.
At the time of the project, Stephanie was mourning the death of a dear friend, and she was craving creative freedom in her photography. “I was looking for a way to step away from commercial projects and be more creative,” she says, “and I wanted to spend time with my daughter.”
Stephanie’s idea was to take her beautiful, then 7-year-old daughter Cleo, whose nickname is Kiki, dress her in quirky clothes, and photograph her all around Paris wearing a monkey doll wrapped around her back. Finding the right clothes for the shoot was key, she says. “My photos are very styled. I’ve been collecting clothes and props for 15 years. Clothes can make a photo pop in magnificent ways.”
Nina Gruener wrote a story based on the photos but needed Stephanie to create three additional images to make her storyline work. By that time Cleo was too old to play the part, says Stephanie, “So we had to find a little girl who was Cleo’s age [at the time of the photos] and who looked like her.” They shot the extra photos in California, introduced a dog into the story, and voilà! The charming “Kiki & Coco in Paris” appeared in bookstores in November 2011.
Three years later in 2014 Stephanie, Nina and Jess published a second book, “ Lulu & Pip.” This time Nina wrote the story first and Stephanie photographed it using a different little girl and a doll Jess designed named Pip.