Hints 'n' Tips | Visual Arts

Getting Into Art Books

If you want your art to reach a national or international audience, placing it in an art book may be helpful. But which books? Should you publish your own? And how do you get the attention of editors and publishers? That’s what I’ll cover in this column, along with some advice on how to avoid publications of lesser quality.

Which books do you want to be in?
“Hey, I’m just starting out; any book sounds good to me,” you may think. Even if you’re still in the cocoon stage of “emerging,” you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches by doing your homework carefully.

Rebecca Livermore, an accomplished landscape painter, learned this lesson the hard way. She saw a call-for-entry notice in the newsletter of a local arts organization and decided to give it a try. She sent images to the publisher as requested, expecting a response within two months as they promised. Notification that her work had been accepted arrived about 18 months later. But that was only the beginning of her problems with this publisher.

The book was published shortly after she received her notice, says Livermore, “but when I received my copy of the book, I found it was poorly reproduced.” Even worse, her work had been attributed to another artist!

The publisher received so many complaints they eventually republished the book. “My name was in it,” says Livermore, “but the images were still poorly reproduced.”

What would she have done differently? “I should have gone to a store and looked at their book [before submitting my material],” says Livermore. “Or, I might submit only to publications that artists I know have worked with. It can turn into a lot of work with very little reward.”

On a more positive note, Livermore’s work was included in the book Painters of the Wasatch Mountains, published a few years ago by the Utah Museum of Art and History. “I knew them and was sure they’d do a good job. I’ve had many people say, ‘hey, saw your work [in the book]…congratulations!’”

How do you get the attention of editors and publishers?
While researching this article, I followed Livermore’s advice and headed to the art section of my nearest bookstore. Scanning the book spines, I noticed that about 80 percent of the books on the shelves are published by North Light Books. If you’re a watercolorist, you may be familiar with North Light’s Splash series, which features the “best of” contemporary watercolor.

While many of the artists represented in the books are names you might recognize, others are less well known. I wondered how they got into these books. I called North Light to find out. North Light’s managing editor for books, Pam Wissman, told me that Splash, their most successful ‘best of’ series, is published every other year. The tenth in the series is in production. They will call for entries for #11 soon. “We promote our call for entries in a number of ways,” explains Wissman. “We’ll list it in Artist Magazine and in mailings to the North Light Book Club, and we’ll send it to our database of artists who have entered previously.”

Wissman says North Light has also published other “best of” books on drawing, painting flowers, portraits, and wildlife. No decision has been made to continue those series; none has been as popular as the books on watercolor.

Though North Light does not accept unsolicited artwork, they do accept unsolicited book proposals. So if you have a book idea, create a proposal and send it to the address on North Light’s web site: www.artistsnetwork.com. Authors and editors, unless they are focusing exclusively on their own work, may also find their own artist contributors. If your own art professor, instructor, or studio mate decides to propose a book, let them know you’d like to be included.

Utah painter Laurel Hart was “discovered” by North Light through her prize-winning entries in regional and national shows. “I had a painting in the Watercolor West Annual exhibit that caught the eye of an editor at North Light Books, Jamie Markle,” explains Hart. “Initially, he sent a letter to me mentioning he’d seen the painting and asking if I would like to consider writing a book for North Light. I was supposed to put together a proposal on an idea that I might like to write about and send them 50 or so slides of other paintings I had done. So I put together the proposal and mailed it to them and I received a response back within a few months saying they liked the proposal but it didn’t fit in with the line up of books they had scheduled for the upcoming year. However Jamie asked if he could keep the proposal on file because he felt confident they would want to publish it in the future.”

Hart thought that was just a polite way of saying “No thanks.” But about a year later she received a phone call from Jamie Markle saying they were ready to do the book. But, instead of the project Hart had proposed, they wanted a book about painting people. “They sent me a book called ‘How to Write a North Light Book,’ which outlined everything I was supposed to do,” says Hart. “I was assigned an editor who was wonderful to work with and who held my hand through the whole interesting process.”

Approximately two years later, Hart’s book, Putting People in Your Paintings, was published. Having your name on the spine of a book opens other doors, too. Hart’s book “spawned an offer to write an article for Watercolor Magic, which I did at the same time I was working on the book.”

Hart’s advice to those who would like to get into books: “Get your work out there on a national level where it has a chance of being seen by art editors and publishers. Enter the national competitions and art magazine contests. I also wrote an article for The Artist’s Magazine, which also came about from a painting in a national show. I’ve also had two pieces published in Splash 8 and 9 that resulted from entering a magazine competition.”

Art Calendar Magazine, available in print or online, includes a calendar of exhibits, competitions, and other opportunities. Another resource is www.artdeadlineslist.com, which includes some free listings as well as a more extensive list available to subscribers.

Hart notes, “Many of the art publishers send a rep to attend the national exhibitions or browse through the show catalogues to find new talent they can draw on. Don’t be afraid to approach the publisher either. They’re under pressure to produce a lot of publications every year and need new artwork and artists all the time. It just might be you they’re looking for.”

Should you publish your own book?
Computers, design software, and the Internet have made it possible to self-publish a very nice book, printing as few or as many copies as you want. Using your favorite search engine, see what happens when you search on “artist books,” “art catalogs,” or some other variation that includes “art.”

You’ll find, for example, www.bookspress.com, a publisher that specializes in fine art books for galleries or individual artists. Their web site boasts, “Our prices for artist series as low as $3.25 per copy.” Read on and you’ll find that $3.25 applies to orders of 4,000 books. The fewer copies you purchase, the higher the cost per book.

You’ll also find in your Internet search www.ubuildabook.com, a publisher that will help you do it yourself, from design and layout to printing. Their web site includes a handy price quote form, as well as helpful tips on formatting your book. I requested a quote on 100-249 copies of a 40-page book with 18 pages in full color. Within 24 hours I received an email quoting $8.74 per book.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing?
With self-publishing you’re in control and you set your own deadlines. Hart acknowledges that her editor at North Light was “very good about giving me lots of time and extending [deadlines] once or twice.” Even so, working with a publisher necessarily involves a schedule with deadlines, placing more pressure on you.


Another advantage to self-publishing may be faster publication. BooksPress claims you can have your books in 12 weeks, while ubuildabook.com promises a 10-14-day turnaround after you approve your proof. Hart says her book was a two-year process – one year to write it and create the visuals, a second year for the publisher to produce it.

You can also realize a greater profit from each book when you publish it yourself, if you plan carefully. You’d be wise to create a business plan for your book project, forcing yourself to anticipate all of the related costs, not just for printing, but also for storing, distributing, shipping orders, and promoting it. When you work with a publisher those tasks are handled for you.

If you’re the kind of artist who would rather create art than manage book sales and distribution, leave your book publication, promotion, and distribution to an expert.



Categories: Hints 'n' Tips | Visual Arts

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