The lightbulb went off over photographer Elizabeth Carmel’s head last fall while she was attending a panel discussion in New York City. The topic was publishing a photography book—something Carmel had been toying with for several months. Panelists included documentary photographer Chris Rainier.
“I remember Chris saying, ‘Your book, in a lot of ways, is a very expensive business card,’” Carmel recalls. “I had never thought of it that way, but it got me thinking.”
A landscape photographer based in Truckee, California, near Lake Tahoe, Carmel had been creating an impressive collection of explosively colorful digital images of her region of the country for six years, a body of work that recently helped her capture a coveted spot as a 2006 Hasselblad Master.
For some time, she had been looking for a way to bring her work to a larger audience—one that might hesitate to spend $1,000 for one of her limited edition fine art prints. Had she found her answer?
Having a book of photographs published is no easy feat. If you’re lucky enough to find a publisher, there can be extensive haggling over image selection, graphic design, budget, distribution, royalties—not to mention having to share a large chunk of the profits with the publisher. For Carmel, who was determined to bring out a book within six months and maintain creative control over the project, self-publishing made sense.
After doing extensive research online and consulting colleagues who had successfully self-published their books, Carmel selected a print broker and an overseas publishing house that could produce a book that fit her specs. The books would cost her $8 a piece for a run of 2,000.
The finished product, titled Brilliant Waters: Portraits of Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, and the High Sierra, will be a full-color 12x12, 100-page hardcover book, with high-quality paper and a varnish overlay on each image. When SP&D caught up with Carmel, she was getting ready to send her book to the publisher for printing in March with availability scheduled for May, just five months into the project.
“The purpose of the book is twofold: to promote sales of the prints in galleries [the expensive business card Rainier had recommended months earlier] and to introduce my work to a larger audience,” Carmel explains. “While the book has a fine art appeal, it’s also a crossover book that will appeal to tourists in the Tahoe and Yosemite regions.”
Carmel plans to donate some of the profits to environmental groups that foster responsible development in the Lake Tahoe region. “By self-publishing, I’m able to direct the profits in ways that wouldn’t be possible if it were published by someone else.”
How She Did It
With a population of about 15,000 people, many of whom are involved in the tourism and building industries, the town of Truckee is not exactly the publishing capital of the world. Thanks to the Internet, Carmel was able to do extensive research online to determine her self-publishing options. The company she came up with was surprisingly close to home: Star Print Brokers, based in Bellevue, Washington. With resources in Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and India, Star Print Brokers’ actual printing services are far from home.
Price was a concern, but Carmel was equally concerned about the quality and format of the book. By offering high-end features, such as 180gsm (grams per square meter) paper with a spot varnish overlay on all the images in the four-color book, Star Print Brokers had piqued her interest.
When Carmel met with company representatives and reviewed samples of books they had produced using Asian print houses, she was impressed with the results. The deal was sealed after she sent mockup pages of the book she had created in Adobe InDesign to Star Print Brokers for a test run. The pages were back within weeks for her review. “The pages looked great,” recalls Carmel. “They really got the color right and for me that was the most important thing.”
Putting It Together
To give the book a sense of flow, Carmel decided to split Brilliant Waters into three parts with three distinct themes: “Water and Stone,” “Colors of the Sierra,” and “Winter’s Grace.” Carmel did the design herself with Adobe InDesign. Although she doesn’t consider herself an InDesign expert, she put together a rough design fairly quickly.
“I looked at other photo books I liked to get some ideas. I knew I didn’t want photographs on facing pages because unless they were perfectly matched, they would compete with each other.” In keeping with the book’s clean look, she decided to have a one-inch margin on all sides to serve as a framing device. She sent drafts to friends and colleagues for feedback.