Coffee table books – they fall into that category of ubiquitous items that seem simple until you stop to look at them closely and discover art.
A good coffee table book, that is. If you don’t put together a meaningful work, or fail to publish it, a coffee table book will just remain a creation with incredible potential.
Here are ten tips to enchant living rooms everywhere, whether you have a seedling concept or you’re ready to go:
1. Create something that’s missing
Even in a well-covered niche, the point of artistry is a unique perspective, which you undoubtedly have. Unless you’re being commissioned to make a generic coffee table book, what would be the point in creating one?
Instead, look for a new angle- in your photography, in your story, or even in combining a few of your subjects- for a compelling, original book. Unite it behind a theme or message in one complete sentence, not just a description.
For example: In a Manhattan coffee shop, everybody in line seems like a stranger, but you’ll know exactly where they’re going if you carefully examine their shoes.
If you put the time and thought into a thesis with every component articulated, you’ll find guidance for your photography and story, and how to you put it all together.
The result will be a complete, eloquent, and poignant book that readers will be proud to feature in their homes.
2. Manuscript like the Dickens (and the Austen and the Hugo)
Never underestimate the sinking power of a flimsy manuscript. If it’s weak, error-laden, or generic, publishers will not take the time to weigh the merit of your photos.
The written content of a coffee table book has an abundance of moving parts, so make sure to hire an editor to work with you from the beginning on the introduction, captions, conclusion, bibliography, index, and more. You need the second set of eyes.
It may feel a little too much at first, but make sure the writing is emotionally gripping, completely original, and directly supportive of your message.
Think of it like this: a picture is worth a thousand well-written words, so it will undoubtedly show wimpy writing for what it is if you try to put a hasty caption next to one of your photos.
Only when your manuscript is a polished gem should you combine it with your collection of photographs and pitch it to publishers.
3. Scout your team early
When you have a fleshed-out idea of the coffee table book you want to make, it’s time to get flexible and find a designer and printer for your book.
Though editors are seasoned veterans of their field, they’ll dream with you about your book and every avenue of possibility. When you find a designer, they’ll give you a better idea of what’s possible or likely to be successful in formatting the book. A top-notch designer will have an expansive knowledge-base for the sizes of book trims and what different paper stocks printers carry in-house, which is crucial in your production costs.
By visioning with a designer and printer early, you’ll work within a realistic template. An added benefit is that, if you pay attention closely, you can gain a world of insight by looking at your project from their eyes.
4. Ask yourself constantly, “Would I pick this book up?”
It’s cliché, and the answer seems obvious, but creating a coffee table book is like composing a symphony in all its intertwined parts, so you should step back regularly to ensure everything is working in the direction of the book’s fullest potential.
Keep the end goal in mind. All this work goes into something that will be part of somebody’s home. Who is that person?
People pick out coffee table books to advertise ideals within their identity (stylish, observant, worldly, nostalgic, generous… there’s a book for it) so how will your book help them to display those traits?
To reach the next level, push yourself to capture your readers’ friends. Imagine someone who is sitting on your reader’s sofa. By being friends with your reader, they have a degree of familiarity with the subject, but not anything close to an interest… yet. How can you make this book compelling enough for them to peruse, and get them hooked on the story that you and your reader have in common?
5. Mix things up
Most writers tend to think about one or two layouts as they envision their book. Even with an expert designer, the majority still have to spend time consciously mixing in other styles. The mastery happens once you listen to what the photos want.
Here are some considerations:
- Some photos need blank space to breathe.
- Not every page needs words.
- Not all words need photos.
- Some photographs work best as a team. Words would detract.
- Respect blank space.
Fill the early pages in a way that teaches your reader how to examine your work, and balance each page as if it were a single photograph.
6. Enlist a village
Writers worldwide are tired of hearing how they absolutely must hire an editor. The good news for you, in coffee table book production, is you must also hire a designer to make a successful work of art.
It is the most tempting way to cut costs, but failure to utilize an editor and designer spells certain defeat. At best, you would be missing out on wisdom and contacts. At worst, you could get negative reviews for lack of clarity, or even incur costs in reprinting the book after finding errors.
7. Black and white: the secret win-win
If you can’t cut costs in editing and designing, and you know to go with an option other than the very cheapest your chosen printer has to offer, your original budget might be in the rear-view mirror.
If this is the case, consider printing your book in black and white. It’s a classy, timeless look that works well as décor in many homes, and it reduces printing costs substantially without letting up on quality.
The minimalist aesthetic is all the rage right now, and its timeless elements will not soon go out of style.
8. Use Kickstarter for funding
Look around on this crowdfund site. You’ll be amazed at the kinds of projects that get attention. As you look, pay attention to how they pitch their ideas.
Kickstarter should only enter the equation once your work is about 90% complete. You need that much work before you can put together an accurate timeline and some detail and transparency about the challenges in your work.
To interest investors, explain to them how you’re creating something that’s missing (Tip #1), and consider offering some incentive for their contribution. This could be the donation of a certain amount of proceeds from your book, photography services, or an exclusive bonus collection of outtakes from the endeavor.
9. Publish local
If you can find a local publisher/printer that you like, you’re much more likely to get a “yes” on your book, and you might even be able to negotiate better pricing than with more prominent organizations.
Local and small business products are appealing to mindful consumerists, and you can put together a grassroots campaign to build buzz for your book by selling it in local establishments like cafes or home décor boutiques.
Plus, local newspapers are interested in talking up community collaboration much more than a local would-be coffee table book creator.
10. Give your book away for free…
…To bloggers. As you work on your project, keep an eye on blog activity within your niche. Send a note to the top bloggers once your books are finished and ask if they would like a free copy. Stipulate that they should write a nice review.
Publishing a coffee table book requires surgical attention to detail, immense creativity, grit, and know-how. Though it’s daunting, your path to success includes deep, critical thinking about what you have to offer in your book, procedural forethought, and a team of support.
Samantha Rosario is a blogger, mother, and resident of the greatest city in the world, NYC. When not working at a Manhattan publishing house, she’s spending time with her family or putting pen to paper for her own personal pursuits. She is also an avid runner, swimmer, and aims to complete an Ironman in 2018.