Moving from enthusiastic photographer to income-generating photographer is now easier than ever. The photography world has a wide selection of open entry points, from microstock sites to Flickr networking and from websites to art fairs.
But while the roads towards professional photography are broad, the room at the top is narrower than ever. Media companies are laying off photojournalists and increased competition is removing the shine – and the profits — from traditional stock sellers.
Of course, the rarity of being a leading photographer just makes the accomplishment even more impressive. It’s why print magazines like JPG can sell copies even though the Web has thousands of pages offering similar content, and it’s why companies like Blurb succeed even though any photographer can show off their works online.
There remains something special about seeing your photography published, in print and in your hands.
Most Books Fail
Part of that cachet comes from the fact that printed photography is carefully selected. Around 70 percent of books fail to generate a profit for the publisher, so editors choose their titles and authors only after a long review. They don’t just want to beat the statistics, they also want to make sure that the 30 percent of authors who do generate profits make up the losses on the rest.
But publication in JPG is marred by its democracy; being voted on by your peers is nice but it’s not as satisfying as being identified by an expert. And Blurb is just a low-risk version of self-publishing. You get to see your photos in book form but you don’t really get to call yourself a published photographer.
Seeing your name on a real photography book then – one produced by a traditional publisher who likes your idea and is prepared to take a risk on it – is still a powerful achievement for any photographer.
“To add a book to their offerings is impressive to say the least,” agrees Kate Neaverth, Sales, Marketing and Promotions Manager at Amherst Media, a publisher of photography books. “It speaks of and illustrates their talent and validates their vision.”
Interestingly, Amherst specializes in a particular kind of publication: instructional photography books. Rather than try to sell books based on the subject of the images or the name of the photographer, the company can market books to enthusiasts and professionals interested in sharpening their skills. The hundred or so titles on its backlist cover a range of technical topics including wedding photography, lighting, digital imaging, posing, business techniques and many more.
While an educational book might not be quite as impressive as a catalog of your greatest shots, as Kate points out, it’s still an accomplishment and it helps any photographer stand out as an expert in their field. After all, if someone else knows more about wedding photography or macrophotography than they do, surely it would be their picture on the cover and their advice in the text. Or at least that’s the way it would seem to the public.
If your Book Doesn’t Sell, Charge More
Even if you didn’t make any more money out of the book than you would have made taking pictures then, the fact that you’re a published author would, at the very least, allow you to raise your fees.
But many of these benefits can also come from a good website. David Hobby, for example, is regarded as a lighting expert due his blog, Strobist, not because he’s an author. And much of the information you can find in the sort of print publication that Amherst produces can also be dug out online for nothing.
For Kate, that just means there’s more competition and her company has to do the job even better.
“While some might think it hurts our business model having so much information available, we see it as an opportunity to better ourselves and our product and step it up a notch,” she says.
So what does it take to turn your ideas into a book fit to join the list of a publisher like Amherst?
It helps to be at least a little established already. Authors are a mixture of award-winning professional photographers, teachers and photography columnists, but also “digital artists,” a category that could be broad enough to include anyone with the appropriate experience and a good idea. If you have both of those and a clear understanding of what you want your book to teach, you’re welcome to send your proposal to Amherst by email, phone or fax.
The company will then be able to tell you if it’s a good fit, and you might have found a way in to one of the most exclusive of photography ranks: the right to call yourself a genuine published photographer.