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Book of the Week: Selected by Blake Andrews

Book Review Publish Your Photography Book (3rd Edition) Text by Darius D. Himes & Mary Virginia Swanson Reviewed by Blake Andrews “All fine art photographers fall into one of two categories: Those who’ve published a photobook, and those who hope to publish one."

Darius D. Himes & Mary Virginia Swanson.
Publish Your Photography Book
3rd Edition
Text by Darius D. Himes & Mary Virginia Swanson

Radius Books, Santa Fe, NM, 2023. 272 pp., 200 color illustrations, 7¾x10¾".

All fine art photographers fall into one of two categories: Those who’ve published a photobook, and those who hope to publish one. The new guide Publish Your Photography Book is aimed primarily at photographers in the second camp. Since that group includes yours truly, I approached this book with bated breath. “The first book to demystify the practice of producing and publishing a book of photos,” promised the back cover blurb. Would this be the catalyst that finally pushed my hazy book dreams into reality? If the jury is still out on that question, it’s not entirely the book’s fault. This primer lays the foundation. Construction details fall to the readers. 

Publish Your Photography Book is co-authored by two experts in the field, Darius D. Himes and Mary Virginia Swanson. Two decades ago Himes — professing “a love for photobooks that grips my soul” — was the founding editor of photo-eye’s booklist (the physical precursor to photo-eye’s blog). He then helped launch and manage Radius Books before moving to his current position with Christie’s photo department. Mary Virginia Swanson is a photo reviewer, teacher, mentor, and generally acknowledged photobook guru. Together these two old hands make a crack team. They originally collaborated for a regular column in photo-eye magazine called “Publishing The Photobook”. That ran from 2004 to 2007, ending ironically around the time that photo-eye ceased physical publication. 

Perhaps inexorably, Himes and Swanson’s column eventually found its way into book form. The first edition of Publishing Your Photography Book was released by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011, followed by a second edition in 2014. Both proved popular. Not only did they reflect and report on the growing photobook phenomenon, they helped to juice its engine. Driven by increased options for self-publication and a growing market for collectible monographs, the photobook world is now more expansive and sophisticated than ever. But publishing remains a basic conundrum for many aspiring authors.

All of these factors have conspired to propel the third edition into reality. As with past versions, this one is designed by David Chickey, but this time through his own imprint Radius Books. Perhaps ownership afforded him more control over the final product? In any case, his stamp is all over the design. It unfolds casually on uncoated stock, its lively layout tucked into a thin hardback cover. As for the contents, they’e been revamped, enlarged, thickened, and updated. The references and examples are current, at least for now. But of course the photobook field is always shifting. 

In any case, the basic bookmaking steps are evergreen. As in past editions, Himes and Swanson begin with an overview of photobook culture — Q: Who Cares About Books? A: Photographers do. Amen — before moving on to nuts and bolts. First is the conceptual and logistical preparation, then the decision of whether to self-publish or go with an established publishing house (for most aspiring bookmakers, this choice will be imposed by outside factors). Then comes the actual production of the book, and the subsequent marketing and distribution, with varying reams of spreadsheets and paperwork. Each chapter is broken down further into subheadings. If the overall process is daunting, a final chapter of case studies proves that yes indeed, it can be done. The experiences of Todd Hido and Alec Soth may not be applicable for everyone, but their comments are still informative and entertaining. Appendices on book parts, timelines, and glossary cap things off. All in all, it’s a remarkably thorough guide.

Even with this book in hand, the publication process can devolve into a chaotic mess. There’s just no escaping the countless variables and moving parts. Realizing this, Himes and Swanson have included a handy workbook to track tasks and goals. It’s a thoughtful addition which was lacking in the first two editions. The richly illustrated examples are another nice touch, sampling the personal libraries of Melanie McWhorter and Rixon Reed. Their freshly updated collections are something to aspire to, or perhaps just drool over. Publishing Your Photography Book is also interspersed with transcripts from roundtable conversations. Every chapter has at least one, and they’re a great way to pick the brains of experienced authors and industry insiders.

This guide is intended to support and spur a new generation of bookmakers. Ideally, photographers will move from the hopeful camp to the published one. That’s likely to happen since bookmaking resources have become more accessible than ever, accelerating in the 9 years since the second edition.

But publication may be a mixed blessing. The current glut of photobooks have created an increasingly fractured and crowded field. The potential audience has Balkanized. According to Himes and Swanson, a small publisher might shoot for a print run of 500 to 1,000 books, down from ~3,000 decades ago. That diminished figure may already be out of date and in need of downward revision. 300 books, anyone? 200? All of which is to say, it’s still easier to make a book than to make readers care about it. Luckily for them, Himes and Swanson don’t face this problem. Publishing Your Photography Book is sure to connect with an eager and satisfied audience. It should maintain currency for several years, at least until the next revision.

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at