Self-publishing a book of artwork

my book Myth and Masks lying open on a table

By the time you read this I will have successfully self-published a book of my own artwork. I may also, by this time, be collapsed in a heap on the floor since it has been a slow and sometimes difficult experience, involving a lot of on-the-job learning.

Up until a few months ago, for the past eleven years I worked for an academic publishing company. Admittedly I worked on the web/IT side of things rather than in Editorial or Production, but eleven years is a long time to get acquainted with the publishing processes that are going on around you. As such I started this project with some advantages of professional experience, or so I managed to convince myself.

My project was this: to print a nice quality, hardback book of some pieces of my artwork, interspersed with some of the writing from my blog that shows that background research and thinking that was going on “behind the scenes”.

Printing a good-quality hardback art book is bloody expensive, and you’re unlikely to get your money back, let alone make a profit. I’d already produced all the content for my book over the past few years. I’d written the text and I’d bought the materials for the masks & props for the photographs, paid the models, paid for the camera, the studio lights, etc - I’m not including any of these costs in the production of the book, and it was still bloody expensive.

Digital printing has made printing physical books much cheaper than it used to be, but here’s the rub: digital printing is still not quite up to the job of producing good-quality, full colour, images. It’s great for text, and fine for a book that has a handful of illustrations that are secondary to the text, but it’s not the quality you need for producing a book of colour artwork. For good-quality reproduction of colour artwork you need lithographic printing on a good quality paper, and that process costs several times what you’d pay for digital printing. And this is why books of artwork cost a lot more than a novel or a book of text with some black & white illustrations. Very few self-publishing guides will tell you this, because most of them are aimed at people self-publishing books of text such as novels.

Talking of self-publishing guides, if you’re thinking of self-publishing a physical book (as opposed to an ebook) then I’d recommend you read Indie Publishing (published by Princeton Architectural Press) - it’s got some good information on the whole process, and is especially good on layout, organising the front matter, etc.

After several months of work my book is now finished, printed, and available to order from this website. Please go and have a look while I lie here exhausted and penniless: Myth and Masks: Artwork by Paul Watson 2013–2015.