What photo book publishers want

FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS who want to get publishing deals for books of their work, there was advice at November's London Freelance Branch meeting. Our speaker was publisher Dewi Lewis, whose company is best known for its photography list.

What are publishers looking for? Dewi gets about 200 submissions a year, of which 20 will be published. A surprising number of works are rejected purely on the basis of the ill-conceived title their creators gave them. "Be very clear about what's special about your work," advises Dewi. Your opening pitch should be in one or two sentences. "Our attention is grabbed in the first few lines. How do you differentiate your work from other peoples'?".

For photography book pitches you need to assemble a book dummy - "put together the story you have to tell through photographs, even if only photocopies laid on top of each other." Dewi is amazed that so many photographers come to him with "hundreds of images, but won't do the work to put them in sequence to tell their story. I always say to them, it's like an author saying, I have a thousand wonderful sentences, could you please put them in order for me?"

The photographers' involvement shouldn't stop at publication. Picture editors go to very few book launches, but exhibitions linked to photography books are important, as media coverage of these helps "keep book sales alive". A London Museum exhibition around John Londei's Setting Up Shop book on the decline of small shops generated 150 bits of press coverage, which "equals book sales."

Publishers need a photographer's or writer's involvement in plugging their book. Publishers now look for personality for chat shows and appearance as well as skill as a writer (or photographer). Being over a certain age is regrettably "a hefty minus".

The media is "very geared to anniversaries and events," and Dewi Lewis is already working on a Berlin Wall anniversary book for October 2009. Dewi gets many calls "from photographers wanting to go off and do a World Cup book days before it starts. For anything topical, they should be pitching three years in advance. And there's no point in doing something that's solely about Britain. Your subject needs to have international appeal, and be "human in a way that goes beyond international boundaries". This is vital because photography publishing relies on "co-editions" - editions sold abroad with the text translated into foreign languages.

Do you need an agent? It will mean you work is seen "a little more quickly and a little more deeply", but agents are becoming as hard to get to as publishers.

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