10 Tips for Self-Publishing Art Books and Catalogs

Self-publishing is becoming more and more popular across just about every industry imaginable, and this includes the art world. Why, you ask, would a visual artist be interested in publishing a book or catalog? Well, one of the biggest reasons is because a book or catalog offers access to an artist’s work to people who might not be able to afford it otherwise.  It can serve as a portfolio and can also be used for artists pursuing faculty jobs and hosts of opportunities. Many are deciding to take the time spent pursuing agents and publishers and use that energy to do the necessary research to successfully self-publish their own projects. Aside from that, one of the primary reasons many choose to self-publish is because it’s much easier to maintain creative control of the project. The flip side of that, though, is self-publishing has what can be a rather high learning curve and the author has to be able to finance the project in its entirety.

Book: Charles White, A Retrospective

Book: Charles White, A Retrospective

-Be concise  

Remember the art is the focus of an art book or catalog. The book should give insight into who you are, your accomplishments as an artist, and the art.

-Hire a professional graphic designer

If you are a graphic designer or dabble in graphic design, by all means, go for it. However, if you don’t have graphic design experience and have no understanding of concepts such as white space and knowing how much text to include – hire someone. If you dabble and know that your work is not quite of professional quality – hire a professional designer. If you are a graphic designer, but looking to publish a work of your visual art or design work, you may still find it helpful to hire someone and have them execute your vision – should your budget permit. This allows you to focus more fully on other aspects of the process.

-Create a budget

Don’t wing it. Create a budget for your project. When self-publishing, all of the costs are yours. A budget should include items such as: design and layout, content creation (if needed), professional editing, purchase of barcode and ISBN, proof copies, and printing and shipping costs. Use this list as a starting point, but do your research on what else should be included in your projected budget.

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power

Book: Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power

-Trust the process

It’s important to understand that just because you’ve poured your heart, soul, and bank account into the project – it just might not be a best seller overnight.  There will be benefits, but you may not be able to see them immediately. It may even be a year or more before you start to reap the benefits of your labor. Some artists see an increase in sales after the book while other artists experience new connections or professional relationships and opportunities that lead to money as a result of the book or catalog.


-Hire a professional editor

Even the best authors have editors. In fact, many have an entire team of editors.  Of course, you can proofread your own work, but that only goes so far. You’re familiar with your own work, so it’s easy for your mind to auto correct typos and mistakes. Proofread carefully and then hand it off to an editor. Additionally, if you’re creating a catalog, there isn’t a lot of text, so the errors will be much more glaring than they would be in a narrative work. As with every aspect of the self-publishing process, do your research on editors. Please don’t make your decision based on who is the cheapest.  You don’t necessarily have to go with the most expensive one you come across, but remember – you get what you pay for.

The Art of Elizabeth Catlett by Dr. Samella Lewis

Book: The Art of Elizabeth Catlett by Dr. Samella Lewis

-Know the difference

Know the difference between a catalog and a book.  A catalog is essentially a souvenir of a body of work that includes images, an artist’s statement, and an introduction or foreword by a prominent figure in the art world. It should also place your work in a wider context by presenting details that help provide a framework for the art such as information about the time period or other circumstances that speak to the background of the body of work or collection.  A book has more of a narrative flow and includes much more written content than a catalog.

-Research printers carefully

Finding a reputable printing company that does high quality work is one of the most difficult aspects of the self-publishing process. Do your due diligence. Take time to research printers and ask for samples of their work. For example, if your work is going to be a hard cover, coffee table style book – find printers who specialize in those and are willing to send a sample(s). Printing quotes are typically based on a book’s page count and dimensions. You should start researching printers early, but you’ll need to know the final dimensions of your book and have at least a general idea of the page count.  Many also find it helpful to find a local printer vs a printer overseas or many, many miles away as it also makes the process a bit smoother sometimes.

Dorsey, Najee, (Catalog:Resistance Works by Najee)

Catalog:Resistance Works by Najee

-Get a proof copy

Not getting a proof of the finished product is one of the biggest mistake authors (and sometimes even publishers make). Even if everything has been laid out perfectly, paper and ink options have been discussed, etc., sometimes things can still go wrong during the printing process. If you get a proof of your book first, you can catch things like that before the final book is printed.  Remember items such as ink and paper quality should have already been assessed during the printing company selection process.

-Be humble

Avoid trying to list every place that you’ve ever hung a painting or every person who owns your work.  Padding is easily recognized by seasoned readers and/or art connoisseurs. Don’t create false connections. Let your work speak for itself. Don’t try to use the names of other artists, etc. to validate your work. It won’t work out well for you.  Don’t misrepresent who you are and what you’ve accomplished. One instance of this instantly calls everything else into questions – even if it’s true.

-Books and catalogs don’t sell themselves

Once you have the finished product in hand, there won’t be any fireworks or magic that happens. You’ve gotta put in the work. Of course using social media is a given, but don’t stop there. Use it to introduce yourself, set up meetings and ultimately forge relationships that you can develop further offline. And remember, even if immediate sales don’t happen, the relationships you form can potentially bring in much more money on down the line.

For more tips and info on self-publishing, join the mailing list at www.urbanedgepublishing.com.

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Dr. S. Alexis Anderson graduated from Bennett College with her B.A in English, has her M.A in Technical & Professional Writing from Georgia State University, and a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition-also from GSU. She is the Head Sista In Charge (HSIC) at her company – Get It Write Consulting and also serves as the Executive Director at one of only two historically black theatres in the state of Georgia – The Liberty Theatre & Cultural Center, Inc in Columbus, GA. When she ain’t busy writing or being a servant leader,  you can find her kickin’  it with loved ones,  listening to good music, sipping Remy VSOP and sprinkling her Black Girl Magic. If you need help getting your words  together, hit her here: info@getitwriteconsulting.com

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