PITCH YOUR PROJECT TO PUBLISHERS
Alessia Arcuri speaks to Giulia Brivio, book editor at Artphilein Editions and co-founder of Boite Editions. The two discuss Giulia’s advice to artists on how to pitch their projects to small and independent book publishers.
Since 2013 my path has been increasingly focused on the production of photobooks and independent publishing activities. It's been almost 7 years now.
We also organise talks and workshops because one only usually gets to see the final product: the printed book. We want to explain the adventure you’ll embark on from a blank page through to the printing process.
This question came to mind when thinking back to the Whitechapel Arts Book Fair where we worked together last September at the Whitechapel Gallery. We were there to promote your publishing house and sell some of your publications. While we were there, a lot of people were utilising the fair as an opportunity to talk to publishers. I want to ask you what the best way to approach publishers is and when?
Once you’ve identified the right publisher who you think might be interested in your work then you can send an email. It's quite a cold approach but if we receive an email then we can read it when we have time and maybe give it more attention. It's great if you can find a way to meet the publisher in person, perhaps at a workshop, an event or even at an art fair but I wouldn’t suggest going along with a dummy of the book. I say this because independent publishers usually go to fairs alone and spend five days looking at books while also trying to sell as much as possible. We are on our feet for twelve to fourteen hours a day and so it’s impossible to remember. It's a shame because you might have the most beautiful project that’s perfect for the publishing house but we might be so tired that we can’t give it the attention it deserves, it’s a waste of time for the photographer.
I suggest being very short in communication as we receive a lot of proposals, it’s better to present the idea of the project with a selection of images. 10-20 images with a short text that can explain your idea are enough. We can then work together to start developing ideas from there. If you send a pdf that it is already done and designed it can be a bit too much. Maybe you could do this for a big mainstream publisher who can see the potential and accept it but for us, a small publishing house, it’s more difficult. We prefer to get to know the photographer, to meet and see what we can do together.
AA I guess for you it's fundamental to be able to work together and develop a project that corresponds to the identity of the publisher. Would you ever advise contacting publishers on Instagram via direct messages? I ask this as it seems that independent publishers are more accessible, they seem like they're just ‘there’.
GB I don’t think it’s the best option; it’s not very professional but I’m [only] talking on behalf of our publishing house. There are a lot of independent publishers who use Instagram to find projects that use street photography or funny and ironic projects so it can work sometimes. I don’t like Facebook as it’s very difficult to read messages but I have used Instagram to look for photographers and publishers.
If someone is very good at curating their profile then I think it’s possible to work together. It’s not forbidden, but as I was saying before, you have to know the publisher you're talking to. Therefore for us, it's better to send an email or to even come to the bookshop to introduce yourself and your work. We recently published a book with two young photographers from Bologna. They were visiting our bookshop during the Christmas period to buy some books when we had the chance to meet in person. The director liked them and the material they were showing us and so we decided to collaborate.
AA What comes after the pitch? How do editors and authors continue the process?
GB We work collaboratively on the design of the book, sometimes with a graphic designer or directly with me if the author already has an idea. We discuss each step together but what’s most important are the photos. We might make suggestions or find influence from other books but the author always had the final say.
From there, come all the practical steps: the choice of the paper, the material of the cover, the printing process - B&W or Colour, etc. The final steps are the cover's design, then getting together with the printer who might make some important or experimental suggestions. We print with printers with whom we have a good relationship.
AA On average, how long would you say it takes to produce a book and get it printed?
GB A lot of time! It depends on if everything goes smoothly. It could take five to seven months, sometimes it could even take a year. Sometimes books have to be completely changed further down the line so we need to rethink everything - therefore even longer. We try to publish up to five titles a year, projects often overlap.
AA Considering the fact that you're a small publishing house who might only print 200 copies, what’s the profit like for artists?
GB It depends on the publisher of course. Mainstream publishers usually ask you to pay an upfront purchase of your books for them to publish it. If you're considering publishing your book with a big publishing house then you might need to factor this in as a cost. Of course, they guarantee you a worldwide distribution - your book will be everywhere.
If you choose an independent publisher it’s different. We've been supported by the Artphileins Foundation who cover the costs of the book’s production so the photographer doesn’t have to pay anything. They're also guaranteed 10% of the books that are printed to sell yourself, but you wouldn't usually be able to pay your rent by selling books! Books are great investments, with them you are led to new projects, ideas and collaborations.
With Boite, an even smaller publishing house, we cover the cost of production with the artist. We first evaluate the budget then start a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to produce the book.
AA From my experience, it's having someone who will push your work further than ever before. While at Hoepli we would promote the artist and their work through the press, through our marketplace, on our websites and book fairs across Europe. What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
GB I am a strong supporter of self-publishing.
Nowadays it's especially easier to print your book yourself. You might find a designer who can help, attending workshops about publishing practices can be helpful to gain experience. Sometimes a very intimate project could be better to publish yourself, but the process itself is good training for when you deal with publishers later on. You can start by self-publishing, then working with a small publisher then maybe opt for a bigger one and so on. If you self publish you could ask friends, photographers or editors for suggestions. We are a big open community so you can always find people to advise you. Moreover, self-publishing is a very good way of expressing yourself when you don't think an exhibition is the best final solution for the project. There are great examples of self-published books that are now very rare and expensive.
AA If photographers decide to self-publish their books, can they then access book fairs? If yes, how?
GB Most books fair have an online application that you can fill in. You’ll need to describe your books, then pay for a table. The price varies from 100 to 5000 euros. It can be really expensive but it's possible to do it cheaply if you decide to travel and to stay on a tight budget. Also, if you are a self-publisher you could apply with others as a group.
I met a group of young Italian self-publishers/photographers at Rencontres d’Arles who had booked and paid for a table together. The festival is held in the South of France in a town called Arles, it becomes the heart of the photography scene so it was a very economical way of presenting their work at a major photography event. These major dates in the photography and book publishing calendars are really important for artists - they should make the effort to attend them. Even if you have only two or three books then it’s worth it!
AA What are some of the major art book fairs that we should all make an effort to attend?
GB As mentioned previously, the Rencontres d’Arles, in Arles, but there are more. In Turin there are two amazing art books fairs: 'FLAT (Fiera Libro Arte Torino)' and 'The Phair'; mainly dedicated to photography. There is 'Paris Photo' in New York, 'Offprint' in Paris and London, and 'I Never Read' in Basel. 'The Photo Book Fair' in Kassel is one of the oldest and important fairs. They offer a lot of portfolio reviews, workshops and conferences. When they cancelled NY’s fair, a group of publishers organised a platform called 'Virtual Assembly', a virtual fair where you had the chance to have a ‘table’ and show your books.
AA Do you have tips for emerging photographers?
GB I wouldn't be too confident giving advice to photographers, but I'd recommend them to consider themselves as an artist; to be open to different approaches and mediums. I've heard someone say “I am a photographer, I don’t care about Marcel Duchamp”, even conceptual art can be very helpful and inspirational. Photographers should consider themselves as artists and of course to try to make a book.”
Alessia Arcuri (Italy, 1991) is a curator and bookseller specialising in Arts and Photography. Previously worked in the publishing industry at Hopeli, Milan.