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In some circles there appears to be a tendency to be dismissive of photograph albums, or even of books that contain photographs at all! This may have its origins in the days when printing blocks were expensive and their use limited by cost. Today’s modern high-speed printing technology facilitates both the production of books and the reproduction of photographs in them. There is certainly a market for good books of well-chosen photographs. My Public Lending Right statement tells me that my most borrowed books are picture books and there are some publishers who only produce them.
Their popularity will give rise to the suggestion that they are produced to the lowest common denominator and whilst many are they need not be. Just which you produce will depend on the publisher, either by producing a specification following discussion or by taking a lead from an existing series. Most established publishers will have a standard specification: 64 pages, 64 colour photographs, 1,000 words or 128 pages, 250 monochrome photographs, 5,000 words, to cite two examples, the former for the mass market, the latter having scope for something more specialised.
Having agreed the specification, now comes the difficult part, finding and choosing the pictures. For most of us it will be easiest and most profitable to use pictures of our own taking or pictures from our own collection. The next step is to turn to a friend, or several, with a collection who will bask in the reflected glory from contributing to your book. The publisher may have his own collection that you can draw on. Finally, there are the specialist photo libraries and agencies. These tend to be expensive, with their operators assuming that all publishing is done at London prices and charging accordingly, so you probably won’t use them unless they have the one picture that you absolutely must use to complete your book and which therefore justifies a high fee.
If you require 250 photographs for your book and you have 250 pictures on your subject — don’t do it! It’s unlikely that you will have 250 gems and including make-weights will spoil your book. If you need 250 photographs you should start with about 1,000, nearer 1,500 would be better. In doing so you will stand a better chance of avoiding having to use those well known pictures that appear in ‘every’ book on your subject. Start to sort, select themes — locomotives, rolling stock, stations, infrastructure, gauges, places on the route — even a picture book must have a structure. Sorting will identify the strengths and weaknesses of your collection, the number of similar views of the same subject, for example: you can’t use them all. Reject the out-offocus, the poorly composed, the badly exposed. You may grieve for every gem that goes on the discard pile, especially as you get closer to your target, but your book will be the better for it. At the end you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve chosen the very best of those available to you.
Be aware that colour transparencies can be submitted even if reproduction will be monochrome.
Then comes the writing. The introduction should both introduce the subject and set out your objectives. If you’ve only got 1,000 words consider referring the reader who seeks more information to a standard work. Use a few lines to acknowledge those who’ve helped you. With a larger word count you have more scope to go into greater depth; you might be able, depending on the format, to write introductions to each chapter or theme. There probably won’t be scope for a full bibliography so consider providing a ‘select bibliography’ or ‘further reading’. Your publisher should not object to this technicality as it gives the book more substance.
The length of captions will depend on the type of book. Generally, the bigger the pictures the shorter the captions but they still need structure. If yours is, say, an album about Welsh narrow gauge railways, you could order it geographically, alphabetically or by gauge. With the first picture of each line, incorporate a brief, very brief, outline history. The same goes for locomotives. Where there is scope for longer captions the publisher’s designer should be able to cope with them being of unequal lengths; you are most unlikely to have the same amount of information to impart about every photograph. And if you get to one of your hard-fought-for gems and you can’t think of anything to say about it, throw it out, go back to the reject pile and chose another that fills the gap that you can say something about.
Sort the pictures into the order in which you envisage them appearing in the book. Number them in that order and number your captions to match. Some publishers prefer to have a separate series for each chapter or section but usually one series will suffice.
Be aware that publishers and their designers often have strong ideas about what looks good and they might not be the same as yours. Photographs might be rejected or sequences might be changed – be prepared to battle for things you feel strongly about.
Publishers also have strong ideas about what makes a good cover; you are not likely to have much input into this aspect of your book. You may be asked to supply a selection of suitable material or the designer will ‘lift’ an image, or several, from your package for the cover. In the latter scenario the pictures chosen may appear both on the cover and in the book, in which case captions need only appear in the body of the book. If pictures only appear on the cover don’t forget the captions.
Nowadays you will submit your manuscript in some form of electronic media, be it floppy disc, CD or e-mail. Consult with your publisher to ensure that your word processor and his are compatible. You may be required to supply a print-out; in any event, make sure that the layout is well spaced so that it can be read quickly. The publisher will probably still expect you to supply him with real photographs but if you do supply any as computer files ensure that they are of sufficient resolution; 72dpi (dots per inch) may look good on your computer monitor but is nowhere near adequate for printed reproduction; 300dpi should be the minimum considered but if you haven’t been given a figure use the largest you can get, as a computer image can always be reduced but it can never be satisfactorily increased. If the publisher, or his designer, feels the need to ‘improve’ an image you probably won’t be consulted. Changes to contrast or repairs to tears or creases in the original can be tolerated but you may have strong feelings about the removal of ‘intrusive’ telegraph poles or similar.
Most often, with picture books, you won’t need maps or diagrams. Your publisher will tell you what he expects. If he does expect graphic art then he should have budgeted for it, and will pay for it. You may have to provide the source material for the graphic artist to work from. If you decide your book will be improved by a map or a plan then put the idea to your publisher. If you are able to produce the artwork yourself, or have a friend who can do it for you, so that it doesn’t cost the publisher anything, you might find it easier to get your idea accepted.
It is unlikely that you will be involved in your book’s design. A publisher with a format is likely to have a designer who will apply your submission to the format. You should get proofs, though, and they will give you the chance to comment on how things look. Keep an eye out for that bête noir, the reversed photograph, or the one that’s been located with the wrong caption. If you’ve referred in a caption to some obscure essential detail that’s right on the edge of your print, now’s the time to make sure it’s not been cropped by the designer. It is also the time to make sure that any linked captions that you carefully crafted still appear in the right sequence. In both cases you can either get the picture moved or correct the caption.
The question of the contract can be a fraught one. Despite what you might expect from the media, there are no set contracts for authors. That is especially true at our end of the market, where we tend not to have agents going into battle for us. An established publisher will have a standard contract that he has used many times. It may be skewed in his favour but you will accept it, either in ignorance or because you feel that you don’t have much influence. Most of us wouldn’t want to miss out on the chance of publication because we couldn’t agree terms.
The contract will define what the publisher expects of you, including the book’s specification and when you are expected to deliver it. It will require you to take responsibility for content and, usually, to obtain copyright clearance for use of photographs. There may well be penalty clauses for failure to comply. Most publishers are likely to have them for use in case of serious problems but if, for example, you realise that you are going to miss your delivery deadline you are not likely to be hit by penalties providing you inform your publisher in reasonable time — he may be able to put another title into your slot in the programme.
For an author the most important part of the contract will be the section relating to money — the basis of and timing of payment. It could be 10% of the cover price on full-price sales, payable within 28 days of the end of the publisher’s financial year — when is that vital date? It could mean that you are working on a project for two or three years before you see any return for your efforts. A publisher may, however, offer you a fee, payable by instalments, maybe even one just for signing the contract, the others on acceptance of the manuscript and on publication, that will cover a specified number of copies and then a percentage on subsequent sales — be aware though, that whilst the trigger point for additional payments may be 4,000 copies the initial print run could be less than half that number; the benefit of a scheme like this is that you know when you will be paid and how much you are going to be paid, and that will not be affected by the number of copies sold.
I regret that I must mention a third scenario, one that appears to be prevalent when inexperienced author’s are dealing with small publishers — where the author gives his book away, ‘He’s a friend, I just wanted to see the book published’. When everyone else in the chain is being paid the author should be as well. If the publisher is a friend and you don’t want to appear too pushy, consider asking for a nominal contribution towards expenses or suggest deferring payment for an agreed period. If the author is not being paid either the book will be sold for less than it should be, which distorts the market, or the publisher is making a higher profit, which isn’t fair.
The question of reproduction fees will also be covered by the contract. Is there a separate budget? Are you paying? If the latter will it come out of your fee or royalty as author? If the former are you constrained to offer the publisher’s norm? At our end of the market the tendency is for publishing to exist in an inflation-free zone, so payments of £5 for monochrome and £10 or £15 for colour are still common. If the publisher has a fees budget you may be able to add your own photographs to the contributors’ list, so increasing your earnings from the book.
Despite the author’s natural inclination to concentrate on the financial aspects of the contract the most important aspect is the minefield that is copyright. Are you selling it to the publisher, the usual fee being £1, or retaining it? In our theoretical picture book, where the words may seem to play a minor role, it could be said that the author is being paid for his knowledge and skill in assembling the picture collection. That has a value and if at all possible the author should retain ownership of his contribution.
In some books copyright is attributed to both author and publisher. What this should mean is that the text is the author’s copyright and that the design belongs to the publisher — this can be put into context when considering established series, where the author has obviously made no contribution to the book’s layout and appearance.
Copyright of the photographs, however, despite their significant contribution to the book, remains with the photographer or his heirs or assignees, according to a set of arcane rules. [See the next article.] This means that, unless agreed to the contrary, the photographs can be contributed to any other publication that wishes to use them.
Having stepped through this apparent minefield, signed a contract, written a book and seen it published and been paid, there is one final piece in the jigsaw to be considered, liability for tax!
Now, I am not an accountant but I can say this. Keep a record of your expenses: fares, accommodation, photocopies, film and processing, postage, stationery, reference materials; you can claim them against your income. For working from home you will be able to claim a percentage of your heating, lighting and telephone bills. If you use a car you can claim a percentage of its running costs according to your estimate of the amount that you used it on your project. Capital allowances can also be claimed against the value of your car, if used, and other equipment. Seek advice, a suitably qualified friend will be cheapest but if you are mathematically literate and keep good records then an accountant should save you more than he (or she) costs.
You may be asked to supply an ‘about the author’ paragraph, either for use in the book or for promotional purposes — be prepared to puff yourself up, if you don’t no-one else will!
If you have an idea for a book, or have been given the opportunity to write one, go for it, it can be a lot of fun and the end result usually the same — what next?