With their beautiful finishes, aspirational images, and rousing copy coffee table books have long been a source of inspiration for readers and collectors alike. Not to mention that their visual appeal and ability to speak to an owner’s cultural tastes make them must-have interior decor objects. Fawning over the latest coffee table book is one thing, but imagine creating and publishing one of these objects of desire yourself…
When you look at the polished, beautifully styled publications artfully arranged on a table or shelf the thought of publishing your own coffee table can seem intimidating, especially if you want to self-publish. I mean what exactly does one have to do to create something people want to own, read, and display? A well-produced coffee table book is more than a book. It is both covetable & collectible. Due to their specialist nature publishing a coffee table book has been seen as the preserve of traditional publishing houses and those thought of as tastemakers i.e. celebrated creatives, celebrities and so forth. However, with the advent of self-publishing and the rise of the content creator, these days publishing a high-quality coffee table book is easier than you may think, although the process itself can be a challenging one, that is no reason not to go for it.
If you want to publish a coffee table book, here are 9 things you need to do to make it happen:
1. Ask yourself why you want to publish a coffee table book.
People publish coffee table books for many different reasons. This could be to raise their profile and become an authority in their industry, celebrate an important milestone in their career, diversify their income, or even set themselves a challenge. Whatever your reason knowing why you want to publish a coffee table book will help you commit to seeing the project through. So, before starting the process take some time to ask yourself why you want to publish a book.
2. Get clear on your idea.
A coffee table book is only as good as its concept and ensuring that that concept is well-executed. Coffee table books are highly-focused, typically specialising in a specific area of a wider subject e.g. polymer clay jewellery projects, or travel destinations with pets. Taking your idea, explore the possible topics it generates and see where you can zoom in.
Also, a book is a restrictive format and therefore can only accommodate so much content. This means that you have to be selective about the content you choose to share. Before you dive into creating your book you must plan out what you want your book to look like, how many pages will it have, whether your images will be full colour or black and white and so forth.
3. Know your audience and market.
Unless you’re doing it for yourself, no one wants to spend their time creating something that nobody wants or appreciates. A good book is a useful book, one that in some way educates, entertains, or inspires the reader. The coffee table book market is saturated and fiercely competitive so understanding what your audience needs or is looking for is an important factor when planning your book. This doesn’t mean discounting what you want your book to be about in favour of your audience’s desires, it simply means finding what works best for all concerned.
Also, you don’t want to publish a coffee table book that is similar in focus to one that has been published before, you want to put something fresh and exciting in your readers’ hands. To do that you need to know what is already out there, both online and in-store. So, do take some time to scout the market to see what exists, make a note of where your book idea will fit in, and more importantly identify any gaps that your book can fill.
Doing your market research can also help you decide when it is the right time to publish your book. Wanting to publish your book this very second, doesn’t always mean it is the right time to do so. This is down to several reasons such as needing to gain a bit more experience in your craft if your book is a retrospective of your work, or perhaps your book talks about an emerging technology that is yet to gain wider appeal so you may choose to wait a bit while still keeping an eye on the market.
4. Understand the different publishing options available to you.
In this day and age, you have the choice of traditionally publishing or self-publishing your coffee table book. One is not better than the other, as each route comes with its own set of pros and cons. The publishing path that is right for you all comes down to your goals and reasons for wanting to publish a book.
Traditional publishing is when a publisher offers you a publishing deal. This option sees the publisher take on most of the financial and production responsibilities and in turn you receive royalties on your book sales. If a publishing deal is what you are after look for publishers who specialise in your subject matter and keep in mind you may need to go through an agent to get a publishing deal.
The freedom to publish your book the way you want to and potentially earn more per copy is what causes people to consider the self-publishing route. With self-publishing, you don’t have to wait around for a traditional publisher to notice you and offer you a deal that may never materialise. You get to decide when and how to publish your book. Although self-publishing gives you greater control over producing your book, you bear all the responsibilities, including financial ones. So, do take the time to weigh up your options and decide what publishing route works best for you and your book.
5. Commit the time to produce your coffee table book.
Don’t underestimate the time it takes to create and publish a book. A lot goes into publishing a coffee table book, so be realistic with the time you will need to get it all done. Take into account the demands in your day-to-day life, e.g. if you are raising a young family the time you can commit may be at a premium, and so too if you’re working a full-time job that sometimes involves having to be on call on weekends.
Despite being a working-from-home freelancer (this was many years before Covid btw) in the last couple of months before I needed to submit my complete manuscript for my first book I was working around the clock to get everything done.
Only you know how you work and how much you can produce at any given time so, work with what you can comfortably achieve within the time you have and not against it. Being clear on this is especially important if you plan on working with a publisher. This is because your book will be one of many books they are publishing so they need to coordinate and schedule all the launch dates.
6. Be willing to invest in creating the best book that you can.
Publishing a coffee table book costs money, even if you have a publishing deal. As I’ve highlighted in point 4. if you are self-publishing you bear the responsibility for funding the publication of your book. If, however, you are working with a publisher you may still need to spend money on things such as commissioning photography, travelling for research and so forth. So, do get a handle on the costs of publishing your book. Get to know and budget for all the expected costs, and those unexpected or hidden costs.
If you are self-publishing and you are not an editor or a book designer, don’t try to do it yourself. This is not the time to cut corners. I can’t stress enough how important it is that you find the best editor you can afford. The same applies to a book and cover designer. Look for professionals who have a track record of working on coffee table books, or who specialise in your industry. Engaging the services of a good editor and book designer is money well spent because they are there to help you create and achieve the high-quality associated with statement coffee table books.
7. Decide how you will produce your content.
Your content will make or break your book. Coffee table books are traditionally image-led and supported by written text, and you need to know how you will be creating or sourcing that content. Your concept will dictate the type of content you will require and will highlight what you already have and need to get. Some things to think about include, will you take your own images or hire a photographer? will you write your text or will you work with someone to do it for you? These are important questions to ask yourself before you start creating your book, because they will impact your budget and time, in turn influencing your publication date.
8. Start promoting your book before it’s published.
Depending on your publishing timeline promoting your book can typically start around six months before you’re ready to launch. This is because there is a lot to consider including, introducing your forth-coming title to journalists so that they can prepare their features, letting your audience know about your book in order to generate preorders, and ensuring retailers have the information they need if you want to get physical copies of your coffee table book stocked in time for your launch date.
As you can imagine doing all this involves having to do things such as putting together press releases, creating marketing material, producing promotional content, planning book launch events, and finalising cover artwork long before the book itself is ready.
9. Enjoy the process.
Yes, publishing a coffee table book can be nail-bitingly stressful, but do remember to find joy in what you are creating. As I often get reminded not many people get to say they are writing or have written a book. The fact that you are choosing to do so is a big deal, so embrace the process and remind yourself why you are doing it. It will keep you going through the inevitable frustrations and challenges. And, holding a published copy in your hands or seeing it in a bookstore will make the all effort worth it.
If this post has got you fired up and ready to pursue your book publishing dream I invite you to get yourself a copy of How to Publish a Coffee Table Book, my essential handbook that guides you through all you need to do, whether you are looking to self-publish or seeking a traditional publishing deal.
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[Image credits: The images shown are sourced from/belong to kaboompics. If downloaded and used elsewhere please credit accordingly.]