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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Writing and publishing art books

I'm sitting in my studio waiting for delivery of the content-edited manuscript of my major revision and expansion of The Creative Artist. I can hardly wait to see the editor's comments and suggestions and to compare her thumbnail layout with the rough flat plan I submitted with my manuscript in mid-September. I have a week to review the manuscript, then I'll send it back and the design phase will go into full swing.

Artists often ask me about writing and publishing a book of art instruction. They're usually shocked to learn that it takes nearly two years to write and publish an art book of the quality produced by my publisher, North Light Books. It's actually longer than that, if you include the preliminary research and proposal phase. Once the contract is signed, the artist has about a year to write the book, and the company has nearly a year to get it through production and on the shelves of bookstores.

Every book is different and content is handled in different ways. I incorporate the work of many artists--more than 100 for this revision--to illustrate my books, so I have extensive correspondence with artists from all over the U.S. and Canada to procure artwork. Artists who do step-by-step demonstrations of their techniques must paint and photograph the stages of their work.

If you're considering writing a book, your first step is to determine whether your book offers something that isn't already out there. Also, there must be a perceived demand for this book. You write a proposal for the publisher, describing how your book fills this need. A brief letter, a short outline, a sample of your writing and your artwork make a complete proposal package. It's wise to call the acquisitions editor to request permission to send your package for consideration.

A committee made up of editors, designers, marketing and business people will consider your proposal, if the acquisitions editor thinks it's worthwhile. Then, if your proposal is accepted, a contract is offered that sets out the length of the book, the royalty agreement and a deadline for manuscript submission, among other details. Once the contract is signed, your work begins in earnest on the book.

My publisher requires that the author make a "flat plan" that is like a map of the pages of the book. Once you've visualized how your book will look, it's a relatively simple matter to plug in the content and illustrations. But all of this takes time and most authors use up their allotted time. You have numerous captions to write. Your illustrations must be coded and matched to the manuscript and the flat plan. You must secure permission to publish art from contributing artists and collectors. The list goes on.

After you hand off the complete package, the content editor combs the manuscript to make sure it makes sense and looks for places where there might be too much or too little text. The editor examines all photography to ascertain that images will be sharp and clear. A copy editor checks grammar and spelling. At this point the author gets the edited manuscript for review and approval.

Meanwhile, the marketing department is preparing advertising copy for catalogs and presentations to book outlets. When the edited manuscript goes to production, designers develop the visual appearance of the cover and contents. The graphics department resizes illustrations to fit the designers' specifications. Occasionally the author is asked to provide more text to fill an empty space or to trim text so an illustration can be more prominent on the page, but for the most part your work is done once the edited manuscript is handed off.

If time permits, you may have an opportunity to see printed proofs after the design process is completed. When the editors have completed the proofreading, the index is prepared by someone other than the author. The finished pages are sent to the printer, usually out of the country in the case of art instruction books, because of prohibitive costs of color reproduction. It may take several months for the book to be printed and bound. A production editor will follow the book through this process until it is "in house" and ready to ship from the publisher to the book club and distributors.

After I've completed a book (this revision is my sixth art instruction book) I tend to get involved in other things and forget about it until it resurfaces in the next stage, then I get excited all over again. For some reason the time has been shorter for preparation of this book--just short of a year for writing, about nine months for production. The Creative Artist is scheduled for release in June, 2006.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Michelle Himes said...

There are SO many art instruction books out there that it must be very difficult coming up with a new concept. I have a large collection of art books myself, including most of yours. Some books only get read once or twice, but yours are always being read and re-read. I especially love the original "The Creative Artist" and I can't wait to read the new version.

Michelle

9:31 AM  
Blogger Nita said...

Thanks, Michelle. I'm working on the content-edited manuscript of the book now and I'm getting excited about it, too.

11:08 AM  

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