Why? If you want to do it because you are really interested in the subject or think you have a really interesting point of view to present, that’s great. If you want to do it because you think you are going to make a lot money, think again. Art related books rarely make much money, and at this point there is a glut of graffiti/street art related books out there, and because there are so many, and so many of them are third-rate (just pictures with no date, location or who did it; lousy photos; no writing of any interest, no advancement of any perspective or insight), they aren’t being bought much, which publishers interpret as lack of interest rather than just too much bad product.
You can publish two ways: through a publisher, or self-published. Both have their own challenges. The advantage of going through a good publisher is that they should have good distribution, they handle all of the production costs, and ideally know how to put a book together in the best way possible. The disadvantage to going through a publisher is that you just get a royalty (10% of wholesale NET through stores, and 5% of wholesale net from online sales is common), and there are many ways they can screw up your whole project (editing what you say, deleting or misplacing photos, bad production values) against your will once your have signed a contract. The advantage of self-publishing is that it’s easier than ever (check out Createspace.com), you get more profit percentage, and you can present the material just as you want. The disadvantage of self-publishing is that you are responsible for all costs, finding distribution, and making it make sense, not something that comes easily to a novice.
If you want to go through a publisher, here is the first thing to do: Go to a bookstore and look at books to see who is publishing material for an audience similar enough to your hoped-for demographic. For example, Ginko Press would be open to a book on the art of, say, Big Daddy Roth whereas Rizzoli wouldn’t. Also look at the production values of the publisher: Is the color on point?, is the paper feel of good quality? What sizes are the books?
Ok, so you’ve picked out a few publishers to send proposals to, what is expected? Most publishers have submission guidelines on their site, if they take unsolicited submissions at all. You can’t just send your shoebox of photos and say Here I Am! A standard book proposal would include a cover letter explaining: What is this book’s subject?; Who is the target audience?; What is the competing literature? What makes this book unique and sellable? What size and price point do you envision? And you would include: A table of contents; Perhaps the introduction, one or two representative chapters including photos, so they can see if you can write well and that the quality of photos is acceptable (a crappy photo of a great piece is still a crappy photo).
Your story is interesting to you, but if a publisher doesn’t think it will be interesting to enough people, it’s not going to happen with them.
If they do like your idea, then the next hurdle is the contract. Do not sign anything without talking to a good publishing lawyer. Know what the royalty percentages are going to be. A smaller percentage of gross is better than a larger percentage of net generally, but not usually available. As they sell x amount of books, will your royalty percentage increase? What say do you have in the editing? Because I’ll tell you, it was non-stop battle with the kid I got saddled with, AND it was a constant case of hurry-up-and-wait: they always act like what they need is an urgent rush, but you always find yourself waiting for them to get back to you. Since there will likely be so many battles, you kind of have to pick and choose which ones to be strong about.
If you self-publish, you need to find a good layout person and editor to work with: You need honest feed back about the stuff ONLY YOU AND THREE CREW MEMBERS would find interesting but which needs to be tossed. To edit a book into strong shape means being brutal… frequently! And again; who is your audience? If you think horrible sentence structure and bad spelling is “keeping it real,” then expect your audience to be that much more limited to people that think “ur” is a real word.
Whether you go through a publisher, or self-publish, you still need to be responsible for your own promotion because you are not going to be treated like a superstar and it’s likely they will only spend a little bit of promotion money for your project. Also, they don’t know half of the ways that you would in terms of spread of information (graff sites, mags and so on), so you will have to be looking for ways to get the word out. My book was released in May 2007 and I still look for ways to get interviews out there, and am presently writing HUNDREDS of letters to various academics about getting my book into college/university classes.
This is my experience and perspective in a nutshell. If I think of anything else worth saying, I’ll put it in.
Still want to write that book?…