Last edited 11 Nov 2020

Main author

Alex Harvie Other Consultant Website

Architectural publishing

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If your practice is considering publishing a book, this article sets out some issues to consider and offers some suggestions for making the process as productive as possible.


[edit] A brief background on architectural publishing

Architectural publishing has a number of particular characteristics not found in other areas of publishing.

Architectural books are expensive to produce because they need to hold their own in a design-conscious and visual marketplace. Their cost comes from their high production values as well as the large amount of team work which goes into designing and writing them. Architectural publishers find ways of offsetting these high costs. Some limit the range of their list to books on well-known companies and common topics and theories, others subsidise their architecture books from other more commercial areas of their business because of the kudos associated with architects. Most ask for a contribution towards the production costs of the book. Other sectors of the industry frown on this and call it 'vanity publishing' and this stigma means that even though the biggest publishing houses are known to ask for contributions, few admit to the fact.

Sales are relatively limited because it is a specialist market. Hardly any architectural books make it to the high street. Most book shops interpret the built environment through history or lifestyle (books on interior design are placed alongside the built environment on the architecture shelf).

In spite of this, there is a thriving trade. A significant number of interesting and innovative architectural books are published every year. It is a fundamental means by which professionals communicate their ideas in a fast-moving global arena. A thriving trade is found in:

[edit] Issues to consider when embarking on an architectural publication

[edit] The process of publishing

[edit] Getting started

Commercially-published books can be instigated by a publisher approaching an architectural practice, or by architects themselves deciding they have an idea and approaching a publisher.

In the second scenario it is important for the architectural practice to prepare their ideas to a stage which suits a publisher. Over-developing ideas will result in a publisher feeling they cannot shape the book and insufficient development makes it impossible to judge a book's commercial viability.

A practice can help to seek the advice and input of a publishing consultant to help gauge whether the book is a viable proposition before they invest significant time and money into the project. This process might include:

[edit] Developing the concept

  • Create a long list of possible ideas around a theme.
  • Research the market place to check if the idea has already been published. This process will start a long list of likely publishers.
  • Attend a meeting with potential collaborators and contributors to consider the long list of ideas and flesh out ideas.
  • Approaching publishers with an 'in-principle' concept does not guarantee a book, but it reduces the risk of a rejection.
  • Editors can say straight away if they are not interested although they are not in a position to agree a title until it is developed to a point where they have something to put in front of their editorial board.

[edit] Developing the book proposal

This process takes some time and would mean selecting and appointing a designer. The proposal sets out a practice's thinking so that a publisher can judge the proposed book's commercial value. It usually includes an overview of the potential book's concept, contents, visual approach (potentially with sample spreads), likely audience, timescale, and proposed team.

[edit] Sending the proposal to selected publishers and negotiating a deal

The proposal is sent to pre-selected editors who present it at internal board meetings within the publishing house.

If it is accepted, the publishing house will propose a deal. In the positive event of receiving more than one deal, a negotiation over terms follows.

[edit] The publishing process

  1. Once a publisher has agreed to publish a book it issues a contract setting out the financial and contractual terms of publication, including the royalty rates to which the architecture practice (or named author of the book) will be entitled. The publisher may hold back a significant amount to offset real or calculated costs. This is a specialist document and needs to be read with care.
  2. Once the contract is agreed, the publisher appoints a senior editor to the project to define the book's parameters in terms of content, scope and production specification, as well as to develop the design and texts.
  3. The publication is often then handed over to a project editor who will see it through layouts, proofing, indexing, production and publication.

The traditional roles are that the publisher undertakes the design, production and distribution while the architecture practice provides the content. However the architecture practice is often asked to support marketing efforts by holding an event and providing mailing lists, but the publisher usually controls the marketing strategy.

[edit] How to make the process productive

Devise a process which involves the whole practice in the creation of the book. This may be a series of workshop discussions about innovation and creativity or the preparation of information about projects which is shared with the team.

Bring in outside partners and collaborators and get them to feed in ideas, and use this to galvanise current working practices. This can have the benefit of breaking up the content and giving the book a more rounded feel.

Apply the research and information gathering undertaken for the book to other media. This may be in terms of website information, positioning articles, a display in the foyer or a leaflet shared with prospective clients. It is useful to consider possible outlets and estimate likely costs and potential audience benefits at the outset.

[edit] Common mistakes

[edit] Alternatives to traditional architectural publishing

[edit] Self publishing an architectural book

This can be cheaper, quicker and easier to control and may be better suited to up-and-coming practices. (See related article, Self-publishing for architectural practices)

[edit] Producing information for the digital marketplace

Some newly-established architectural publishers specialise in the publication of architectural essays. E-publishing has transformed the publishing industry, and it also has exciting implications for architectural publishing.

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki

[edit] External links

--Alex Harvie

Designing Buildings Anywhere

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