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Last edited 12 Nov 2020
Self publishing for architects
- Commercial publishing – a proposal is accepted by a publisher which then manages the publication process.
- Self publishing – an architectural practice decides to create a book in house and commissions the necessary research, writing and design, marketing and distribution work.
This article sets out issues to consider when embarking on the process of self publishing. More information on conventional commercial publishing can be found in the article 'Architectural publishing'.
 A brief overview of self-publishing
Methods of self publishing range from books produced entirely in-house, in which every task, from design and writing to photography, is undertaken by an internal team within the practice; to books which draw on the expertise of external agencies.
Self-published books are not technically 'published' unless an ISBN is purchased and the book registered.
The internet in particular has opened up the mechanics of self Publishing so it is now possible to produce a simple book relatively cheaply. Some internet publishers even offer templates into which the user can load text and images on-line, removing some of the technical work of deciding how to layout the page (although this can look over standardised when applied to an entire book). Alternatively the book can be designed and sent as a file over the internet in a wide range of formats.
Key characteristics of self publishing:
- There is great flexibility in terms of cost control. The architectural practice can decide from the outset how much to spend on design, paper and printing as well as marketing. This offers great control over the budget.
- All tasks can be undertaken in-house or through external specialists. Self publishing requires the architectural practice to take on the role of publisher as well as client. Managing the publication process and keeping the book true to its initial concept through each of the stages of its development is a skilled and time-consuming task and should not be underestimated.
- What does the publication hope to achieve?
- How will it be used?
- How long will it be required?
- When will the information be updated?
There is no bigger waste than spending a large sum of money on a publication which is out of date before it has earned its value. Given the time and money involved in the production of a book, it is important to be clear about the return that the company will get on such a significant investment.
How a company calculates this return depends on the reason for the project. It might be in terms of deals won on the back of the book's production, or it might be a perceptual shift in terms of how the company's philosophy is articulated in the broader market. Whatever the parameters, it is important for the company to have discussed the project's criteria for success at the outset.
Another key element of this initial thinking is to research the market by browsing the shelves of specialist book shops and searching on the internet. When interesting books have been gathered they should be analysed in order to refine the initial brief.
 Specialist skills required for self publishing
As well as a clear brief, the architectural practice should consider the specialist skills required to publish a book. As with any specialist task, taking advice from the right consultants will produce a better book and save time and money in the long run.
A book's design ranges from choices about paper and production to layout, colour, style and typography. A beautifully designed book conveys as much as a poorly designed one about an architectural practice's approach and thinking.
 Photography and image production
The images are of fundamental importance to the style and approach of the book. The architectural practice has the choice of whether to use existing material or to commission new photography, diagrams and charts.
Experienced editors contribute to the development of a book in a number of ways:
- Editors often set up and manage a project, ensuring deadlines are met.
- Editors are often responsible for finding and managing members of an editorial team to facilitate specialist areas of the book production (freelance writers, indexing, proofing), they can also advise on distribution and marketing.
- The conceptual structure of a book is as important as its visual layout in terms of what it communicates and experienced editors contribute to the cross-over between design and editorial which makes a great book - such as pace and visual drama to create an unfolding narrative within a book.
- Shaping the text to complement the design, for example, reworking lines to remove 'widows' (lone words at the ends of lines) and finesse how the text sits within the layout.
- Writing and managing the consistency of text fragments (captions, headlines, pull-out text) to fit within the design. These fragments are of great importance in highly visual books.
Some companies ask a well-known figure to contribute to their book, others ask their partners to write text or seek input from writers with specialist knowledge. Most employ a freelance writer to produce fluent copy.
 The process of self publishing
- The architectural practice develops the concept – sometimes this initial thinking is undertaken with the input of an editor or designer.
- The design is created. Although some architectural practices may take this on in-house, many approach a design company.
- Images, including photography, plans, diagrams and sketches, are gathered. Technical contract and permission issues need to be tackled at this stage.
- The text is created, either by the company, or with the input of a professional writer. Some architectural practices generate their own text and employ an editor to help pull the content into a coherent written style.
- Other work is taken on in-house or out-sourced, including proofing, indexing and sourcing and compiling permissions and credits.
- Frequently the designer handles the printing; however companies may wish to source independent quotations. Print costs can vary significantly depending on the method chosen, the printer's set up, machinery and location. It can be cheaper to print overseas (although logistical management and delivery times will need to be factored into the project plan).
 Legal requirements
All published books are obliged to include the full name and address of the publisher. This is generally included on a title page. Printed books must list the country in which the book was printed and the name and address of the printer (if the book was printed in the UK). For information on wording, see: Technical notes on architectural publishing.
If an architectural practice secures an ISBN and wants to sell through bookshops and libraries, then negotiations will need to be handled by the company, and the discounts and reductions they are likely to require need to be included into price-point calculations at the outset. For more information on ISBN see: Technical notes on architectural publishing.
 Selling books
It is technically possible to sell a book through an architecture practice's website, using freely-available point of sale technology. It is also possible to sell through Amazon, either in the Marketplace www.amazon.co.uk/marketplace or through Amazon Advantage, where Amazon holds copies of your titles, advertising it as 'in stock', and meeting orders within 24 hours. Amazon takes a cut of about 60% of the sale price and many self-publishers do not factor this into their thinking at the outset, limiting availability of their book. www.amazon.co.uk/advantage.
 Advantages and disadvantages of on-demand printing
- On-demand printing offers flexibility in terms of updating. If an architectural practice needs a book detailing up-to-date work, then self publishing with on-demand printing may be the best option. Some digitally-printed books can be updated online in a matter of minutes, then printed overnight and shipped out in single editions or batches as large as the company requires.
- On-demand printing allows an architectural practice to produce a limited number of books relatively cheaply.
- On-demand printing can look professional when paper and production methods are carefully selected.
- On-demand printing does not offer the same range of paper stocks, book formats and production detailing as traditional printing.
- On-demand printing only uses digital printing, reducing the quality of its fine detailing.
- Generally, on-demand printers charge more per unit than it would cost to print a larger number at a printing house. Remember to factor in postage as this needs to be included with each order, and it can add up.
 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.
Cutting too many corners shows in the subtle things – a layout which doesn't flow, images which don't do a project justice or text which is dull. The general rule with publishing is that you get what you pay for; a beautiful book takes time and energy (and therefore money) to create. The solutions which work so perfectly and seem so simple have usually taken the most time and skill to achieve. Common mistakes with self publishing include:
- Including information which is soon out of date (such as costs, policy and legislation, or naming individuals who may leave).
- Disappointment with the final design and production of the book.
- Underestimating the budget, time involved, level of expertise required.
- Lack of input into marketing and distribution.
Step changes in the technologies associated with publishing have opened up a wide range of options (design packages which are easier to use and print techniques which have moved on immensely over the last ten years). Publishing is an industry in the process of great change enabling architecture practices to market and define their company and work in a tough, fast-moving professional environment.
This article was created by --Alex Harvie 17:29, 2 July 2013 (BST)
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Architectural publishing.
- Brand guidelines.
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- Digital marketing for the construction industry.
- Technical notes on architectural publishing.
- Writing technique.
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