Is there a documentary book in your future? In my new blog series, The Ultimate Guide to Producing Documentary Books, you will not only find out if there is one, you’ll learn exactly what to do if there is. I’ve been working in this industry for a good deal of time and believe that there will always be a place for large format photography books—as long as we can still use paper and ink. Unlike visuals seen in moving frames or through click-able files, only a book can be cracked. And those lovely pages can be turned one at a time or by the handful. Documentary books are special because they allow readers to take their time going through a subject, maybe studying photos first then jumping in to read. The book is always just where they left it, too, and can be opened and closed endlessly without ever hanging up or crashing. Sweet.
For you, producing a documentary book means you’ll be bringing together a group of creative minds. Working in teams is always exciting, offering the maximum opportunity for your personal growth and the chance to achieve project excellence. Producing any artistic undertaking has risks and rewards so knowing what to expect upfront is critical. First of all, you’ll need a vast and solid set of production skills to pull this off. Only in rare cases, usually only if budgets are crazy large, will you be able to sit back and delegate all the moving pieces. You have to have a particular (probably peculiar, too) temperament; one that’s decisive, assertive, rigidly organized, sensitive, proactive, truthful, and yes, you need to be somewhat impatient and a perfectionist. If you’re the type to always push deadlines, throw the I Ching in every situation, hire friends and let them slide when they screw up, or if you must have a week off for your Uncle’s birthday… look for something else to do.
But if you are a wonderkid and this is what you know you were born to do, let’s go. Start by reviewing the software you have installed on your computer. You should have the latest (or cloud) versions of Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, QuickBooks Pro and a project management workspace that all team members can access. You need to be really good with spreadsheets and image files. Be ready to handle massive amounts of emails, ask for all types of introductions, develop contracts, design storyboards, and draft everything for other pros on your team to perfect. You’ll write and edit proposals, outlines, marketing copy, captions and the manuscript itself will be under your management. There are bookkeeping duties galore. Timing and scheduling will run your life. I drink coffee often.
What’s the bottom line? Net, net, making money, I mean. Well, there might not be any profit in producing a documentary book, though I’ve done just fine and others have, too. Throughout this series, I’ll be providing some sample budgets and P&L statements to remove the risk of losing your skinny jeans. You’ll have fun, you’ll be learning and daydreaming. Are you still interested?
Next I’ll cover Shaping the Subject. There are several categories of documentary books to consider and knowing which type works in which situation will be key to moving forward.
Amy Biancolli writes In Defense of Daydreaming on her blog, but if you have sluggish cognitive tempo, this series probably isn’t for you.