Having your work published in a dedicated monograph can feel like the ultimate way to advance (and affirm) your career. Whether it documents your firm’s recent projects, or includes your take on a particular design subject, a book can generate exposure to your practice as well as clients—and create some enviable coffee-table eye candy. But where to start? Two experienced editors and five established designers (all with recent and upcoming books) share their advice, from when to pitch and how to get organized.
Wait for the right time.
“Everyone wants to write a book because it serves as a great calling card,” says Carleton Varney, president and owner of Dorothy Draper & Company, “But it has to be the right time in your career.” Though the veteran decorator has authored many books over the years, his latest—Rooms to Remember: A Designer's Tour of Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel (Shannongrove Press)—was 40 years in the making and chronicles the firm’s involvement with the famous Michigan resort.
Designers also need to have a backlog of high-level work that they can draw from, several authors advise. “Wait until you have enough projects worthy of a book that will show what you do best. Don’t push it,” says architectural and interior designer Tom Scheerer, who released his second book, Tom Scheerer: More Decorating (Vendome Press), in September.
But even if you think you’re ready, a publisher might not always think the same. “We are looking for designers who are established in their field, with a good amount of work to show,” says Kathleen Jayes, senior editor at Rizzoli, one of the most esteemed publishers of design books. “We look for designers who are recognized as noteworthy by the industry.”
Designers should have strong portfolios, of course, but also be well published in design magazines; awards and experience on the lecture circuit are helpful, too, notes Jayes. If you're still working toward these goals, consider hiring a public relations firm.
Get the concept and pitch right.
“The topic really has to feel right, and it has to feel like you,” says Doug Hoerr, cofounder of Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, who recently published Movement and Meaning: The Landscapes of Hoerr Schaudt (The Monacelli Press). Conversely, of course, the book has to have broader appeal.“We are always thinking about why a reader would want to buy the book,” says Jayes. “What need does it fill for them?”
How you get that story in front of editors and publishers also matters. Having a literary agent can help with access, contracts, and pitch development, but it isn't always necessary. When developing books at Rizzoli, Jayes looks for “a short pitch letter that grabs my attention.” Preferably, she says, a one-page description of the book concept, a biography, press clippings, and images from multiple projects. (Check out Rizzoli's submission guidelines for more details.)
Understand your timeline.
“It is never the perfect time to write a book,” says Hoerr. “You're always going to be busy.” The solution is to organize tasks and teams like you would any other work project, he says. Timelines for completing a book vary, but most illustrated books will take at least one year to complete.