For artists considering self-publishing, the internet can be both friend and foe. There is a plethora of information available online about the best methods in which to move forward to ensure that self-publishing catalogs, zines, and other collateral are handled efficiently and professionally. While it’s easier than ever to share the written word, and well-formatted digital publications carry more cache than hastily printing an affordable paper version, there are certain aspects to consider when selecting how to complete and publish digital publications. When creating publications that will represent your artistic and creative practice to the wider public, keeping an eye on key points throughout the text’s development will ensure that the finished product is sophisticated and brings your practice the best attention.
Whether publishing research materials on your artistic practice or extending your practice into the digital realm, we’ve selected expert advice to guide you in producing the best possible collateral for a wider audience. Here, we dissect the crucial points needing attention when self publishing digital publications, to make sure that your next foray into self-published materials is as painless and rewarding as possible.
Self publishing: Digital or DIY Printing?
When approaching self-publishing options, the aim of the completed publication should be the primary consideration in how the project is conceived. Looking for wide dissemination of materials to a larger audience? Hoping to keep overall project costs down for the publication? Digital publications may be your best bet in ensuring that you can reach the largest audience while avoiding the laundry list of expenses associated with printing a physical publication.
On the other hand, for artists and creatives looking to craft a printed project, particularly those looking to publish zines or artists’ books, printing on paper will be the best option. By printing the physical object, artists can have a collector’s item or limited edition for their fans. Olivia Huffman, a founder of Susie mag, recounts the struggles the team had when deciding to proceed with the publication as a printed magazine. Huffman, alongside fellow founders Kristen Chiucarello and Melanie Roven, outlined the multiple considerations the team had to navigate when conceiving of the first edition. “Resources for self-publishing that were the most helpful were the other zines we admired that paved the way,” the group noted. “We emailed some folks and bought endless supplies of zines to see what format or weight their stock was and dug deep to find equally excellent printers.” For physical printing, it’s important to secure a trusted printer known to other publishers, particularly those publishing zines that are already on your radar. While costs may be cheaper with a previously unknown publisher you will be taking a huge risk with the quality of the finished product.
Other aspects of printing that need to be considered before moving forward with specifications for the finished product include the frequency of the publication and location of the publisher. While a printer located down the street may submit a quote that is double the price of a printer in Indonesia, the shipping costs of the final printed items may outweigh the cost differential. Also, working with trusted printers may be the perfect scenario, but will they have the capacity to produce publications at the frequency you’re expecting your audience to anticipate? If only publishing one final text, this factor will not be as pressing of an issue.
Various Options for Producing Digital Publications
For those looking to move into self-publishing digital publications, there are multiple options worth consideration. A respected and well-recognized option for digital publications is Issuu, a platform for audiences to uncover and engage with new publications. Issuu publishing options range from free for basic digital publishing to $269 for the premium publishing plan. One of the perks of leveling up to a more expensive option is the ability to perceive reader interaction with your publication. While printed publications enter the world and are unable to communicate information back to the publisher, Issuu’s platform allows the ability to capture key audience insights in order to better develop and shape ongoing online publications. The Susie mag founders noted the importance of securing reader insights for Susie in the steps the magazine took to better anticipate what their readers expected from the zine. “The project is still in the beginning phases… [so] we made a lot of changes in Issue 2, primarily in physical layout, after feedback discussion from core teammates and [others] we pulled onto the project,” they say. Ascertaining feedback, whether through built-in publishing tools or outreach to current fans or readers, will prove to be pivotal as a publication develops to better attract new audiences and retain existing fans.
For existing users of the Adobe platform, Adobe’s “mobile content” solution allows publishers the ability to directly share publications created through Adobe with the wider internet public. Other existing platforms, such as Mag+ and Paperlit, also allow the publisher to publish a file directly from Adobe InDesign. No matter the experience level of the publishing team, it is only becoming easier to intuit content and design for new publications by researching existing published materials and utilizing user-friendly online tools to create the final product for fans waiting with anticipation.
Crafting Content and Look
No matter what type of publication you’re aiming to share with your audiences, the end goal is either to inform or entertain the reader so that they want to return and learn more. Whether this entails producing print or digital publications for researchers to better understand your artwork through an exhibition catalog or extending your creative practice into a new format, keeping a focused eye on writing style, voice and content will ensure that your audience is greeted with a uniform, easy-to-read text. Once you’ve identified other print or digital publications that you believe will appeal to your audience, the next step will be to gear the content of the finished product toward the reader you hope to attract. Whether this entails hiring a copy-editor to review text you’ve written or contacting curators to write catalog essays for the publication, high-quality content will set your finished piece apart from collateral produced by other artists.
A great guide to moving forward with a self-publishing effort is to identify key aspects that you want in a reader. Are you looking for experienced art historians to recognize the publication? Do you hope to build a larger following among collectors of similar artworks or who collect specifically within your chosen medium? Find influencers within that circle to contribute to your print or digital publications, whether lending a comment or quote for inclusion or writing a reflection on the artwork included in the publication. Looking to publish creative arts and literary journal? See what’s worked in the past, and solicit advice from artists and writers who have participated in similar projects. By not re-inventing the wheel, you’ll be better prepared to deal with the small snags that arise along the way.
Finally, if the content is clunky or unattractively presented, your readership won’t expand at the same rate as a well-designed, on-trend publication. Find creative partners and artistic directors who will be able to steer the look and feel of the publication to ensure that the style and layout are on target with similar print or digital publications in the field. Self-publishing a catalog on sculptures made with wood? Find a graphic designer or art director who has worked on similar projects or understands how to translate this material into the publishing realm. Creating a seamless and smooth interface for the reader, whether online or in print, will make a lasting impression on fans.
The number of factors determining what sets a successful publication apart from the pack may seem daunting, but by soliciting advice from others and building a team of creatives you already admire, you’ll be well on your way to self-publishing a product that you can be proud of. Not only will this increase your visibility and authority within your field as a whole; you’ll produce documentation of how your artistic practice has evolved.
Audra Lambert is a curator, arts marketing consultant, and editor.