How to Self-Publish My Artwork

Photo by Christina Hamlett

Things You'll Need

  • Computer
  • Internet access
  • Digital camera
  • Printer
  • Photo paper
  • Photo editing software
  • A budget
  • A website

Whether you're an up-and-coming new artist or have a portfolio that reflects years of experience, making your work accessible to potential buyers is important. While many artists rent space in local galleries, go on the festival circuits and set up booths at craft fairs and flea markets, these can be time-consuming and, accordingly, cut down on the time left for new projects. A more practical alternative may be to self-publish your artwork. Here's how to get started.

Identify a theme for the artwork collection you want to publish. If you're planning to use a book as a broad-based marketing tool to show off your versatility, it could have a generic title like "As I See It: Photos of the World by Joe Jones." If your art embraces a specialization such as animals, architecture or fruit, you can give the book a tighter focus such as "Still Life With Bananas."

Decide on the size, shape and binding of your book. Average sizes range from 5 x 8 inches to 9 x 12 inches. While most books are printed in a vertical format, larger editions (i.e., coffee-table books) can be printed horizontally. Books also can be shaped as squares or--if you want to go the extra expense--cut to resemble headstones, fish, clouds, etc. The type of binding depends on whether the book is paperback or hard cover. Minimum and maximum page counts vary among print shops but generally range from 50 to 700 pages. If you intend your book to lie flat when open, consider having it spiral-bound so that the spine won't break.

Study art books to glean ideas about layout. From your bookstore research, determine whether you want your book to be photos with just titles, photos with detailed descriptions about the settings, circumstances and materials used, or a combination of photos, text, anecdotes, stories and biographical information.

Identify your target audience. If you plan to give it to friends and family, the style probably will be fairly informal. If you'll use it to impress gallery owners, court potential investors and/or seek employment as a professional artist, treat it as seriously as you treat your resume, and demonstrate a high level of sophistication. If your artwork will be used to teach art students about lighting, perspective, textures and the like, include bullet points and steps. If it's spiral bound and lies flat, consider including blank pages so students can make notes as they work through the content.

Select images to display in your book. The number of images will be based on the decisions you made in Steps 2 and 3.

Take digital photos of each item you want to showcase. If your work is a freestanding piece of art (i.e., sculpture, furniture, ceramics, wood carving, glass), make sure that the background isn't a distraction. If it's a painting, tapestry, or anything else that hangs on a wall, shoot it against a white or black wall, or a screen or curtain whose color will intensify the saturation in the picture. For instance, a canvas depicting yellow pears is more eye popping when photographed against a red backdrop than a cream one.

Print one copy of each image.

Lay the images out on the floor or a large table and try sequencing them in different configurations to create a visual storyboard. Pay particular attention to clusters of images that will be displayed on the same page or that will be on opposing pages to make sure they complement one another. When you achieve a sequence to your liking, number them on the back so that you can refer to them when you start uploading them to your working document.

Research the offerings of self-publishing entities in terms of pricing, size, layout, rights, number of free author copies, royalty structures and distribution mechanisms. Remember that, if you were to take your camera-ready manuscript or disc to a book printer, you would still have to copyright the material, pay for its ISBN number, and tirelessly hawk it to book distributors and bookstores. Further, you would have to commit to a minimum number of copies printed. In contrast, self-publishing entities such as Outskirts Press and Dog-Ear Press provide extensive editorial and marketing assistance, take care of the registration details as part of the packaging fee, and make new releases available via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders and through major distributors such as Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Powells. Last but not least, you have the choice of your book(s) being available in paperback, hard cover, ebook and CD form, all of which eliminates the need to warehouse inventory.

Decide on a self-publisher whose services best fit your needs and self-promotion budget. Once you have paid the set-up fees, the publisher will walk you through the steps of planning/uploading cover art and photos of your art and writing the accompanying text. Many self-publishers assign you an editor or marketing rep when you first sign up. If you have questions or concerns, you generally can get a response within 24 to 48 hours.

Proofread everything carefully before finalizing your order. Ideally, you should recruit friends to look it over for you; sometimes you can get so absorbed in the process of being creative that you'll miss typos. Don't assume the spell-check function in your word processing program will catch them for you.

Start a buzz about your art book on your own website. Either refer prospective buyers to the self-publisher's website, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble or make it available for purchase directly from you. Make a few pages available on your website as a good supplement to your artist's resume.


  • Take photos of your artwork in natural light as well as artificial light and choose those that show off your project to best advantage. Use photo editing programs such as Roxio Photo Suite to crop your images, manipulate colors and incorporate special effects such as collages.


  • Comparison-shop the various self-publishing entities before you decide. Some, for instance, require you to purchase a minimum number of copies and store them yourself. Others, with their bad reputations for producing shoddy products, have become the laughingstock of the publishing industry because they will print anything just to get the author's money. Visit websites such as "Preditors and Editors" (see "Resources"), where you can post questions and hear about others' experiences.