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My Travel Photo Book Was Good Enough To Be A Coffee Table Book

Updated on September 5, 2016


A coffee table book always catches my eye every time I visit a home or enter a bookstore. It seems that authors and publishers make that extra effort to design coffee table books' covers stunningly attractive. These books are meant to be grabbed impulsively and perused while waiting. Titles appeal to personal interests. Many of these books are designed to enhance homes and are placed artfully usually on guest bedside tables and, of course, coffee tables.

I have had the coffee table books in my home for quite some time. I have taken their presence for granted and they are now just mere props in my home until.....

My Travel Photo Book, A Coffee Table Book?

I had the privilege of hosting guests from England and Switzerland recently. My coffee table books caught their eye. The books they were most interested in were books on Orange County, Los Angeles, and California; rightfully so, because they wanted to know more about the area they were visiting. They also were interested in a thick travel photo book that I self-published because they wanted to know more about me and my family. The travel book was carelessly left in the living room and was picked up. My guests' genuine interest in the travel book made me happy. I also had the added satisfaction of hoping that the travel photo book was as attractive as the professionally produced coffee table books!

The photo book I made documented a trip to Italy. It was 150 pages of pictures and I included an itinerary and a post-trip journal. Post-trip journalizing meant that some bits of information were missing due to memory lapses and inadequate documentation. My delightful reward came when my guests said, "You mentioned a restaurant in Rome where you had your best dinner experience but you did not write down the name." I did not have the information. I no longer had the receipt and did not write down the name of the restaurant. The statement, however, confirmed for me that the book was good enough. It was read.

I did not intend to make a travel photo book until I came across publishing software on the Internet. In fact, I was trying to write a book on my family's history. The software I found however did not allow photo editing which was necessary for old family photographs. Because of this inability to photo edit, I decided to try a book that would make use of only good quality pictures that I had on hand. Voila! My family and I just came from a three-week summer vacation in Italy. I had hundreds of pictures, all sequential, and almost all were of good quality.

It took two weeks for me to learn the software, upload the pictures, select pictures for page layouts and click that button ordering a printed book. It was grueling work but really satisfying. Learning the software on how to make two-page spreads without gaps, making sure photos completely fill up image frames, and selecting photographs for image frames that complement each other proved arduous. And there was more to learn. Halfway into the project, I realized that the end product had to be perfect to make it a successful endeavor. I felt that there was no room for even the tiniest error. This realization was humbling and made me focus hours of work every day.

I wish I could write down specific steps to take to publish a photo book, however, instructions by the publishing software companies are a better source of information. What I have are the fruits of my experience which might help. Here they are:

  1. Learning the publishing software is key to be able to efficiently unleash creativity.
  2. Photographs must be of good quality and must be adequate for printing. Web quality pictures will not be good enough.
  3. It takes much more than having the photographs or artwork. Selection and arrangement results in an artistic page. The software can provide templates but what goes into the template is content which will make or break the project.
  4. Diligent scrutinizing of every page for minute details such as page numbering, layout, pictures, text, and color is just part of the work. Colors of photographs and pages must work well together. Are the contents falling on the appropriate pages? Text must be well written. Edit. Edit. Edit. Ask the help of other editors for their critical comments.
  5. A book is made up of pages. Each page must be perfect.
  6. The book's cover, usually a hardcover, must be designed to capture and captivate instantly the interest of someone who had not intended to sit and read.
  7. Do not save pennies on the quality of the cover and the paper for pages. The hard work that went into the book deserves the best
  8. A coffee table book tends to be bigger in size than a regular book. It is tempting to come up with a smaller book with fewer pages. I think to do so would be a mistake. A coffee table book must command a presence with its size, with its content, and with its weight. The book must capture a chunk of surface space as well as air space on a table.

Although I strove for excellence, I know the project was not perfect. The crash course on the publishing software that I took while I worked on the book would not have given me enough knowledge to produce an excellent book. However, I did produce a good travel photo book, good enough for my coffee table.

Pondering on my next self-publishing project, I think that my own story, my own family's story, and our interests could be presented in an attractive and interesting way... just like professionally written coffee table books.

I came across a website that had reviews on nine self-publishing software in an article titled "Make Your Own Coffee Table Book". This useful link is shown here.

There are also a number of books available on self-publishing and design like these books listed below.

It was very hard to make the photo travel book on the "learn as you go" method. However, I am not sure if I have the gumption to pursue formal technical education on publishing. I should try to learn as much as I can from books, from the Internet, and from friends. For most of us who will not be making books for a living, I think taking the time to get to know self-publishing software offered free on the Internet is practical. I would like to assure everyone that it is possible to make a coffee table that is absolutely stunning.

Would you embark on a project to make a coffee table book?

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