Coffee Table Books: A Lucrative Way to Sell Your Hometown Photos

As I peer at my home library shelf and see six coffee table books with my name on their covers, it’s a little hard to believe. What started out as a “one book” deal with a national publisher bloomed into five more projects over the past 20 years.

Coffee table photo books are fun to create... and there’s a big opportunity in them. But not all are created equal.

Of the six books I have photographed for, three were “sponsored books,” published by San Antonio chambers of commerce, and three were through “traditional” publishers, both local and national.

The most money I have made from the traditional book publishers is around $2,000 -- not even minimum wage compensation for the time I spent going to events, documenting buildings, etc.

However, of the “sponsored books,” the least I have made is just under $10,000 and the most was closer to $20,000 -- a much nicer sum!

Out of all the books I have worked on, my favorite was the one that brought in nearly $20K, called “San Antonio, A Cultural Tapestry.” My photos made up about a third of the book, and I acted as photo editor to fill the rest with great images of San Antonio from my peers. That was fun. It always amazes me how two photographers can shoot the same subject matter so differently.

One question I get from fellow photographers who want to see their work published in a book is this: “Why are sponsored books able to pay more for photography?”

Easy. The publisher knows before the book even heads to the printer that he or she has collected enough money from advertisers to cover all the costs (and profits) beforehand. It’s a great system that ensures that the book will pay for itself before it makes it into the bookstore. Any other sales afterward are just “gravy,” as we say down in the South.

And here’s something else...

If you live in a small town, you might have an even better chance of landing a sweetheart deal like this than those of us in larger cities. Finding good photos of San Antonio is relatively easy compared to finding good photos of Amarillo.

If you can take good pictures and you think you have what it takes to create a coffee table book about your hometown, the paychecks and the prestige of seeing your name on a published photo book are worth it.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel. Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]