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The Art of Art Book Publicity

Photo of Book by Joe Nickell - Tainted Revelations

Much has already been written about how to promote your own book. I know, because I’ve read plenty of it. But as I recently learned, it’s a somewhat different game when you’re trying to publicize an art book.

In May 2014, the Missoula Art Museum and University of Washington Press released “Tainted Revelations: The Art of Bill Ohrmann,” a book that I spent three years researching, writing and ushering through to its final, hard-cover form.

To be clear, I didn’t work on it that whole time. Nobody makes a living writing art books. A run of 2,000 copies is considered pretty respectable in this quiet niche of the book market. As a result, publishers can’t put much money or time into promoting art books. Promotion is usually the job of the author or the artist.

In my case, that work fell to me. It’s still a work in progress, and I hope to see some compounding successes in the coming months. But already, I’ve gleaned a few key insights into the particular challenges of art book PR.

Lead with the art. Bill Ohrmann’s life story is fascinating; but that’s not what ultimately caught the attention of magazine and newspaper editors. People buy (or review) art books for the art, not the words. When I sent a text press release to some editors, I got zero response. When I sent a picture-heavy, copy-light email to editors, I got their attention.

Collectors are your best evangelists. When you hang a painting above your couch, you’re not just showing interest; you’re proclaiming commitment. Collectors of Bill Ohrmann’s art haven’t just bought themselves a copy of the book — they’ve bought five and 10 copies, to give as Christmas presents. They’ve shared reviews and links about the book on social media. Those collectors have done more to spread enthusiasm about the book than any magazine story could.

A coordinated exhibit is essential. This was actually a tip from Ben Mitchell, author of numerous art books. He was right. People who came to the exhibit spent focused time with the art — and then they wanted something to take home. Moreover, in my case, the exhibit was a key reason that I was able to secure international distribution by UW Press — even though the show only happened once, in Missoula, Montana.

Over time I may add to this list, but those are some keys to start with.

As to my book, you can listen to this interview about it, or read this feature about it. But you’re probably most interested in some art, right? Below are some samples. If you want to see more … well, pick up a copy of the book!

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