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  • Alan Bulley

Pressing Business: Soft Grain Books

Alan Bulley gets the scoop in our series of interviews with photo book publishers, including a Q&A with Sara Faridamin & Daren Zomerman of Soft Grain Books.

Founded in 2022, Soft Grain is an independent photobook publisher based in Vancouver, dedicated to creating a platform for both emerging and established lens-based artists.

What is your view of the publishing market in Canada?

There is a great artist population in Canada, and this is one of the most exciting times to be in publishing. But the market is difficult for new entrants because of the high costs of printing, as well as the skills and programs required to create a good book. There are many print-on-demand services, but they have little customization and the costs are extremely high.

There is a hunger for Canadian art and stories, but the artists haven’t always been present, in Canada—as many moved abroad to bigger international markets. But, we're now seeing many artists coming back and being represented at local galleries.

For example, Jeff Wall, a Canadian-born artist who published most of his works in the UK has recently partnered with some local galleries in BC. We're also seeing greats like Greg Girard, Dave Heath, and Fred Herzog being published and shown through Canadian institutions, which is building a lot of momentum in the Canadian market.

Equally exciting is seeing many traditionally underrepresented artists finding it easier to have their voices heard. More CanCon is always a good thing, and we are very excited to help promote it every chance we get.

How do you choose what projects you publish? How far in advance do you work?

We’re very new entrants into publishing. That means we have a tighter budget to work with, but we are also open to experimentation and projects from newer lens-based artists. The first thing that we look for is art with a clear, strong message, usually in a documentary format.

The works we’ve published have had a range from long-term projects that have spanned two years, to one that literally came together in less than two months from developing the film to sending them to the printer.

What has been the most commercially successful book you have published?

Between Blocks has been our most successful project so far. We believe it has been successful because this story combines a soft subject and format with a strong environmental/activist message about preserving nature within municipal landscapes.

What makes an effective proposal from an artist?

An effective proposal will have a strong message that the work is expressing, and contain a series of eye-catching, one-of-a-kind photos with a cohesive look and narrative.

Don’t use big, meaningless words meant to appeal to other artists without saying a single thing — we publish art that is direct and impactful.

We like to receive projects that are well-defined, visually engaging, and accompanied by a short introduction text or even longer essays depending on the type of project. Research and artist statement is one of the key components of understanding the purpose of the book and the photo project, however, the aesthetic is equally important. If the two do not work in harmony, then it will not make a good book.

We are open to different genres of photography at the moment. We hope to receive proposals that make us think, feel, or question something about life and our surroundings.

What sort of financial arrangements do you have with artists (dealing with up-front costs, revenues, etc.)?

Right now, since we’re just getting started, we may ask artists to contribute to the initial publishing cost, which we work hard to keep costs and risks down. Once all the costs are covered for both sides, then we split revenue down the middle.

What sets us apart is that we will work with the artist to write grant proposals, collaboratively conduct pre-sales, and help them show their work in local spaces — we take a very hands-on approach that helps artists grow organically.

How involved is the artist in book design?

We like to hear the artist’s ideas and collaborate with them to make sure the project's main ideas are presented in the book. We like to hear their ideas and experiment with different formats, types of prints, paper, and sequencing of the photos. We aim to present the work in a unique and artistic way — a process that looks very different for each book.

How do you market and distribute the books you publish? Where do they go? How many copies do you print on average?

We use social media to promote the work and mainly use our website for selling the book. We look forward to seeing more book fairs in Canada so we can present our books in person and meet our potential audience, and also to partner with galleries to sell books in person.

The number of copies also depends on the project and artist. But on average we like to make limited editions ranging from 250 to 500 copies — that way, people who buy Soft Grain Books will know they’re getting a genuine, well-thought-out, and one-of-a-kind book that directly supports the artist who made it. Chances are you’ll see different books on the shelf every visit, and the one you picked up last time won’t be available anymore.

What one message would you give photographers who want to publish their work?

Keep making work and believe in making progress over time, not overnight!

Find a subject that you have knowledge and passion for — if you wouldn’t get out of bed at 4 am in the dead of winter to go get your cover photo, then it’s not the right project. Refine your perspective and have a point to make.

What's your dream publishing project?

The books we dream of publishing are the ones that break boundaries and provide a unique, unflinching perspective on things relevant to us locally, and important globally. For example, we dream of publishing books that show the personal effects of climate change, clear-cutting, the opioid crisis, and much more.

What's one thing that would surprise our readers about your work behind the scenes?

We're a small, new team, and we're also local artists who are publishing and exhibiting work across the country. We're here to mentor and prop up new artists as much as we are to promote art — because at the end of the day, we want to create the environment we wish we’d had when we first started out.

Is there anything else that our readers should know about your company or the work you do?

The world needs more CanCon! We are at the beginning of our journey as a photo book publisher and we look forward to getting to know more photographers and working with them to promote the art of photo books. There are not enough publishers that aim to help emerging artists. We want to make sure that art can be seen.

Find out more about SOFT GRAIN BOOKS - HERE.


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