A coffee table book is an over-sized, most often hard-covered book intended for display on a table or counter, where it’s available to guests to spark conversation. Usually, the subject matter is non-fiction and based on photos or other images, able to be skimmed or appreciated quickly by guests.
Coffee Table Books
Generally, the content is meant to be read and understood by a general audience, taking a broad view of subjects in captions and small blocks of text, instead of a deeper exploration. The topics could cover broad, visually appealing territory such as art, pets or other animals, architecture, and sometimes history or science.
Some authors may also be looking to create a single-copy coffee table book about personal topics such as family history.
- The subject matter should lend itself well to visual display.
- Not only should the images themselves be captivating, the interior design should give them a chance to shine.
- Professional design in any publishing is important, but it’s especially essential for a coffee table book, since the primary point of appeal is visual.
- As a starting point, some self-publishing services may offer templates for photobooks.
The typically large format of coffee table books means higher printing costs, and the focus on the visuals usually means higher costs for the art as well. You will need good color, which means a test proof from the printer.
Prices can also add up quickly when permissions are required for photos, which can be costly or, if the art is original, you will need to scan or take photos of your art. Even if it is to be a book of your own photos, any files will need to be of a high resolution in order to print clearly.
Finding an Audience
There may be a general audience for coffee table books, including those looking for a gift, or decorating a space in their home. But really, the more generic the approach, the larger the audience.
Make sure you can imagine who would be interested in your book, and how they might find it. If your book is focused on photos, don’t just put together a disconnected collection of aesthetically appealing photos, come up with a theme—that’s what will draw an audience.
by Fran Berger
See Izzard Ink in action with this example of a coffee table book, The Catalogue by Fran Berger. Learn more about the author's journey and how we worked together on the entire publishing journey.
Print on Demand vs. Press Run
Your coffee table book should call out for guests to pick it up and flip through, and its cover should be aesthetically appealing, since it sits on a table as a piece of decoration—not unlike a painting on a wall.
With a sizable press run, you’ll have special cover design choices available that wouldn’t be feasible with print on demand.
Book Cover Treatments
Spot UV is a popular cover design option in which a glossy varnish is applied to parts of the cover to add depth and contrast that can highlight certain features. Another finishing method called “soft touch” gives a smooth, velvety finish to a cover, boosting tactile appeal.
For coffee table books, both the visual and tactile quality is key, and the cover should be a central consideration. Whatever your choice, be sure your book stays true to the original hallmarks of coffee table books:
- visual appeal;
- broad approach to the text and subject matter;
- unusual, unique, or eye-catching content.
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