How to make a coffee table book: A 10-step guide to getting started

Crafting a coffee table book is an art form that combines equal aspects of storytelling, visual allure, and production value. Coffee table books are the perfect platform for professional photographers and designers interested in showcasing their work, whether as a career-building portfolio or an income-generating finished product.

This comprehensive guide explains how to make a coffee table book that stands out in quality and content. You’ll learn about different types of coffee table books you can create, from photo-driven volumes to more storytelling narratives, along with the steps to conceptualize your book and bring it to life.

Houseplant by Hanna Stetter
houseplant by Hanna Stetter

What is a coffee table book?

Imagine you’re having friends over, and you want to spark interesting discussions or just give them something visually pleasing to look at while they sip their coffee. That’s where a coffee table book comes in. Coffee table books are usually oversized and hardcover, filled with beautiful images and engaging content, and intended for prominent display. 

Coffee table books cover a wide range of topics, from travelogs and food inspiration to cultural eras and fashion design. They’re not meant to be read like a storybook from start to finish but rather savored in tiny portions. Think of them as visual snacks for the eyes or conversation starters, designed to be picked up, flipped through, and enjoyed at leisure. 

For creative professionals, publishing and selling a coffee table book can be one of the most lucrative options in the bookmaking world. Aspiring designers and artists can also utilize this format to share their art and publish their work in a tangible form, helping them reach a wider audience and establish a name in the industry.

Lastly, coffee table books can also be perfect memory keepers and family heirlooms, capturing important moments or documenting the past via scrapbook or journal. The creative possibilities are limitless.

Types of coffee table books you can make

Coffee table books come in all genres about topics as general or niche as you can imagine. It can be helpful not even to think of them as books—they’re conversation starters, sources of inspiration, and artistic statements. Here are some ideas to spark your creativity.

  • Photography books: Transform your travel photos or striking local shots into an engaging snapshot of a journey or travel guide.
  • Cookbooks and food books: Combine tantalizing recipes and culinary traditions to create a delectable coffee table book.
  • Cookbooks and food books: Turn your DIY projects or gardening tips into visually compelling how-to guides that are informative and eye-catching.
  • Musical themes: Express your passion for music with a book featuring concert snapshots, musician bios, or album artwork histories.
  • Design inspiration: Fashion enthusiasts, interior designers, and artists: Leverage this format to display your work or the work that inspires you.
  • Historical and cultural eras: Use the coffee table book format to capture critical historical events or explore iconic cultural influences.
  • Fine art collections: Enhance your living room aesthetic with a curated collection of fine art pieces, complete with insightful explanations.

The secret is to pick a topic close to your heart. Crafting these unique pieces has no hard and fast rules, so let your imagination take the lead. Below you will find steps to make your coffee table book.

Person photographing a food scene, making a coffee table book

1. Conceptualize your coffee table book

When you set out to create a coffee table book, the first and arguably most important step is conceptualization. Conceptualizing your coffee table book involves defining its purpose, identifying your target audience, visualizing its design, and determining its content.

Define your purpose

Start by asking yourself: “What do I want this book to achieve?” Your coffee table book could serve lots of purposes. It might be an artistic expression, a collection of your favorite travel photos, or a showcase of a specific theme or subject matter. Perhaps it’s a way to share a personal story or to promote a brand or a cause. Defining the purpose of your book will not only guide your content creation but also influence the design and layout decisions you’ll make later on.

Identify your target audience

If you are planning to sell your book or distribute it to anyone but yourself, you need to think about the person who will hold it at the end. Your target audience will influence your books’ content, design, and marketing strategies. 

  • Identify their interests: What topics would appeal to your audience? Are they interested in art, fashion, travel, photography, or a particular hobby or subject matter? The theme of your book should align with the interests of your audience.
  • Consider their aesthetic: Your audience’s design preference can significantly impact the style and content of your book. A book targeting Y2K-loving millennial dog owners might have a different tone and visual style than one aimed at Victorian homeowners.
  • Think about their lifestyle: Is your book for casual readers who casually flip through it over coffee or for collectors who will pore over every detail? Understanding this can help determine how in-depth your content needs to be.
  • Evaluate their budget: High-quality coffee table books can be quite pricey. Ensure the production cost and the resulting price point of your book matches the spending capacity of your target audience.

Visualize your design

Next, think about how you want your book to look and feel. Your coffee table book should represent you and your target audience, so consider blending the two. What kind of aesthetic do you want to create? Elegant and minimalistic, or vibrant and eclectic? 

Consider the color scheme, layout, and type of imagery you want to use. Are you more into black-and-white photography, or do you love bold, colorful illustrations? You don’t have to get into all the details, but having an overall vision will help you as you begin curating and designing your book. Remember, your book should tell a story through its visuals, so this isn’t the step to skimp on.

Now visualize your book’s format, size, paper quality, and cover design. These aspects contribute to the overall aesthetic appeal of your book and should align with the purpose of your book. For instance, if your book is about minimalist architecture, you might opt for a clean, sleek design with lots of white space.

Determine the content

Finally, decide what content to include in your book. Most coffee table books are visually oriented, so high-quality photographs will likely form the bulk of your content. However, you might include other elements like illustrations, infographics, maps, or text. If you include text, consider how it will complement the images. It could provide context, tell a story, or offer insights related to the visuals.

Remember, the best coffee table books don’t just look good—they also engage the reader and spark conversation. So, when conceptualizing your book, consider how your choices will contribute to these goals. With a clear concept, you’ll have a solid foundation to build your coffee table book.

Need some inspiration? Check out these awesome custom coffee table book ideas to see how others have nailed it. Don’t overlook creating mood boards and jotting down all your thoughts, as wild and far-fetched as they may seem. You never know what might turn out to be pure genius.

Person typing on a laptop, making a coffee table book

2. Curate your book’s content

A fundamental step in creating an eye-catching coffee table book is curating your content. Whether your book comprises photographs, artwork, text, or a combination, ensuring that every included piece resonates with your theme and contributes to a cohesive narrative is essential. While you’ve already determined what general content you’ll include, now is the time to gather all your raw materials and begin editing away.

Select high-quality imagery

When it comes to curating your image content for a coffee table book, it’s all about creating a visual narrative that resonates with your chosen theme. Here are some steps to guide you through the process:

  • Gather your imagery: Collect all potential images related to your book’s purpose and vision. This is the brainstorming phase, where quantity matters more than quality. Pull from your work, licensed stock photos, or create new images if necessary.
  • Sort and select: Now comes the challenging part—choosing the best images. Look for pictures that tell a story, evoke emotions, or catch the eye. Variety is key here: mix close-ups with wide-angle shots, colors with black and white, action shots with still life.
  • Create a flow: Arrange your chosen images in a way that tells a story or guides the viewer through your theme. This could be chronological, thematic, or based on visual aesthetics like color or composition.
  • Quality check: Ensure all selected images are high resolution for print. Poor-quality images can detract from your book’s overall appeal.

Incorporate relevant text

While coffee table books are primarily visual, the copy is crucial in enhancing the overall narrative and aesthetic appeal. A good coffee table book offers snippets of information that engage readers without overwhelming them—think quotes, anecdotes, or short descriptions relevant to the subject. Here’s how to curate your text:

  • Write your copy: Engage the reader and evoke emotion. Use descriptive language to help readers connect with the content by providing additional information that the visuals alone can’t convey.
  • Balance text and visuals: Aim for concise but insightful captions and descriptions that add depth to your images without stealing the show. Too much text can be overwhelming, while too little might leave your audience confused.
  • Organize your content: Structure your text for easy reading. Use headings and subheadings to break up the text or create sections or chapters based on different themes or topics. This helps guide the reader through your book.
  • Edit and proofread: Grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors can distract from your content and appear unprofessional. Consider hiring a professional editor or proofreader to ensure your text is polished and error-free.
Person using Blurb to make a coffee table book, on laptop with blurb.com open

3. Choose the right format and size

The size and format of your coffee table book can significantly influence its overall appeal. Traditionally, coffee table bookmakers have been encouraged to go big, as most use an oversized hardcover format. Instead of following the crowd, be practical within your target audience’s budget and the nature of the content you’ve curated.

Here’s what to think about when choosing format and size:

  • Orientation: Landscape books set the stage for a cinematic experience, perfect for showcasing photography or art collections. If you’re more into words than visuals, go for portrait orientation, which aligns better with reading habits.
  • Book format: There are many different book options on the market, from premium layflat photo books that will show photography seamlessly across spreads to pocket-sized trade books meant to sell.
  • Cover: Hardcover or softcover, image wrap or dust jacket—plenty of decisions to make regarding your cover. Remember, this is your chance to stand out.
  • Paper quality: High-quality paper adds a touch of luxury and enhances image clarity. It also comes at a premium, so if keeping costs down is important, consider a low-fi look on more economical paper.
  • Audience preference: Consider the preferences of your target audience. Would they prefer a compact book that’s easy to handle or a larger one that makes a statement? Do they want a collectible item on museum-quality paper that will last hundreds of years or a rough-and-tumble book to travel with?
  • Content: If your book features intricate illustrations or detailed photographs, a larger format will make it easier for your audience to see those details. You might also want to invest in top-tier paper and printing. If not, skip the costly materials for better margins.
  • Budget constraints: Larger, hardcover books are typically more expensive to produce and purchase. Make sure the cost aligns with your audience’s budget.
  • Uniqueness: A non-traditional size or format can make your book stand out. But it can also force you to do offset printing and buy hundreds of copies up front.

Remember, every decision should emphasize your content, allowing your best work to shine.

Creator making a coffee table book in BookWright, with a stack of book next to their laptop

4. Design your layouts

A well-crafted design is essential for producing a powerful visual impact. Design page layouts that showcase your content effectively and provide an optimal reading experience.

Be sure to consider the impact of whitespace and how to use it appropriately in your layouts. Whitespace isn’t just empty space; it’s about balance and focus. Use it strategically to guide the reader’s eye and highlight essential elements. 

Think about how you want readers to navigate your book. What should they see first? What should they linger over? These simple layout design concepts can offer a simple starting place:

  • Grid-based designs: Clean and structured, perfect for photo-heavy books or aligned text.
  • Mixed-layout designs: Flexible and visually interesting, ideal for various content types.
  • Singular-focus designs: Let the work speak for itself with one piece per spread.

Consider typography choices too. Font style, size, and color contribute to the aesthetic harmony of your book pages.

Sketch out rough layouts and then use Blurb’s BookWright to craft them digitally. This software offers easy-to-use templates you can customize to suit your vision. But remember that no uniform solution exists when devising coffee table books; your inventiveness is vital.

5. Consider the flow

Your coffee table book’s design is not just about compiling photos or text; it’s about creating an intriguing narrative, a journey for your readers. Consider the flow of your content to make this voyage appealing and seamless. Think about how each page transitions into the next, ensuring no abrupt changes in tone or theme could disrupt your reader’s experience.

Tips for nailing a cohesive flow

  • Select your content wisely: Whether it is photographs from your latest project or snippets of prose, choose elements that complement each other well. The best coffee table books tell stories; they aren’t simply collections of unrelated images or texts.
  • Create a logical sequence: Arrange your chosen material to create progression and continuity. Like any good story, top coffee table books have clear beginnings, middles, and ends.
  • Maintain consistent themes: Don’t plot colorful portraits in the middle if you’re making an Ansel Adams-inspired coffee table book showcasing stunning topographic landscapes in black and white photos. Consistency helps your readers follow your narrative and feel your book is of professional quality.
Houseplant by Hanna Stetter, interior of the coffee table book
houseplant by Hanna Stetter

6. Craft engaging captions and text

If your coffee table book includes text, ensure it’s as captivating as the visuals. You’ve already gathered your copy, but now it’s time to take another pass. 

Remember, captions, anecdotes, quotes, and introductions supplement your book’s storytelling and overall engagement, but balance and execution are key.

  • Captions: Add humor and inspiration, or enhance your images’ overall storytelling and contextual delivery by adding captions. They explain what’s happening, who’s in the picture, where it was taken, and its relevance.
  • Anecdotes: Stories or descriptions that provide context or additional information about the moment captured in the photo. Anecdotes add a personal touch that keeps readers connected. 
  • Quotes: Include quotes from relevant famous individuals or even yourself. They provoke thought and stimulate discussion.
  • Introductions: Set expectations with an introduction at the beginning of each book section. In short, lead in by providing background information.

Here are some additional tips for revising your text as you add it to your layout:

  • Avoid jargon: It can confuse your readers. Opt for simple language instead.
  • Show, don’t tell: Use descriptive language that paints vivid pictures in readers’ minds.
  • Edit ruthlessly: Remove unnecessary words and phrases; every word should serve a purpose.

Remember, less is often more when including captions and texts. Don’t overwhelm readers with too much information.

A book with pages fanned out on a purple background

7. Choose a top-notch print service

Don’t underestimate the importance of picking a high-quality print service for your coffee table book. Print quality can make or break your book, so go for a service specializing in bookstore-quality coffee table books.

To help narrow your options, consider these factors:

  • Quality: Look for services with rave reviews on print quality, especially for coffee table books.
  • Paper type: Different paper types can drastically affect how images look. Make sure the printer offers options suitable for your content.
  • Binding options: Coffee table books often use hard-cover binding for durability and an upscale look, but choose what suits your project best.
  • Print technology: When going the route of self-publishing, opt for printers that use modern digital technology for better image reproduction.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that a great starting point is Blurb. We offer endless customization options, various sizes, cover styles, and premium paper choices perfect for showcasing stunning visuals in coffee table books. Plus, you can sell your books through global distribution channels like Amazon or the Blurb Bookstore.

8. Review and edit

The final step before printing multiple copies is to print a proof to review and edit your coffee table book. Examine each page thoroughly to ensure flawless design, layout, captions, and overall aesthetic. Go through each page with a critical eye. Is the image quality up to snuff? Is there enough whitespace? Any font inconsistencies?

It can be helpful to gather feedback from detail-oriented friends and colleagues or hire a professional editor to review your book. They might spot things you missed because you’re too close to the project.

9. Plan your budget and pricing strategy

Self-publishing your coffee table book requires careful planning, particularly regarding budgeting. A good coffee table book isn’t the cheapest book to print. You must factor in the pricing of elements like premium quality paper, printing, design work, and distribution.

Estimating production costs

The first step is estimating your production costs. Consider your expenses upfront if you’re creating a premium-grade photo book or using fine art paper for your project. Unlike traditional publishing houses that can absorb production costs due to volume sales projections, self-publishers must fund their projects and estimate their production costs wisely.

Setting your price point

Once you have estimated the production cost per unit, it’s time to set your book price point. It should be affordable enough to attract potential buyers while helping you turn a profit. If generating income from your project is essential to its success, your pricing strategy could make or break it. In turn, it’s critical to know what similar coffee table books sell for, as this information provides insight into what customers might be willing to pay.

Social media posts and reviews floating on a blue background

10. Marketing and distribution

The most essential elements to have in place when marketing a self-published coffee table book are a well-designed book cover, a great title, and a well-organized flow. In short, the book must be of the best quality possible. So, invest in a professional cover and take the time to polish your content.

With those boxes checked, here are some marketing and distribution tips to help make your coffee table book a success: 

  • Be clear about your target audience: Knowing how to market a book is easier if you know who to market to. You already identified your target in step one, but now is the time to narrow down your target audience into smaller categories that are easier to target.
  • Establish an online presence and promote your book on social media: Get a professional website, create a blog, and use social media platforms to promote your book. Funneling your marketing efforts and traffic to your website and social media accounts rather than directly to Amazon can be smart.
  • Earn Amazon reviews: If you’re distributing your coffee table book on Amazon, encourage readers to leave reviews. This boosts your book’s visibility and overall credibility.
  • Join online book clubs and forums: Engage with readers and other authors in online book clubs and forums. This builds relationships and gets your book in front of more people.
  • Offer free copies to book bloggers and reviewers: Reach out to book bloggers and reviewers to offer them a free copy of your book in exchange for an honest review. This helps increase your book’s visibility and credibility.
  • Host a launch event: Celebrate the moment with a launch event! Throwing a book party is a perfect way to engage with your readers and promote your book.
  • Attend book fairs and events: Attend book fairs and events to promote your book and connect with potential readers.
  • Use metadata to optimize your book’s discoverability: Use relevant keywords and categories to optimize your book’s discoverability on online platforms and search engines.

Wrapping it up 

Creating a coffee table book is an artistic endeavor that demands creativity, vision, and a keen understanding of your target audience. It’s more than just a collection of images; it’s a tangible expression of your passion and a way to share that with others.

From defining the purpose of your book to planning its launch, every step in the process is crucial. Remember, your book should be aesthetically pleasing, engaging, and meaningful to your readers. So as you embark on this journey, remember to keep your target audience in mind, as they are the ones who will ultimately connect with your work. Make sure your book resonates with their interests, lifestyle, and budget.

Ultimately, the most important thing is to create something you’re proud of that represents your unique vision and aesthetic. With careful planning and a clear concept, you’ll be well on your way to creating a coffee table book that stands out.

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Blurb is a self-publishing platform that enables creators to produce high-quality works that rival traditional publishing houses and access the global market through an online bookstore and distribution channels. 

If your goal isn’t simply to make a stunning piece of home decor but to bring your passion project to life and share it around the globe, Blurb is an accessible platform to start your journey. To get the ball rolling, register an account today.

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