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Simple self-publishing with Blurb - my experience
Member Name: melinda3536
Date: 25/04/11, updated on 25/04/11 (290 review reads)
Advantages: Very straightforward, free software, option of selling your book
Disadvantages: No ISBN, limited scope for sales
I first came across the Blurb website through a friend who advertised her book, a photographic study of trees, through Facebook. It looked great in the advert, and I was interested to see how the site worked. It seemed easy enough to navigate, but I found (not surprisingly) that I had to register to be able to download the template and book-building software. Registration was very quick, with just a username, password and email address required. There's then an automatic email, which you have to open and click the link to verify your email address. You're then registered, and away you go! With the endorsement from my friend, I thought it was worth a try, so I went ahead and downloaded and installed their free "Booksmart" software.
The website is easy to navigate and very full - there are many subject headings for books that have already been published and are available for purchase; there's a whole section on various publishing options, and there's an extensive help section. It's well worth spending a fair bit of time just having an explore of the site, which is what I did at first - you could easily lose half a day browsing in there!
At this point, I'd like to say that I have used the photo book option and not the text book option, so I can't give an opinion on the written word side of this software. For a photo book, it is very straightforward, and apparently fairly idiot-proof since I haven't had any major mishaps yet. There is the opportunity of an introductory tutorial when you open it up, which is well worth taking. When you decide to start your book, you are taken to a page where you can choose the size and format of it. On the left are the options for full colour or black & white text, while on the right you are shown the options available for each one. For instance, if you choose the 'Small Square' full colour option, it tells you that the approximate dimensions are 7"x7" (or 18 x 18cm), and that it can be printed as a hardcover with dustjacket, as a hardcover with imagewrap, or as a softcover (ie paperback).
There are also links here to the main Blurb site that take you to pricing options and further information. The cheapest option is for a book containing 20-40 pages (20 is the minimum, with 440 being the maximum), which was what I opted for in my first attempt. When you've made up your mind, you are presented with an initial 20 page template to start playing with.
MAKING YOUR BOOK
Each individual type of page has a host of different templates. This can be a bit mind-boggling at first. This is where a bit of playing helps a lot, it's well worth just trying out various pages and templates for a while to get the hang of it all. For example, the cover has several different options, including a version for a loose dust-jacket so that you can choose a picture and text to go on the fold-in flaps front and back. You can choose to have a photograph and text or just one or the other on the cover, and whether a picture covers the whole of the front or is in a box. This is pretty typical of the individual page options too, except that there are a lot more to choose from!
There is an obligatory copyright and 'published by' page (you should look out for this, as my daughter noticed that I had to replace some of the text with my own name and insert a couple of other bits of information too. I'd not seen that at all!). There are options for a title page, contents etc. It saves your work automatically, so there's no need to panic if your computer crashes, which is a great bonus. Once I had used up my initial twenty pages, I found that it was easy to add more, either at the end or in between existing ones.
I had no problems with importing my photos from the PC's hard drive. I use a DSLR, and although the recommended resolution is quite high - 300dpi - and mine is 72, thankfully the pictures are so huge that they're acceptable when they're squished into book form. This is NOT the case with any digital camera though. The software does say that most 'straight from the camera' images are accepted, and the key word here is MOST. Our youngest daughter is having a go at her own little book, and has found that pictures taken with her point & shoot are too low a resolution to work. Hers is very cheap though, and I guess that most reasonable digital cameras, even camera phones, would produce high enough resolution images to pass the test. I've just put a 2MP picture from my phone into a standard landscape format book to test this and in fact it's fine!
From my experience making my photo book, I've found that you can change the page template once you've placed your photos, as long as you stick to the same number of photos per page. It's also possible to click on a 'fill' button to make sure that your picture fills the available frame, as they're often a little too wide one way or too tall the other. You can change the background colour of your pages, and even insert patterns and borders, and choose whether to apply this change to just one page or to the whole book. You can also change the size of your book, and not just the size but the format too, for instance you can change from landscape format to square. It doesn't appear possible to change between landscape and portrait layout, which is understandable if you think of wide photos suddenly having to fit a narrow space, or narrow photos floating around in wide pages.
When you feel that you're close to completing your book, you can press the 'Book Preview' button to view the pages without margin and border lines. I found that this was a great help and showed up a number of details that needed a little more work. From the book preview, you can either choose to go back and do some more editing, or move forward onto ordering your copy.
COMPLETING AND ORDERING YOUR OWN COPY
For each book that you create, the only obligation is that you buy one copy yourself. I chose to order the dust-jacket version with standard paper, partly because it was the mid-cost option, but also so that I could see the quality of the dust-jacket. You can order multiple copies at trade rates in order to have a stock to sell for yourself. When you order your book you are also offered the option of adding your book to the Blurb Marketplace. You can add your choice of profit to the basic price of your book, which you keep should you sell any copies. This is paid to you through Paypal every month that you reach £12.50 or more in profits. If you don't reach this total in a month, it's rolled over to the next. I hope one day to update this part of my review if I eventually manage to sell some copies and the payments happen!
When signing up to the Marketplace you are asked if you are a US citizen and in any way subject to US taxation (the company is registered in San Fransisco). You also have to provide your Paypal email, and agree to the terms & conditions. When you're all registered, you can customise your book's profile page in the shop, write an author profile, decide whether to make your book publically viewable or just to invited individuals, etc. There are also several promotional tools, for instance a customised email 'to all your friends', widgets for your blog, and sharing options for social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE BOOK
I received my book pretty much when they estimated it would arrive - they say to allow at least 7 days from order through printing to delivery. It comes from Holland, by the way, not all the way from the States - presumably a service for Europe. It was very well packaged, sealed in a plastic wrap and snugly placed inside a custom made cardboard packet. It arrived in perfect condition. The printing is very good - as I stated above, I opted for the standard paper for my first copy, and although it is fairly thin paper, it's still semi-gloss and serves the photographs well.
All of the photos and text pieces are present. It's worth noting that with the dust-jacket version, the cover pictures are only printed on that - the hardback book itself underneath has a plain black cover, possibly to match the black background that I chose for the book's pages. The dust-jacket is fairly good quality paper, it hasn't yet settled into its folds so it is a little like thick photo printer paper when you try to fold it without scoring it first - it's quite springy still. I think that it will settle in time. I'm not certain however that it would bear frequent use, but then that's true of most dust-jackets!
A few days after receiving my book, Blurb sent a short customer satisfaction survey via email, and a couple of days after that, a 10% e-voucher off my next order, valid for a limited time, as a thank you for using the site. This was valid against a single or multiple order.
As a vanity project, it has been fun to see my photos in a book! As a money-making scheme, my book isn't 'niche' enough to grab people's attention and sell (at least, not yet). It's worth noting that while you can publish text-only books, the bias is towards photograph or art-based material, although this can range from a collection of paintings or travel photos to recipes, crafts and scientific studies. But if you are looking to self-publish and sell seriously, there is one major problem with Blurb - there is no ISBN number for your book, and the only place you will ever sell it is in the Marketplace or out of a box yourself. You could perhaps pay for your own ISBN numbers and stick them on? There are other self-publishing companies that do provide ISBN numbers, Lulu immediately springs to mind, and I'd be interested to use them to see how they work for the sake of comparison.
However, Blurb has the great advantage of having very easy to use software, and a huge variety of templates. The cost per copy is quite high, which for anyone looking at buying someone else's book in this economic climate would probably be an immediate barrier. My seven inch square, hardback, dust-jacketed, 40-page full colour book cost me £14.95. I've added £2 on to each variation for the Marketplace. By comparison, if you make a text-only book, it could cost as little as £1.95 for a 40-page paperback.
Publishing photo books is increasingly popular, and there are many different companies producing them (even Tesco and Boots do). Blurb, in my opinion, does go a little further, particularly with the Marketplace option, and also with the ability to take as long as you like to construct and perfect your book. I'm already planning a couple of others, and I'm trying to think of more unusual subjects that may be more likely to get some buyers interested! So I do recommend them, as long as you bear in mind the limitations that I've mentioned.
Here's a link to the bookstore, the rest of the site is accessible from here too : http://www dot blurb dot com/bookstore
Summary: Excellent for self-publishing photo books, but limited scope for selling