The very mention of the word ‘Blurb’ seems to send authors into an immediate comparison with DIY author solutions service, Lulu. While it is understandable, I still see one highly established company pitted against a young pretender. These modern day forces in the author solution world have emerged from different corners of the DIY self-publishing ring. Lulu offers everything from calendars to DVD production, to the next great novel, while Blurb’s roots lie with photographic and artistic production since 2006. Both offer accessibility and ease of use with author-friendly production tools and the ability to produce a quality product for fun or serious endeavour. Lulu have offered a publishing platform for the serious author for quite some time, whereas, Blurb has only recently tailored their Booksmart (TM) software to accommodate authors with text-laden books.
What grabbed my attention about Blurb straight away was the quality of their internal book layout, the costs of their books to authors, and significantly, they choose to hand over the tools of book production to the author by way of software download of Booksmart. This free software is the engine of Blurb’s whole business itself. Since 2006, it has continued to be a ‘work in progress’, with continued upgrades and updates in an effort to iron out glitches and make the hands-on publishing process for authors as easy as possible. It still remains an ongoing ‘work in progress’, and some of the issues I experienced myself seem to have been hanging around for the past couple of years.
For authors, Blurb is not like Lulu. It is a different experience, first and foremost, and with benefits as well as deficiencies. The attributes of the final book are different and present their own advantages as well as challenges for a self-publishing author. It is clear from the start when you browse the Blurb site that you are dealing with a company who can present a highly visual, glossy and polished book. Coffee table books come to mind instantly. The skill of the author using the Booksmart software is to convert their manuscript into a presentable quality book with the facilities, wherewithal and avenue to market to the family, friends and crucially to the general buying public.
This is where we encounter the first critical hurdle with Blurb. They do not provide ISBN’s, nor do they provide distribution—on line or brick ‘n’ mortar. Blurb simply offers their own on line bookstore and on line community to market to. I could be harsh and say Blurb simply give you a cheap and friendly version of a book design package such as ‘InDesign’ and an on line platform to display it. That would be unfair and belie the potential power of a sleeping giant. This is what we are dealing with here. How the author using this completely free service decides to properly utilise what is available—how they best use their own guile and ingenuity—sums up Blurb’s strengths and weaknesses.
Every tutorial on Blurb’s site emphasises the fun involved in the publishing process, but that is one of their weaknesses. It is a weakness because Blurb are sophisticated enough to offer a viable book product, through their authors, which can actually compete in the retail world of books, given a proper chance. I suppose I am saying Blurb need to take a leap of faith and realise that many of their authors and artists are serious individuals, whether designers, photographers, architects or novelists, and offer them a full author solution service. You just want Blurb to match the professionalism of their clients with a like-minded service.
Once you peruse the Blurb site and see what is on offer, you are invited to download Booksmart (TM) and try out the software. It takes a minute or two to download to your PC or MAC and there are plenty of tutorials to also view on line before you dive in.
I decided to take a previously published book from my own publishing imprint (Aquarius Communications Publishing) to use to test out the software. ‘Thais’ was published ten years ago and it seemed a perfect time to re-issue it for publication as a single book again. It was part of my last published collection of fiction, Filigree & Shadow, and was consistently a highlight of many reviews of the book.
When Booksmart launches on your PC you are given the option to upload a word document or a series of photographs for inclusion in your book. You decide upon the trim size and format of your book and proceed from there. It is not hard to see that the text/black/white interior option has only recently been added as it has the least layout choices available. Immediately the cover, copyright and title/chapter pages are there, but you can edit these pages to your own specifications. I chose simply to drop and paste the interior of my book in to the pages and play around with the fonts and styles. You effectively get all fonts available in word and the freedom to customise as much as you want or import your documents on to a themed template. What I like most is the flexibility it gives you. Having said that, using the copy and paste method seems to highlight some glitches in the Booksmart software. You have got to be very careful with text ‘justification’, ‘centring’ and in particular, words like ‘don’t’ and ‘martin’s’ where the ‘’s’ can often be separated from the main word and centring and justification can be completely lost. The real headache comes with artwork. Something Blurb should actually be strong with. The cover can be a nightmare if you have not selected the correct format you want with the book. Booksmart does not allow the import of PDF document pages or graphics, so every image has to come in as a bitmap or jpeg, with a 300dpi resolution.
It is worth spending an hour or so on the tutorials. All Blurb books default to having a copyright page and back page with the Blurb insiginia on them. Once authors start getting hands on with the software—they may be tempted to decide that Blurb is not the one for them. In my next article, I will tell you ways of using Blurb as an full author publishing tool for true self-publication, and the ways you can circumvent the Blurb engine and publish a book under your own imprint by actually using Blurb in the way ‘Our Eileen Gittins’ should allow it to be used. That includes designing your own pages in PDF and dropping them into Booksmart.
All will be revealed in my next article.