Posted by: tsubakuro | July 8, 2010

This is Only a Test

A couple of months ago, a reader of this blog posted a comment referring to LuLu.com, a produce-on-demand book publishing company. He wished me luck with Project: Sanmyaku, but added that if I couldn’t find a publisher I could always check out LuLu. At first I gave it little consideration. I was not interested in some do-it-yourself self-publishing service because I had already lots of experience with that. This was not just a collection of a few favourite images or photographs of my son captured over the last few months. This project is meant for the big time, a real publisher.

But LuLu returned to my thoughts in May and I decided to look into it. The concept attracted me and I began seriously researching not only LuLu but other POD services as well. It seemed that Blurb.com might actually be a better company for a serious photo book project, if I were to try to make something. I considered some ideas and decided to check out the Blurb bookstore and see who was creating what. Several books were of landscape photography and looked very nice on the computer screen. I chose a few authors and sent them a long list of questions about Blurb quality. All of them were kind enough to reply within a few days and answered my questions to my satisfaction. The results were that two photographers were very impressed, one was very satisfied, and one said Blurb quality was not as good as other publishing services but still good enough.

Based on the reviews I read and the comments from those four photographers, I decided to go ahead and try to make a book through Blurb, and it then occurred to me to consider what one photographer had said: he would use his Blurb book as a promo to send to publishers. Already toying with the some photos in the Blurb BookSmart software, I decided to give Sanmyaku: Photographs from the Japan Alps a test creation. I was already planning to revise my proposal with a virtual sample book and perhaps more small prints from more recent trips. Why not create the whole book and show the publisher?

So, that is what has been consuming my time as of late. I have made a test copy of 40 pages, just to see how the quality turns out and if I can adequately adjust the brightness of photos for printing with the software I have, and to test out the BookSmart software for other future projects I might want to handle on my own. Here’s what I experienced with Blurb and BookSmart so far.

Blurb vs. LuLu

Thankfully, many other people wrote about their experiences with one or the other company or both, so I learned a lot in advance. LuLu’s strong points were stitch binding, smaller dot matrix printing, ISBN numbers, and the possibility of sales on Amazon or in major bookstores with the ISBN number. But many photographers claimed they enjoyed the results they got with Blurb more. Blurb appears to be more geared towards photo books, while LuLu seems to have added that possibility to their menu only recently. Blurb software (BookSmart) was also rated as the most versatile of the various POD companies out there, and one photographer said that although Blurb print quality was not as good as Apple’s My Publisher, it was better than LuLu’s. Blurb currently doesn’t have an ISBN acquisition option but you can still get one on your own and add it to your book.

Looking at the Blurb web site, there are many things to help you along with your project. The software is easy to use, very versatile indeed, and the company hosts a blog and webinars telling you how to get the best colour from your images, how to put together a great book, and so on.

Using BookSmart

The software has to be downloaded and installed on your computer. One person complained that this was an archaic way of doing things but since I only have internet access when I bring my lap top to work, it was convenient for me to work off-line at home and then bring the computer to work when I was ready to upload the book.

I am not a technically savvy guy and even though I welcome the intellectual challenge of figuring out software, I am often frustrated by programs and computers. I decided to tackle BookSmart not as a potential enemy but as a potential good friend. I had a few minor frustrations at first until I took a moment to see what the main screen offered and how I could do what to get what I wanted. After the first 20 minutes, I had all the basics sussed and was impressed at how smoothly most things were going.

Loading my photos from my computer was a cinch. On the screen there’s your book for viewing in the middle with the option to see just one page, a two-page spread, or several pages at once, which is good for checking continuity and flow. The pages also appear as a strip across the bottom of the screen. At the top is the tool bar and to the left is your photo pool. You can choose to show all photos in the pool, or only the ones you haven’t used yet. Ones that have already been placed in the book receive a check mark. The photos are easily dragged and dropped onto the pages.

Page formatting took a few moments to figure out but turned out to be genius. There are over 70 templates from which to choose, but even if you don’t like any of them, you can choose anything and then edit it to design your own page. Text and image boxes can be added or removed, and headers and footers can be selected and removed as well. For flow text (text that should run over more than one page without breaks) some text boxes shouldn’t be altered or the flow text will break with each page leaving unjustified lines. And with locked text boxes images can’t overlap. But if any of these few restrictions bother you, you can create your page yourself in your chosen software and save it as a JPEG or PFD file and drop it on your book page.

Photos can be sized, cropped, and placed freely on the pages, as can text boxes. There are many fonts available and also options for choosing right, left, center, or justified text and so on. For the most part, I found it easy to create pages by choosing a template from the menu and editing it to my taste. At first this became a little tedious, but then I found I could save my custom pages and select them for later pages. Since I had a particular format for 35mm photos in vertical and another one for 35mm in horizontal, I was able to create custom pages for both formats and for left-page formatting and right-page formatting. Later I could add pages and choose from my custom templates and easily set up my pages for photos and text.

The One Sour Point

The more I played with BookSmart, the more useful I found it. But there were some mysterious and frustrating problems with the text boxes.

The first problem was that in two lines of text the last word in each of the two lines projected outside of the text box. Why only two words or lines? Why not all lines then? I tried changing the sentences, re-justifying, and one or two other things but the words always stuck out of the text box. At last, I noticed that I had indented with Tab in all cases except once where I had indented with a double-hit of the space bar. Once I corrected this the text didn’t stick out anymore.

The next problem I had was that after making a correction to some text, one paragraph became un-justified. I couldn’t understand why but re-justifying solved the problem.

The biggest problem occurred while editing text for pages 8 and 9. With BookSmart’s flow text, you only have to create the first page for any text. Let’s say you have four pages of text. You set up the template for the first page and copy and paste your text into the text box. BookSmart automatically creates enough pages to fit in all your text. It will justify all paragraphs if you tell it to and the text ending on one page will naturally continue on the text page. It’s great! When I first set up my pages, I thought I had to create each page and so I created a page 8 and a page 9, but I didn’t notice that my page nine, a right side of the book page had a left side of the book template. The text is not centred in these templates but a little to the left for left pages and a little to the right for right pages. This is so the text doesn’t slide into the gutter of the book. It took me a bit of work to get the flow text working for my two pages but at last it came together. And then I noticed the problem.

First, I created new pages and dropped in the text. But since the program creates pages as needed, I ended up with an unnecessary extra page that I had created. No problem. Just delete that page, right? But when I did, the flow text didn’t work out right on the page the program had created. It was a lot of trouble to correct and in the end I had to delete my pages and re-create them four times, each time deleting the automatically included headers and footers and adding my own text box for the title. During this process, an extra page 1 was added by the program twice. I couldn’t understand this as I was working on pages 8 and 9. And when I deleted that extra page then pages 8 and 9 became reversed. Furthermore, the justification of the first paragraph came undone and the flow text was broken between pages 8 and 9 again. I spent an aggravating 30 minutes trying to figure out how to keep the flow text, without getting extra pages I didn’t need in other parts of the book or having the text on the pages swap places. It did all come together in the end. The solution was simple. Just let the program do the work and don’t try to do even one small thing on your own. Otherwise the program gets confused and gives you crap.

So what does this mean?

Does it mean I will just make my own book and give up trying to find a publisher? Not at all. I will use my book as a promotional tool for my idea. In the meantime I can try to sell my book to friends and others who might be interested in a book of the Japan Alps. If a publisher takes on the project there is no guarantee that they will make a book in English or that they will make a book of as many photographs as I wish to include. And if no one shows any interest then at least I will still be able to share my idea with the world on a smaller scale rather than in Japan on a large scale.

A winter morning on Murodoyama looking over to Ryuodake, Kita Alps

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Responses

  1. Strongly agree that the only way to find out is to try. Two mountaineering friends have tried out blurb – one book (Julian Ross’s Hanameizan, reviewed on One Hundred Mountains) turned out very well – indeed, publishing standard including image rendition was absolutely up there with the conventional publishing houses. The other book, though, was disappointing: the print quality and colour rendition of the (originally) excellent photos was poor – perhaps due to wrong paper choice? But the cost of a mistake on blurb seems to be acceptably low. Look forward to seeing you advertise the book soon….

  2. Project Hyakumeizan, I received my test copy in the mail yesterday. Though a lengthy review is in order, in brief here I will say that for the most part the book itself looks very nice. My one reservation is about the print quality, which I expected would be about this level of quality. It is good enough to sell to friends and even to promote as a self-published work, and to send to a major publishing house as a sample. The winter and snow photographs turned out very nicely, however greens came out too saturated and look very different from the images on the monitor. It might be a case of just desaturating them in my computer and trying again.

    Also, I chose the premium paper, lustre, but found it wasn’t really shiny. Perhaps I was thinking lustre meant glossy. The cover and back cover photos look great.

    Overall, I would say the print quality is on par with some of the cheaper looking books, about 80% of many of the books available nowadays (like Seiseisha’s small book line), and about 70% of proper high quality printing.

    One other disappointment was how the Kanji turned out. Clearly, software designed for western computers can’t handle Kanji very well and the results look borderline disastrous!

    Full review to come. Thanks always for reading.

  3. […] out about Blurb.com and decided to check it out. The details of my first experience can be found here. I will continue with the results of my test copy and what happened […]

  4. […] put this book together and I think I have done a fairly nice job, it is, as I stated before, only a test. My original intention was not to produce my own book of the Japan Alps but to test the quality of […]


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