I’m helping someone put their old blog posts together into several print books. I’m being called on, I imagine, because of having previously published e-books. I spent years as a typesetter and designer for Royal Mail too. However, print books are a different beast to bulk mailings and e-books.
The main thing to say is that print on-demand services seem to cater for two kinds of customer. The first has professional software and can upload any file format (usually PDFs or epub files) with everything set up as the print provider requires. Print services sometimes warn about file compatibility problems encountered with certain types of file or software. Blurb is no exception. They have guidelines for PDF preparation – ideally you use their InDesign plugin, or the full version of Acrobat – and there are warnings about the pitfalls (see the bottom of this page) when using Word or Photoshop.
Blurb provides an alternative for the majority of self-publishers who don’t have a range of professional tools: BookWright.
This free-to-download application is a solution to a paradox. Print jobs demand proficiency with design and DTP, something that today’s typical print-on-demand customer is unlikely to have. And it’s hard to make a cut-down version of industry standards like InDesign and QuarkXpress. DTP software enjoys years of professional road-testing. This makes it intuitive to anyone experienced in layout – you know exactly what you’re trying to do and why, so you know exactly what to look for.
By comparison, what a cut-down design tool like BookWright presents to even an old hand at the game is a lot of guesswork. The features you can’t find probably can’t be found because they’re not there. So you have to figure out work-arounds.
To give one example: it doesn’t properly support first line indents. If you put them into your source RTF document, BookWright seems to fudge them by inserting tabs. This means that no matter where you set your indent, it comes out in the same place – at about 20% across from your left margin. An unfortunate side-effect can be unwanted additional lines that the RTF import inserts between paragraphs. It’s a daunting prospect to remove these throughout an entire book. When I tried to do this, it soon crashed. There is no first-line indent button (only block indent), so to verify that I was trying to get BookWright to do what it’s not meant to, I checked Blurb’s knowledge base. Sure enough, other customers had similar troubles.
There are also glitches that can occur with pasting. And then there’s the need to save your finished product and save another with page numbering: once you add page numbers, they can’t be removed or edited. I can imagine a lot of customers getting frustrated with and even giving up on BookWright. For sure, there are limitations to this cut-down version of pro software.
But for what it’s there to do – provide a basic tool that can accommodate most print jobs from novels up to full colour layouts – it’s not bad at all once you figure out how to get what you want (such as with saving page numbered versions). The knowledge base is good for clarifying what the limits are. It looks like you can even pay for BookWright to output a PDF so that you’re not tied to Blurb once you’ve spent hours (or weeks) perfecting your publications. And don’t forget, the application is free.
To summarise, and to get back to the service itself, with Blurb you can sell your book through Amazon and Apple iBooks. This means your masterpiece is printed on-demand only when someone orders a copy for dispatch. Whether you get good value for money is only something you can answer as the self-publisher.
You may like to compare Blurb and Bookwright with my review of Amazon’s CreateSpace.