Review of Blurb and BookWright

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.

Blurb-Screenshot

As you can see, the basic organisation for design is logical. The warnings are because the font isn’t supported for e-books. Yes, there’s a whole load that are, and a whole different load that aren’t. The guides for the printable area, bleed, and so on are indispensable. My client couldn’t get BookWright to install on his PC, so I exported preview files, and then uploaded them to Google drive so he could view them. Assuming the app normally installs OK, you should be able to collaborate with others, cross-platform.
Click to enlarge.

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.

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8 Responses to Review of Blurb and BookWright

  1. rggravatar says:

    Thanks for the review! BookWright does have a bit of a learning curve, and we’re always updating it to improve everything from crashes to features to making the whole thing easier to use. One area we know needs help is page numbering, as you mentioned.

    You actually can edit, reposition, and remove the page number container in your book but it’s hidden under the Background tab you see at the top left of the program. For those familiar with InDesign, it acts like master pages – a background that is applied to the entirety of the book pages.

    Cheers!

    Like

    • Jeff says:

      Thanks for the tip on the page numbering. The fact that you watch for reviews and comment on them reflects well. Interesting to see so much support for photographers –perhaps an extension of this might be to connect the photographers / artists who use Blurb with writers who are looking to license material for their covers.

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      • rggravatar says:

        We like to engage with our customers wherever we can. Our customer’s voices help to inform where we can be most effective. It’s all of you who make Blurb a delightful place to work, so we’re always listening.

        Interesting that you bring up connecting authors and creatives. Blurb has a Dream Team program on our site that’s meant to do just that. [ http://www.blurb.com/dreamteam-collaborators ]

        The quality of our books and papers has definitely made us a top choice among the photography community. The volume of stunning photography that gets printed by Blurb is inspirational!

        Oh, and I’ll be sure to pass add your note about first-line indents to our growing list of enahncements. Thanks again, Jeff! Happy book-making!

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  2. Keith says:

    I have been using Book Wright to design my 140 page eBook which is heavy on images and text. I have overcome many of the hurdles that one associates with this kind of software, but there are still plenty of design tweaks that could be made. A first first line tab button would be nice, set at say 0.5 cm. This could be automatic as one drops down to start a new paragraph, but reversible if an author doesn’t want it via the back space on the keyboard, or even expandable by hitting the space bar if needed. Also, I do find Text Boxes jump slightly out of alignment from time to time. Thankfully I use the grid lines to keep everything aligned and can adjust them back to their original position when I need to. It is easy to cover up page numbers if you don’t want them. I paste a small image of the page colour over the numbers I don’t want to show and that seems to work fine. Otherwise, I find the programme quite intuitive to use and okay for free software. I’m learning all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jeff says:

    I used to design mailings for Xerox workstation printers, and found to my surprise that it required a head for workarounds rather like you show. I’ve since found Create Space has a list of things it won’t do. DTP software always seems to have undocumented and unintended features.

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  4. Well i made two books neither on the market Why? Amazon printed the cover Of memoirs of an Artistand An Elephant but nothing was inside, like only a pretty face. They said they returned it to ICloud but I didn’t have icloud.The computer I made it with had hard drive failure. book 2 was on it too. I do own the only copy before I had it pulled as it was $53 ,too high as I wanted it to say i love you lung cancer people. I’ve had lung cancer since 2009 and I want to publish these while I can,
    Cancer, I’d Rther Do Lunch or go to the Beach.
    They”ll be beck.

    Like

    • Jeff says:

      Thanks for your message. Sounds like you’ll need to get someone to scan your only print copy if you want to set it up again. I’d recommend periodical backups off your computer while setting a book up. Dropbox works well, and it’s got a useable free limit.
      I should point out to readers of this review that Amazon Create Space (which is now linked to KDP accounts too) allows you to upload books prepared as PDFs on any book design software. In view of the interest in CS, I shall post a review of CS shortly.
      If it’s hard for you get your book on lung cancer published, you might consider approaching local non-profit organisations. They will have programmes that could offer you the help you need, or you could be surprised at opportunities to do things you hadn’t thought about. I filled my calendar with volunteering during my period of unemployment after university. I got to help a lot of people, and I got to brush up on my data processing skills. I’m now developing software that can generate text that I edit into fiction. You never know where a call to a non-profit can lead. In your position, discussing your book with new people could make a world of difference. Maybe there are others who’d like to contribute to a book that helps people in your / their position? I wish you the best of luck whatever you do.

      Like

  5. Pingback: Review of CreateSpace on Amazon KDP, Illustrated with Tips | Recent Items

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