My First Book – a review

Update 12/31/08: Since writing this I have also had another hardbound and a paperback book published by blurb.  In all cases I have been very happy with the quality.  Other family members have had good luck as well, although we have noticed that different print batches of the same book can come back with fairly significant differences in color. If you are looking for 100% color accuracy you may be slightly disappointed, but for most people blurb is a great deal and makes very nice products.

As a grad student I’ve had a few publications in conferences, but I recently published my first book. Unlike my previous work which was mostly technical giberish, my latest piece goes back to nature, and the backpacking trip that my dad, brother, and I took up Katahdin, an amazing mountain in Maine. Although the first print run was only two copies, it was very well received, and I’m planning to order a third copy soon. I made the book using software from, a site which makes it easy to create publish your own photo books.

To create a Blurb book you must download their software which allows you to create pages by selecting from a set of predefined page layouts. There is a pretty large selection of page layouts, but it does feel a bit constricting to not just be able to drop in a picture or text wherever you like. I found that most of the photo pages had awkward text box placements, so it is best if you can make your pages be almost all pictures or a column of text with pictures on the side. There are very few options for having a wide text box which spans the full page, so if you want a landscape picture on top with text underneath, you end up needing to have your text in two very short adjacent columns. Another annoyance for text formatting is the lack of an option for justified text (so that the words on the right side of each row line up nicely like in a newspaper).

Of course the first step is to bring your photos into Blurb’s software. They provide several options for this such as importing from various web sites like Flickr and Picasa, but you probably don’t want to do that because it is important to use as high resolution images as possible. Instead you will just want to import the files directly off of your computer if you have them available. For full page photos in the 8×10 books they recommend your pictures be from a 4 megapixel camera, but the ones from my 2.1 megapixel Canon came out fine (for my taste).

When I first tried Blurb half a year ago, you were required to select a “theme” for your book which then restricted you to a predefined set of six possible page backgrounds. Fortunately, you can now select any color background for each of your pages, and there are many different frames and borders you can place around your pictures.

Despite a few minor complaints, the book creation process is straightforward. Just drag pictures into boxes and type out your text. At the end of the process you upload the file you’ve created to the blurb website (you can do this easily through the software). After that you can order as many copies of your book as you like and they will be printed and sent out to you.

Blurb offers several size books, 7×7, 8×10, and 13×11, in both soft and hardcover. You pay by the length of your book, but the prices are quite reasonable – 40 page 8×10 hard cover books are $30 and if you up it to 80 pages it is only $35. A full list of blurb’s prices are here. Make sure you choose the size of your book correctly when you start, since there is no way to change that later.

If you are in it for the money, you can list your book for sale on the blurb website – if you set the price higher than the blurb default then you are paid the difference automatically. It sounds like a great way for photographers to sell portfolios and small photobooks without having to invest in a large print run.

The finished product that I received is great! The printing is clear, with good contrast and colors. The full page pictures I used are lower resolution than blurb recommends, and are a little bit fuzzy, but I attribute this more to my camera than the printing. The paper is a reasonable weight and glossy. The hardcovers come with a dust jacket which makes it look very professional. Before I ordered my book I spent some time browsing the blurb forums, and was surprised to see a number of posts from disappointed customers. After receiving my own book, I’ve decided that they must just have had ridiculous expectations or were simply doing something wrong–I did not calibrate my monitor or do anything special, and am still quite happy with the colors and sharpness.

My girlfriend made a book for me about our trip to Spain during our last spring break which she had printed at Picaboo and it also has some beautiful pictures in it. Both books have similar print quality. During the creation process Picaboo provides more stock images to use as backgrounds while Blurb expects you to bring your own or use solid colors. Picaboo also has a neat cutout window on their cover which looks in to the first photo, as well as some nice shadow effects on the images. However, blurb is significantly cheaper – a 20 page book from Picaboo is $30, and it is $2 per page after that. If you are willing to make your own backgrounds, I’d recommend blurb just because you can get a lot more for the price. From what I’ve seen, blurb’s software keeps getting better and better, and it seems to be run by decent people.

The books make fantastic gifts, I gave copies to my dad and brother and they were very impressed. Now I just have to go print another copy for myself!

4 thoughts on “My First Book – a review

  1. Nice review and cool book. I just received my book and was equally pleased with the outcome. The size and quality makes a blurb book a smart buy, I’m certain I will be using blurb in the future.

    I went with a 13″x11″ book and the 138 pages ran ~$100 with shipping, so it was indeed cheaper than the other places I looked.

    Have a look here, I was able to highlight the excellent qualty as well as some of the small printing mistakes made during publication.

  2. Pingback: Post No. 29 « The Wiggly Universe of Steve Smith

  3. I enjoyed yourarticles I just wish that someone would publish my book because it is a very interesting story about me and my kids lives I just need to get the story out first and get paid for it because I know that it would real good to the public.

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