Blurb is a useful tool to enable you to self publish a book. However, it originates from publishing picture books and not text based novels and the like. My wife Juliet is currently publishing her own book and I have agreed to help her with the technical aspects of actually publishing it. I have initially chosen Blurb, at least for the first few copies.
Word Plugin and Bookify
Blurb has a nice Word plugin which enables you to set your book size. You can format the pages using normal Word operations, then preview your book at any time. When you are happy, you then upload your book into the “Bookify” web interface. This is quite nice, except for one glaring issue: if the miserly choice of 3 cover templates don’t include the one you want, you’re stuffed. Juliet has had a full cover picture designed for her book which looks great. This picture includes the title and Author’s name as part of the design. Unfortunately, Blurb only has templates with a picture taking up some of the space and writing either above or below. If you don’t want the writing, you can’t make the picture occupy the full space. I contacted support, and unfortunately this is just the way it is.
I then tried the “BookSmart” tool. This enabled me to design exactly the cover I wanted, so I thought this slightly more complex method would be the way forward. However, whilst it’s great for designing covers, it’s rubbish for formatting a book. All the first line indents went, and the only way you can get them back is to insert spaces at the start of each paragraph. Worse still, the all the tables simply disappeared. Once the book was in this format, it would have to stay in this format and there was no way I was going to inflict this method for future editing on Juliet.
So we were left with either a perfect internal format with a very poor cover, or a lovely cover with badly formatted contents. Which would I choose? Neither obviously.
PDF to Book
The final choice is to use “PDF to Book”. Making PDFs is pretty easy – you can save as PDF directly from Word, or print through a free printer driver such as CutePDF.
However, Blurb requires a very specific type of PDF. It has to be PDF/X-3:2002 compliant. Blurb’s recommended way of doing this is to use Adobe InDesign, for which templates are provided. The downsides are it’s £400+ and by all reports difficult to use unless you use it regularly and sit at a Mac all day. Adobe Distiller is also mentioned but that would involve tossing £450 to Adobe too. Let’s be frank – my publishing budget does not include nearly half a grand for Adobe software that I really don’t want.
Easy PDF Creator 6
The good news is I finally worked out how to do this without breaking the bank. I tried a lot of free PDF creation software and almost managed to do the whole job for free using PDF Creator, but in the end it has a fatal flaw that means it can’t produce a landscape PDF on a custom paper size (a requirement for the blurb cover). Therefore I ended up buying Easy PDF Printer 6 from BCL Technologies for $29.99** Read Part 2 to learn how to do the contents* and Part 3 on how to do the Cover*.
*These posts assume that you already have the contents of your book as a Word Document in principal, it should work with something like Open Office too). It’s important to have put some thought into what size of book you want and understand the pricing implications of the that size along with the type of cover and colour choices. Note that you still get a colour cover with a black and white book. We have chosen “Pocket 5*8 inches with soft cover and black and white printing”, which, along with “Trade 6*9 inches” are the only formats you are going to be able to use for a text book or novel that is cheap enough for you to be able to make any money from. In the UK, for 172 pages, this costs £5.95 per copy before any volume or coupon discounts.
**Note I have no affiliation with this software and you can use the trial version for testing conversion and Blurb upload before you buy. If you work out how to do the cover using a free product then please let me know. The requirements are that it has to produce a PDF/X-3:2002 compatible document. I had most success with PDF Creator from pdfforge, but ultimately gave up with this. The book’s content PDF was fine but all attempts failed when trying to get it to produce a landscape PDF on a custom paper size for the book cover. Apparently this is a known issue with the underlying Ghost Script engine that isn’t currently being fixed. The associated PDF Architect Software that comes with it can rotate the produced PDF to landscape but unfortunately breaks the PDF/X-3:2002 compatibility in the process.