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My Blurb experience

Finally, after a month, my first two Blurb books have arrived!  Not before Christmas, but at least they arrived.

Support

I emailed Blurb support a few times to ask if they could find out anything about the package.  They did respond with a friendly personal email within 24 hours.  Unfortunately, I had chosen the non-tracking option, so there was nothing they could do.   Disappointingly, they couldn’t even tell me if they had shipped via USPS, FedEx or some other carrier 😦

Shipping Options

If your books mean a lot to you, cost you a lot or you need it by a certain date, I definitely recommend the tracked option now.  I think I’ll be using the tracked option for all future books from now on.  

Interestingly, my books were posted from Sweden to Sydney with Priority Air Mail, then was delivered to me in Perth.  I really wonder how it got to Sweden in the first place!!

Packaging

It was nearly like playing Pass the Parcel.   First was the blue thick plastic bag from Sweden.   Inside was the cardboard box from Blurb.   And inside were the two books which were individually shrink wrapped.   

The cardboard box had a small dent, but there was no damage to the actual books themselves.  

Book Quality

Each individual book was shrink wrapped which was good to see.  At first sight, I was really impressed.  I chose the hard cover with jacket option, and the photos on the jacket were really vibrant and impressive.  The actual hard cover is thick and high quality.

With my larger book (with 312 pages), I only had the standard paper option.  It was only after feeling the Premium paper on my smaller book (74 pages) that I could feel the difference.  The finish of the pages is semi-matte.  

Photo Quality

But the thing I noticed most was that the photos all looked a little “washed out”.  The colours were not as vibrant as I had seen on my MacBook Pro.  OK, MacBook Pros have TN film type LCD panel (http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/apple-macbook-laptop,2130-3.html) which are definitely not good for photo editing or proofing.  And I have a 13 inch model which means I only get 6-bits = 262,144 colours.  But still the results in the Blurb book aren’t what I expected.

The printed out photos also clearly shows up the difference in quality between my Wifey’s Panasonic Lumix Point and Shoot camera and the D70/D80 that I took on the trips. 

After a bit of research, I’ve now realised that I could and should have proofed the photos using the HP5000 colour profile, which matches the type of printer that Blurb uses to print the books (http://www.blurb.com/assets/colormgt_dpreview-v3-1.pdf).  Some other people have also written up some other best practices like cropping photos to the exact sizes before importing into Blurb’s BookSmart software so you can use resizing algorithms in Photoshop and appropriate sharpening techniques.   There’s obviously a time cost to these additional steps, but it will result in getting better quality books.

Layout

The Blurb BookSmart software is pretty easy to use.  Yes, it has it’s quirks (and don’t even think about using the built in iPhoto browser).  I did do some 2 page spreads for panoramas by placing the same photo on both pages and aligning them to appear to be a single photo.  Looking at the final book, these turned out quite well, but due to binding, you can’t actually see right into the middle of the book so you do lose a bit of photo alignment.

As for photo layouts, as long as you keep within the safe region, you’re OK.   Wifey and I had made some custom layouts where we placed a photo on the left page to the far right, and a photo on the right page to the far left.  This layout didn’t look right in the final book as both photos seemed to try to blend into one another.  Something for us to fix on the next book.

Wifey and I also had some disagreements on the use of borders on the photos.  I didn’t want any.  But after looking at the photos with borders, the ones without look naked! 

Value For Money

We’ve shown the books to family and friends and they have all been impressed.  But they all thought that the 2 books would cost over $200, but were all pleasantly surprised when I told them it was about $140 including shipping.

Summary

I’ll definitely create more books with Blurb.  I’ve downloaded the HP5000 profile and can now see the difference in photos on screen.  I’ll have to remember to check this next time, but I can already see it blowing out the amount of time spent on the book!

One day, I’ll get around to creating books on my trip without the family photos so that I can sell them to the public.

Other Links

http://www.brightsideofnews.com/news/2009/7/7/buyer-beware-133-macbook-pro-cant-show-millions-of-colors.aspx
http://mantia.me/blog/macbook-pro-thousands-of-colors/

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One Blurb Book done!

No blog updates for over a week!

No late night TV for over a week!

Wifey and I have been working madly to finish our first Blurb book for our Round the World trip in the summer of 07-08.  We were nearly able to finish 1 city per night, but then we hit Paris and found we had over 1,000 photos to prioritise there alone!

And then came the borders and page backgrounds.  Wifey got really excited and nearly went crazy with them, but I tried to hold her back.  There’s something I really like about clean white crisp pages with photos on them, but Wifey wanted to pull out certain colours from the photo onto the page background. 

We weren’t quite sure what to do about the text though.  On our trip, we did keep a travel diary which started off quite detailed, but started to thin out at the end.  Should we go back and complete the diary now?  Should we include days of activities with the photos for those cities?  Should we just use bullet points?

In the end, we wanted our book to be primarily a photobook/photojournal – the emphasis on photos and some captions if required and we felt 1-2 pages of text might break up the flow.  But I did condense the activities of each day into a 3-4 line paragraph, and we put these at the end of the book for reference.  Each paragraph is a summary of the day’s events.  The full travel diary exists only in electronic form for now.

(By the way, I found it much easier to edit text in Microsoft Word and then copy and paste the whole lot in once done.)

Once the whole book was complete last night, we did a final spell check which picked up a few embarrassing typos.  And then it was upload time to Blurb.  With over 300 pages and roughly 860 photos, we had to leave this overnight.  And then this morning, I checked it and it was all done!  I hope all pages and photos are there without corruption – unfortunately I can’t seem to find a way to check.

So what now?   We have to do the final touches to the Italy trip book, then place our orders!

Blurb Photo Books

Have you made a photo book before?

We’ve made a few through Target’s Photobook service.  But we just heard that Blurb currently has a special that is free shipping!

So Wifey and I have embarked on making some photo books through Blurb’s BookSmart software.  We have a huge list to get through:

* Italy trip book
* Separate books for each city in our family’s round the world trip
* Books for Miss 10’s dancing and Miss 8’s dancing concerts so far
* Books for various other family vacations
* Books of up to date family and casual snaps
* Books of the kids birthday parties
* Books of my photography
* The list just goes on…

Here’s a sneek peak of what our Italy one is looking like!

Working on our Italy book

The main problem is time.  Books take a lot of time to design!  So far, we’ve only managed one Italian city per night (about 2 hours)!  At this rate, every night this month will be tied up in book designing!

Last night we had some good debates on which photo to use, which layout, what order to put them in.  Luckily I’ve already processed most of the photos so they don’t need touching up as well!  But it’s all fun.  I can’t wait until they’re done – they will be AWESOME!

On BookSmart – I like the various page layout options and the ability to edit the layout too.   These save a lot of time!

One tip so far – my iPhoto library is HUGE, with every digital photo from 2002 onwards in there.  This basically makes the BookSmart software come to a grinding halt.  Also, I’ve configured iPhoto to not manage the location of my photos and this doesn’t agree with BookSmart.  The photo browser in BookSmart is not that great either – I can’t zoom in to preview photos or sort them the way I want.   I’ve found it’s much easier to use iPhoto to find the photo you want, and then drag it over to BookSmart.

My wife’s an author!

The Opera and Music Theatre Resource
The Opera and Music Theatre Resource

I’m so proud of my wife!   A couple of years ago, she was asked if she would like to co-author a new music resource book for teachers, focussing on teaching musical concepts through Opera and Music Theatre.   She would be in charge of writing the section on Music Theatre – a personal passion of hers.   She of course was very excited, agreed and started the hard slog.

It was a very different experience – designing example lessons and writing for teachers, rather than creating lessons for her own students.   Also, it was all a new insight for both of us into how a book is produced – the deadlines, the proof reading, but then afterwards all the activities that followed like layout, and obtaining permissions for musical examples.

The other different thing to deal with was that she didn’t get paid while writing.  I’m assuming that this is the usual way it works unless you’re a very successful author?   For my wife, the money (a very small percentage) only starts to roll in for each book that is sold.   We both did sit down and discuss the purpose of this whole exercise – we agreed that large financial rewards was not the key goal (although that would be nice!) but rather it was to contribute to the greater community of music education in Australia and for the personal experience.

Well, finally the book is now being sold and the book launch is tomorrow!  It seems sort of anti-climatic since it was written last year, but it’s good moment to pause and celebrate.

If you are a classroom music teacher (high school) and want some new ideas or to incorporate Opera or Music Theatre examples and concepts into your teaching, buy this book!!!

More info here:  http://www.mcgraw-hill.com.au/html/9780070137967.html