I made a book.

Specifically: I made a book of photographs from my week hiking in Cyprus. I’ve wanted to make a book of some of my photography for a while now, but not really had anything that hung together well enough to devote a large number of pages to.

The magic of print-on-demand is that, really, that shouldn’t matter: you can slap a bunch of images together, hit print, and get a book back. But I felt if I was going to make a book, it should feel book-ish. So: it would need a degree of focus, enough material to make a decent length, and it ought to look like somebody took some care over it.

I was very pleased with many of my pictures from Cyprus, and there was certainly enough of them to make a decent book. But I decided to give it a bit of focus. I stripped out people pictures (because really, they’re not of interest to anyone other than the group walking, and they’re not my best portraits). I stripped out pictures of food. The focus was to be the environment around Kyrenia, as experienced on foot: a lot of landscape, some pictures of walking, some architectural/indoors shots, and a set of pictures from Kyrenia Harbour. One chapter per hike; an extra chapter from the harbour.

That would be enough for a 70-80 page book, 10×8 landscape.

I went with Blurb, mainly because I liked their tool for making books (BookSmart) the most. I’m not much cop with InDesign, and this wasn’t the project to be learning it on. BookSmart was nice because, unlike so many other print-on-demand publishers’ tools, it wasn’t a laggy, overcomplex browser-based tool written in Flash. It was a native application to download, meaning I could work locally.

It turned out to be just fine. Its templating engine is good, although it doesn’t let you spread contents across pages – some cunning workarounds are necessary to make double-page spreads, although it’s totally possibly with some work.

I spent some extra time on doing my best to make it not look thrown together: starting chapters on right-hand pages, aligning photographs identically wherever possible, printing a few proofs to double-check it all. And then, when I was pretty sure I couldn’t do much else, I hit print.

I’m very happy with the results. It’s a set of photographs I’m pleased with, and seeing them displayed like this makes me proud of the consistency and quality. I’m also pleased with the book: the double-page spreads were obviously tricky, but by and large, everything has come out well, and the imagewrap cover is very good. My only disappointments are with some text-sizing – I could have made a few bits of text much smaller and better line-spaced. And the quality is great, all things considered: I went for Blurb’s premium quality paper stock, because, you know, if I’m going to spend £20+ on a book, the extra £2 is worth it for pictures that I care about. That worked well.

It’s also great to see images first seen on screen, and then as small prints, in book form. And: it really does feel like I book. That’s the most satisfying part – that I achieved my goal with it. I’m now thinking about what other photographic projects might turn into books.

And, finally: I’m making it available to buy. I doubt anyone will buy it – it’s just some pictures I took one holiday and grouped together – but Blurb essentially makes it a one-click operation to make the book available to others. And so I thought I may as well, and we’ll see what happens. If you’re interested, it’s available here.

One more thing ticked off my todo in 2010 list. What’s next?

3 comments on this entry.

  • Jon Cartwright | 20 Mar 2010

    I’m a big fan of Blurb too. I’m surprised that more people don’t do this, particularly since their pretty cheap compared with getting 10×8 prints.
    Did you agonise over the picture order, or did the chapter per hike approach make that easy? For me it’s always the most time consuming part.

    I’ve also settled on a preference for a soft cover with premium paper. Those image-wrap covers are a weak link in the quality-control chain, and the softcovers make the books more tactile somehow. I feel more inclined to pick them up.

  • Lars Plougmann | 21 Mar 2010

    Nice project! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about choices and the process. Having a book printed has simmered in my mind for some time but your article has brought new energy to the cause.

  • Justin | 22 Mar 2010

    Yes, thanks Tom. I’ve had similar wants, wishes and desires as you and Lars about doing more of this sort of thing – I LIKE the neat online selling ability that Blurb gives you.
    Previously I’ve made books though one of the Flickr affiliates and although that seems to still be slightly cheaper, the creative freedom you had with going through Blurb (and the ability to re-sell online) is enough to make me try this.
    Very cool post, thanks again.