Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Blurb Books: Tips, Tricks, and Time Savers

Yesterday, I posted about the Blurb cookbook I created for my sister-in-law, Emily, as a gift for her bridal shower.

Today, I thought I'd post some tips, tricks, and time savers that I learned along the way as I created my book. I hope it inspires some of you to create a Blurb book of your own!

Since a lot of you are bloggers, Blurb is a great way to publish your blog into a book, if that interests you. Blurb has been a very popular service for publishing blog books because it was able to actually import all of your blog posts, including photos, into the software; no copying or pasting. However, Blurb no longer syncs with most blog platforms (including Blogger), so if you want to publish your blog into a book, you'll have to copy and paste your posts and upload your pictures into the software.

And, I know that some of you love photography, and Blurb is a great way to make a coffee table type book of your favorite photographs. I am working on a project now with my photographs and I can't wait to finish it!

In case you haven't clicked over to Blurb's site before and aren't familiar with it, Blurb is simply a book publishing service. Essentially, you can publish a book on anything: A photo book, wedding album, vacation album, stories, poems, or like me, a cookbook. You can use text only, fill a book with pictures, or do some of both. The quality of the printed pictures is outstanding, and the quality of the paper, cover, dust jacket and binding were all better than I expected them to be.

All that to say, the cookbook I created was just one example of a book you can create with Blurb.

Here are just a few ideas for using Blurb to create a book:

A book of your kids' artwork (that you scan in)
A Grandmother's Diary (of the scanned original)
Blog Books
Our Year in Pictures
A Family Cookbook
Wedding Books
Baby Books
Honeymoon Books
Digital Scrapbooks

Because the process of creating my Blurb book was time consuming and I was learning as I went along, I thought I'd pass on some of the tips, tricks, and time savers I learned along the way.

1. Choose your size carefully. You can choose from five different size books. All of them are listed and illustrated here on Blurb's site. Once you choose the size book you want, you can't change it without starting over. So, if you choose to create a small book (7 x 7 inches), just know that you can't change it to one of the larger sizes (or vice versa) without starting from scratch.

2. Have a rough outline of your book before you begin. I began working on my book before I really sat down to outline it. That added a lot of time to the process. If I had laid out all of my recipes and photos by category before I began, I would have been able to plug along at a much faster rate. Instead, I found myself going back and forth, rearranging, and re-editing when beginning with a simple outline would have made it so much easier.

3. Create a cohesive design that runs through the whole book. Once you've outlined your book, create just a few pages. Then play with the features of the Blurb software on those pages. Change the fonts, the colors, the backgrounds, the ornaments, and find out what you like best for your particular book. Then, after you've decided on a design style, stick with it. It is a royal pain to create a half of your book, then realize you want to completely change the design. I know. I did it.

If you want some design ideas, take a look at some of the books in the Blurb bookstore. You'll see the kinds of books others have created, and if you find one that you really love, use that general design idea to create your own book.

3. Edit, re-edit, and edit some more. I was terrified that I would get my book and see a ton of mistakes - or even worse, one or two glaringly apparent ones. I spent a lot of time editing and re-editing, and I'm so glad that I did. I kept finding additional mistakes each time I went through my book. I think I finally felt comfortable sending it to be published when I had gone over it three times, and didn't find any errors. And, let someone else go through it. If you've been looking at it for days/weeks/months, you might miss something that someone else will catch right away.

4. Use lots of photos. I had photos of almost all of my recipes. I had several that didn't have photos, and I'm glad they are part of the book, but the ones with photos are more interesting and eye-catching than the ones without. And, use the best pictures you have available. Once in print form, some photos won't look as good as they do on a computer screen. Blurry photos will look more blurry. Dark photos will look darker. To ensure the best looking book, use the best photos you have. And, use lots of them.

5. Stay consistent. Use the same style of font throughout your book - only changing the font for a specific heading or to enhance the design. Constantly changing fonts will make a book look amateur and dare I say tacky? And, be consistent with the size of font as well. I was tempted at several points to change the size of my font to make something fit on a page. Rather than change the size and break uniformity, edit your writing to make it more concise. That's what professional publishers and editors do. And, I am so glad that I did this. Going from 11 point to 12 point to 9 point to 10 point font would have taken away from the quality of my book.

6. Change it up. Sounds contradictory to #5, right? But, it's really not. Even with a cookbook that I wanted to be relatively uniform, I still chose different picture and text layouts for each page. I would change the sizes of photos and move around the placement. This is where you can let your creativity shine. And, it made each page interesting and different. I did stay consistent with all of the things in #5. Here are a few examples of different page layouts for my recipes. Uniform, but different.

Here is an example of a recipe page where I didn't use the entire page for the photo - like I did for many of the pages. I wanted to add some extra text to the photo page, so I chose a page layout that allowed me to do that.

I really like this photo of Fudge Spoon Pie. So, I used a "full bleed" photo on that page. The photo takes up the entire page, really highlighting the photo.

This recipe was a bit long, so I needed a lot of room for text. But, I also loved both of these photos. So, I chose a photo layout that allowed me to use two smaller photos. Again, still a consistent design, but a unique page layout for this recipe.

Here are two additional examples with text highlighted on the photo page. However, I switched sides from the Macaroni & Cheese pages above. The recipe is on the left, but the photo on the right. Varying the placement of photos and text gave interest to the book - surprising the reader with each page turn - but maintaining continuity in design.

7. Take the time to make a Table of Contents. Virtually all professionally published books have a Table of Contents. These were the most time-consuming two pages of my cookbook. I had to be sure it was exactly right; 'cause who wants to find asparagus when they're looking for mashed potatoes? Getting it to fit onto the two pages, and creating the layout was tricky. Fortunately, Blurb has Table of Contents page layouts available. You just have to edit to get your information to fit just right. This is an instance where playing with the font size seemed a-okay!

8. Take your time! The best way to ensure you create a really professional looking book is to take your time. Allow plenty of time to create, edit (and re-edit) and publish your book. With as much work as it takes to publish your book, you want it to look the best that it can.

I hope that some of these tips help you if you want to create a Blurb book of your own. If you've created a Blurb book already, and want to add some additional tips, please feel free to add them in the comments section.

And, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me, and I'll get back to you.

Happy Blurbing!


  1. I'm totally inspired. I really like what iPhoto has to offer in terms of books, but I'll have to check out Blurb as well.

    Now if I could just figure out what I want to do a book about! Thanks for the tips & tricks.

  2. I'm going to check this out. I think books like this are so cool. Our son actually sent us one he made about his time in Korea.

  3. You are so inspiring, Sarah! I love this idea. Thanks for sharing!

  4. This is such an awesome idea. And thanks so much for putting all your suggestions into a post to share!

  5. I wish I would have had this back in November! LOL. Thanks for the tips, though. I'm thinking about doing a photo book at some point myself so this will come in handy along with what I learned from the one I just did.