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Posted in: The FAB Book

How your Blurb book can deliver perfect happiness

I’m happy with my book. Maybe that obsessively perfectionist streak of mine pays off. Or maybe it’s just the research geek in me. Yesterday one of my FAB friends reminded me that there is no problem/topic/issue that cannot be squashed flat by piling enough research on top of it. Made me laugh, because I can sooo get lost in research, following leads, digging into something—not to flatten, but to create options. I like having a lot to choose from as I craft my story.

So when I started thinking about print-on-demand, I did some research. Ended up with Blurb. Then I went looking for more information.

I read through posts on Blurb’s user forums. I downloaded their guidelines for PDF-to-book, watched the tutorial and read the FAQs. Tons of stuff (love that). And when I finished my draft, I ordered a test book.

Most offerings in Blurb’s bookstore are about a wedding, a birthday, a year in the life, or a vacation. (There are certainly exceptions, mine among them.) Most forum questions are pretty basic. And most users are making a gift or a record, something they’ll print just once. I worked on typed live, excuse erors for more than a year—putting together a complex book like this, it never occurred to me not to test it.

Test book #1 had lots of things right and a few that needed correcting. Customer support was great, especially once I got past the first level with the scripted answers. One of the Blurb tech specialists solved a big problem with PDFs for me, and I named him in a shout-out in the Acknowledgment section of my book.

Test book #2 was a fake book, 40 selected pages (out of 200) to look at particular elements: color of captions on a particular color background page, placement of items in relation to the gutter. Both these tests were softcover—and I didn’t like the weight or the curl that happened about two days after I got the book.

Test book #3 was the whole thing again, in hardcover with a dustjacket. I’m happier with the cover, really happy. The DJ is on wonderfully heavyweight paper and the binding is good, especially for how fast the book is made. But I’m not so happy with the color inside. My design has several shades of gray—I know, I know, the hardest thing for any printer, litho or digital, to get right. But one of the grays that had been perfectly fine in the softcover tests suddenly went pinkish in book #3. Had it been printed at another facility? run on a different machine? just normal variations, all within QA tolerances? Probably the latter, but trust me, pink was not what I wanted.

Back to the drawing board. I took some of the magenta out of my gray. I created a new gray, a bit more neutral, to replace some of the full-page backgrounds of the offending-pink gray. Fixed a couple GIF dropouts. Selected 38 pages and submitted them for test book #4, not something I’d expected to need. But a good investment for all the time and effort put into designing the look and content of my project. Now I worry that if it’s printed the way the first two were, will it all look too bland, too flat? Arrggh.

Okay, I’m happy with the pink-gray which is looking pretty good, but I’d missed seeing that it would be too similar to yet another gray in the timeline section—so I tweak that gray a little bit towards blue-green. I don’t like the hardcover boards on a book this slim; good to know, in case I am ever so restrained as to make a 38-page book. And now a lighter gray background that had been wonderful in the first three tests is muddy. I consider designing my next book in primary colors. I tear my hair out. I decide to let it go… I’m happy enough.

The vagaries of printing can drive anyone insane. If you read through Blurb’s forum posts on Ordering and Shipping, you’ll see one story after another about books received with white streaks down the pages, flimsy dustjackets, skewed printing. My experience has been the opposite, with the quality of my test books exceeding my expectations. Blurb uses regional printers, so these problems could show up for someone ordering my book in another corner of the country, but customer support is responsive. (Test book #2 had a large dent in it, clearly from being smashed in the FedEx truck, and after a couple emails back and forth, sending some photos of book and packaging, Blurb offered to reprint—once I explained the test-book thing, saying I didn’t need a reprint, they gave me a refund.)

So the tests have been good for me, but no more! If my actual book has a manufacturing defect… but of course it will be perfect. And I’ll find out early next week. Thanks, Blurb.


  1. Joann Sondy - December 1, 2010 2:44 pm

    I put one production through Blurp and was disappointed in the digital printing method and $60+ price tag to buy my our photo book, compared to others I’ve used. I also didn’t like waiting over a year for the ability to submit a print-ready PDF. As you mention, most of the publications are of personal events (aka consumer) and I suppose that’s their primary market but I’ll try again another time.

    • martha - December 2, 2010 3:36 am

      Sounds like the timing wasn’t right for you, especially if you were in that window while Blurb was implementing their PDF-to-book service… good reminder that each person’s experience can be quite different. Like the elephant story, one person thinks it’s like a wall or a tree or a rope… here’s to finding the perfect fit.