Blurb Advice

Make the right publication.

It sounds simple, but Blurb has become a truly diverse offering, so the options are exponentially what they were a few short months ago. With new additions like offset printing, Blurb to Amazon and Blurb Global Retail Network the user has many choices to make.

But I don’t want to talk about these things just yet because LONG before these decisions are made you have to have a serious conversation with yourself in regard to who you are, what work you actually have and what your audience will truly consume. You have to make the right publication.

I say this after several years of working for the company, and after meeting with thousands of people across several continents. I’m going to narrow this advice to the photographer world for several reasons. First, most of those reading this blog are from that world, and also because I’ve met with more photographers than any other genre of the creative world. Today is another story, but historically this has been true.
Philip Vigil, artist, in his studio in the Jemez.
(I need new bio pic so bad I’m reduced to this. A selfie from a bathroom near the Jemez Reservation.)

I still see a fair number of photographers making publications that feel historical, expected or in other words publications that look like something they think they are supposed to make. Look, making any publication has the potential to teach you copious amounts in regard to your work, your design skills, your typography skills and your ability to move this book if moving it was part of the original plan, and remember, not all publications are made equal or even to be sold for that matter. I’m currently making a magazine for someone else, and they don’t even know I’m making it. (Yes, I’ve lost it.)

I ALWAYS start with a goal. Experimentation? Portfolio? Catalog? Sell it? Don’t sell it? Sell it to those I already know? Sell it to those I don’t know? What is the work? What book does the work demand? (Not the other way around!). What about a magazine? What about a series of magazines? Do I have audio for an Ebook? Do I need an Ebook? Do I even understand how an Ebook works? Folks, these are just a FEW of the things that go through my head upon making the decision to put more publications into the world.

I don’t know you personally, and I don’t know your work necessarily, but I can almost GUARANTEE that NOBODY you know wants to look at 400 photographs. Or 300. Or 200. Or even 100. Not unless you did a book of nude celebrities, and if this is the case then ignore this entire post. But for the rest of you, myself included, we need to realize the world is a very different place in 2014, and the one thing that is unequivocally in short supply is attention. I simply can’t take in that many images. I’d rather see ten great images in a clean and powerful pub than a 250 image opus on your trip to India.

The first question I get from a lot of photographers is “What is the biggest book I can make?”

Not a good place to start actually. Good for Blurb? Yes. Quite. But we want you to have success, to be happy, and certain books demand the largest size, the highest page count and the top-of-the-line materials, but many do not. Most deserve a very specific set of ingredients, all of which start with the work.

Ask yourself what the work feels like. What size compliments that feeling? What materials? Uncoated stock? Coated? Landscape format? Portrait? Or does a magazine better suite your story? What price point does the publication need to stay under for it to be viable to the audience you are searching for? Would the work be better as multiple books? A set perhaps? Chapters? Or maybe the EPub will open your work up to an entirely new, global audience who may or may not be able to purchase a print copy?

Resting on my handmade bookshelves at home are over 350 monograph style publications, most of which were published traditionally. The truth is I rarely spend much time with these publications. It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with them, I do, but life gets in the way. I spend more time with the odd balls, the one-offs the publishing orphans. They FEEL different. They feel wildly personal, almost as if the photographer or artist did ONLY what they wanted to do, and consequently these publications have a resonance.

So you have some choices ahead of you. Make the most of them, and enjoy the process. These questions, this exploration is what makes all of this so much fun. And don’t worry about hitting home runs. They will happen if you just focus on plot and swing easy.

I’d like to continue this Blurb advice theme over the coming months, but more specific to certain topics. Also, you people interested in podcasts? Hit me back and let me know. I’ll continue the other content as well, but these two things are interesting to me.

For your listening pleasure I’ve included a link to the interview I did in regard to magazines.

6 responses to “Blurb Advice”

  1. lionelB says:

    When attention spans are so fleeting that the quality of engagement is not worth the effort, better not to try. Adapting by dumbing down got into this mess in the first place.

    For sure, hundreds of images would evidence a failure to select. They would show that the photographer has not found a voice. Twenty or thirty though establish a house style and from those the reader will pick out the ones that resonate. The overarching format is always ‘an exhibition’.

    The synthetic and the decorative dominate. Mostly images which operate on the same plane as a pair of jeans or a pizza. I don’t care what format is chosen for those. I can’t be bothered to look.

    • Smogranch says:

      It’s become about whether you want the book (pub) seen or not seen. Make the traditional monster and the odds are not good. Make a small book that travels and you might be on to something. I don’t see it as dumbing down. In fact, I think small books are more difficult in some ways. Too many images is the number one mistake I see people making. Even in 1950 it would have been too many.

    • lionelB says:


      By ‘dumbing down’ I meant accommodating to swipe viewing. A tintype in a locket was the smallest format imaginable but the image was important and meant to be properly appreciated. A postcard can be great.

      Coffee table books were very useful for holding things down while the glue dried. But not for much else.

    • Smogranch says:

      It depends. Those coffee table books, for decades, help build careers. Still do in some cases, but rarely. My family used to look at books a lot, pre-TV. The internet has destroyed most people’s ability to focus, so those books, the big ones, are still important to a career, but perhaps not as important as they once were. Now, like you said, they are decoration more than anything else, including MINE.

  2. Mike says:

    Good advice, the only rules now are common sense and imagination. Please do the podcasts, don’t use the selfie!


    • Smogranch says:

      The damn selfie. I had a request for an image for an upcoming event in Seattle and I had NOTHING. My portrait is over ten years old. My only response was the bathroom selfie from two years ago.

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