Okay, someone recently left a message in regard to tips for making a Blurb book. As you know, I’m now carrying the Blurb torch, and to date I’ve crafted about 120 different titles using the Blurb process. Now, I’m a photographer. I’m not a book designer. With having said that, keep that not only in the back of your mind, but front and center. This is a huge point. A key point. The crux of the conversation if you will. I’m guessing if you are reading this post you aren’t a book designer either, so get ready to embrace your limitations. I use mine like a warm blanket, and I’ve got plenty of them. But, I’ve learned a trick or two, here and there, and I’m happy to share them with you now, here in this illustrious place we call the internet.
1-Define what you are making.
If you put your best 25 images in a book, is that a book or a portfolio? Define what you need. A book? A portfolio? A leave-behind? A catalog? A magazine? They are all designed with different needs.
2-Define the goal of your book.
Is your goal to sell millions of copies and get rich, or do you want to edition a small art-book and sell twenty-five copies? Either goal is commendable, so embrace the native requirements. If someone asks you, “What angle are you taking on the design?” and you say, “Winging it baby,” that is probably not a good sign.
3-Understand you might not be a book designer.
Remember the front and center comment? I wasn’t kidding. Book designers are a rare breed, and they are very, very good and very, very precise at what they do. Book design has a long and storied history, but nearly every “rule” can broken, if the rule is broken for a purpose and the sum of the parts of the book add up to more than just a book. If your finger is hovering over that 40-image template with purple fog at the edges you might need immediate treatment. Step away from the computer and call a design professional.
4-The cover needs to be good.
I know, the master of stating the obvious but you would be surprised. I recently toured a independent bookstore, with the owner, who pointed out which books would sell simply based on their cover design. I see plenty of books with great content and covers that just doesn’t hook anyone in. And don’t forget your title. Mysterious titles are always fun but if your title is “Through the Wonder that is the Looking Glass of my Mind’s Eye of Dreaming Moonscapes Transparent to the Soul of the Living World of the Glorious Aperture,” you might need immediate treatment. Step away from the computer and call a friend.
5-Editing is an art and you might not know how to do it. Don’t worry, you can learn.
They used to teach editing. I’m not kidding, they actually did teach editing. Think blackboard, prof with elbow patches and a wooden pointer. There isn’t really a right or wrong, but you sure can add a significant dose of sense to an otherwise random and emotion filled mistake. A lot of us can’t edit our own work. We are too close, too emotional, too attached and that leads to enormous books with two or three times the number of images needed. The bad cliche of “You are only as good as your worst image,” is actually a pretty solid statement. I’ve seen a room full of newspaper photographers spend an hour talking about a single lame photo in stack of portfolios. It’s make us feel better to slay someone else for their ineptitude. So, get a second opinion, or a third. Heck, have your mom take a look, or a neighbor. What you might think is brilliant they might use in combination with 50mg of Nyquil to help them forget about it all.
6-Sequencing is different from editing but is equally important.
If you are asking, “What is sequencing?” keep reading. This means in what order the images appear in the book. Sequencing works in tandem with the edit and controls the flow of the book. You ever open a book and were confronted with a mind-blowing photograph, then turn the page and were released from the grip of the image by a blank page or a small text block…only to turn the page and be warmly brought back into the fold by an image that strikes you with it’s grace? That is, in part, the sequencing of the work. There are many strategies with sequencing, some I like more than others. I do think hitting the viewer with perhaps your most powerful images near the front CAN be a good strategy, but I’m basing this on the fact that most adults have a difficult time looking through an entire illustrated book. I’ve also had plenty of people grab one of my books and open it from the back, look at it in reverse order, while talking to me and gesturing wildly, completely ignoring the entire book before slamming it shut and proclaiming its brilliance.
7-Keep it simple.
Are you using eleven fonts? Do you have 32 images per page? Are you using Gothic branding elements? Do your backgrounds remind people of the crowd at a Grateful Dead concert? Did you look at the “Rodeo” font and say, “Oh man, that is COOOOOL.” If you answered “Yes” to any of the above questions please unplug your computer and seek immediate help.
8-Be prepared to make multiple books.
I did a body of work I thought was pretty interesting. I secretly created a book from the material. I toiled in isolation putting final, mini touches on the damn thing. I got the book back and it totally sucked. Everything about it sucked. The cover, the typography, the layout, the edit, the sequence, the size of the images and the size of the book. It was horrible. This was after I made about 100 other books. So, if you get where I’m going here….we all make mistakes, so get ready to join the club. But, the good thing about this process is that you don’t have to commit to 1500 copies. If you do make a perfect book please keep it to yourself. Nobody likes a genius.
9-Don’t try to make a masterpiece your first time out.
If you haven’t used the Blurb system, or any other system for that matter, don’t try to hit a grand slam your first time at the plate. Make contact and get the ball in play. I was with someone yesterday who received THREE Blurb discount codes and watched them all expire as they tried to create a timeless, life-changing, career-altering, semi-Godlike creation. Well guess what? They still don’t have a book. Keep in mind that what you think is a timeless, life-changing, career-altering, semi-Godlike creation someone will look at and think, “That would be good to put under the car to keep the oil drops from landing on the garage floor.” Just make one already.
10-YOU MUST STUDY OTHER BOOKS.
I actually had someone write to me last year and say that looking at other peoples work was a total waste of time. I think this person would probably also say that going to photography school is a total waste of time. In my opinion, both of these opinions are completely off-target. If you are not looking at illustrated books, OTHER PEOPLES BOOKS, then I’m not really sure how you would get a sense of quality. In my opinion this is a must. And, if you have grand plans of selling your book, you might want to think about buying a few books, OTHER PEOPLES BOOKS. It feels good to support other folks, so don’t be shy, embrace the buy. See how clever I am.
11-Just because you think the largest book possible is the ONLY way for your work to be seen doesn’t mean you are correct.
Bigger is not always better. Bigger is just bigger. Get over it. Your photo-profoundness might actually work better in the smallest format. Small books are really fun, and they are very easy for people to approach. There is an intimacy with a small book that is different from a larger, monograph style publication. And people will cart your small book around with them.
FREE BONUS TIP!
Have fun. Yep, that’s it. That is the free tip. I see plenty of folks GRINDING over their book as if the book is an alien spawn stuck somewhere in there chest and they just can’t get the damn thing out. It’s okay. Just relax and make a book. Making a book is REALLY fun, and making a book forces you to put critical thought toward your work, much like making a print, and there is nothing negative about that. Get it….negative? Okay, I’ll shut up.
BLURB SPECIFIC TIPS
1-Remember you have three bookmaking choices. Bookify. Booksmart. PDF to Book
2-Calibrate your monitor. Seriously. I don’t want to hear excuses. It’s fun. You get to put this thing on your monitor and push buttons. So, get a cool drink and some snacks and have a little peak at the Blurb Color Management Center. Get your geek on.
3-Don’t forget your Indesign or Lightroom options. Yep, you can use these software gems as well. Indesign plug-in. Lightroom.
4-You can now make an Instagram Book. You know you want to. We all know you want to make one of these. We all know you are busting out Instagram snaps at an iPhone melting rate, so why not cement those to the analog world. Live a little. Instagram Books.
5-Don’t rule out multiple formats for the same work. Maybe someone can’t afford your $200, 400-page opus regarding all the wonderful ways in which you can utilize HDR. But, they can afford a 6×9 color trade book for a fraction of the cost. Don’t keep the wonders of HDR away from those people. They deserve to learn of its beauty and power. It’s the cotton candy of imagery. Sweet, sugary and nutrient-rich.
If you have read this far you are truly a danger to yourself and probably all of us because you are now frothing at the mouth while laying out spread after spread after spread. When the book virus hits it is nearly impossible to ignore. As I write this I’ve got two new books in the works. They might be great, they might not be. All I know is that they will be made, and with these books will come the lessons learned. Here’s to taking chances, editing tight and the smell of ink on paper.
PS: At some point, when I get time, I’d like to put together a range of posts dealing with specific items related to the above suggestions. If that is appealing…let me know.