Since about the age of 17 I have wanted to have a book of my photographs published. By now I can say that this has happened on several occasions, though all of these occasions have been through the wonders of self-publishing and POD – Publish On Demand – services mostly.
I first published a series of three small (A5) size books through a service called Digital Publishing, a division of Gakken. The quality was not bad though I was limited to 24 pages and 32 character spaces of text per caption with no other text possible. Next came my big projects Earth Tones and Earth Cycles which went full-out with colour separation printing and hundreds of copies produced, of which roughly half remain in my closet (need to do more exhibitions and presentations). The print quality here was very good, in most cases excellent, and I was free to design the book and write as much text as I liked. No editor of course, so I do believe the text could have been stronger, but they are both bilingual books and meant to be photo books. Overall I am pleased and proud to show and sell them.
A few years ago I also used Asuka Books, a service that prints POD books of 20, 30, 40, 60, and 80 pages in three different sizes. The quality is decent considering it is not colour separation printing and the books look rather nice for show, however again there is a limit with the text and no layout options. Also each single copy is expensive.
The dream of having a book of my photographs published by a real publisher who would pay for the whole darn thing and make it look really top notch and professional has never died. I have been preparing my photographs for a project called Sanmyaku: Photographs from the Japan Alps and I have sent out a proposal to four publishers so far, all of them returning the proposal with their reason for why they won’t or can’t take on the project.
As I wrote on my other blog, I found out about Blurb.com and decided to check it out. The details of my first experience can be found here. I will continue with the results of my test copy and what happened next.
First off, the test copy came out quite nicely. Looking at the cover it looks just as though it popped off the shelf at a books store, and opening to the first few pages I think the quality of the photo reproductions looks very good and the text and premium paper look perfectly professional too. Any criticisms were restricted to slightly oversaturated photographs and slight discolouration occurring in some photos that are obvious without looking at the original. Most of the photos look very nice and only when compared to the image on screen does the book loose some of its lustre. But I have seen that even with big publishing houses. I once saw a slide presentation by a professional photographer from Canada and was very impressed with many of his images. Later when I looked at his book though, I found the colour was off in some photos and in others the colours had lost their variety of hue and tone, particularly a twilight view of a rising moon comes to mind.
Since the book quality was nice enough I went ahead and put together the whole 120-page book. Here are the problems I encountered.
As I mentioned in the other post, the flow text boxes continued to haunt me with gremlins. The final line in each box would not be justified all the way to the edge of the box. I could correct it, but later when I opened the program (BookSmart) again, other lines had indentations. Furthermore, I created a text box with the title text centered and the rest justified to the left, but when I opened the program later the title had become justified to the left and the first few lines of text centred. Not sure why that was. I corrected it but it happened again a few times.
I had mentioned my problem to the Blurb customer service staff and they had responded very quickly (four hours maybe?) as asked me to create an archive file of the book and send it to them, using a program they have for that purpose. At first, I thought I had the justification problem licked but once I added footers in order to add page numbers the justification went to heck. Suddenly each page was treated separately by the program, meaning the last line on each page was considered by the program to be the end of a paragraph and all was justified left leaving a gap at the end of the line. I tried to make an archive file but the program crashed. I asked for help again and quickly received a solution, but it wasn’t necessary as when I opened the program again I had no troubles saving the file. Then I tried to send it but found it would take over three hours for the file to be sent. When there was only 41:41 remaining the program crashed and I had to start again twice before it was finally sent, at last only requiring just under two hours to send it.
I was sure the customer service people were tired of my long messages but I was surprised and a rather peeved at the reply I received. After all the hassles I had had with the flow text containers and the great lengths which I went to in order to send them an archived file and explain in detail about my problems, I was advised simply to not use the flow text containers. Edit your text so a paragraph ends on each page, I was told. At first, I was severely irked and felt that if this was the simple solution then I could have saved myself many hours of frustration. I sent a message to the support staff firmly stating my dissatisfaction. Before a reply came, I looked over my text and reread the advice and realized that it made sense after all. The support staff admitted the program was not working for me and that in order to finish my project in time (to get the 20% discount on orders they were offering until the end of July) I should just try to rework the text. I found it was not so difficult to do this and in the end, out of five pairs of flow text containers, only two have a small, period-sized character indentation at the end, almost unnoticeable.
One word about the colour of the photographs: the Blurb site has information explaining how on your computer screen you see RGB (Red, Green, Blue) while the printing process uses CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK). Because of this difference it is very difficult to know exactly how your photos will appear in the printed book. They do offer webinars for assistance and pages that explain how to get the best colour out of your photos. There is also software you can download that can show you how your photos look in CYMK. I tried to download it but it needs to work with PhotoShop, LightRoom, or some other well-established photo editing software. I inquired to the customer service again but was told I also should have a monitor calibrator and a desktop computer, and that it wouldn’t work with a laptop. So not having any of these four essential things I wasn’t able to download the software and try it out.
I received some useful advice from four photographers who had published books with Blurb about colour correcting. They all said brightness was an issue and that the photos would need to be brightened by about 15%. I wasn’t sure how I could do this and be certain I had brightened them enough, so I guessed and made corrections to brightness, histogram, and saturation using Gimp, a free download. Perhaps I could have done better if I had all the proper gear but as I said above the results turned out mostly alright.
Looking through many of the photo art books in the Blurb Bookstore it seems there are some really talented people making photo arts books with Blurb. I have enjoyed looking through many books and even making contact with a few authors and photographers. Now I just have to wait to see how my book, The Japan Alps has turned out. Though it won’t match the quality of Yama-to-Keikoku or Nihon Kamera books and their ilk, I expect it will look as good as some of the books I have seen on the shelf.