A few days ago, I received my discounted copy of my latest book from Blurb. Blurb, though usually known for their excellent photo album printing service, has recently started to reach out to self-publishing writers and now prints traditional paperbacks as well. They provide their free writing and formatting software, BookWright, on their site and have many templates to help people get started. Does it work? Let’s find out!
Putting the book together:
The BookWright template experience was very different that CreateSpace‘s and LuLu‘s. BookWright is designed to work hand in hand with InDesign and other layout softwares, so there’s a strong visual focus when designing your book. There are templates for all kinds of genres, adding a nice and professional touch that makes your book feel unique and special as soon as you open the pages.
Getting the words in there is a different matter. If you have experience with digital layout programs like InDesign, you should be able to adapt fairly easily to BookWright’s layout. Instead of merely copying and pasting your chapters onto the blank pages, you will need to link the block of text from page to page individually, editing text from a separate window than the layout itself. That takes time, but it’s not too inconvenient when you think of what you’re getting in return. The trouble starts with the paragraph formatting. There’s no good way to indent your paragraphs. You can always simply hit tab, but there’s no way to control how far the tab goes–and it goes at least twice as deeply as it should for a printed book. In the end, I needed to add spaces before every paragraph to make them look more natural, but that only led to my next problem: justification.
Properly justifying your text is a scary thing, and everyone seems to have a different opinion on it. Traditionally published books are always justified, but also laid out in a way that disallows awkward spacing. Not only did my BookWright book have those big gaps between words in places, but it also toyed with my indenting spaces. In the end, some paragraphs look more indented than others, making the whole book look amateurish and belittling my hard work. And no, there’s no way to work around that. I looked everywhere around the app and online.
The Book Itself:
Blurb books are expensive! On Amazon I can sell my books for $5-$10 apiece, usually, but the minimum price for this small paperback novella was $20, with $5 shipping. Ouch. Even with my discount I cringed with I ordered it. If the author is reluctant to pay, the reader wouldn’t dream of it.
Fortunately, the shipping time was great–it came about a week and a half earlier than they had said it would, much faster than most printing companies. The cover wasn’t that good. I don’t know entirely how much of that was my fault as a designer and how much was Blurb/BookWright’s fault for not providing clear enough guidelines. My cover image didn’t stretch over the whole front page and has ugly white around it, and the spine is completely blank. The back cover is all right. And it’s glossy. I’ve had “glossy” covers before, and they’re usually not exciting one way or the other, but I blushed when I first saw this. It looked like I had taken the book to a local print shop and ordered the shiniest material available. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book so shiny, and it doesn’t look good.
As for the interior, it swept me away at first. The intricacies of the template design really shine, and in a good way. Except for the annoying justification problems, it looked about as good as the cover looked bad. Then I noticed something. The page numbers stop after page 29. I have no idea why. But without a table of contents, the lack of page numbers makes it as good as unsellable. The inconsistency takes it all the way.
I was hesitant when I ordered my copy. I knew it would have problems; I just didn’t know the extent. When I first opened the cover, I really wanted to like it. I figured that if the inside was good then maybe I would reuse that gorgeous template for my CreateSpace printing. But there’s just too much wrong with it. The justification errors, the disappearing page numbers and all the editing I’ve done since has fixed it so that I’m not going back.
Bookwright has promise as a book layout design, and I hope there will be an update fixing some of the above problems so that I can use it for future books. I don’t plan on selling anything at all on Blurb after seeing the outrageous prices.
Maybe someday I’ll go this route. I’m definitely keeping an eye out. But for now, I’ll have to pass.