June 19, 2007
Self Publishing with your Mac
Some of you know that in a past life, I was one of the faithful Linux zealots :) And to this day, I still like Linux alot for what it can do and the possibilities. Not that you will ever get my Mac from my cold dead fingers, you wont. But in that life, I wrote and self published a book on using Linux for network security. I had been a published author before with Syngress and some freelance stuff but this was the first time I took a book from concept to published form all on my own. I did the writing, the editing with my wife’s help, the screen captures, layout, style and final production to a PDF proof. I then used a company called “lulu.com” (started in part by one of the founders of Red Hat) to provide my book as a “Print on Demand” or POD book. The entire process took me over six months of hard work but I learned alot about publishing along the way. The book is still available from Lulu but in all truth, it’s a bit dated now and I really dont have the motivation to bring it up to current standards.
Now, as a vet of self publishing and also someone who has done several picture books on my Mac using Apple and MyPublisher, I thought it was a good time to put some thoughts down as I embark on yet another publishing adventure using Blurb who another internet based publisher for aspiring authors. Each of these sites has a different audience in mind but I will hit the highlights. And there are other sites to be sure, but these are the sites I have personally used.
The picture books you can make from iPhoto are ok, not great, not bad but just ok. They do what needs to be done for alot of people which is given their vacation pictures, family snaps and the odd event a nice way to be presented. The print quality will never match LIFE or National Geographic but it’s better than most home inkjets and they have a nice cover. But the iPhoto software is, shall we be kind and just say limited.
MyPublisher which I used in the Windows world before I went over to the light side was a step up. Nicer layouts, better covers but they used the same printers and I have read where they will not confirm or deny they are the printers for Apple’s iPhoto books. If you put them side by side which I have done, there is very little to separate one from the other. And MyPublisher is not known for being Mac-friendly, they finally got around to getting a Mac client released and surprise, instead of a real application like their Windows version, it was this BS plugin for iPhoto that offered about 1/4 of the capabilities of their Windows product.
Blurb is some ways is a much more Mac friendly world. They offer a real application called “Booksmart” that is very easy to use and now has iPhoto integration and Flickr integration which worked very well. The layouts are professional but not as “fun” or scrapbookie as the Apple/MyPublisher versions. But to do a portfolio or a very elegant big sized picture book, Blurb is the winner hands down. They even have a bookstore where folks that have made a book will sell them to you or anyone else that might be interested in their trip photos or art. Yes, some folks scan or digitize their paper art and print a book of it, just like the big boys and girls. The buyers could be family who want a nice book of wedding photos, someone may have done some really nice trip photos or it might be an interesting photo essay. There are other photobook sites like Picaboo but they are windows only and Shutterfly which does their books online so they are platform agnostic.
With any site, yo can always make your own cool pages by using software like Photoshop, iScrapbook or Photoprinto and print off the pages as PDFs. Then by using a full bleed page, you can have a cool page without having to use the crummy templates. This is just one trick to work around some stupid limits of these software packages. Why can I not have custom templates? Every editor lets me have templates, Photoshop will do templates and yet, these book publishers have a small canned selection of marginal templates and leave us to suffer in mediocrity. So we work around it :)
To really get your money out of these services, you have to have a camera that can take a decent picture of at least 2.1 megapixels (like my old Nikon 950) for small images like 3×4 and if you are very lucky, you might get a 5×7 but most times the software will reject the low res shots for the full page prints due to the use of 300 dpi (dots per inch) printing. Most cameras shoot at 72 dpi so when you crank up the dpi to 300, the “size” of the image shrinks. I shot my first books on a 8 megapixel Sony 828 and my current camera is a Nikon D80 which shoots at 10 megapixals. Even at 10mp, sometimes after cropping, the software will whine on a full page print about not enough resolution. So you can use some software like SizeFixer which can upsize without screwing up your image. Photoshop can upsize to a degree but it really doesn’t work well for anything of size. I used SizeFixer to upsize a image that could print at 300 dpi to 8×10 and took it to a 24×20 at 300 dpi without any noticeable degrading of the image.