Friday, 27 May 2016

How Blurb Works

Each time I launch a new Blurb book into the world, it occurs to me that most people – even the genial and well-informed folk that are the readers of this blog – haven't a clue how Blurb works, or why it is such a brilliant idea. As I have an interest in keeping them in business, I thought now might be a good time to say a few words about it, and how you, too, could be a self-publisher.

The basic model is this:
  • You sign up for a Blurb account. This costs nothing. You get a personal "bookshop" where your publicly-available books will be displayed for sale, plus various administrative tools.
  • You download some free book-making software onto your computer. I much prefer the older BookSmart software to the newer BookWright software, but that may just be because I'm used to it. You can also use an online book-creation tool for really simple stuff, or at the other extreme design your own PDF file for upload.
  • You choose a format for your book, using either a ready-made "look", or assembling your own from page-templates which enable you to choose combinations and placement of text, image, and things like running headers and page numbers.
  • You fill however many pages you want. Images need to be 300 dpi JPEGs or PNGs. Text can be typed in or uploaded. It sits on your computer to be played with for as long as you like.
  • When it's complete, you upload the book to Blurb. This can take anything up to an hour for an image intensive book of 50 or more pages.
  • Once there, it's private to start with. To keep it there, you have to buy one copy, at basic production cost. Now, this is the point at which most people who have never tried self-publication before balk. Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty pounds? For one copy?? Friends, that is not a rip-off, that is a bargain.  Even though any revisions you decide to make have to be uploaded and re-purchased as a fresh book. Why? Listen:
  • Once you're confident it's right, you invite people to buy it, or open it for sale to the general public, in the formats you choose. There are various tailored publicity tools available, free of charge, for social media, your blog or webpage, etc. But: you yourself need never buy another copy. Repeat: you need never buy another copy.
  • Every copy that a customer buys is made on demand, and the whole transaction is handled by Blurb. It costs you nothing. Requires no attention. If you have added some profit for yourself onto the basic production cost, Blurb will pass this on to you, provided it exceeds a certain accumulated monthly total, currently £12.50. If it doesn't, it's rolled over into the next month.
Sure, Blurb are making money, and you, probably, are not. But your book is out there and easily available, and you have not spent thousands of pounds up front to a printer for copies of a book you will not be able to distribute, and which will sit unsold in cardboard boxes under your bed and in your closet and in your loft and in your shed forever like a bad dream. Have you ever seen 1000 copies of a hardback book?*

The big plus, I think, is that the low cost of entry (and the zero cost of failing to sell many copies) means that producing new books regularly is not just feasible, it's addictive. And, if you're serious about your writing, or your photography, or your recipes, or whatever it is you do, there is no better creative discipline than editing and sequencing a book. Plus you have a permanent, compact, and convenient record of your work, which is far more likely to survive the coming decades than boxes of prints, ephemeral image files, or reams of text. Best of all, it's the sort of fun, self-motivated challenge that can shift your life into a higher gear.

But selling more than 20 copies, though? Dream on! I'm happy if I manage to recover half of the cost of the copies I keep for myself or give away.

* Back in 2003 I had 300 copies of a 24-page A5 landscape pamphlet printed to accompany an exhibition, The Colour of the Water, that ran at a popular local beauty spot from March 2003 to November 2004. It was the first publication of my imprint Shepherd's Crown, and 300 seemed a modest enough quantity. Luckily for me the National Trust had funded the printing, as it sold poorly, even reduced from £3.50 to £1 each, even over twenty months!  I still have a box of the bloody things...  Want one?  Email me.

ADDED 28/5/16:  By the way, Blurb does not disclose who buys copies of your books. So, sadly, a "thank you" from me has to be taken for granted.


amolitor said...

Blurb seems expensive until you actually build a book yourself. Materials are expensive. I'm building an edition of three physically quite massively built books, 16 leaves each, to hold 12 prints. They're going to cost me around $50 apiece in materials alone, and several hours of labor each, not counting the photography.

Paper, cloth, cardboard, ink. All very expensive.

I love blurb.

Mike C. said...

Exactly, and that's without adding on the expense and time of marketing and distribution ("fulfilment", as they call it in business circles, amusingly).

Above all, and unlike Amazon and others, Blurb has created its own new net-based market without destroying some other traditional model, unless it be the marginal business of "vanity publishing", which *was* a rip-off. We delusional losers are a whole new market segment...