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This Way to That Wonderful Feeling

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This Way to That Wonderful Feeling

by Dar Hosta

It’s the look of the squared and bound cover, the slick and glossy dust jacket; it’s the smell and feel of the newly printed and crisp, not-turned pages, the luxurious texture of the endsheets; it’s the realness of a real book, finished and printed and bound. It is a wonderful thing, that book-in-hand feeling, and, for those of us who know it, it brings us immeasurable satisfaction.

Just for a moment, let’s forget about the costs of a print run, forget about marketing, forget about all that’s involved in a genuine, full-scale publishing endeavor and just focus on the one thing we truly love: the book. Want to make one? In this technological day and age, it couldn’t be easier.

First, I will tell you that I have coined a name for the power that the real book holds: the magic physicality of books. The most powerful book magic seems to be experienced by those still in the dreaming and planning stage, the people who still keep their day jobs but, in conversations, say things like, “I have this great idea for a children’s book,” or, “I’ve always wanted to turn my story into a published book,” with that look in their eye. These may also be people who have collected a few rejection letters, but still have faith in their projects and are considering their options if traditional publishing doesn’t pan out.

My life as an independent publisher, author, and illustrator is my day job. It is often full of complex decisions and commitments, many of which are quite expensive. It’s been a wild ride, with its share of miscalculations and hard lessons, and it represents a big learning curve that is still curving on and on. But what if you could have the magic physicality of books without all the misery? What if you could make just one beautiful bound book, instead of 1,000, and not blow your savings account doing it?

I’m going to tell you about a few ways to do just this, and you may want to share them with wannabe self-publishers who ask for your help or advice. I believe these are safe, easy print-on-demand options without a bunch of shady start-up costs.

Apple and the Alternatives

To begin, I love Apple computers. I love everything about them, and I pity the people who are dedicated to their PCs, particularly because they don’t have that neat little button in iPhoto that comes with all Apple computers and is called “book.”

While glossy, bound photobooks have become de rigueur for family pictures, iPhoto’s book button can also be utilized to make a picture book that is quite lovely, either in hard or soft cover. For about $42, you can drag and drop your way to a big 8½-by-11-inch, 32-page book that will have pretty heather-gray endsheets, a silver stamped title on the black hardcover casewrap, and a colorful and very professional-looking dust jacket. Though not priced low enough even for retail sales, it will, I promise, provide that magical book-in-hand feeling.

The best part about making books in iPhoto is that you can skip the scanner and just use your digital camera to shoot the artwork (I suggest in natural light on an overcast day), dump your pictures into iPhoto, where you can crop and enhance them (I recommend turning up the sharpness in the Adjust panel), and then easily plop them down into one of the many layout templates.

Alternatively, two online publishing shops, Lulu and Blurb, can deliver the magical physicality of books. (Another company, Create Space, offers a softcover picture book for about $7, but no hardcover options at all, and you must have some knowledge of “print ready” requirements to submit files, because it has no layout program.)

Both Lulu and Blurb offer free and intuitive downloadable layout programs, and, for as little as $11 per copy, a writer can have a 300-page all-text novel in print and in hand. Additionally, both allow their customers to use their own ISBNs, and with the cost of a single ISBN at $125, hopping onto Amazon and bn.com is entirely affordable.

Lulu caters to a clientele that’s relatively techno-savvy and offers an array of hard- and softcover trim sizes for books, including text-only books. The first thing you will notice when you get to its Web site is how difficult it is to find the price list. Go to the Lulu Basics FAQ section, and you will see that a 32-page hardback picture book will run you about $22, but you will not get endsheets or a dust jacket. You will be best served by Lulu if you know your way around a program like Photoshop, InDesign, or Quark so that you can create page layouts you like, turn them into PDFs, and upload them to Lulu.

Blurb’s site is much more user-friendly, and its price list button is easily found on the home page. A 32- to 40-page, 8-by-10-inch, hardcover picture book with dust jacket is about $30 with Blurb. Downloading its layout program, Book Smart, is free and as easy as pressing a button. When you Mac people see Book Smart, you will be astonished at how similar it is to iPhoto’s book layout program. Intuitive, and employing a drag-and-drop format, Book Smart also automatically interfaces with iPhoto, so you can use shots from your digital camera without any headache.

Both Lulu and Blurb have online shops where users can list their books (at increases over cost or not) for general public purchase; as noted, these prices are still high for retail and definitely out of the question for wholesale.

The last and humblest options are the thermal binder and the long-reach stapler. I beg you not to scorn these two basic office machines. A long-reach stapler can create a book with a more catalog-style binding for about $27; and for about $70, a thermal binder will allow creative and industrious bookmakers to bind to their hearts’ content. Whatever the content, a thermal binder creates a pretty good perfect-bound book. Get groovy by purchasing the glue strips separately and cutting them to make custom sizes with your own covers instead of using the corporate report–style covers sold in office supply stores.


Even those of us who are already publishers might have fun making experimental books, retrospectives, or prototypes through one of these methods. And to authors who are toying with the prospect of self-publishing, I say: Listen, anyone in this business will tell you that you won’t likely get rich making books, but why go broke trying if you’re not sure? Go ahead, make your own magic.

Dar Hosta has written, illustrated, and published four children’s picture books since establishing Brown Dog Books in 2002. She is now working on “a silly book about dogs,” which will be out later this year. To learn more, visit www.darhosta.com.



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