Musings on Photography

Blurb/Booksmart software

Posted in book design, books, software by Paul Butzi on May 9, 2008

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Apparently today is ‘International POD Publishers Do Things Which Greatly Annoy Paul Butzi Day”, on which all the POD publishers in the world attempt to provoke me into throwing a stroke by doing stupid things to annoy me. And not one of you warned me. Hmpf.

This morning, after fooling around with various ways to get from an InDesign document to something that can be force-fed into Blurb’s Booksmart software, I sat down to actually attempt to generate something I could order from Booksmart. Today was the day to, at long last, actually order a real printed book from SOMEONE, and for various reasons that someone was going to be Blurb.

It’s easy to get InDesign to render a book as full page jpgs. Well, it’s easy once you know how. Before that, it’s a bit of a mystery. But I’d figured that out, and armed with an InDesign book laid out to the dimensions specified by Blurb, I fired up InDesign and populated a folder with jpgs with names like page01.jpg, etc.

And then I fired up BookSmart. I will give you the complete story, with three part harmony, full orchestration, and a lot of feeling.

I understand why software like Booksmart exists. Really, I do. It exists because InDesign is too complicated, and asking someone to put together a book of their vacation to Epcot Center or Bermuda with InDesign is like asking someone “Will you please run down to the corner mailbox to mail a letter, and oh, by the way, would you mind using my Lockheed C-5a Galaxy strategic airlift jet?” I mean, InDesign is overkill for practically anything. And it’s expensive, too.

But still. People could lay out their books in Word, or Pages, or whatever tool they want, and generate PDFs which they upload. But when this is proposed, of course the techno guys at Blurb cover their ears and cry out in horror. People will get it all wrong. They’ll be mad because their books look like crud. They won’t pay. Blurb will go broke.

And so, what happens is that Blurb hires someone to write a simple layout tool like BookSmart. Limited feature set. Careful limits on what can be done. Templates. Handholding. The techno guys at Blurb no longer cry out in horror and shout “No, don’t do that, you’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” when they watch someone getting ready to upload stuff to Blurb to be printed.

Hey, they even have a (beta) version for the Mac, so I should be pleased, right? Wrong. Booksmart is bad.

My first intimation that my life with BookSmart was not going to be lovey-dovey was when I realized that it was not child’s play to get it to just let me cram pages into a book and plop images onto those pages. Oh, no, it took several abortive efforts before I got to that point. And then, when I had all of those files named ‘page001.jpg’ etc. imported into BookSmart, I had to plop them onto the pages one by one. And if that isn’t bad enough, I had to put up with some moron’s version of drag and drop, where I had to click once on an image to select it, and then click on it and drag it to the page, instead of just click and drag and drop. My carpal’ed out wrists started to protest even with the Apple Mighty Mouse in little plastic shards and the ergonomic mouse installed.

But in the end, I got it all done, and even think I got all the pages in and in the right order. It took me three tries with the cover, because it kept insisting that the ‘subtitle’ field had too much text in it even though it was empty. In the end THAT problem turned out to be that the ‘title’ field on the cover had nothing in it but a single space. When I deleted that space, BookSmart stopped complaining. At this point, realizing that this was probably pretty buggy software, I started in praying in earnest.

But I did manage to upload the book to Blurb. And I ordered it, and I even paid the outrageous $10.92 for standard 5 day ground shipping. Hey, Blurb! I could ship a Lockheed C-5a Galaxy strategic airlift jet from where you are to where I am, overnight, for less than that. Be ashamed.

And then, after I successfully navigated through giving them billing and shipping addresses and such, and I’d ordered the book, I went back to BookSmart, to make sure I’d saved my work.

So I hit ‘file/save’ and Booksmart threw up this dialog, and I typed in a name, and BookSmart saved my work. But where, I pondered, had it saved it? It never asked me for a location. So I searched and searched, in vain, trying to find where the hell this worthless steaming pile of offal had saved my work. Because, you know, I wanted to make sure it would appear in my BACKUPS and stuff.

But no, I couldn’t find it. Not even harnessing the Magical Power of Spotlght Searching on my mac could reveal the location, because there were about 27 quadrillion things that came up when I searched for SoFoBoMo2008. So I created a new, empty book. And I saved it with a wildly improbable name that (ahem) made fun of the software developers at blurb in a particularly inappropriate way. And then I searched for THAT using Spotlight.

And I found it, and to my everlasting horror, I discovered where BookSmart had saved my work. Here is a little quiz – when BookSmart saves your work, does it save it in:

  1. your Documents folder
  2. on your desktop
  3. your home directory
  4. the BookSmart folder in the systemwide applications folder, which they’re not supposed to do

If you guessed #4, you’re right. That’s what it does. You’ve been warned. When BookSmart saves your work, and it doesn’t get picked up in your backup because no one backs up software they can just reinstall, don’t blame me. Blame the ignorant moron at Blurb who wrote the software. And if that happens to you, and you want a particularly inventive, vulgar, vitriolic curse to level at the morons responsible at Blurb, let me know. I’ve got a real dandy, and it’s only been used once. I’ll give you a special deal.

Now, it’s true that Blurb thoughtfully included a way for you to change this location. But if you’re working on, say, three different books, they all get saved in the new location. So I can’t have my SoFoBoMo 2008 book stored in one folder, along with the VioVio version and the Lulu version and whatever, and then have my Pacific Coast book in another folder entirely. No, that’s not allowed.

Honestly, I thought the software world moved away from this sort of microcephalic horsepucky with Dos 2.0. Apparently not at Blurb.

10 Responses

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  1. Gordon McGregor said, on May 9, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Sounds like fun. I don’t have the joy of a Mac, so I’m stuck with the windows version of booksmart. It saved my book in “My Documents’ and automatically slurped up and laid out all the numbered pages without me having to do much of anything. Took a few minutes to go from InDesign to finished in blurb.

    The shipping thing is a bit nuts, given that you could probably walk there and pick it up.

  2. Andrew said, on May 9, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    I gather the POD world is young yet. Sounds like too many cooks trying to do it their own way.

    What they ought to do is either provide templates for popular layout programs such as InDesign or Quark or allow you to upload documents from said applications.

    But, I guess if you could do that instead of using their proprietary software then you could shop the book around more easily (to your benefit, not their)…

    This reminds me of having to use Sigma Photo Pro with my (now returned) DP1. Fairly effective app, but clunky and slow with a lackluster UI design. It actually was one of the reasons why I returned the DP1.

  3. Kjell Harald said, on May 9, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Sound like you’re having the time of your life over there. I would suggest some anger management classes, or some blood pressure pills it you intend to continue this game.

    I did a LuLu book one and a half year ago, and back then you could send an email to a very nice support lady who would give you an ftp account. On that account you could upload the pdf you just made (according to spec described in detail on their web page). The you logged on to your web account to make a book project. On the web page you had the option to upload jpg pages, use their presumably shitty software, or pick your recently uploaded pdf file. Voila.

    The book was medium good/bad, but not worse than I would expect from a POD at the time.

    Don’t know if Lulu still provides this service, but if they do it is a breeze compared to your experience.

  4. Rosie Perera said, on May 9, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Paul, I think you have a second calling as a humor writer. Your rants at businesses which tick you off are always fun to read. I’m sure that’s not why you write them, but whatever you do to lower your blood pressure sure taps into some creative energy and amazing skill at putting vitriolic words together. A useful talent to have 😉

  5. […] Scribus to ISSUU. Worked just fine. Now I’ll need to focus on a reliable POD service – which from Paul’s experience looks like it will be a bit of an uphill […]

  6. Miguel Marcos said, on May 11, 2008 at 2:03 am

    Your experience sounds bad enough to avoid Blurb on the Mac for now. The one thing I will say is that the Mac version is beta so a good experience is not guaranteed. Case in point: the software has already blown up twice on my Mac running 10.4.11!

  7. Olli Wendelin said, on May 12, 2008 at 9:21 am

    I am curious to hear how your hardcopy turns out. To me, it seems like small jpegs or pdf files would not be capable of creating very good quality prints for a photo book.

  8. Gary said, on May 13, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Paul, you can export your Blurb book to another folder, just use export to back up your book. I do that then after the book is published I delete it from the Blurb folder because I am working on six or seven at a time.

    I also us Microsoft publisher to design the book which circumvents the problem of finding Blurb templates that fit what I want to do. Then I use Tracker Software’s TIFF-X to convert the Publisher page to 300dpi TIFF, which of course has to be converted to JPG or PNG for posting to Blurb.

    My rant with Blurb is the text templates. You can kill yourself trying to get everything to line up. So much easier to use a publishing software, Publisher, Quark, Pagemaker (if it is still around), InDesign or even some of the cheapies that are floating around. Unfortunately, most are like InDesign and ridiculously priced. That is why I use Publisher. I dislike any software that thinks it knows more about what I want to do than I do and Blurb thinks it is smarter than I am.

    I have done five Blurb books and am working on several more.

  9. Jeff said, on October 1, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    So I have to ask how is the quality of the books?

  10. Janet Reider said, on November 1, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    I have just completed, uploaded to Blurb, and received my latest book. Compared to all my previous books done on an earlier version of Booksmart, this new book is great! The software is much much better in every way. – Blurb will explain that – but all my previous books had pages that were printed too dark. This problem which seemed to be universal has been corrected and each image in my book is printed exactly as it showed up on my computer screen previous to my upload. Now i don’t have to lighten the darker images in order to make sure that that print correctly! Thank you Blurb – nice job.


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