The Journey From PDF to Book: How To Find the Best E-Publishing Service

eteam, Buzz Cut

Our friends at Eyebeam asked alums eteam (2009 Emerging Fields) to write a blog post detailing their experiences with e-book publishing. We wanted to repost their findings here to help others who may be going through their own research process.
In the beginning it seemed so easy, or at least so much easier than editing a video. Easier in terms of technological and space requirements. But as it is with pretty much everything we do, things don’t turn out the way they appear at first. And writing a book was no different. Instead of three weeks, it took three months for a pocket book of 58 pages to be written, composed and finally printed.
And this is where video and printing share very similar qualities. Getting the digital file from our editing tool into a “permanent” form was equally challenging for print as it was for video, with it’s codecs, frame sizes and output formats. So when we finally thought, “that’s it, just make a pdf and send it off to the printer,” we were faced with reconciling our vision for the book with the limitations of our default print-on-demand choice, LULU. We have no idea why we only thought of LULU initially, but we had used its service before and were satisfied with its result. Only this time we weren’t looking for bright white pages and optimum color reproductions, but for a simple pocket book in a paperback format, 5″ x 8″ with black text and b/w images, on off-white, natural or cream paper, perfect bound. Nothing fancy, just the basics.
It turned out that LULU only offers 5.83″ x 8.26″ as its smallest size and allows only for certain size/binding combinations to choose cream paper. Our choice wasn’t included. Even so, we did complete the process in LULU, hoping that it might not be so bad. But once we received our initial copies, we weren’t happy. It felt like a smooth, slick set of photocopies, perfect bound together—a look and feel we could have probably gotten from Kinko’s as well. The reproductions weren’t so bad—at least we have to give it the benefit of the doubt as we used these copies to do some heavy adjustments to the photos.
Our next stop was Blurb, which we hadn’t considered at first as we had always seen it as a publisher of photo books, and we wanted our book to be more of a simple paperback. But it offered everything we wanted—the right paper size, paper quality and no minimum numbers on orders. The book had to be finished for an opening that was happening in two weeks, so we didn’t spend much time on the details and used Blurb’s InDesign plugin to upload a file that would be properly formatted—at least we hoped, based on our marginal knowledge of trim size, bleed and InDesign itself. (A pretty good alternative to InDesign is Scribus, but there is no Blurb plugin that takes care of the proper specs.) We completed the process in 12 hrs and placed our next order for two sample books.
The following day, although we hadn’t seen our sample books yet, we were feeling that Blurb was a good choice and went ahead and placed a larger order for the show. Only then did we notice to our big surprise the shipping costs. Blurb is much more expensive than any other printing option. Who would want to buy a book for $6 if the shipping is $8? That’s crazy. We cancelled the order for the show and went back to our search for the right print-on-demand service.
eteam, Buzz Cut (inside)
createspace was the place we finally found. It is owned by Amazon and offered exactly what we needed—a book in the right size, paper format and binding, as well as an ISBN so the book can be ordered from Amazon or through any other book store. Thanks to Blurb’s plugin, our file was properly formatted and we could just submit the PDF we had sent to Blurb.
We did find that the process in createspace is a little more cumbersome. If it is your first time with createspace, you have to supply all your tax information if you plan on selling the book. Once the book is submitted, it is reviewed within 24hrs (via mechanical turk?) and approved—or not. Only after the approval, one can order a proof copy, and only after the proof copy has been ordered, the book can be offered for sale—assuming that you have reviewed and approved the proof. Every revision of the book has to go through the same process before it can be printed. In order to speed up the process we skipped the waiting for the arrival of the proof and released the book as soon as the proof order had been placed. When the proof finally arrived, the book had come out nicely and even arrived before the Blurb copies that had a much heftier shipping price.
We listed the finished book, Buzz Cut, on createspace—you can check out how it is presented here. We found that listing it on Amazon gets you more exposure, but you will get less royalties; on the other hand, createspace is pretty much limited to your marketing efforts and gives you more royalties.
Here’s a rundown of what we learned:
Pros: good color print, fast, decent shipping costs, ISBN option and e-book iTunes store connection

Cons: limited options for size and paper type
Pros: good color print, many options for size and paper type, e-book conversion option for iTunes store
Cons: Blurb does not currently issue ISBNs, overly expensive shipping costs, slow production
Pros: good print production, many options for size and paper type, fast production time, free Amazon publisher ISBN and e-book Kindle store, option to also distribute through Ingram distribution and overseas
Cons: Further contribution to Amazon’s growth, approval process, submission of tax information
We haven’t used this option as it has a minimum amount of 25 books, but it has all the options that createspace offers and it offers a wide range of e-book distribution. Most options are offered as packages with a minimum of 1 or 25 books.
eteam’s e-publishing story was was originally published on the Eyebeam blog.

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