BLOGBOOK: The story and the reactions
By Vijay Shah
Whenever an important anniversary comes up, there is always that question of how exactly you are going to mark the occasion. If you are a country that once won its independence from a colonial power, you would have a big party coupled with a national holiday, and issue some commemorative paraphernalia to shore up the patriotic pride. If you are a business celebrating the anniversary of your founding, then you might go for a company re-branding or at the very least stick a rosette in a good location on your annual report/website/catalogues. Wedding anniversaries have their candlelit dinners in fine dining restaurants, birthdays have their parties complete with uncle-turned-DJ and endless bottles of cherryade or cheap booze. The situation of celebrating in style, in my case, was that my blog’s first birthday was coming up. How exactly was I going to mark this special milestone in my site’s existence?. A party would be a bit too much just for a blog, and I do not fancy vapourising the entire contents of my bank account. And I do not have the Royal Mint and Post Office on speed dial…
As befitting my half-eaten mind, ideas began to take root in my head. I did some initial research and stumbled across something that was my celebratory ‘eureka’ moment right there. One simple but significant idea. Create a book. A book that will feature a selection of articles drawn from my blog, presented in a physical format. On glossy book paper. In glorious offset technicolor. Something that I could keep as an everlasting memento of my blog, and a keepsake that I could unabashedly show off to all and sundry. Something that would make a great talking point with friends and family alike. Yep, I was liking this. Picking up idea. Running with it.
Now I needed to find a book publisher that could handle the big responsibility of developing and hopefully realising my new concept. I researched round a few companies and one in particular caught my eye. It had a stupid-sounding name but as we all know, companies with goofy names employ good workers with limitless supplies of creative juices, which meant my own creativity would not be held back. They develop a whole image that they need to live up to. They are usually quirky, customer-centred and fun. That company was Blurb.
In short, Blurb Inc,. is an American-based online book publishing firm that gives anyone the chance to design and print their own book using their custom BookSmart software. You can produce both paper books with a selection of paper grades and cover types, and if you want to go digital there is also an eBook option for your Kindle, Nook or other reading device. I was pleased with this company because you could publish more or less anything with them…wedding books, art books, baby books, novels, cookbooks, poetry collections and stories…so I could definitely observe that Blurb could easily handle a ‘blog book’. I also noted the fact that they offered video tuition and guides with the BookSmart program to help familiarise myself with the services they offer, especially the crash course in book design that was going to be very, very important to me in preparing for the next few weeks.
Like a lot of websites these days, I needed to register with Blurb to use the service. I did that on their United Kingdom site and thankfully they did not ask too many questions. So no being asked what brand of toilet paper I used. I got the confirmation emails and then downloaded the software directly from the site.
There was an option to ‘slurp’ the content of the Half-Eaten Mind straight into BookSmart to create the book instantaneously, but that was a massive fail when I attempted it. All the articles were simply layered into the book template all in one go, and the text looked really ugly and disorganised. Everything got copied, even the comments from me and the blog’s readers, which I was not planning to include. None of the article photos or pictures were included - though they were slurped first. My experimental virtual book was a disgusting convoluted mess. I was not too happy, and scrapped the whole thing. While I was still showing myself the ropes with BookSmart, I decided there and then, after that initial disappointment, to go the long route. And all this while overcoming my first-use jitters about the whole thing. Luckily when dealing with new software, my ICT literacy means I learn new skills and software relatively quickly.
I was going to have to copy-and-paste all the chosen articles one-by-one and settle them into pages as I went along, making sure also to include the correct visual elements for each article, all of which I had stored in an image gallery on a fancy blue crystal USB stick. It was going to be a long, repetitive and pain-staking process, but a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.
My first objective was to create the cover of the BlogBook. My idea was that the cover would reflect the design of the blog itself, as much as the software would allow me to. So I used a bright variety of sky-blue to reflect the traditional default background that colours the Half-Eaten Mind on your PC screen. For imagery, I used the classic header pic on the blog, the two tower blocks (apartment blocks) underneath a dawn sky that I photographed originally six years ago while working as a leaflet delivery person.
I had also planned to include a small side portrait of our mascot, Woodsy the Owl, which occupies pride of place on my own Gravatar profile, but that idea was shelved after I accidentally clicked on a button on the software interface that radically changed my book’s front and back cover, altering it in a way I did not like, meaning I had to waste a good hour putting everything right again. Oh well, no-one’s perfect. In order to guide my first steps into book cover design, I tried remembering the various books I had read over the years and examined the covers of a few novels I had stashed away behind my telly.
Writing the blurb (back-cover summary of the book) was a cinch. I included a screenshot of the blog as an image to fill up excess space but also to try to retain a link between the ‘First Anniversary Special’ BlogBook and the original blog I maintain on WordPress. I was spending a bit of time reminiscing of using WordArt in my secondary school days to knock up quick front covers for my GCSE coursework, subject reports and homework, then it was that time in an online journalism class with Mr. Greer at university when I was getting the hang of Dreamweaver to cook up a pretend public relation website for British Airways. But main thing was getting this sodding cover completed, because from then on things would be more workaday.
In my first weekend working with BookSmart, I managed to add around ten to fifteen articles into the embryonic BlogBook. All I had to do was copy-and-paste of the original article from the blog and add it to the blank pages. I could choose different pre-set page layouts for different articles. For example a feature I did on going out in Picadilly Circus had one page with text containers, spaces into which I could import the text, and a separate photo gallery where I could just drag the photos I took of that day into a collective of ‘image containers’ which were basically image holding devices to help me layout the photos in a satisfactory way. For a lot of the news reports, I usually stuck to a generic layout, with two image containers on top and underneath them, two text boxes.
I started work around the 28th March 2013, and aimed to get the book design wrapped up by the 15th April, which was my blog’s first birthday, but with work and social commitments, I could not see that happening. I managed to average about 2 to 3 articles every two days, when I was working on my laptop. I put in more effort on weekends.
I found the whole experience both exciting and tedious. Putting the articles in, keeping the typefaces constant and consistent throughout, sifting through my bank of images – it was boring and monotonous at times, but you got to plant seeds if you want to grow fruits. There was many a time my heart jumped a little bit with joy and pride as I saw my book slowly take shape, looking over the page previews for every article and admiring my handiwork – my innate knowledge of graphic design and aesthetics really working up a mild sweat. I was not planning to market the book for profit at that time, but I wanted to put in the effort so that the book looked as good and tidy as any publication you could pluck off the shelf at a bookstore or public library.When I do things, I do them properly.
The whole design process took me around 2.5 weeks, give or take. I left out a lot of articles, partly out of sheer laziness, but some, like the festive wallpaper announcements were deemed not good material to appear in something as timeless as a book. Others were omitted from publication as they had videos or moving images so were dropped for technical/stylistic reasons. I also had cost considerations to factor in as well. Life ain’t sweet when you’re getting paid peanuts.
Finally on the 20th April, the Half-Eaten Mind First Anniversary Special BlogBook was ready to go. I opted for a softback format with normal glossy 118 gsm paper, as it was not only the cheapest option but also at around 84 pages, it would be suited to a coffee-table book concept. I paid up for publishing and postage via PayPal and was informed that my order would be with me in about three weeks. I could rest easy now and spend more time playing Diamond Dash. All work and no play makes Vijay a stressed-out man.
What really took me by surprise was that it in fact took only a few days for the book to be printed and parcelled to my doorstep, not even two weeks, never mind three. After my BlogBook order was electronically received by the Blurb printing house in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, the HP inkjet printers and book binding staff at Blurb’s European publishing facility, PARO N.V. got to work straight away it seemed.
Although the delivery date was stated on the email as 7 May, by the 24th of April, the book has been trucked out from the printing press in Eindhoven and was on its way to a FedEx sorting facility in Veldhoven, Netherlands. From there it was a two-hour trip across the border to another FedEx office in Koeln (Cologne) in Germany. The next day, the parcel was loaded on a plane at 6.41 am and arrived via air courier at London’s Stansted Airport at 3.45 pm. By the 26th, a Friday, my book was stopping off at FedEx offices in Beckton, less than a mile from my home before arriving at Plaistow at precisely 4.52 pm, where it was signed for by my live-in landlord, Monir.
I was really pleased with the quality of the book. It was bound professionally, the colours of the cover were bright and not fuzzy in the slightest and the book’s firmness and workmanship stunned me. I was very impressed. They had been on point with the packaging too. The book arrived unblemished and undamaged in a sturdy but unobtrusive white cardboard flat box. More impressed I was.
Beaming with pride, I brought the book into work, carefully retaining it in its polythene packaging. I showed it to a few people, all of whom enjoyed leafing through it and pointing out their favourite articles. They were just as impressed. I even got a few handshakes. Only yesterday I brought the BlogBook to my mum’s house in Seven Kings and my younger siblings were squabbling among themselves trying to have a look. My brother’s mate tried to keep my feet on the ground as I could not stop smiling at everyone’s compliments. He said it looked like a book you would find in a dentist’s waiting room. I told him jokingly I would bury him in the back garden in his favourite dinosaur onesie (lols Ali, I kid, I kid!!). Two of my siblings wanted to order their own copies, and I gave them the link to the order page on the Blurb site. Now I need to show the BlogBook to one of my other sisters, who has her own place, so I can show her, her husband and their daughter/my niece their pictures in the book.
I am very proud of the Half-Eaten Mind commemorative printed edition. It looks fabulous and professional, and I found a unique and very appropriate way to mark my blog’s anniversary. A lot of people have been telling me that I should run up more copies and put them on sale. A tempting idea, of course, as a little extra funds in the bank would be a distinct advantage, but with even J.K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, getting rejects from over 300 publishers, and with many other bloggers also having similar ideas, for now I decided to put any merchandising on hold, as I do not think there will be a viable market and customer demand for the book I made.
I did not create the HEM BlogBook for the money though. I made it as a cool, off-the-beaten-track means of celebrating my blog reaching its first full year of life, as a small but notable achievement in its own right and because it makes a great glossy keepsake. But if anyone reading would like a copy for themselves, have a look at this order page and we can arrange for a copy to be sent out (at your expense).
Title: The Half-Eaten Mind Blogbook – First Anniversary Edition
Strapline: The printed edition of the news and views of a partially digested brain.
Author: Vijay Shah and contributors.
Pages: 84 pgs
Year of publication: 2013
Publisher: Blurb Books
Country of publication: United Kingdom
Country of printing: Netherlands
Dimensions: Standard Portrait (8 x 10 inches, 20 x 25 centimetres); Standard Paper (Weight: 80 micrograms, 118 gsm)
THE BLOGBOOK SLIDE SHOW
All photos copyright V. Shah / The Half-Eaten Mind.
VIDEO: How Blurb books are made.
VIDEO: BookSmart quick tutorial
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“blurb – Make your own book” – Blurb LINK
” FedEx Tracking ” – FedEx LINK
“Storytelling Series: Your Blurb Book: Behind the Scenes” – Blurb LINK
“ Getting Started with BookSmart (2:11)” - Blurb LINK