Turning Bytes into Books

ScrapbookingThe first time Jeannet Leendertse, a freelance book designer, saw the software on the Blurb.com website that could automatically produce a book, she was more than a little sad.

The software could help anyone turn some text and photos into a bound book in a few minutes.

Soon after, though, she saw an opportunity. “I realized there would always be people who appreciate time and effort going into design. I decided to put myself onto their website.”

Today, Leendertse still turns a pile of pictures and paragraphs into bound books, but instead of working just for a roster of major publishers like MIT Press, she helps individuals create books. She is participating in an offshoot of the scrapbooking phenomena, the hobby of collecting and preserving photos and mementos.

What was once a pastime for mothers recording family memories for their children has blossomed into a new, fertile marketplace of collaboration. People with stories to tell are creating personalized books filled with pictures, blog entries and even business proposals. While some of these glorified scrapbooks are aimed at the world at large, many new titles were never intended to be sold in stores or marketed in any way.

The digital tools – the camera, scanner and word processor – have opened the field of book creation to the amateur as the hobby moves away from pasting buttons and rickrack onto pages. But sometimes the bookmakers need a little help. Leendertse recently worked with the filmmaker Robert Gardner, who told her: “This is the artwork that I have. This is my story. How do you think the artwork tells the story best?”

She said he gave her access to his archives and they worked together to create “The Impulse to Preserve,” a 384-page book on Gardner’s philosophy of creating films. She organized the content and arranged the pages of the book. Soon afterward, a publisher, Other Press, saw the design and agreed to publish her finished work.

Suzzanne Connolly, a San Francisco-based book designer at Picturia Press, says couples who want to bind the pictures from their wedding day come to her with elaborate plans. “We decide on the layout, the colour, the fonts and the style and the flow of each book,” she said. “We can find illustrators, photographers and writers for our clients if it is called for.”

One of her projects was a 52-page 7- by-7-inch soft-cover book with black-and-white photos of a man’s huskies, including one that had just died. In another project, she converted a mother’s blog into a 116-page hardcover book.

“She writes practically every day and takes lots of pictures,” Connolly said. “She wanted to convert her blog into a book so that when her children grew up they would have something wonderful to look at for each year of their lives.”

Book creators use Adobe Photoshop (about $650), but others find the simpler and less expensive Photoshop Elements (about $100) adequate. Some amateur bookmakers prefer focused scrapbooking software like Nova Development’s Art Explosion Scrapbook Factory selling for about $40. As the name might imply, the package comes with thousands of fonts, illustrations, templates and “photorealistic embellishments” like pictures of buttons, ribbons or charms.

Companies that print bound books also offer free programs. Blurb.com and Picaboo.com distribute free software with all the tools needed to start a book. They expect to make money when users upload the final versions to their websites and order printed versions. A 7- by-7-inch soft- cover book from Blurb.com starts at $13 for 20 to 40 pages, with extra pages additional. Bigger, fatter books like a 150-page 13-by-11-inch hardcover cost $85. There are volume discounts. Picaboo.com sells some 20-page soft-cover books for $10 and offers a variety of bound books including ones covered with linen or padded leather.

Eileen Gittins, the chief executive and founder of Blurb.com, says that her site is working on nurturing a culture around creating books by cultivating relationships between the amateurs and the professionals. “We’re finding that books are this very interesting way for people who want to meet up. People want to see each other’s books,” she said. “We realized we had the beginnings of a marketplace here.”

Excerpted from Globe and Mail

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