Developing a Book-dummy PDF

First, fair warning, to cover this subject it is going to take a couple of posts, so this is the first of two. The second article is linked up here.

As many of you know, I lead a book development workshop that gets into the nitty-gritty of defining a book project, the big edit of your work to distill it down to a reason size, then the fine edit to really get to the core of your project, and then the messy stuff of sequencing, design and layout of the book project. The goal of the workshop is to get the first physical book dummy started if not completed. Lots of paper, scissors, tape, post-its, and fun stuff along with all of the necessary photograph, but we are not worrying about the use of any software, especially something as daunting as InDesign in the workshop. (Btw, my next virtual book development workshop with Medium Photo for this September is about to be announced! sneak peek.)

Then is it a matter of living with this physical book dummy while repeatedly tweaking the images, text, sequencing, layout and design. Then at some point, the book is ready to be evaluated by a publisher (or a gallery, agent or friends)

With the rapidly evolving virtual publishing world, rather than shipping out a physical book dummy, publishers now want to see a book-dummy PDF. So now is the time to take the physical book-dummy and convert it to a virtual-friendly PDF. One approach is to work with a designer, or if you have the band-width, learn the page layout InDesign software. For a publisher submission (or friend’s evaluation), I think that there is an easier alternative.

Most know that I am not a fan of the Blurb, but they can provide a low-cost and easy to use alternative to create a low-resolution book-dummy PDF. I will also tell you that the Blurb PDFs has major flaws, and you will need to use another software, such as Adobe Acrobat Pro DC to fix the resulting book-dummy PDF. Btw, if you are an Acrobat Pro expert, this software might also work to create a book-dummy PDF, but my attempts to create a low resolution book-dummy with Acrobat were futile. Especially when trying to create a two-page spread photograph, like the one above, for my Instant Nomad book-dummy. Thus I went with the quick and dirty…

First, after signing up for Blurb if you have not already (FREE), then you will need to download their book layout software, BookWright, also FREE. This book layout is pretty easy to use (meaning if I can do it, you can probably do it), and Blurb walks you through the process. You will probably want to select the options in which you choose the layout and the photographs. Remember, their goal is for you to purchase a book, while your goal is to pay $4.99 (in the U.S. at the time of this article) for a PDF of your book. If you are advanced in your book-dummy development, a lot of what follows is a matter of filling in the blanks. The first step is choosing the book’s layout: square, horizontal or vertical. Since the goal is a book-dummy PDF chose the smaller size book template so that you end up with a smaller size file that is easier to email.

To create the book-dummy PDF, I recommend using low resolution image files for your photographs; I normally use 72dpi that is not more than 1000px wide file, sRGB color space, JPEG that is a Quality of 8. If you start to get lower resolution or size than this, the resulting PDF photograph quality might be harder to evaluate by the publisher. If you go big, then you will have a huge file that can be transferred by such processes as WeTransfer, but now it will be a slower to work with and may not really help you unless you have some crazy complex and fine details. First time, try the low-res route, you may be very surprised in the quality of the resulting PDF.

If you intend to have your book printed offset litho, then add pages to your template that are divided by the number 16. If I recall, the Blurb template opens with only 20 pages, so you will need to add more pages. Then select the page template you want and start adding images and text. Repeat for the design of your book cover. I have been choosing the softcover design layout and I will also add extra pages for the end-papers for a hardcover book (both in front and at the end of the book layout).

Once this book design is complete; then save it and come back in another day to edit it. I was surprised that I found myself doing a lot of tweaking of the layout, sequencing, design and adjusting the text (and typos) and evaluation different fonts over a period of a week or more when I thought I had a done-deal.

Once you think it is complete, then do the Blurb upload; they make it hard to not purchase a hard-copy book (the minus just does not seem to respond), so perform a hard 0 in the book print quantity while leaving the PDF option checked. That should take you through the payment process of a PDF, which once completed, you will have a confirming email in less than five minutes. Then save the downloaded PDF somewhere on your computer. You will need at a minimum something like the Adobe Reader (FREE) to look at the PDF, but will need to choose in the View menu, for Page Display, the two-page layout. Btw, I also found that once I received the PDF, I found some more mistakes and aspects of the design I felt I needed to correct. So another $4.99 a couple of days later for another PDF after the fixes were in. I spend more than that on golf balls in just one 18 hole round…just saying…

And the two-page review will probably reveal the next issue with the Blurb book PDF; that the book pages do not align, especially noticeable if you have created a two page spread. That particular fix will be discussed next…




Featured photograph; Instant Nomad #5374 copyright Douglas Stockdale



Developing a Creative Photo Book, a virtual (Zoom) workshop I will be leading again in conjunction with Medium Photo, September 11th, 12th, 18th, & 19th. More details at Medium Photo and where to sign up.

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