Developing a Book-dummy PDF

photograph copyright Douglas Stockdale –

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 developing a book project. We start with discussing the big edit of the body work in odor to distill this down to a reason size (for instance 100 – 200 images from a larger 4,000 images), then the fine edit to really get to the core of your project (example: 35 – 80 images), 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 page layout software, especially something as daunting as InDesign in this workshop.

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-dummy 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 as was done frequently in the past, publishers now prefer to see a book-dummy PDF. Thus for a book submission it is necessary to convert a physical book-dummy into 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 and while there are a lot of options to create a book-dummy pdf, this is just my favorite.

Most know that I am not a fan of Blurb’s perfect bound books, while Blurb does provide an option that can permits a low-cost and easy to create low-resolution book-dummy PDF. I will also tell you that a Blurb PDF 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 The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow book-dummy. Thus I went with the quick and cheap process provided by Blurb.

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 program is pretty easy to use (meaning if I can do it, you can probably do it), and Blurb walks you through the process. To start the Bookwright process, you will want to select the option in which you choose the layout and the photographs. Remember, their goal is for you is 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-dummy. 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 to create a book-dummy PDF for email submissions, chose the smaller size book template so that you end up with a smaller size file that will be easier to email. A 3Mb to 5Mb file is much friendlier to email than a 50mb file and a lot of publishers do not like large transfer files, such as WeTransfer, due to the opportunity for other things to hide in these transfer files.

To create the book-dummy PDF, I recommend using low resolution image files for your photographs (to keep the file size small); I normally use 72dpi that is not more than 1000px wide file, a sRGB color space and JPEG that is a Quality of 8 (again, we are not intending to print this, but provide a visual representation of the book-dummy). If you start to get lower resolution or file size than this, the resulting PDF photograph quality might be harder to evaluate by the publisher. If you use a larger size digital size, then you will be increasing the file size, which can still 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. For the first time, try the low-res route, you may be very surprised in the quality of the resulting book-dummy PDF.

Btw, if you intend to have your book printed offset litho, then add pages to your BookWright template that are divided by the number 16 as a starting point. If I recall, the BookWrite template opens with only 20 pages, so you will need to add more pages. Then select the page template from the top line menu and start adding images and text. Repeat for the design of your book cover.

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

Once you think the BookWright design is complete, then perform the Blurb upload process. Blurb will attempt to make it hard to not purchase a hard-copy book (the minus for the printed book 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 for a PDF of your book-dummy design, which once completed, you will have a confirming email in about five minutes, maybe more depending on your internet connection. 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 book-dummy PDF, but will want 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 round of 18 holes…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 in Acrobat, especially noticeable if you have created a two page spread (see screen shot below). That particular fix will be discussed next…




Featured photograph; The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow #5374 (Manchester, UK) 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, 2022. More details at Medium Photo and where to sign up.


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