But what about publishing a full-color book with images of your artwork? It sounds so easy, right? Well...yes and no. It all depends on the software template you choose for the task, and the look & feel you require for your book.
A few years ago, my art mentor Harold Walkup self-published his art book using software on the website www.blurb.com. I bought a copy of his book and enjoyed seeing his words and images bound together in a professional looking 8 x 11 inch book with a dust jacket. What a great idea! I signed up for a free account on blurb and downloaded their free software. I selected my book format (8x11 seemed a better choice than 12 x 12, which required much larger resolution .jpgs) and thought I'd get right to work on this project. But I found the templates a little hard to use--things didn't seem to allow me to "drag" them where I wanted to and the prospect of gathering nearly 200 images together (from various places on my hard drive) was daunting.
I decided that since I'm a visual person, I needed to stop and do some planning on paper. I created a little paper storyboard with dozens of pages of "facing page" layouts and began scribbling in chapter names, and grouping my paintings in to categories by subject matter. My idea was to build a book of images from the past 10 years, so as to narrow it down a bit. I went through my website and jotted down titles of my best/favorite paintings into a notebook, and then counted up the number of images in each category to determine how many pages I'd need in each chapter. I capped the book at 160 pages---because on blurb, the prices for printing a book are determined by the number of pages. Now I had my plan!
I set up a series of subdirectories on my computer--each bearing the chapter number and name---and began to copy/paste images of my paintings into the appropriate folder. This is where being organized really pays off---thank goodness I've been keeping my .jpgs stored on external drives and had had the presence of mind to sort them by year of completion. I also had to print out a list of all my painting titles (easily done in Microsoft Access) so that I had the title, size, and medium for each painting right in front of me.
It was then I got serious about learning how the blurb templates work---it took a bit of trial and error, but at last, I figured out how to drag/drop images, create my own layouts (my paintings don't conform to photography print sizes, so I had to elongate some picture boxes so that my images weren't cropped) and tweak the font size as needed. Blurb's BookSmart templates are pretty amazing--it's like having Adobe InDesign software at your fingertips without the hefty pricetag: you can designate "full bleed" images, and overlay words on top of images. Plus, their templates provide all front and back matter (even columned space for the dust jacket text!).
In the course of a week (several hours a day--this stuff can be addicting), I'd uploaded, resized, captioned, and rearranged all 179 images in this 154 page book. I ran spellcheck, made corrections, print previewed, typed in the pages for the table of contents (they didn't seem to have a program that automatically lets you tag items for inclusion), and then "published" this to their "bookstore". You can make your book private (or share with some individuals), or public (available for viewing and/or purchasing by anyone). You can also set your own pricing for this book (once they calculate the base price for your book, you can add whatever amount you want, and they "recalculate" the retail price for you. You can also elect to be paid via paypal, which I did.
I held my breath, and place an order for a hard copy dust jacketed book---about $70, since their shipping tends to be about $11 (for one book!), and I'd opted for heavy, matte coated paper. A week later, the book arrived and it's simply stunning. I shared the link to the book on my website, on my Facebook page, and sent out an email to family and close friends.
After getting my email, an art friend/writer asked me why I didn't put my book on amazon.com. Now, here's where things get complicated. As you'd expect, blurb.com only makes money when people ORDER books--so their software doesn't allow you to print to .pdf which would allow you to get your book printed elsewhere (and/or sell it from other vendors). So those "free" templates have a cost after all. At amazon, your book has to have a ISBN number (which you can buy through another site) but most of all, your book has to be able to be uploaded in .pdf format to amazon's CreateSpace (its self publishing software site). This would all be simple if I was writing a novel with no pictures or graphics in it, but of course, a carefully laid out art book like the one I created in blurb cannot be created in MSWord. And so I remain tethered to www.blurb.com--at least for this book. Still, the experience of holding a finished book in my hands might be its own reward after all.