There are a lot of template based publishing sites on the net that offer one-stop shopping where you can lay out your book’s interior, create a cover, and print your book. Should you use one? We recently received this question:
I’m beginning to work on a new project for my mother. It’s primarily going to be a Cookbook, with many of her recipes from the past 70 years. I also want to include Quotes and Tips from her, including copies of Calligraphy she has done. I see there are many templates which can be downloaded and even complete the book printing. However, I’m not sure that I want to go this route. Please give me your thoughts.
This was my response:
That sounds like a very nice project. I wish I had done the same with my mother.
I've never found a template program that can do what InDesign, the book design software I use, can do. Of them all, the best is blurb.com. Have you checked them out? They are the only one that I would use – but just as a printer, not for the templates - because they will accept a PDF, and they will print just one well-made hardcover book, a request I get occasionally.
There are two problems with template software, including Blurb's. One is that once you put your materials in, you can't get them back out. The resulting file isn't a PDF, it's their proprietary file type, and the only thing it can be opened with is that company's print service. You're stuck with them, and if you don't like the quality, you can't move it elsewhere. If they upgrade their software or printer, your old file may not work, or if their business goes under, all you'll have is your printed copies. For family history books, preservation for future generations is important. We always recommend you keep the book's PDF files so you can print more copies, and to pass the files down to the kids, so that they can print fresh copies years later, after any physical copies degrade.
The second problem is the printing. These template programs are all provided by printing companies trying to sell incredibly overpriced books through an automated intake, and often the quality of the books is poor. They are often meant for photobooks, with limits on page count, number of images, etc. That may be OK for a small, disposable book project, but it doesn't work for longer, more complex books.
I think your decision boils down to a few things:
Do you want to own and preserve the book file itself, or will you be satisfied with just one print run (if your templated creation can't be opened later?)
Do you want to have control over the paper and binding?
Do you want a longer book? Many template services have page limits.
Do you want multiple copies? These printers charge so much more per book that a run of 25 copies, for instance, can cost thousands of dollars. That's for suckers.
If you want just a few copies, and don't care about the issues I've mentioned, then you could get away with a template, and the printing of just a few overpriced books won't break the bank.
Then the question becomes, do you want to design the book? Book design, for a project like this, is an art. If you like to do art projects, then doing the Photoshopping and text styling and page layouts, etc., is an enjoyable project. But if you don't enjoy it, you won't want to spend the time on the learning curve, and you'll benefit from someone with more experience to do it. The advantage to not designing it yourself is that you can simply provide me with the raw materials, both in Word and scans of the images. You can tell me what you envision, and I'll do the rest to make it beautiful. That also allows us to choose a higher quality, lower cost printer, so you'll save significantly on the cost of the books, which would offset some of the cost of my help.