Book Smart

In an age of self publishing, a new tool emerges.

Create and sell your book on starting this month.

From blogs to online photo albums, we're a world awash in DIY material. This democratization of all things digital is now spurring another movement: self-published print books. One company poised to transform this category is San Francisco-based Blurb, whose software allows everyday authors to create, share, and market the kind of books you might find on any respectable coffee table.

Paradoxical? Maybe. Potential for K–12 schools? Absolutely.

Say you're a technology coordinator who blogs. You can download Blurb's BookSmart free software, which automatically slurps, or flows, your blog into preformatted pages. After tweaking your material, you order the book for $29.95. It arrives on your doorstep in four to eight days, and just like that, you're a published author. No literary agents. No New York publishing houses. Simply you and your computer.

It doesn't take much imagination to envision other possible applications for education: student portfolios, teacher-made lesson books, family history projects, PTA recipe books, class photo albums, and literary journals, to name a few. Education consultant David Warlick, who has published two books using a similar service, Lulu, suggests teachers designate a team of students who "blog the school year with media and make a yearbook out of that."

Self publishing is nothing new, of course. Mark Twain and E.E. Cummings, for instance, are among a long list of authors who have used so-called vanity presses to publish their work. In more recent times, "print-on-demand" companies like Lulu and Xlibris have cropped up, along with photo album services from Apple, Kodak, and others.

Blurb is betting on people's desire for ease of use, high production values, and community affiliation to set them apart. This month the company is releasing version 1.0 of the product. Over the summer it plans to launch BlurbNation, a community site where third parties can offer editing and proofreading services for free or for pay, along with an e-commerce engine that allows users to set up an online bookstore to sell their work. Authors set their own prices, and Blurb sends royalty checks.

Although it may seem anachronistic to transform digital material into print, Blurb CEO and founder Eileen Gittins disagrees. "The beauty of books is that they aren't tied to any technology, so you can create an archive that will last until you're 80," she says. "It also allows [people] to monetize their efforts."

That's not to mention the sheer thrill of holding your own book in your hands, whether it's a collection of blog musings about the school year or the next Great American novel. "On a personal level, my mission will not be complete until every 12-year-old out there thinks they can be the next J.K. Rowling," says Gittins.

Amy Poftak is associate publisher/ executive editor for Technology & Learning.