Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Family Mottos and Mantras: MyBooks Review

https://rl.rocketlife.com/968e70a57756fd9fdb23906d160bc6d5/catalog.html?cq=.zpF7GMYuiRTmNc4qFLGMXyiNr8Ya1w1SsNclbRbsMytEbrW5WhzVDmtZymBrG5YMyBooks has branded itself as a place to go for photo-books.  When I was invited to review these "photo-books," I naturally began percolating another picture book project idea (remember Mama & Papa: A Love Story?  That was the last picture book I made for our kids)...and I stuck with that plan, using the MyBooks software.  How did MyBooks stack up, when I stretched its means to meet my ends?  Pretty well, actually.

So, what was the project, this time?
There are a lot of things our family values, and we remind each other of these on repeat.  Many a sentence in our household begins with "In our family we..." as an explanation for why we do things a certain way.  We have found power in those four words, as an opener!  Not only do they help us explain our reasoning, they help to build our collective identity.  Having mulled over many of the mottos and mantras of our family, I decided it was time to harness them and put them into a format that I could better...indoctrinate our children from?  Yeah, kinda.  I'm going to go with "reinforce from."  After listing our mottos and mantras, and grouping or merging those I could -- to keep my page count down -- I set to the task of finding a corresponding illustration to go with each page.  I decided I wanted each matching image to be taken from a story that taught the lesson referenced.  For example, for the motto, "We believe in the power of the imagination; There is always some way to play," I have included artwork from a Little House picture book featuring the two elder girls playing in their attic with corn on the cob swaddled like a baby.  /blink blink.

I went with a simple white cover in the spirit of Mix It Up, The Book with No Pictures and Press Here, but you can add an image on the cover too, of course!

You can read a virtual copy of the book I made (that the girls are reading in all these pictures) here.

"Where is that picture from?"
You've never seen that book before?
An Image Source List is included belooooow (way below).

Things I like about MyBooks:
  • From the outset, I loved how organised the team were, at MyBooks.  Their invitation was so slick, and all communication with them was clear and well-thought.
  • There is a very strong online help system and database and excellent follow-up (I found an answer to a very specific question there!).
  • The book-building software has a pretty strong console compared to some others I've used (such as Blurb and Vistaprint), and for the high-end quality, the pricing is comparable.  If it is slightly more, I think this could be justified by knowing you are supporting a NZ-owned and operated company.
  • I was most impressed with how well the images I used printed, especially since I used a few that warned me the resolution was too low...they still came out well enough!  I also had to do some photoshop work to blur the edges of some of the images I'd chosen so they wouldn't look like a different shade of white or off-white on the page (did. not. want), and these came up better in the print than I could have hoped for.
  • My book arrived quickly, well-packaged, and has a fairly high quality look and feel.  Interestingly, I got an email saying it had shipped in the early hours of the morning, and it arrived later on that very day. 
  • It didn't appear as though I could choose my own title pages in the software's layout view, but when the book arrived, it included a blank front and back page, plus a repeat title page that matches the cover image -- I think these look gorgeous, and I'm glad they're there.  I'm adding this as a positive, because I wasn't expecting it, based on the preview I'd viewed, (If they hadn't been there, I think I would have been really disappointed)...


Things I would like to see improve in the future:
  • ...so, the first thing I would love to see improve in the future, is for the book preview to better reflect the end-product.  Even if the front and back blank pages are locked in and unavailable to edit, they could be displayed as such, and the title page could auto-duplicate the cover design and be greyed out as a page that can be altered, fine, but these pages could still be there, in the preview.
  • From the size of the preview and the safety margins alone, it is still pretty difficult to tell exactly how your text will appear on the page, in print.  Sometimes you have to learn by experience with a print company how close you can come to their print and actual margins, and because this is a higher-end product, it's not so easy to do that.  I recommend erring on the side of caution, and allowing a good amount of space away from the print margins for any essential content, for a good design.  I have a page or two where the text looked well-placed in the preview, but in the print it is too close to the page edge.  The images do print right up to the edge of the page, if full page is selected, however.
  • Currently, there is no option to print on the spine of the book, which is a touch I really like (which Blurb has).
  • There are a few options for book cover types, but within each size and thickness, there doesn't appear to yet be choices between the covering as much (e.g. A matte finish as opposed to the gloss I received as default.  I like the gloss though...fyi).
  • The back cover features site logos.  Perhaps the more accurate preview (bullet 1) could show these would be there, and better yet, offer and option to pay a small fee to have these removed or minimised (e.g. instead placed on the back page).
  • While I appreciate that foremost MyBooks is marketing itself as a photo-book-maker, I would have liked an option to turn on a spelling and grammar check (because er...text was key in my book!).  Yeah, most photo captions would consist of names and places that would invite squiggly underlines galore to the party, but I think a lot of people do photo-books as gifts or surprises, and consequently may not have a person on-hand to proof read before they order their very permanent and professional-looking printed item.  Yes, I had a typo and no I didn't spot it in my own proof-reading.  Learn from my mistakes, and make sure you get someone to proof-read your text, and if the person handiest can't be that person, email a preview to someone who can.  I know Dad, I should have.  Yes, there is white twink-tape in my photo book.
  • I would love the ability to embed a preview of the book in this post!  Currently all I can do is send you to a link to see it, or embed a thumbnail of a static image of the book.
  • The book looks pretty classy, but the binding isn't 100% as high-end as I would like. In particular, the back board is bowed slightly so that the book sits slightly open when laying flat, on its face.
The Verdict:

Overall, I'm really pleased with the quality of this photo-book, and recommend YOU consider making a book of your own design -- either photo, story or family themebook, for yourself, or as a generous gift for some treasured human/s in your life.

--> If you go with MyBooks in the next two weeks, you can "Spin and Win" yourself a voucher for at least $20 off your creation (you might win more)! 

Image Sources (in order of appearance)
Dogger, Shirley Hughes
You Are Special, Max Lucado; illustrator Sergio Martinez
Please Mr Panda, Steve Antony
Diamond in the Snow, Jonathan Emmett; illustrator Vanessa Cabban
Winter Days in the Big Woods, inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder; illustrator Renée Graef
Gilbert the Great, Jane Clarke; illustrator Charles Fuge
Owl Babies, Martin Waddell; illustrator Patrick Benson
Winter Days in the Big Woods, inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder; illustrator Renée Graef
The Dot, Peter H Reynolds
The Little Engine that Could, retold by Wattie Piper; illustrators George and Doris Hauman
How The Library (NOT the prince) Saved Rapunzel, Wendy Meddour; illustrator Rebecca Ashdown
Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack, Lynley Dodd
Marmaduke, the Very Different Dragon, Rachel Valentine; illustrator Ed Eaves
Finklehopper Frog, Irene Livingstone; illustrator Brian Lies
The Great White Man-Eating Shark, Margaret Mahy; illustrator Jonathan Allen
You Can Do It, Sam, Amy Hest; illustrator Anita Jeram
The Smartest Giant in Town, Julia Donaldson; illustrator Axel Scheffler
Alfie Gives a Hand, Shirley Hughes
The Smartest Giant in Town, Julia Donaldson; illustrator Axel Scheffler
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle

Because we own (or will soon own) all of the original books from which these images are "borrowed," I felt comfortable including them in our one time only book, paying tribute to the tales to which they belong.  I think a book produced on this scale is akin to a private journal or scrapbook, and will only profit me in terms of elevating these authors and artists' work to icon status in our home.  Should anyone object to the images being included in the digital preview, I will remove it.

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