Alternative Dissertation Binding with Tweed Academic Editing

UPDATE: Blurb has created a Microsoft Word add-in that’s designed to make this process much easier. It’s only for Windows environments right now, so I (a Mac user) haven’t tried it. But it looks very promising.

About one year after first Blurbing, I’m realizing how beneficial it is to have a handsomely bound volume. I’m revisiting my dissertation, this time as if I were reading a book off the shelf—in fact, that’s exactly what I’m doing. And I’m able to see just how strong the research and writing actually are. It’s great motivation for moving on to publishing articles from chapters and putting together a proposal for presses.

By the time I finished my PhD, my university had done away with hard-copy dissertation submissions. All I had to do was generate a PDF of my work and upload it to the UMI ProQuest servers for inclusion in its database. The process was easy enough, but it was hardly what I would call tangibly satisfying.

Online submission freed me to have a little fun with the dissertation binding.

I looked into traditional binderies that offer embossed leather covers—in boring typefaces, with lengthy turnaround times, and at high prices. I peeked at what mass-market services like FedEx Office and the UPS Store could do for me. Those options were cheap but even less aesthetically inspiring.

Then I noticed Blurb.

At first, I thought of it as one of those websites that produce glossy photobooks (which I happen to love). But then I noticed its black-and-white-text format for hardcover books made of words (and grayscale images, if desired). Blurb construes itself as an author-producing enterprise, so it produces bookstore-quality books. In other words, Blurb’s oriented more toward bookmaking than toward scrapbook-making.

However, I expressly did not want to self-publish my dissertation.

This endeavor was just an exercise in quirky dissertation binding: no ISBN required or desired. After all, I still need to generate some publishable journal articles and a monograph from this baby! Luckily, Blurb’s not that kind of service. (I hear, however, that ISBNs can be acquired elsewhere and added to Blurb books.)

Satisfied that I could keep my dissertation unpublished but still have it bound by Blurb, I chose the 6″ x 9″ trade format (the other option is a 5″ x 8″ pocket size) and set to work.

Now, Blurb offers three different avenues for putting content on pages. Because I have an almost 300-page document with hundreds of footnotes, the online layout gizmos were not going to suffice. So I took heart that Blurb accepted PDFs, which are easy enough to create on my Mac.

Here’s where Blurb’s veneer of simplicity really broke down.

The PDF-uploading feature is really best used by designers—or by those who have Adobe Creative Suite, at least. I consider myself a pretty capable nonexpert computer user. I’m not afraid of fiddling with files and programs, but Blurb does not make it easy to export from Microsoft Word—which is a common word-processing program among Blurb’s client base, I would think.

It’s not PDFs but PDF/X-3s that one must export. I had honestly never heard of this high-tech format before embarking on what I mistakenly thought would be the rather simple process of binding my dissertation. I’ll spare you further detail, but I created over thirty PDFs of my text and cover image before I finally had a successful upload, one that met my own and Blurb’s quality standards. I actually made myself an instruction sheet detailing my workaround for the problem of not having Adobe Creative Suite.

With the content and cover set, I ordered a couple sample copies and crossed my fingers. I needn’t have worried: when the samples arrived, I was elated.

These were books that I could be proud to give to my dissertation committee and loved ones.

The matte covers feel rich, and the off-white stock inside is really dreamy. I designed a faux-vintage cover from a public-domain image of an old cloth book cover and overlaid it with semi-transparent text of my own. To commemorate my accomplishments, I also mocked up some inserts that recall yesteryear’s library due-date cards.

All told, Blurb allowed me to bind my dissertation in a way appropriate for a momentous occasion and executed with a sense of humor. There’s even a fun preview widget for sharing online:

At this point, I can’t really recommend Blurb for dissertators because the process involved several hours of trial and error on my part. I truly hope that Blurb will make uploading complex text and crafting covers easier for those of us without industry-standard design software.

If you do decide to go the Blurb route, I recommend signing up for the newsletter, as it sometimes includes discount codes.

I’m interested: what other methods of dissertation binding have you tried?