How To

Give Santa a Break and Do It Yourselfie – Photo Books & Calendars [How-To]

8 min read

Photo Books, Calendars

UPDATE: Scroll to the bottom to learn more about our Calendar Contest!

It’s September already! 2017 is going to be over before you know it. And with the end of the year comes holidays; family celebrations, great food, and gift giving.

At Lulu, we’re excited to help you give the best gifts to your loved ones this year. Sure everyone wants that new Nintendo or iPhone, but think about how happy they’ll be with a personalized photo book full of memories from 2017? Or a wall calendar with your pictures on each month?

The best part? Lulu’s custom calendars and photo books are inexpensive and easy enough to make, you can get one (or a dozen!) for the holidays without breaking the bank! Everyone who receives one of these custom books will remember for years your creativity and generosity. In fact, scientists and researchers have studied our giving habits and discovered in multiple forms that personalized gifts are favored and that a gift buyer will even pay more for a gift if it is personalized to the recipient!

Giving personalized gifts tend to make the recipient happier. And crafting a personalized gift tends to make the giver feel more connected to the recipient. This year make your gifts something timeless and special – give a personalized gift.

Have I convinced you yet that a photo book or calendar will make the coolest and most original gift you can give this year? I’m going to assume I have and in that spirit, let’s take a quick look at Lulu’s Studio Wizard, the software we use to help you create those awesome personalized books!

If you’re familiar with Lulu, you’ve probably seen the Studio Wizard on our site. It’s not a new tool, and it’s not perfect, but it does offer everything you need to create a professional quality photo book or calendar.  Making either type of product is done with the same Studio tool. Obviously, there are a few important differences such as creating a monthly date grid or adjusting the page layout to accommodate the images in the way you’d like.


Before you dive into making your awesome personalized gift, you should prepare all your images.

This is easy enough to do, as the only requirement for an image on our site is that it has the proper resolution for printing. We request 300 dots per inch (DPI, also referred to as pixels per inch or PPI) for all images. Any photo editing software (such as Photoshop) will allow you to inspect the resolution, and if the image was created with enough pixels, you can adjust the resolution to ensure it prints well. If an image was created with fewer than 300 pixels per inch, you might not be able to adjust the resolution enough to prevent the warning message.

Image on the left is high resolution, the image on the right is not


One other factor can impact resolution – image size. For calendars and photo books, the size of the image will be based on the image frame, which can be changed with the layout options. You’ll want to attempt to size your image files close to the size of the image frame, but you do not need to edit each image to match perfectly. Lulu will resize the image to fit the frame, and give you some controls to adjust the size and position within the frame.

BUT, if your image is much bigger or smaller, or is set up in landscape while the frame is portrait, you will see the low-resolution warning. This can be frustrating, but remember that we do have to resize the image to fit the frame, and an image with a different aspect ratio or size will impact the resolution.

After you’ve got your images approximately sized correctly and all the images set to 300 DPI or higher resolution, you’re ready to start your project!

The last thing I recommend is to organize all your images into a file folder. I like to save each image I intend to use for a project like this (or any project really) in a unique folder. This creates a second copy of the file, allowing for any edits or changes that may be required without risking changing the original. This kind of file organization is entirely up to you, but I find it helpful just in case you need to roll back to earlier versions or if the edited files were to be damaged for any reason.

With your images reviewed and prepared, we’re ready to start making a photo book or calendar!


The Wizard displays with all your primary controls at the top of the screen, with the layout for the selected page on the left, images to add on the right, and a page by page view along the bottom.

When you begin a calendar project, you’ll be prompted to select a theme, pick your date range, and add images. All of these can be adjusted using the controls and menus at the top of the window. One thing to be careful about is the date range. Lulu rolls over calendars to default to the following year, but this roll over is automated and occurs on September 1st each year. If you’re ahead of the game and you’re working on holiday gifts before September, be certain you manually set the range for January – December 2018 (or a different range if you’re making an even more unique calendar!).

In terms of actually building the calendar, that part is easy! With the images uploaded, you’ll see page layout on the left and available images on the right. Set the layout, then drag and drop images. Don’t like an image in that frame? Drag and drop it off the frame to remove the image. Or just change the layout and start placing your images again.

The layout options have some designs that include text boxes as well, so you can add captions as needed for your images.

The monthly grid allows you to edit daily events with the “Events” button. You’ll be able to create your own custom events, as well as grabbing holidays from national lists. One really cool element that many won’t notice while making their calendar is the option to add a photo to the grid! The image will replace a single day entirely, including any text and the date.

Lulu Calendar Wizard, self-publishingBecause the calendar is built on a template, there are limits to the control you’ll have available. The grid itself cannot be edited, nor can the layouts we offer. While this will be a challenge for some of our most intrepid creators, most will find everything they need to make an awesome calendar in our Studio Wizard.

Photo Books

The basic layout of the Studio Wizard remains the same. The big differences you’ll see is in the preview, as you’ll be looking at a two-page preview of the photo book you’re building.

Building your photo book works exactly like the calendar. Select a layout, then drag and drop images into the frames. The photo book tool will offer a lot of variety for the individual pages, so be extra careful to check that your images are not displaying the low-resolution warning. You’ll also see layout options including text boxes, allowing you to add text to your photo book!

All that remains is to add the rest of your photos, organize the pages using the “Arrange” button, and add any text. Be sure to adjust the title, as it will default to “My Photo Book.” The title is edited through the “File” menu, under “edit title and author(s)” to adjust the text on the cover and title page. You won’t be able to edit the title page in any other ways; this page will always feature just the title and author(s) of your photo book.

Lulu Studio Tips

Okay, you’re well on your way to having the coolest holiday gifts ready to order! But before you finish up and review those print ready files, here are a few tips to cover those little hang ups that might slow you down.

  1. Progressive JPG Files – Progressive JPGs are image files specifically formatted to load on a screen. Remember years ago when the Internet was new and images would load in a “top down” fashion? You’d see the top of the image, with a little bit loading below until the entire image appeared. Now you are more likely to see a lower resolution image that will clarify as the page finishes loading.
    These images are Progressive JPGs and they are designed to load quickly for Internet viewing. Progressive JPGs are a huge step up in online image sharing, but sadly our Studio Wizard doesn’t really like them.
    If you see the icon pictured below after uploading your image, you’ll know that the file is a Progressive JPG. Resaving the image as a JPG or PNG file will correct the issue and allow you to upload your image successfully.
  2. On Screen Markers – There are two markers you might see in the Project Images panel on the right. The Blue & White Check Mark indicates that the image is already in use in this project and the Green “$” Mark indicates the image is licensed and likely has a fee associated with using the image. Be very cautious if you see the Green “$” mark, as using a licensed image without permission infringes on the image owner’s copyright.
  3. File Size – Lulu can only accept image files of 10MB or less when uploading. This might prevent ultra-high resolution images from uploading, but that shouldn’t be a concern. If you upload your image and the file is rejected for being too large, you should be able to compress the image down to 300dpi resolution, reducing the file size in the process and allowing you to upload! You’ll need to open the image file in your preferred image editing software and reduce the image resolution (or other settings) to bring down the file size.
  4. Print Ready Files – If you’ve used Lulu before to create and publish a regular book, you’re familiar with how our system works. If this is your first book creation adventure, this is new to you! What we do is take your contents (the photo book or calendar you created) and make a PDF file our printers are ready to use. For a photo book, you’ll see a file for the cover (just the front, back, and spine of the book) and a file for the interior. When you look at this file, remember that the first file page is going to be on the right side of the book, so the two-page layout of the file will be inaccurate.
    I know this can be tricky to keep straight, but a PDF viewed in Adobe’s two-page view shows the odd pages (1, 3, 5, 7, etc.) on the left, while a book will always show the odd pages on the right.
    For the calendar, the print ready PDF will include 22 “pages” for the interior PDF and will start with the January month grid and end on the image for December (assuming you’ve done a January – December calendar). Where is the January image and December grid? They’re in the cover file, which will include 4 “pages” in the print ready PDF (front cover, January’s image, December’s grid, back cover). This can be very confusing when viewing the files, but this file organization is necessary to ensure our printers can produce the calendar correctly.
    Review these files carefully before completing your project and placing an order. These PDFs will be the files our printer use to make your book, so it is critical that they meet your approval before your order.

Make it Personal

Above anything else, your photo book or calendar is YOURS. A personalized gift may not be flashy or trendy, but it does contain the unique quality of your design and direction. Just like Lulu’s mission to help the world share their stories, a photo book or calendar is more than just a collection of images. Its a product of the images you selected, the order you place them in, the way you arrange images and text on the pages; this book is a singular thing, something made from your own personality.

I’ve given photo books as gifts multiple times over the last few years, and every time I’ve been rewarded with thanks and happiness you cannot achieve with a mass produced product made to look like a million other versions of the same thing. Books are unique, and a self-published book filled with pictures of your loved ones is even more unique.

Not only does Lulu’s photo book and calendar tool make gifting easy, it makes it personal. Inscribe the calendar with personalized messages and images. Make a unique version of your photo book for each member of your family with a special image on the cover or unique text. The options are nearly unlimited!

Get the holidays under control early this year and give the perfect personalized gift to your loved ones.

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5 Tips for Editing your Manuscript

12 min read

Lulu, Self-Publish, editing, manuscript, tips

If you’re a writer anything like myself, you’ve got a handful of manuscripts finished, languishing in desk drawers, or in your Dropbox gathering virtual dust. I love to write, but I am not as excited about editing. So a manuscript often finds itself abandoned shortly after completion for a variety of reasons – time, interest in new projects, distaste for editing. Whatever the reason, if you want to transition from writing to publishing, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and do some editing.

Editing doesn’t need to be a chore though! Just like I mentioned in our DIY Cover tips blog, editing often is best handled by a professional. Even if you plan to hire a pro to fine tune the editing, you’ll need to do some review and revision yourself. And if you plan to do all the work yourself, you’ll really need to focus and do your best to ensure the editing serves the book and achieves your goals for the manuscript.

Leading us to the question; how does an author effectively edit their own work?

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The 6 DIY Cover Tips You Need for Your Book

10 min read

Poll veterans of self-publishing, and you’ll likely hear the same advice from all of them: get an editor and get a professional cover designer. There are many factors to consider, but if you’re an author with aspirations for your book, you cannot forego an interior edit and a well-designed cover.

The editorial assistance you may be able to solicit from friends or family to avoid paying for the professional touch. The contents could end up less than pristine, but the book may not suffer. Readers can forgive a misspelling here and there, or a clunky sentence now and then. If the story compels them and is well crafted otherwise, editing for content can be done without paying a professional editor (though if you have the option, I strongly recommend getting a professional editor).

The cover though, that’s another story. Without an eye-grabbing cover, the book is likely to struggle just to get a reader to consider it. A bad cover can ruin a great book. I bet you’ve heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, the saying is true: you can’t always tell how good the book will be just looking at the cover. A terrible book might have an eye-catching cover, and a terrific book might have a bland and unexciting cover. But the terrible book will have a leg up when it comes to marketing and promoting with that eye-catching cover.

Don’t let your book be held back by a poorly designed cover. It can be easy not to think to much about the cover if your focus is on writing, but if you plan to self-publish and want to grab some readers, you’re going to need to spend some time really thinking about and working on your cover.

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Keep Coloring – Self-publishing your own Coloring Book

2 min read

Summer may be upon us, but we can’t spend every day this summer frolicking on the beach! If you need a great way to stay entertained (or keep some little ones entertained), why not a custom coloring book? We posted some time ago about the many therapeutic benefits of coloring. Nothing has changed, and coloring books are as popular as ever among kids and adults.

Lulu’s self-publishing tool makes it particularly easy to make your own coloring books!

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Writing Toolbox: Microsoft Word

3 min read

Microsoft Office is a widely-used tool for creation, design, editing, and formatting. And Microsoft Word in particular is powerful, and being the most common word processor on the market, it is the software the majority of writers will employ. At least at some point during the writing and editing process.

MS Word is a hefty tool, and has a variety of uses for authors, from word processing, to format, to layout, to review and editing. Some authors even use Word to layout their book’s cover! With the huge variety of applications Word has, we’ll focus today on how to best use Word as a self-publishing author, the benefits and challenges of Word, and some important publishing specific tips.

To begin with, the basics. If you are completely new to Word, I encourage you to use Microsoft’s vast support literature to learn about the software. With a rudimentary understanding the tool, you can create a manuscript entirely from scratch, and prep that same file for publishing.

The first phase (writing the manuscript) is the area Word struggles the most. It’s easy to get sidetracked in layout, or to tinker with design, rather than focusing on the project. And with no stripped down focus mode, the risk of distraction is ever present. [Note – Microsoft is introducing a Focus View, and some may already have access to it, depending on their version and updates]

Where Word really shines is after you’ve written the content.

First, you’ll be editing and proofing the book. Word has a function called ‘Track Changes’ under the Review menu.

Track Changes creates a column on the right side of the document, listing any edits performed. This includes deleting or adding text, updating any existing text, new formatting, and provides the opportunity for in document notation. The notes (called ‘Comments’) allow you and your editors/proofreaders to make changes and have a conversation within the document, without making anything permanent. The file will be a true living document, and the flow of ideas can run back and forth until you settle on phrasing, organization, and other elements of the manuscripts design. If you like a change, or have acted on a comment, they can be ‘Accepted’ to remove them from the running list of Track Changes and keep the interface nice and clean.

Once you’ve got the editing done and you’re happy with the text, you’ll move on to the layout and design of the pages. This is the second piece of MS Word that brings a great deal of control and flexibility to your document.

The layout and design options are so vast, we don’t have the time to go over all of them. But really, I could write a book about all the ways you can utilize MS Word to customize and tweak your manuscript. For now, we’ll focus on a couple of necessities for printing.

The first being page size. Your file needs to be sized to match your book size. Use the ‘Layout’ menu in Word to set the page size for the entire document. I recommend doing a Select All (Command/Control + A) prior to resizing. It’s key to note that the standard US Trade size 6 x 9 is not built into Word’s page size presets, so you’ll need to add it as a custom size.

The second piece to be closely aware of are the margins. Word can automatically build in a Gutter margin for you, and align this to the correct side of the page. These controls live under the ‘Layout’ menu. MS Word has a great help section about how to set up and manage Margins.

Along with the critical layout and design tools, Word can be used to manipulate the content on the page. Breaks (both Page and Section) give you control over the positioning of content, and images can be placed in line with text, behind text, or nested with the text through Word’s ‘Picture’ menu.

Here’s a quick list of the elements most relevant to self-publishing you should familiarize yourself with:

  • Page Size
  • Margins/Gutter
  • Styles
  • Font and Line Spacing
  • Header/Footer Control
  • Breaks (Page and Section)
  • Page Numbering and Table of Contents
  • Inserting and Positioning Images

Using the variety of tools within Word, you can control the line spacing, fonts, sizing, space between paragraphs, and so much more!


Book Publishing: The Economics of Self-Publishing

2 min read

Self-publishing is a demanding project to take on. As a writer, you’ve already labored over the words and phrases of your book, researched and studied the ins and outs of writing effectively, developed plots and characters…you’ve done a lot of work! Now to get the manuscript published, you’ve got to take on even more roles, notably laying out the book, designing a cover, ensuring the content is error free, actually publishing, establishing an ISBN, claiming a copyright, distributing…AND THEN you’re just at the beginning of the sales portion of your self-publishing journey.

Once the book is finally done and published, you’re new task is pushing your book, establishing contacts, leads, engaging readers through book signings, and selling both online and by hand. Publishing itself may seem easy at this point. Profitably publishing, now that is a challenge.

You might stop at this point and think “why bother?” Why go the self-publishing route? Why take the time, energy, and money to do all the work yourself (or hire designers/editors to assist you) when you could pitch the book to traditional publishers, hand the book over to them, claim a nice advance, and sit back while they do the heavy lifting?

There’s one really good reason to go the self-publishing route. And what better way to convey that reason than an infographic!

That’s a lot of information, I know. Let’s break down two of the most important points:

1) Revenue – Self-Published authors earn 80% of their revenue for each sale with Lulu. In the above example, selling 3,000 copies resulted in four times the revenue earned! Earning power and potential is one of two differences that will lure a writer to self-publish (the other being editorial control). When you sell your work, you want it to truly me your work and you want to earn what you deserve. We agree, and by putting the author in the driver’s seat, we can direct substantially more revenue to the author.

2) Sales by Publisher – This is interesting enough to be worth looking again at the specific segment of the inforgraphic. Look at those Yellow portions. That’s the piece of the book selling market (ebook and print) including just Indie and Single Author publishing. 41% of ebooks, and 27% of Amazon print bestsellers. Think on that a moment. An idea (self-publishing) that is only fifteen years old has already taken over more than a quarter of the biggest bookseller in the world. And that doesn’t even include small and medium sized publishers.


Traditional publishing is out there. And if you can get your book picked up by a publisher, it might be right for you. But if you’re looking to make the most from each sale, to retain control over your work, and to have the freedom to publish just the way you want, Lulu is the only real option. The book is yours! You wrote it, so you should see the profits.

If you need some more information to get started publishing, check out the Lulu Toolkit!

Selling Your Book – Synopsis

3 min read

Synopsis – a brief summary or general survey of something.

Might seem like a simple thing. You wrote an entire book! Now all you have to do is write summary of said book.  Should be no problem, right?

Well, not exactly.

You see, the synopsis is more than just a general summary or description of the book. It’s also a pitch for the book. Be aware too, that in the world of traditional publishing, the synopsis is a bit different than for self-publishing. When you’re pushing your manuscript out to traditional publishers or agents, they will likely ask for a synopsis following a specific format, with a specific word count to summarize your book. In self-publishing, you’ll be using the synopsis in a different way; primarily as a guide for the description and back cover text, or as that text itself.

Think of your synopsis in the same way you think about your cover. Its the first piece of text your potential reader is likely to read. This is (after looking over the cover) the hook that will make your potential reader either buy this book, or keep browsing.

The element that is unchanged is the purpose: your synopsis is meant to sell your book.

Don’t underestimate the importance of a high quality cover, and we’ll talk more about that in a future post (and we have talked about it in past posts as well).  Today is just synopsis.

Accepting that the synopsis is a critical piece of marketing material for your book, how should you go about writing one that will hook readers, convey the message of your book, and only take up 400-500 words (about one printed page) of text?

Here’s a quick list to help you get the most out of your synopsis:

  1. Set up the premise, define the plot, and introduce your protagonist. This may not be as critical for a work of non-fiction, but for the fiction author, you’ll need to clearly define for your would-be reader the plot and the hero. Now, this does not mean telling us every precise detail about the story, nor does it mean painting an elaborate picture with words so we can visualize the main character. Brevity needs to be balanced with concision. Tell your reader enough to spark their interest, to make them curious enough to read more.
    For non-fiction, this is most often expressed in terms of the premise. You may not have a character (though if you do, be sure to let your reader know about them), so you’ll focus instead on the purpose of the book. Is this a field guide to bird watching? Why is it more relevant or useful than other, similar works? Or what specific elements does it add that other books do not?
  2. Clear, concise language. It is critical that your synopsis be free of any spelling errors. A spelling error or grammar mistake in the body of the book can be accepted. A reader expects a mistake here and there. But not in the synopsis. This piece of text is how your reader will decide to pay money for your book, so you need to put your absolutely best foot forward. You want your reader to quickly see that your book is worth read, and to regard you as the professional you are.
  3. Keep it focused! Your synopsis is going to be short. When writing for an agent or publisher, you can get away with 800 words, possibly even more. But self-publishing is a fast paced world, and you need to get the maximum impact with the minimum number of words. Hook your reader with the key elements of the plot, weave in introductions to your main characters, give us a hint or two about the conflicts, and do it all with a sense of urgency.
    The same advice applies to non-fiction works. Outline the premise or argument you’ll be making, give us enough details to make the reader want to know more, and be absolutely sure you give us a good reason to read your book over another that may address the same concerns or issues.
  4. Perspective. The general consensus is that the synopsis should be written in an active voice. Use present tense and third person point of view, even if the novel utilizes first person. Remember that the synopsis is a tool for drawing in readers. While the story might hinge on the inner workings of your protagonist, the synopsis is a detached overview of sorts, and will function most provocatively when the reader is at a remove.

Lastly, realize that there is no definitely correct formula for writing a synopsis (or anything for that matter!). The above points may help create a synopsis in line with the general market. Use this advice to help create a marketable blurb, to entice and excite your readers!