Publishing your own book is a dream of many of us, me included. But vanity publishing is notoriously expensive; you could spend years chasing agents to get you a deal and still get nowhere.

With sites such as Blurb, however, it's now far easier to become a published author or photographer, and even make some money in the process. The site is best known for the photobooks you can create with its BookSmart software, but its service will publish all sorts of books, which it then prints at a professional press in The Netherlands.

Blurb books can be printed on demand by invited friends and family or even - depending on the visibility and reproduction preferences you set - by any member of the public impressed enough to want a copy. (Some even make Amazon's book charts.) You retain copyright and any profits; Blurb includes a markup in the initial print cost to keep it ticking over.

Most books at Blurb are of the personal, coffee-table variety like the one we've made for the workshop. However, if you're producing a company brochure or handbook with a short print run and need professional results, and perhaps later revisions and reprints, it sounds a credible and pretty cost-effective approach - the BookSmart software is free and there's no need to pay a designer (that's you) or repro house.

We've chosen a photobook template for our working example, but it's just as easy to create your own book of handed-down family recipes (my next Blurb project) or to choose a freeform template and take a more scattergun approach to layout - a more professional version of a scrapbook, if you like.

Otherwise, rather than going to the trouble of a professionally printed book, you could create an electronic scrapbook or try your hand at book-binding. You could create a record of a holiday abroad, complete with scanned tickets, sweet wrappers and beer mats; or gather mementos related to your child or grandchild's early years.

If that sounds a bit too much like a kids' project, what about a memory book focused on an ancestor you've been researching? Failing that, why not write a book and see how far you get. It can't hurt to try.

Design your own book with Blurb

1. Head to and browse the showcase of book types on offer, before clicking on the Download BookSmart applet. As with photo-sharing sites, Blurb sets you up with a password and a login of your choice and makes use of a helper applet to manage the design and layout process.

Step 1: Design your own book with Blurb

2. Once your account is set up and verified by email, launch BookSmart and choose the type of book you want. Specify the size and number of pages and click on the Pricing tab to see how much various styles and paginations cost. Once you're happy with your choice, click Continue. (You can still change your mind later.)

Step 2: Design your own book with Blurb

3. You need to select a background style: plain white, a background surround or a different-coloured background. Later, you'll be given further refinement options. We've opted for a coffee-table type book, because it gives you a better idea of the visual options than a text-only book would allow.

Step 3: Design your own book with Blurb

4. If you're adding photos, you can opt to import a whole folder at once or select one at a time. Click on Get Photos to the left of the working area and select a source from the dropdown list. This could be a folder on your computer, a removable memory card or an online photo-sharing site, such as Flickr or Picasa.

Step 4: Design your own book with Blurb

5. Imported photos appear as thumbnails under My Imports, again on the left. A green tick by a photo indicates that the resolution and image size is sufficient for your purposes. To assign a photo to a particular page, first click the image box on the page in question, then click on the photo you want to use and drag it into position.

Step 5: Design your own book with Blurb

6. If, part way through the process, you need to add or remove pages, it's easy. To delete, for example, simply click on a page and choose Delete Page from the options at the top of the screen. You can also change the template for a particular page. Just select an alternative picture layout from the options at the top left.

Step 6: Design your own book with Blurb

7. To fine-tune the positioning of your images, right-click the image in question and hit the appropriate auto-resize or alignment option. You may also find imported images need to be rotated to fit your template. Again, right-click the image and, under Photo Tools, choose the rotation direction you need.

Step 7: Design your own book with Blurb

8. With your photos in place, it's time to title your book and add copyright information. On the page labelled Copyright, enter your name where indicated. Next, choose an image for the front cover (and the dust jacket if your book style includes one) and click on the title page field on the cover to enter the book's name.

Step 8: Design your own book with Blurb

9. Your name will automatically appear as author, but you can edit this field too if you wish. It's also possible to override settings and to ‘break' box limits. To use a larger font size or include more text than the template specifies, choose the size and type you want and click Unlock text area to break the bounds.

Step 9: Design your own book with Blurb

10. Once you've filled all the pages, check it works well together by viewing multiple pages at once. Click Preview Spreads, or view thumbnails of the whole layout at once. When you're happy, click Order Book. Blurb prompts you to sign in and initiates a general check before sending it to a professional book-bindery.

Step 10: Design your own book with Blurb