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