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Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

Making books with kids: the new age is a business started 10 years ago by Internet entrepreneur, photographer and avid reader Eileen Gittins. She wanted to create and print 40 copies of a book, with her photographs and writeups of 40 people Gittins had worked with. She didn’t have the skills to design a book, but she had money to pay. She couldn’t find a service that would do that — so she started one.

A few years before Gittins’ project, I was doing an after-school creative-writing program for young people at my local library in Rutland, Vermont. We met once a week, and the kids were producing some pretty good stuff! I heard about an online business called For a flat, per-printed-book fee, they would take your word-processed copy and lay it into a book, then print and ship however many copies you wanted. You could choose your page design and set up your book cover, within preset limits. The cost was very reasonable.

We did it: the library and the parents put up the money and we published a 176-page paperback short-story collection, with a nice yellow cover, called A Fake Toupee. (If you enter the title at, today at least there’s one used copy available.) The title, like everything in the book, was the kids’ idea — I just edited, wrote an intro, and fed the text to, who not long after that went out of business. 

Today there’s a burgeoning world of print-on-demand services that will print, bind and ship your paperback. They serve the fast-growing world of self-publishing authors, and that’s great — but POD services require you to provide page-designed layouts and covers. They’re just digital printers. Eileen Gittins had a different idea: create a business that would offer layout templates, so you could make some simple choices and just upload your copy, as I did with You could then print a single book, or as many as you wanted. All for an affordable, per-copy cost.

“Gittins somehow convinced investors to support her counterintuitive move from digital to print and launched, which last year shipped two million books to 70 countries,” reports Laura Rowley of the HuffPost. “Inc. magazine estimated 2009 revenue at $45 million, dubbing Blurb ‘America’s Fastest-Growing Media Company’ in 2010.” “offers localized websites and tools for making books in seven languages,” writes Rowley. She quotes Gittins: “‘At our peak volume last year we saw a new book title coming in across our servers every 1.1 seconds.’” Customers pay for each printed book — from $3 up to $200, for a four-color, coffee-table volume. also offers an e-store where customers can market and sell their books; last year, self-publishers on the site sold 90,000 total copies.

I think a service like this has exciting uses for schools and other settings where aspiring, creative young writers want to be published. Not just posted online but published, in a way you can give to your grandparents and hold in your hands. 

“‘It’s the best thing ever to give creative voice to so many people who never had this kind of platform,’” Gittins says in the HuffPost.

She’s right. I remember the feeling.

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