Here are instructions on how to publish a fully illustrated coffee table book by collecting text and images with Amazon's Mechanical Turk, then printing the book on demand with Blurb.com. This instructable covers how to source, edit, layout, print and promote a book that is written and illustrated by others, for you.
Step 1: Brainstorm topics
First brainstorm some topics that people want to write about. My wife Tania suggested to make a book about pets. Specifically, cats. Every cat owner loves to tell you about how fluffy Zooey is, how cute it is when Gary drinks out of the sink, how amazing Socks' toilet flush trick is, etc.
In addition to thinking about topics for stories, also think about good visuals. Asking people to draw paper clips is unlikely to result in a lot of interesting submissions. If you ask them to draw a cutaway view of a combustion engine, they'll say no because that's too complicated. Babies, pets, stuffed animals, favorite places - keep it simple but emotionally rich.
Step 2: Create Mechanical Turk HITs
To become a requester, you need to create and account on the Mechanical Turk Requester Site and add some money to your account ($5-$10 should be enough).
So let's create our first HIT - the MTurk interface is really geared towards people who want to take big data sets of things and match them with big groups of people. For example, when adventurer Steve Fossett went missing, friends of his uploaded thousands of satellite images (the big data set) and got a big set of workers to look at each individual image to determine if a crashed plane was visible in the image. But that kind of functionality is not really what we want: we just want to ask one simple question, but get a lot of responses. So in the Mechanical Turk requester interface, we'll skip the default options and select the "Create HITs individually" link.
In the individual HIT creation form, enter a title, description, and keyword. For example:
Title: Tell a story about your Cat
Description: What's the craziest thing your cat has ever done? Write one paragraph.
Keywords: writing, cats, pets, creativity,
1 or 2 days should be enough as an expiration date. To collect stories, choose the "plain text" answer format. Then select how many answers you'd like. 50 to 100 is a good start. The going rate is around $.05 to $.10 for a story or a picture.
Submit your task, then enter another, asking for images instead of stories. For the second task, your answer type will be "file upload" - ask workers to draw pictures on their computer (or scan them in), then send those files to you.
Then wait for the answers to trickle in.
Step 3: Collect responses. Edit & clean up.
Select the top stories.This is the time for quality control - just because you paid $.05 for a story doesn't mean it's good enough to be included. If you need more, just launch another task. Fix grammar and spell1ng errorz. Your name will be on the book eventually (as an editor), so take care of the details.
For illustration tasks, your spreadsheet will contain a column of URLs to download each file. As I found out, most people will just launch Microsoft paint and draw low resolution pixelated images. But those have a nice aesthetic of their own. However, to print those images in a book, you'll have to increase the resolution of the file without losing the boxy aesthetic along the way. Don't count on the printer to do this for you. The solution is to upsample the image using a "nearest neighbor" scaling. Photoshop offers this setting in its image size dialog (see screen capture)- other image editors probably have similar settings.
Step 4: Layout & print your own book. Wait.
When laying out a book of significant length, too many options are your enemy - with professional programs like InDesign I'd probably spend two days just putting templates together. In BookSmart, I laid out a 40-page book in an evening.
This is your last chance to double check graphics and text! Once you are happy with the preview, upload your book and order a copy for yourself. This is the priciest part, as a hardcover book + shipping usually costs $30-$40. You have to order one copy for yourself before you can sell to others. Sneaky, I know.
Wait for the book to arrive.
Step 5: Receive book in mail. Rejoice.
You'll inevitably find typos and other mistakes - those are a fact of life. Move on.
Take some glamour shots of it before too many grubby fingers get it all dirty.
Step 6: Promote your book online. Become an instant best seller. Profit.
Technorati's Top 100 Blogs are a good place to start. For my "Amazing but true stories about cats," I targeted BoingBoing, some pet sites, and some blogs about self-publishing.
Surprisingly enough, total strangers are perfectly willing to spend $20 to $30 on a neat idea. You won't get much of a cut per book from Blurb if you want to keep the book affordable - $1 to $5 is probably reasonable.
If you're diligent about promotion, eventually a royalty check from Blurb will land in your mailbox. I made $42.15 on the first check. That's barely breaking even, but all publishing empires start small...