re 1, there's no quick way to do this. For what it's worth, I've created a lot of books and never bother with virtual copies in the way you describe..
re 2, I think you can read a lot of negative comments if you go looking for them, and I agree there is some negativity, but it's difficult to beat the combination of quality and price (I'm also in the UK). I have occasionally done small test books before larger and more costly versions, stick to the Proline Uncoated, and over time I'm pretty confident with the approach that I described in a reply here (copied below).
I’ve printed q a lot of books through Blurb and experience counts for a lot, so I feel I’ve a fair idea of what looks wrong when I get the printed book. The main risks have been overall brightness and blocked shadows, and one big part of my unscientific process is to carefully review each photo. I use a white background in Lightroom and ensure the picture’s whites are indeed close to white, and that there’s detail in the shdaows – I often open them up a bit. I’ll then do a soft proof against the sRGB profile because it also picks up the risk aspects. Again, unscientific yet tested by experience.
The easiest method is to right-click on the saved book in the collections panel and choose “set as target collection”
To add extra images to the book collection, choose thumbnails in the library grid and select from the menu: Photo >> Create Virtual copies. Then press the B key and the VC’s will be added to the saved book. You can then drag each new addition from the filmstrip to new pages.
Sorry I don’t know any alternative print labs that accept the PDF’s.
Can anyone recommend an alternative (great quality being the prime decision point) UK-available printer that will accept the PDF generated by Lightroom?
The PDFs are only useful to Blurb, but you can output the book as JPEGs which other vendors could accept. You could always reimport the JPEGs and export cropped versions to suit their book dimensions.
Thanks for your comments and assistance. I have created a feature request!
Your soft proofing info was invaluable John - I have just finished and the results are hopefully (you never know until you get it back from the printers!) much better than if I'd skipped that step...now, my eyes need a rest!!
In fact I just received a book back today, and I was very happy with the colour and brightness. The only glitch was a stupid typo
If you're interested, you can see the printers used by Blurb in Europe in this video from 2012.