Monday, May 2, 2011

Come Buy

“Come Bye” is a traditional herding term for sending the dog around the sheep in a clockwise direction

The day it arrived in the mail was hot for early April. I had watered everything in both greenhouses and waited on several customers before I drove the few miles into town to the bank. It held my personal stash of ones and zeros that translate into a monetary balance on a teller’s computer screen.

When I got back, the mail truck pulled into the driveway just behind me.  He tossed me a package and drove off.  I caught it without thinking and tore into it while discussing Japanese maples with a customer.

As I pulled off the final wrapping, I felt a little thrill run down my leg (to quote Chris Matthews over Obama’s campaign rhetoric) as I saw for the first time my novel – the word made flesh.

I ran my hand over the cover, trying to feel the brush strokes on the reproduction of Pat’s painting.  I lifted the book to feel its weight.  I turned the pages, looking at the title page, the copyright information, the dedication.  I randomly opened it to Chapter 14 and saw a formatting error!

Oh, my child, my child! You are not perfect!

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that there’s a reason to get a proof copy.  It’s meant for proof reading.  And I would do so diligently – the next copy would be perfect.

For four days, I read and re-read every word of my novel. I found typos, formatting errors, missing or extraneous punctuation, and textual inconsistencies. It was hard to believe that I had edited and proof-read this piece at least ten times before I submitted it to CreateSpace for publication.

God, was I going blind?  Could I simply not see the “or” where “of” belonged, the comma splice, the house that changed from white in Chapter 3 to yellow in Chapter 11?

I submitted a revised version of my updated Microsoft Word DOC file only to have it rejected.  I had forgotten to convert it to Adobe PDF format first.

Another submission and eventual acceptance were followed by waiting for the next proof copy to arrive in the mail in five to seven days.

In the meantime, I decided to start exploring the non-transubstantiated versions – ebooks.  “E” is for ephemeral, I think.

I knew that both Amazon and Barnes & Noble had book publishing platforms for their proprietary e-readers:  the Kindle and the Nook, respectively.  I hoped that I could reformat my previously submitted file according to their ebook recommendations and submit the same file to both.

Vain hope. 

I discovered that both warned of submitting Microsoft Word DOC files and instead suggested using a generic format adopted by many e-readers (though not Kindle):  EPUB.

Fine.  I would research EPUB.

That effort took hours, days.  Finally I found a website that described EPUB files and recommended software to format and edit this esoteric pseudo-standard.  I obtained two pieces of software – one to convert and another to edit EPUB files. 

I used both on the Word DOC file I had submitted for printing, then downloaded a third software package to verify that the first two steps had worked correctly.

They hadn’t.  The formats were a mess.  Page numbers appeared to be randomly assigned.  The Table of Contents skipped chapters.  Obviously, this would require more sleuthing through the search engines than I had anticipated.

Another session of “Googling” turned up another ebook publisher, Smashwords.  Not relying on a big bookstore name, the folks at Smashwords had created truly helpful information on formatting, style guides, and publishing tips.

Using this new site, I stripped all the formatting from my DOC file and added back only the minimum.  The resulting version was ready for Smashwords’ “Meat Grinder” or format converter/checker, a twenty-four hour process.

While my meat was being ground, I used the DOC file I had created for Smashwords to create new EPUB files for Barnes & Noble and Amazon. I uploaded both of the files to their respective sites and resigned myself to wait for this process to complete in one to three days.

I had found a few more errors in the DOC file while I was massaging it for Smashwords and resolved to fix them.  Only now I had four versions to fix: every edit required redoubled scrutiny.

Not content with this level of complexity, I decided that I really wanted a hard-bound edition of the book for Mother’s Day presents.  That led me to, a propitious choice I thought since the Border collie in Away to Me is named Lulu.

Once again I had underestimated the ease of moving from a 5.5” x 8” cut to a 6” x 9” one.  Most likely my original inelegant formatting solutions had exacerbated the problems of headers appearing and disappearing and pages breaking willy-nilly.

More hours passed.

I submitted my file. It was accepted on the second attempt.  Hard-bound copies could be delivered in time for Mother’s Day.

By that time, I had five versions of my book undergoing five different processes and creating five distinct sales points.  I moved into Monitor Mode, scanning each website to see where in its process my book was.  As processes completed, I downloaded the resultant e-reader-ready file and loaded it into the appropriate e-reader emulator software.  If I found errors, I propagated the edits to the other relevant versions and resubmitted the corrected file.  I made spreadsheets to track each process and its edits.  I fixed errors with the cover layout, the metadata, and the title in addition to the contents of the novel.

Late that night, eyes crusty from eyestrain, I looked up from monitoring to check my email.  As I watched, a new message came in from Smashwords:  “Congratulations!  You have just sold a copy of your book.”

Someone I didn’t know had just downloaded a copy of my book’s ones and zeros and had altered the total of the ones and zeros in my bank balance.  My hard work was justified.

But I can hardly wait for the hard-bound copies to arrive.

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