The entry tells it all. Here’s the link:
I’ve just been published in the Guardian Weekly!
The entry tells it all. Here’s the link:
I have now joined the ranks of millions of writers. The rejection was brief, polite, and delivered by e-mail. But of course I had such hopes. Maybe I should frame it!
Neither my sister nor I want to carry books to Ireland and try to sell them there out of a suitcase. In fact, we have no clue as to how to go about marketing our book to an Irish audience. Where to begin?
I read the Irish Times on line first thing each morning with a cup of tea. It's better to lull myself into a "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world" moment, than launch into The Guardian or the BBC and discover the truth. So Irish news comes first. Irish authors are always featured on the Irish Times website. Writing about writers and writing in Irish newspapers is as common there as writing about politicians here. By wandering through those articles and the links they provided (like Alice going deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole), I came across advice to would-be writers, as well as a long list of Irish publishers and their contact information. This was a brilliant find. After I read through each of their websites, the list was significantly narrowed: only seven publishers seemed to be interested in memoirs, ideally with an Irish theme. Still, that gave me seven possibilities, seven little packages of hope.
Five of the publishers would accept proposals by e-mail. Each requested a variation on the theme of: what is the book about? who is the author? what is the potential market?, what does a table of contents look like? and of course, send us a few sample chapters. Well that was easy - I could send the whole book, except that the PDF file was too large to attach to e-mail. There are ways around sending big files by e-mail, and eventually I found one that was free. I was ready.
I asked some publisher friends here whether one should approach publishers one at a time and waiting for a rejection before launching the next query. They laughed with derision and said the publishing world was not that polite! So over the next couple of weeks, I sent out five well-structured e-mails with idiot-proof, bite-sized attachments that would be transmitted smoothly. It seemed way too complex to go through a third party delivery system just to show that the book was not just finished but laid out beautifully.
Two of the publishers did not accept e-mail submissions. Initially I was irritated. But there was a delicious pleasure in assembling a package to send to them. The complete manuscript, all 194 pages of it, lay there in a cocoon of bubble wrap, in its own perfectly-sized box (Tim has many of these from being on the receiving end of myriad book purchases), topped with the extra sheets of information, and crowned with a properly signed cover letter. I loved sealing it up with masses of Scotch tape, addressing it to a publishing house in Ireland, and taking it to the local post office. You have to fill out a customs form to send a box to Ireland, and the postmaster asked what was in the box ("a manuscript"), and the value. I paused. "None" was the correct answer, but I followed that up with "only a lot of dreams".
I got a polite e-mail from one of the publishers to say my package had arrived. And so I wait. Six more chances.
There's an assembly line in the living room: books alone, books with packing slips, books with packing slips and mailing envelopes; completed envelopes ready for USPS. Somewhere along the way I ran out of sticky tape to attach the mailing labels, and then ran out of envelopes. I still have lots of books!
Yesterday, which was St. Patrick's Day, I sent out an e-mail to everyone I know in the whole world, telling them about 'Abbey Girls', our website, and details of how they might acquire a copy of the book if they wanted. I agonized about the mass mailing, exactly what to write, and how much of a naked marketing ploy it was. But being almost 65 makes a lot of things possible, including feeling joyful and happy and proud of our achievement. In fairness, I omitted to send the e-mails to our relatives just yet. I wanted to test the waters in the rest of the world first! I sent the e-mails first thing on the morning of St. Patrick's Day, and then closed my computer and spent the rest of the day clearing brush and making the garden ready for the growing season. By the end of the day I hadn't the energy to spit, let alone open a computer and read responses. Fortunately the local bar, The Roxbury Tavern, was hosting a St. Patrick's Day evening with great food and music. So that finished me off and I slept the sleep of the dead.
This morning, refreshed, I checked in to e-mail. There were about 60 responses, as well as lots of orders. I've had a wonderful day reading these messages and catching up with old friends. Each message allowed me to remember how I know this person, what part of my life they featured in (a few even go back to boarding school days), and how much I enjoyed their friendship, and still do. I've stayed in regular contact with many of them, but some I've not heard from in several years, and the book provided a wonderful excuse to catch up where we left off. I feel very happy.
Tomorrow I'll but more envelopes and sticky tape. I'll be smiling all the while.
The boxes of books have arrived from the printer, rather unceremoniously I might add. There was no notification from UPS, and by chance I found four big boxes by the mailbox on my way to the post office. The driveway is a hazard in Winter, so no delivery trucks come down it. But usually they leave a note and expect us to pick up the parcel at the local depot. The boxes were each wrapped in plastic, and as it was a bitterly cold day with not a chance of precipitation, it hardly mattered. Still, it would have been unfortunate to find them a few days later under a pile of snow.
As it happened, I was heading to the local post office to mail the manuscript to an Irish publisher. The juxtaposition of these two events was telling. On the one hand Val and I have self-published a book, had it printed, and are now owners of many copies that we will endeavor to sell. On the other hand, I was doing what countless authors have done in the past, mailing their manuscript to an unknown publisher and an uncertain fate. I had to fill out a customs declaration form, and when asked by the postmaster as to the value of the package, all I could say was 'zero'.
What comes next? That was the question I posed to my wonderful Editor. We'll meet next week so that I can hear what she did to sell her own book through Amazon.
I wonder will I ever hear back from the Irish publisher? They said they would respond in 3-6 months.
My wonderful editor (see previous blog) gave a talk at the library about self-publishing. That's where I first heard about Smashwords, a company that helps you create an e-book. What a great moniker! It conjures up thoughts of a factory operation, noisy and chaotic, but with a product relentlessly emerging on a conveyer belt. At least to me it does!
Once again I reasoned that I could follow instructions faultlessly. There were a lot of them, though to be fair, they were very good. Still, I didn't get it right the first time, or the second, or... The key issue is 'hidden formatting'. I had created this beautiful manuscript in Word for Create Space to publish. In it was a lot of distinct formatting. Smashwords explicitly asks you to remove ALL formatting from your document. That's easier said than done. My naked document looked dull and uninspiring, especially as it was in Times New Roman, my least favorite font. Still, they pointed out that the KIS principle (keep it simple) works best for e-books as they come in so many different sizes and formats. As for images, I kept four of the original 20, too terrified to chance any more than that.
Finally it came time to upload the file to Smashwords' Meatgrinder. What a brilliant concept: you throw your 45,000 words into a machine and out pops an e-book. Once again I headed to the local library for the transaction, and lo and behold, it worked on the first try! I was elated. But as I paged through the book (you can check it out in different formats, EPUB and MOBI), there were odd blank sections on some pages. And the links from the table of contents didn't work either. So I went back to the drawing board, did it all over and headed off to the library. All I could think of was getting gowned up to treat an Ebola patient, discovering that you had self-contaminated, and having to hose off in chlorine bleach and re-robe. It's agonizing, but absolutely essential.
The blank sections were still there, and I hadn't a clue how to get rid of them. This time I was sensible and sought professional help early. For $100, a thoroughly efficient on-line consultant took my Word document and gave me back EPUB and MOBI files. No sleep was lost, no hair pulled out, and I have no remorse at not being able to figure it out myself.
What did I learn? When you write a book, hold off on formatting it. Keep the master file as simple as possible because Smashwords likes it that way.
The great thing about Smashwords is that they distribute the e-book, for a fee of course. In no time the book was available in iBooks, at Barnes and Noble, and on Amazon. They also notify you when someone buys a copy. It felt soooo good.
It's one thing to write a book. It's another to launch it, as it were. But how hard could it be? After all, Val and I are intelligent people who have published a myriad of scientific articles over the past 40+ years. Despite not enjoying it, I can read the 'Instructions to authors', as well as anyone, and although I get frustrated, the product is usually what I expected. It's not quite the same in the self-publishing environment as in the world of academic publishing. A word to the wise: don't assume anything!
It seems a long time ago that Val and I sat in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, debating the merits of Bookman vs. Times New Roman vs. Cambria. She was giving a week-long course there on Soil Ecology, so I drove down from Madison to spend a couple of days with her to work on our book. We had finished with the text but needed to discuss fonts, lay-out and the book cover. Amazingly, we agreed on everything (we really are very alike), and I returned home to create the perfect Word document for Create Space, my choice as an on-demand printer. It's a branch of Amazon. Their instructions were pretty straightforward. The only concern was the image size - they warned about inserting images at too low a resolution, which would appear pixelated in the final product. This has never been much of an issue with academic publishers - you give them your best images (huge tiff files) and let them sort out how to make things look as good as the original. Needless to say, with 20 images in our book, the Word document was pretty large, and the PDF was way to big to send via my local internet service (.15 Mbps upload), so off I went to the local library.
Libraries are wonderful institutions. Ours (Ruth Culver Library in Prairie Du Sac) overlooks the Wisconsin River, with huge picture windows. In the Fall the white pelicans drift lazily downstream from the dam as they fish, fattening for the flight to Florida. In Winter bald eagles gather and hang out in the trees near the open water below the dam. In Summer it's canoes and kayaks and fishermen. I spent quite a lot of time at the library over the next 4 months.
The manuscript looked great when I printed the PDF at home, all 196 pages of it. The Create Space proof looked pretty good too, so I ordered a physical proof, complete with cover. That's when things went south. The images in the printed proof looked nothing like the ones I had submitted. They were grainy the book looked as if it had been photocopied, or printed by some bootleg operation in India.
There's nothing like a feeling of utter frustration, not knowing what had could have gone wrong. Where was my mistake (s), and what strategy could I use to sort it out? With an academic publisher you can have an intelligent conversation with someone who will ultimately take responsibility for the product. But that's not how Create Space works. The communication is by e-mail only. After all, you haven't paid a cent up to this point, only filled out a lot of forms. Still, that's enough of an investment that you want to persist with the process.
At this point I assumed that I had inserted low quality images into the Word document by mistake, or maybe the conversion from Word to PDF had altered them, or maybe I hadn't followed the instructions correctly. So I reinserted the images, making sure they were optimal. The next e-mail back-and-forth (ever so polite, but with a new name at the end of every message) assured me that the quality of my images was not adequate. I practically tore my hair out!
Eventually I gave in and signed up for editing help. The minimum I could spend was $575 because of having 20 images. OK. I uploaded everything again including the individual tiff files, and was assigned a 'team' with a new name leading it. She set up a consultation telephone call a few weeks later when I would have received the new proof. Unfortunately that version was no better! Under the microscope (yes, I put the images under a microscope!) I counted 150 dots per inch. Let's say the conversations with my team members (it was never the same person) went downhill from there. There were several more back-and forths, a new proof which was even worse. Finally I asked for my money back (and eventually got it).
What did I learn: that Create Space does not print images at greater than 150 dpi. I wish they had told me that in the beginning!
I found an editor locally who took my Word document and images and made a lovely interior for the book using InDesign. I sent that file and the cover to a printer she recommended. I am pleased and proud of the product. I'll be selling it on Amazon!
It was meant to have been the two of us, Val and me, reading our letters to eachother in person, in real time. It was going to be so much fun! I had imagined our respective smiles and laughs as we 'talked' about those Abbey days, and wondered idly as to whether we might even ad lib a bit. In the end she broke her foot and had to cancel. So I headed into the Paradyme Studio on West Washington Avenue alone last Tuesday morning for my first day of recording.
It was brilliant! It's a pretty sophisticated place with masses of equipment in the large, high-ceiling room. I expected to see a control panel with all of those little sliding levers, but I hadn't expected to see a few guitars hanging on the walls (yes, they get used), a keyboard, and really comfortable big sofas and armchairs - much more like someone's 'cool' basement. the process is a bit like an electrophysiology experiment: you get all of the equipment set up, make sure there's no errant 60 hertz interference, and spend the rest of the time closely examining a trace on a screen (in the old days it was an oscilloscope) and manipulating it. I was working from a small adjacent room where I could see the sound engineer through a window. I stood at a microphone, a stand in front of me on which my computer sat open to the book. I had earphones on and could hear his instructions as well as the play back of my own voice when he edited the recording.
As I read a letter, the sound engineer would be staring at a computer screen, examining the trace, and jotting down notes where he 'heard' a glitch, a mispronunciation, or a stumble. Although the room was sound-proofed, snow plows made a lot of noise on the street outside, enough to be heard with my voice, and so at times we had to stop for them to finish their work. When I finished a letter, he would play back the recording to both of us, getting rid of 'pops' (the noise of opening my lips, saliva or lack of it), normalizing the gaps between sentences so that it sounded fluid, evening out the volume and timbre. Occasionally I'd have to re-read a section, and rather like a conductor, he would raise his hand to bring me in on time.
It surprised me how exhausting the process was. In some ways it's like giving a major lecture at an important scientific meeting...but in this case a talk that is 6 hours long! You want it to be perfect. And I'm out of practice, not having lectured in a few years. At the end of the first day I went home and slept for 11 hours!
But it was so much fun! I can't wait for Val to come in June and record her part.