An Adventure in Self-Publishing

When a considerate and studious college roommate asked one of our daughters whether she was bothered by late night typing, she laughed and said, on the contrary, "I fell asleep for years to the comforting sound of typewriters clacking."

That was the pattern at our house while our eight children were growing up. We read to them after dinner, put them to bed and began writing. The first book by my wife Margery and me (The Do It Yourself Parent) was a joint venture. After that we separately went on to write several other books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles and other publications.

On one occasion years ago, just after my wife had sold one of her books to a small publisher, they decided to abandon the fiction market. Margery got to keep the modest advance, but the book was never published. With that experience in mind and numerous other writing projects in hand, she never got around to sending out a different manuscript--a novel for young people, Radishes and Strawberries.

We came across the typescript in the files a couple of years ago and decided to publish it ourselves in a small edition to use as Christmas gifts to our sizable extended family.

First, I had to scan the typescript using inexpensive optical charater recognition, which created a file loaded with typos. Margery and I both write in WordPerfect, which on request displays all the formatting codes and allows an editor to make corrections, not only one at a time, but universally throughout the document, with one click. For example, my OCR had trouble with "m" and "w" in particular. But I could change every occurance of "knom" to "know" at once.

Still, there was a lot to do. I had to go through the whole story, word by word, staying alert to the numeral "1" being confused with uppercase "I" and vice versa.

A professional artist daughter designed a handsome four-color cover. The text was converted from WordPerfect to PDF and sent off to McNally Jackson in New York City for on-demand production. The McNally Jackson people were easy to work with and delivered the finished books on time and exactly as ordered. So far, so good.

As reports filtered back from recipients, who genuinely seemed to like the book, Margery and I thought we’d try to offer it to a wider audience. I sent it to a publisher I know. They considered it for a while, then finally decided not to risk investing their money in publishing it.

That didn’t surprise me. I was once a member of an advisory board for a small publisher when we were all enthusiastic about the prospects of a particular title. But in the end sales were poor.

William Goldman, a star screen writer, was quoted in 1983 as saying, "nobody knows anything." He was referring to movies that flopped despite expectations. The same could be said of book publishing.

With all this in mind, we decided to publish Radishes and Strawberries as an ebook, using Amazon’s self-publishing system. The first problem was that Amazon requires the text format to be in Microsoft Word but our original text was in WordPerfect. Hah, I said to myself. WordPerfect allows a user to save a document in a long list of other formats, including Word.

Having already converted the WordPerfect text to PDF for McNally Jackson without difficulty, I was surprised to find poltergeists interfering with the transition to Word. Random characters and numerals popped up here and there.

So I moved the text from Word back into WordPerfect and asked Reveal Codes what was going on. The process had taken it upon itself to introduce "Hidden" codes. Deleting them solved the problem–up to a point.

The Amazon self-publishing process allows the user to preview what a book will look like after the Amazon software imports a Word file. Now my project had acquired blank pages where none was desired. I went back to the Word file, found the unwanted page breaks and deleted them.

In the end I was satisfied and proceeded to set a price, furnish income tax information (in case there is any income) and agree to 22 pages of "terms and conditions." Radishes and Strawberries is now available worldwide.

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