Elsewhere on this site, I’ve mentioned my intention to self-publish (re-publish?) the Essalieyan short stories that have appeared in various anthologies. When I said this, I knew very little about the entire process, but assumed that the text would be the most time-consuming part of it. As it turns out, this was not entirely accurate. Everything else is also time-consuming.
A reader of this blog offered to deal with one of the things I most dreaded: comparing text to the print book for differences, and catching those errors in the text he himself inputed, line by line. When the text comes back to me, I have two proof-readers (not including myself) who will then read it in printed form, to catch anything that he missed.
It’s impossible for one person to catch everything, no matter how careful or competent they are.
The incredibly impressive Courtney Milan has a post on her blog which describes the process of text handling from manuscript to finished product (in this case, ebook, but the steps are derived from the process of shepherding a book from author’s hands to printing press). She is not making this up, and her point – that no single person can catch all errors, is absolutely true in my opinion, and in my experience.
Sometimes readers will assume that because I have the electronic files of the manuscripts for any given work I’ve written on hand, the conversion into ebook should be simple and effortless. I believe there are some authors who do, in fact, do this.
But what can (and in my opinion is likely to) happen in that case is described here, at Dear Author, a romance review site run by a woman who is also, in my opinion, incredibly smart. The part that’s relevant (although the Harlequin news is relevant to me on a different front) is near the end of the column, in which Jane posts two paragraphs of text which contain four errors.
While the text I have on hand doesn’t have that many, it’s entirely possible that some other work of mine could. Most of my mistakes, on the other hand, are touch-typist mistakes; if I’m typing, I can just as easily type “talked” instead of “talking”, which by the way really really really irritates me, as a reader. It looks like a tense change — in the best case. These are the mistakes that a spell check won’t catch; a spell check also won’t catch the wrong name, missed words, or its vs. it’s.
If you do read the Milan blog, you’ll know that the substantive editorial work has already been done. The manuscripts I have have all gone through editorially requested revisions. But the manuscripts I have have gone through none of the other stages. In order to get them into shape, I have to consider the rest of the editing process. It’s difficult when dealing with short fiction, because Amanda Hocking aside, collections or short stories are not likely to sell in huge numbers. Paying for cover art work, paying for copy-editing, paying for formatting, and paying a proof-reader can quickly make short fiction a money losing proposition. Jim C. Hines, on his blog, has posted his numbers for the two books he’s released on his own (one is a mainstream novel, and one is a short story collection of stories associated with his Goblin Books.) Although his collection is shorter (mine is about 100k words – everyone act surprised), I’m realistically assuming similar numbers for what is a similarly themed work.
I can check the manuscript I have on hand against the printed book; I can change what needs to be changed to reflect it. A line-by-line comparison can be done, by me, at the cost of only my time. (At the moment, it is being done by a reader, at the cost of his time, my gratitude, and my attempt not to feel enormously guilty). It’s one way of dealing with copy-editing, because the text on the page has already been through a copy-edit. But the resulting text still has to be proofed, preferably by someone who is not me, because someone else will have natural sensitivities to errors that I don’t have. I print out the stories in a font and format that is very close to a printed book page, because changing the format changes the text and the way I read it.
Garfield Reeves-Stevens said to me, after my first book was published, that it’s inevitable: the book will arrive, you will open it with excitement and joy, and the first thing you will see will be the typo that everyone missed in every pass of the book. (He was right, and I am actually good at proofing the galleys of my own books; one of the several people who missed that mistake was me).
But the alternative – publish what I have – produces something that’s not as close to a book’s reading experience as I can possibly make it, and that gives me ulcers. I have some of the best readers in the world; they are certainly some of the most forgiving about my various delays. But I think they deserve the best effort I can make (which is often the cause of some of the delays). Forgiving me for making the book better* is not the same as forgiving me for being cavalier.
However… it’s not just the text. Once the text is as perfect as it can be made (and I’m absolutely certain something will escape uncorrected into the wild), there’s more.
What I have discovered so far:
1. Covers are necessary. Even for a short story. No one uploads a book without a cover, these days; at least one service will not offer the book for sale without one.
2. I have no visual acumen whatsoever. I spent twelve hours of time I could have spent in revisions (I wrote first, before I started) looking at stock images and at deviant art. What I discovered is that I know when I like a piece of art or a photograph – but that I have no ability to gauge whether or not an unadorned image will work as a cover. In the sink or swim world of the self-starter, I had an anvil tied to my ankles. So: covers clearly are never, ever to be done by me.
3. Formatting is not entirely trivial, and at the moment, for only ebooks, three different formats are required: an epub (which as far as I can tell is mostly html/css), a mobi file (for the Kindle), and an MS Word .doc file for Smashwords. The latter is the only way I can make the book available for the Nook. If I had a business address in the US, I could upload directly, and that would make this a lot less painful because I can upload an *epub* directly. At the moment, however, I get to play with MS Word style sheets in order to format the book.
4. A print book – even a print-on-demand book – requires an entirely different format, and print-ready typesetting, or as print-ready as someone who has no native DTP experience can make it. There is no automatic generation of, for instance, a table of contents, among other things.
5. The last round of proofing. Some of this can’t easily be done by me, some can. The last round involves downloading the finished books, or sections of them, to see what the formatting glitches are for each venue in which they are available. I assume, because I haven’t done this on anything but my own computer yet, that the glitches are format only, and not in the text.
Having said all this, I do intend to bring out the Essalieyan short stories. I intend, at the moment, to re-release all of my short fiction as individual short pieces over time. But because I’m still working out what has to be done, and because I’m in the process of doing it and the learning curve is highest, and because the bulk of the writing day has to be given over to writing (War and Cast in Peril), it’s not going to be as fast as I would have liked.
* better, of course, being a subjective term