By Donna Gillespie
And so at last the freshly scanned copy of my first novel was buffed and polished and — or so I thought — all ready to be electroni-cized. (That story’s here: My Adventures in E-publishing, Round One; http://www.peninhand.org). It was time to find the right conversion guy.
I knew I would need separate files for Kindle and Nook, but other than that I knew very little. Google flushed out a bewildering profusion of conversion services. Many weren’t based in the US. And it seemed they charged a lot — $800 was the norm for a book-length manuscript, and as my novel was on the hefty side, doubtless it would have cost more. Some services offered to help me with the prose. Not encouraging, since based on their promotional emails none of them seemed to speak English very well. And did they not realize this book was completely baked, and I never, ever wanted to look at the prose again?
And so I googled and googled and googled some more, growing increasingly frustrated. Finally I turned up one — just one — person who seemed to “get it.” (Does this speak to my impoverished googling abilities, or is there really only one out there?) He seemed intimately acquainted with the mysteries of Kindle, Nook and IPad, and his rates were surprisingly reasonable. He also knew how to get a book into the IPad bookstore, not so straightforward as getting into its equivalent on Kindle and Nook. When he advised me that the opening line of each chapter shouldn’t be in bold type, as I’d had it, but should be in small caps, I was smitten. Publishers do this. This guy…knew things. And when I brought up the problem of getting a new ISBN — the electronic version needs its own — he told me he gets a discount on them because he buys them by the dozen.
This was almost eerie.
I’d already discovered I had a great graphic artist right in my neighborhood. We agreed the cover design should be adapted to the smaller size of the image displayed in electronic bookstores — something more stark and iconographic than I’d had before, probably closer to a logo than a traditional cover. And so all magically came together this March. My baby burst from its chrysalis and entered the virtual world.
Its Amazon page looked just right…shiny new cover…freshly written bookstore text. Most exciting of all, where it used to say “Click here if you’d like to read this book on Kindle,” now, miraculously, were those words I’d once despaired of ever seeing: “Click here to start reading The Light Bearer on your Kindle in under a minute.” I stared and stared, stunned that the whole system had worked.
Drum rolls and silence.
Now I had a whole new activity to distract me from writing — checking to see if I’d sold a copy.
Eventually, sales happened, and at first it was a pulse-pounding thrill to find that a number “one” on the monthly sales page had magically morphed into a “two.” It’s refreshing, after the murkiness of royalty statements, to have such an instant, accurate account of sales. Publishers’ royalty statements come every six months and give you pages of figures running the gamut from head scratching to downright confusing — all muddied further by the publisher’s habit of withholding reserves for returns. This was instant sales gratification for writers.
Then one day while checking the book on my Kindle, my world crashed down. I started finding errors I’d never seen before. The file I’d received from the printer who’d scanned the book used a sans-serif typeface for the quotation marks. In short, as I was editing, I hadn’t been able to see which way the little critters were curling…and when the conversion guy restored them to their former curly state, some of them weren’t curling the right way. Yikes. The book was out there, selling, with misbehaving quotes. I expected howls of protest from outraged readers. There were, perhaps, twenty or thirty of the offending critters in this 800 page book, and at least one writing friend wasn’t impressed with my angst — she said she’d downloaded books for her Nook that had whole pages missing. What was the problem? I should move on, and get back to writing the next book. But I’d been so proud of all the original-book typos I’d hunted down and fixed — and now this. In my imagination those backward curly quotes loomed large, throbbing, pulsing with Edgar Allan Poe intensity — lurid, squiggly, alive. I had to do something.
So back to the conversion guy the book went. And it turned out that, with his sophisticated programs, he was able to fix all the unruly quotes with a single keystroke. Apocalypse averted.
And though this whole process was a long, long detour from my “real job” — finishing book number three — I feel it was well worth it. I’d fixed some things in book # 1 that I’d wanted to fix for 17 years, and may have pulled the book back from the out-of-print abyss — after all, I figure, e-books aren’t really in print to begin with, so how can they go out of print? It’s a good feeling to know that, unless aliens land and steal all the electricity in the world, my baby is safe.