Sunday, October 30, 2005

The importance of active proofreading

Following my efforts to get a book published in under a day last Sunday, the next stage of my Adventures in PODland arrived through the post on Friday. In order to finalise the lulu worldwide distribution agreement part of the package I'd chosen (which comes with an ISBN code for the book and the potential for people outside of North America to buy the book online without having to pay $20 plus shipping costs) I needed to proofread the book and confirm that I was happy with it - once that button is pressed, changing the book contents, cover or price would cost a lot of money!

So, was I happy with the book?

For the most part, yes. I like the cover art (of course) which came out much more sharply than the preview available on indicated it would. The purist in me says the background colour should have been utterly uniform in tone, but this is an extremely minor defect. More importantly the cover material is good quality card with a wipeable outer surface - tested by spilling a bit of coffee over the book last night and successfully wiping the stain off this morning.

Inside, the paper is also of a good quality, off-white in colour (I would have preferred white but the paper colour wasn't something I could choose). Very serviceable for it's purpose, which is (of course) to display my poetry. I would have been happier if I could have selected paper from a certifiably recycled source - and if anyone tells you that recycled paper cannot be as good a quality as classic paper, they're lying to you.

The printed material is (almost) exactly as I had set out in the PageMaker document, and the choice of tahoma 9pt as the bodytext font works better than I expected it to do - very easy on the eyes. The margins are vertical and straight. I didn't include any artwork inside the book, so I can't comment on that aspect of lulu publishing.

The book has been neatly trimmed, and the binding - I chose perfect binding for an 88 page document - seems to be holding up well after 48 hours of intensive page-turning as I proofread and edited the text.

I did say almost exactly as I had set out, and this is my only major criticism of this first version of book. Somehow, along the line, a blank page (page 4) went missing from the pdf. I'm pretty certain that this is my fault, caused by my rush to find a solution to the "encrypted pdf" problem which meant I had to take a detour via a .ps file between the Adobe PageMaker document and the Adobe pdf document. The loss of that blank page is, naturally, catastrophic to the rest of the book: all the pages that should have been on the right hand side ended up on the left hand side, etc, with the displaced guttering pushing the text in towards the spine. Page numbers also ended up next to the spine, and section title pages ended up on the left.

A (reputable) traditional publisher would not have allowed such a disaster to happen, but this is PODland and - as repeatedly make clear - in PODland you get out exactly what you put in. They didn't check to see if the book conformed to standards because they assumed that the weird page layout was what I, the customer, wanted. But these are the risks I accepted when I decided to self-publish: I have only myself to blame for not properly proofing the final pdf document before uploading it to the website and pressing the publish button.

However, the cock-up incentivised me to properly proof-read the entire book. Seeing some of my older poems on the page gave me an itch to tweak them, which I did. I also decided to include 8 poems from the early parts of my work-in-progress (Snowdrop) at the back of the book. Another thing I did was to make sure every "blank" page had a line or two of text on it, just to make sure the "blank" pages couldn't go missing at the other end. And I added some dedications. Then I repeated the convert-upload process - proofreading at every step of the job - and once again published the book.

The new proof copy should arrive on Thursday or Friday, and I hope to be in a position to press the "accept" button before next weekend arrives. After that it will be another 6-8 weeks to get the book information disseminated through the distribution networks - just in time for the January sales!

And if people want to go ahead and order a copy, then don't hold yourselves back (unless you're not in North America - $20+ shipping costs really are over the top). The book can be ordered now from Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Monday, October 24, 2005

How long does it take to publish a book?

Well, using it took me a grand total of 14 hours:

Research - 4 hours
Typesetting - 4 hours
Cover design - 3 hours
Uploading - 2 hours
Post-publication - 1 hour

(though of course writing the book in the first place took me over 16 years)

This is of paramount importance - never rush into something like this without doing the research first! I spent a lot of time on checking out the guidance offered, terms and conditions, copyright issues, the community areas, processes involved, etc. The lulu website is fairly comprehensive - lots of FAQs and guidance, though they're not set out as simply as one could hope. They were good enough to get me through the process in less than a day, which isn't bad I suppose. are a Print On Demand (POD) service. There's a lot of companies out there nowadays offering this sort of service, and it goes to say that some will be better than others. The service is very basic - it really is a case of "you get what it says on the tin". There's an active community forum for people who are looking for help, but not much more. You are expected to format your book yourself, and they only offer a very limited stock of off-the-shelf cover designs. They will convert MS Word and OpenOffice documents into pdf for you, but that process is not interactive and there's no way to check a proof except by buying a book. is certainly not for anyone not confident enough to do most of the work themselves!

Luckily for me, I'm stupidly cocky enough to think I know how to do publication layouts. Rather than produce a Word document and have them convert it into the required pdf format for me, I used my Adobe PageMaker programme to pull together the content. This included doing my own copyright page, my own contents page, page numbering, layout, style selection (I chose to typeset using the Tahoma font - serviceable for the 84 page document I was publishing, though probably not the best choice - put it down to a personal dislike of serif fonts), etc. A good hour of my time was spent going through the PageMaker help files to work out things I'd forgotten how to do.

In the end I had an 84 page document (at 6" by 9") - just enough to warrant perfect binding.

Cover design
This was fun! The instructions on for producing your own cover design are fairly clear, and the website does offer templates for various book sizes. Me being me, I decided to use The Gimp. My original intention was to have a very plain black cover with just the title and name in a nice font on the front. But then I got a bit creative - a sandy background with one of those wierd poster fonts for title and author, a snatch of my conlang script at the bottom and a picture of a magnificent chicken which I'd taken a couple of years ago when we took Mother to visit the Hackney City Farm.

I also had to think of some words to go on the back cover, and I even gave in to vanity by including the photo of me and the monkey on the back. It's not the best, most professional cover design in the world, but I love it!

To be fair to, this should not have taken me more than half an hour. Unfortunately it was at this stage that I discovered PageMaker insisted on producing a pdf file that was security encrypted - which as clearly say is a big no-no. I searched the PageMaker help files and the Adobe Distiller help files - no luck! I searched the forums for an answer, but it seems PageMaker is not commonly used by the community (and given the price of the software I don't blame them - I bought my copy for myself as a crimbo prezzie a few years ago because I thought I deserved a big treat that year). Finally I went to the Adobe website and found the answer in about 3 minutes. Bloody typical!

With that problem solved, the publishing process was soon navigated, and I became the proud owner of my very first POD book!

Post-publication are in the US, and I'm in England. I'm also vain enough to want my book to have its very own ISBN number so people can order it through - this is an extra that offer and, as I have no shame about vanity publishing (I've been doing it for years on my website), I was happy to pay the money for their "worldwide distribution package". This sounds more awesome than it really is, as all it really means is that in addition to's own printers, a second printer in the US and one in the UK will also be willing to POD my book for any order through the online bookstores. It also means the book will be listed in a couple of catalogues used by libraries and bricks&mortar bookshops - though I don't expect to ever see my little gem gathering dust on a shopfloor bookshelf!

Getting a book listed on and the like can take 6-8 weeks, so I'll have to leave reporting on that aspect of the publishing experience until after crimbotime.

The final product
And if you want to buy my book? You can get it from my very own shop for the measly sum of $10.00 + p&p. Enjoy!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Advertising the Poetry Periscope listing service

The Poetry Periscope has been running for about 3 months now. Its purpose is to give people with poetry websites or blogs the space to "advertise" (free of charge - I offer this service by the kindness of my heart) those websites, so readers can get a feeling of whether they want to visit the site or not. Currently the site has 17 listings. If you've not checked it out before (or have, but haven't had the time to submit a listing) then please do feel free to click on the link and have a good nose around.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Life begins ...

The best thing about passing the age of 30 is that you stop worrying. The realisation comes that you're never going to be a supermodel or international rock superstar, you're not going to be a multimillionaire by the time you're 30, or the CEO of your own multinational company. You stop expecting too much of yourself and start enjoying what you do have instead. Friends and family become more important than making it big in the world. The day-to-day enjoyments and harrassments of life take over from the Big Picture stuff.

Life gets to be more fun, especially when you learn that what you think of yourself is far more important than what other people think of you. You can wear what you want, rather than worry about the latest fashion. You can take pleasure in food and drink, rather than be seen to be eating the latest fad-cuisine. You can listen to music you enjoy, rather than trying to convince yourself that the latest trend or band is brilliant must-listen-to music.

People who fail to make this tranformation are dangerous, in my opinion, and should be hunted down with dogs and shot.

Rik, contentedly 41 years old.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Names writ in water

Bird flu has reached Turkey, and suddenly the UK media seems to have woken up to the danger. It's no longer a two sentence story to put in the sidelines about how those strange asian folks are going around slaughtering all their chickens. The death rate from infection is about one in two: the Nazis (who were surprisingly green in their outlook) would probably be muttering about "survival of the fittest"; the evangelicals will no doubt be whinnying on about "God's will". Suddenly I'm interested in a new lottery - who gets the flu jab should the virus finally succeed in transforming itself into a human-transferrable disease. If people had sense, the bulk of the vaccines should go to children and students, not because they are our future, but rather because they're the most likely to spread it through the rest of the community. Playgrounds are dirty places.

I did some quick checking up when I heard the Turkey news - I'd visited a bird reserve while over there a week before and was a bit worried that it was the one mentioned in the news reports. Luckily not: Lake Bafa is a couple of hundred Km south of the infected farm. This is good news, as Bafa Lake is a magical place - enough off the beaten tourist track to be authentic Turkey, with a stunning lake, a village built amid the ruins of an ancient city, and a mountain with a mythological history. Walking around the place, I could understand why so many hermits and mystics chose to live here.

Endymion the shepherd lived on the mountain, and was visited when he slept by the moon goddess. Eventually he sired over 400 daughters without waking up once as the dirty deeds were committed. Then the head honcho god turns up and offers little E whatever he wants in the way of supernatural powers: "I'd like to sleep forever, so those wonderful dreams don't stop", says E, who gets his wish granted. As the Rough Guide to Turkey notes, this makes Endymion the demigod of wet dreams. Superb!

John Keats wrote a long poem (called Endymion) about this myth, published when he was 21. The book was savaged by the critics of the day, though it has one of those really famous opening lines:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darken'd ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.

John Keats died when he was 25, of consumption (tuberculosis - his lungs rotted while he still lived). He demanded that he be buried with nothing to mark his grave except the words: Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ In Water - though the man who buried him chose to modify his commission, which seemed too bitter. I feel there's truth in Keats's words, though. Once we are gone, nothing remains of us, except the memories of those who knew us. Unlike Keats, I do not view this as an altogether bad thing.

But let's hope the bird flu doesn't put this idea to the test this winter.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Caveat Emptor

I feel no guilt for not posting for 3 weeks. This blog does not rule my life!

A poem to celebrate my return to blogland:

Caveat Emptor

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