Starting From a Book

(Continuing the story of self-publishing a new edition of Pamela’s The Dubious Hills from here.)

This book was written on a computer to begin with, so in the ideal situation we’d still have access to the files with the canonical text. However, this frequently doesn’t work out in cases like this where the book was first published more than 20 years ago.

There are at least three ways this doesn’t work out:

The files may simply be lost.

The files may not be readable with any software we currently have (this could possibly happen even if you’re using the same brand-name word processing program, possibly).

And finally, there may never have been files reflecting the final state of the book.  In fact, this is a near-certainty for anything first published in 1994, because at that time the copy-editing process depended entirely on marks on paper.  So, unless the author bothered to update the files to reflect changes made at that stage, there never were files with what we really want in them.

Hence the title of this article; we’re going to recover the text for our edition of the book from a printed copy.

There are at least two ways to approach this, but I’ve only ever used one because it’s so obviously best.  We could simply retype from the printed copy into some word processor (or dictate it into a voice-typing package).  But I actually use the other approach, scanning the pages and then using OCR software on them. I’ve done this more than half a dozen times over the years, and it’s surprisingly easy (I mean, compared to retyping; it still takes a number of hours).

The particular way I did this one bothers some people, I know; it involves destroying the physical copy of the book I scan to save some time and effort (though not as spectacularly as Vernor Vinge does in Rainbow’s End). I’m going to show pictures below the cut; you have been warned!

Yes, I myself do suffer from the delusion that physical books are nearly sacred objects.  However, books issued in the modern era in many thousands of copies are very rarely in really short supply; I’m willing to sacrifice one copy of such a book in the service of producing a good e-text, especially since that will contribute to making the book available to a modern generation of readers. If the book were rare or valuable, I’d handle things differently; I’d take the extra time and effort to get a scan (and correct the scan; a good chunk of the benefit comes from a better scan leading to better OCR leading to fewer hours of correction) without destroying the book.

(There are fancy scanners that will scan a book, turning the pages themselves, without even breaking the spine. However, we do not own one. We’re doing this on our own, with outlay of time but only the absolute minimum outlay of money, since we have more time than money at the moment.)

Okay; that cut with the pictures below it coming up now….

Continue reading Starting From a Book


I’m working on getting our edition of Pamela’s The Dubious Hills together, and I thought I’d blog about it.

Deciding whether, or when, to go to self-publishing is a big complicated issued and I think it’s very heavily dependent on details about the particular situation, yours, that book, and the current state of the market. I’m not going to try to write about that, it’s really not my area of expertise. John Scalzi has written about it at various times on his blog Whatever, go find those posts over there.

Since this is a previously published book (Tor books, 1994), the first thing of course is making sure we have the rights back. That’s long settled, but it’s important. It was close to being reissued by a publisher, in connection with the next book, but that fell apart (as industry conditions changed, I guess), and the rights are back with us.

The next thing we do is decide how to publish and distribute.  We thought a number of goals were obvious: make both paper and ebook versions available, try not to be too dependent on a single distribution channel, and try to keep open the possibility of bookstore sales and library orders. This requires some extra effort.

(For somebody self-publishing a first novel, bookstore and library sales probably aren’t important, or perhaps what I mean is “possible”; luckily, it’s easy enough to add those distribution channels later if you get prominent enough to make it likely that you’d actually get sales from them. One of the important things to remember is that most of the deals you set up in the digital eco-system are short term and easily terminated, very different from traditional publishing.)

The really easy thing to do is to publish a paper version through CreateSpace and click the button to also send an ebook version to Amazon (Amazon owns CreateSpace), but that leaves us completely dependent on one company. It also means the book isn’t available on the various non-Kindle e-reader devices (except to people who know how to use Calibre), and can’t be bought from for example iTunes. One fairly easy solution to that is Smashwords, which will distribute to a bunch of places for you.

So that’s what we’re doing. Note that, while the first book we’re publishing ourselves is technically now available, it certainly has not been out there long enough to validate our strategy. I’m saying what we chose and why, but I’m not saying how well it’s worked, because we simply don’t know yet.

Putting out an edition of a previously-published book is quite easy. You’re not, at that point, looking for input of the “developmental editing” sort, and you generally aren’t looking for a new copy-edit either (if you’re doing a revised edition, that changes things). You need a new cover (or you need to acquire rights to use the old cover), but other than that it’s all there waiting to be published.

Of course, people don’t stumble onto it and buy a copy just by chance very often. The big problem in selling books today is being noticed. In our particular case, Pamela has a fairly small but relatively dedicated base of existing readers, and Pamela and I, and our friends, have enough web / social media presence that we can get the word out to most of the people who care fairly simply. That should give us a decent number of up-front sales (as I write this, we have 6 sales of the trade paperback of Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary and 19 pre-orders of the ebook, within two days of it becoming possible to order at all, and before most of our attempts at promotion).

That strategy doesn’t do anything to push out into new readers. A lot of that happens because of people recommending the book to friends, though, and a new edition gets people talking about Pamela again (“buzz”), which reminds people who have been intending to try her books, and all these little things add up. Also, one reason for the timing on this being where it is is that Pamela is a guest at Vericon next month, which with luck will contribute to more buzz.

We’ve named our self-publishing operation Blaisdell Press, and it has a web page.

The next step will be getting a nice electronic manuscript file. Which I will deal with in another post.

Announcing Blaisdell Press

Pamela and I have been working since at least last summer on bringing some of her older works back into print ourselves.

It’s finally happening.  We’re calling the operation Blaisdell Press, and our first products will come out March 1st—paperback and electronic editions of Pamela’s 1998 novel Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary.

We expect to go on to publish The Dubious Hills, and possibly a standalone electronic edition of “Owlswater” (a trade paperback of something that short would have to be kind of expensive per word, but we might try that too to see if people want to buy it).

And then—we plan to publish the first edition of Pamela’s new novel Going North.