Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel – A Journey into Print

I am what’s called a slow adopter of technology. I’m not the draggiest of the late-comers, but I am a far cry from the cadre of those eager to try out all things shiny and new, especially electronic gadgets. I got dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world of cellphones when my tempestuous younger daughter started community college and for various reasons it was important that she be able to contact me in a speedy fashion (and vice versa, although less crucial). We tromped down to the physical store and came away with a pair of stupidphones, sequential phone numbers, and a family service plan. Needless to say, one of the first things she did when she was on her own was to get a smartphone with a new number. My stupidphone lasted almost another decade, when I broke down and joined the app-generation. (I am gradually learning new things to do with my device, although I keep leaving it at home or forgetting to charge it, which tells you how important it is to me on most days.)

My relationship with e-readers followed somewhat the same path. I kept having the thought that one would be handy but there wasn’t money in the budget for it (and it wasn’t high enough priority to shove other things lower on the list – I had plenty of paper books to read, after all). That same daughter, now in college, passed on her very-early-version Kindle to me, and I loaded up a bunch of BVC editions and jumped in. I took that Kindle with me while taking care of a friend in the final months of her life. Being able to carry around an entire library in an object the size of a thin paperback opened up a new world for me. Now I tuck my much newer e-reader into my purse whenever I expect to have to wait, and I get a lot of reading done that way.

In these two examples, I was the consumer, the recipient of technology or technological products. As a professional writer, though, I have learned how to actively use this technology. I came of age as a writer long before electronic publishing appeared on the horizon. My first sales, in the early 1980s, were to print markets, mostly mass market books, anthologies, and magazines. Vanity presses existed but were not to be considered by any serious author (money flows to the author, remember?) Fans produced various ‘zines, using mimeograph or ditto machines. Eventually publishing shifted from print-only to the digital era. For a time, neither publishers nor agents considered how to treat royalties for sales of electronic copies, but eventually terms that were more fair to authors became the standard. I watched and tried to stay informed. Then I found myself in the same state as many authors: I had a growing list of out-of-print novels and an even longer list of stories in out-of-print anthologies and magazines.

Enter Book View Café.Here’s Mindy Klasky’s description of how it came about:

Book View Café grew out of a conversation among a group of science fiction and fantasy authors. In 2008, during the ancient days of electronic publishing, a group of women joined forces to cross-promote each other’s work.

The first Book View Café website was a site for free online fiction, along with a group blog. Participating authors typically wrote an electronic short story or novella set in the world of an established speculative fiction series with the goal of introducing new readers to print books available for sale elsewhere.

Within months, the website evolved. Full-length e-books were added to the mix. The online presence expanded to include a bookstore where customers could purchase Book View Café writers’ works in MOBI, EPUB, and PDF formats.

I joined the following year, delighted at the prospect of volunteering my own skills in exchange for those I lacked, namely formatting e-books, cover design, and shared promotion. In those early years, the Book View Café catalog was exclusively e-books, but eventually members delved into the new technology of Print on Demand. Gone were the days when the only way to produce a printed book were to sell to a publisher or pay a printer (or vanity press) and then find a way to store inventory, and distribute and sell the copies. Small presses sprang up, now able to circumvent the problem of storing an entire print run but instead to order copies as needed. Some of those early POD books were pretty awful in terms of production values (typesetting, paper, binding, covers, you name it) but with the passage of time, the quality improved to the point that it is difficult to distinguish between a well-designed and produced POD edition and one from a traditional publisher.

As Book View Café members learned how to use this technology, often through CreateSpace or similar programs, the online catalog included links where readers could purchase print editions. (Similarly, many BVC books are also available in audiobook editions, with similar links.) The sharing of skills that made BVC e-book publishing so successful expanded to include print book formatting and re-sizing of cover designs.

Finally I took a deep breath and plunged in. Over the years, I had brought out BVC e-book editions of my backlist novels, and also collections of short stories and essays that were not available elsewhere. For my first foray into POD publishing, I selected one of the short story collections, Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel. The multi-step process began with a proofread digital file, which was then turned into a PDF file by another member, Marissa Doyle. Marissa and I discussed fonts, sizes, and decorative spacers. Sometimes I had an opinion, but mostly I relied on her suggestions. The original cover, designed by Amy Sterling Casil, wasn’t of a suitable size (and, being intended for e-books, was only the front of the cover). Using the original stock photo and following Amy’s design concept, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff produced a gorgeous wrap-around design, perfect for a printed book.

So far the process had gone smoothly for me. After all, I was dealing with friends as well as fellow authors. Now I had to brave setting up an account on a website and figuring out how to upload the book. In the interim, rumors had sprung up about CreateSpace being merged with Amazon’s Kindle Direct, or disappearing entirely, or some such catastrophe. I retreated into a dither of indecision. But the membership of BVC came to my rescue once again, in a private forum discussion of just this topic. Members with extensive POD experience were switching to IngramSpark for various reasons, and IS, which usually charges a set-up fee, was having a sale. I liked the idea of a POD provider who then distributes to both Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and brick and mortar bookstores.

With my usual trepidation, I set up an account, carefully noted the code for the discount, and uploaded the files. To my dismay, I got a series of error messages in red letters. The result was overwhelming paralysis. It was hard enough to get this far and make all these check-the-box decisions, but then to be told the this or the that didn’t meet their requirements and the results would be dreadful, was more than I could cope with. I saved the draft, signed off, and binge-watched Grey’s Anatomy for the evening. The next day I returned to the fray, determined to “do science” and investigate just what they meant by “inferior results.” I ordered a proof copy.

The proof arrived promptly, and here it is. It’s breathtaking, or so I think. All the aspects the website got so upset about turned out just as polished and crisp as anything out of a traditional publisher. The interior in particular is elegant and easy to read. With the matte cover finish, the book has an exquisite “hand feel.”

Plus…I did it myself. Well, with a lot of help from my friends, which is why you’ll see the BVC logo on cover and interior. Plus…you can order it through your favorite bookstore as well as online vendors. Or here, through the BVC links. Isn’t that nifty?

Over the next months, moving at the speed of volunteers, I plan to release print editions of my other collections. I have some exciting brand-new projects in the works, too, and those will come out in print and electronic editions simultaneously.

Stay tuned!

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Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel – A Journey into Print — 1 Comment

  1. Congratulations! I’ve ordered the print edition, & am looking forward to it.