Category Archives: Self-Publishing

Annoying and Empowering

Tip For Writers: Keep It Organized…

It sounds basic and simple and obvious and worth repeating until you have created the perfect definition of redundant, but one of the most frustrating parts of getting The Randy Scuffle Papers together had to do with the writing platform I used. Or should I say “platforms,” since that is the root cause of the agony. The book is a series of letters, and I wrote them over many years. For some, I used Microsoft Word, for others, I used Apple’s Pages. Many others were written as emails to myself or to my wife, a method I used when I had to get the idea out and saved without losing it in five layers of folders. I like folders and I like structure but sometimes I forget what I called it all.

When you write in Word or Pages exclusively, there are few problems with formatting. And when you open a Pages file using Word, it generally works, but you start to lose little formatting tidbits, or there will be a font incompatibility. Same is true the other way around. Both can be used to write, but underneath the words on your screen live proprietary methods that play together just enough to lure you into an ill-advised happy zone. I can live with most of it however. The real trouble came when I tried to recover and convert all the letters I had written using email. Over the years I’ve used Outlook, Apple, and Pegasus that I can recall. When you try to import email text into a word processor, you end up with a mess. Line feeds and returns are not always consistent. What looks like a tab is really five spaces (or more or less, depending), and words get mashed together.

It took a lot of work and patience to bring all that together into a usable format. Lesson learned: stay consistent, stay away from email as a source for your copy. Oh sure, it looks like you can copy and paste it into your document, and you can. It’s just that you’ll spend more time reformatting and trying to rid yourself of weird hidden character codes than you’ll ever want to endure. In my revised version of Inferno, I’ll reserve one circle of hell for a special group, and their task will be to reformat text from incompatible systems. Search and replace won’t solve all the problems I will throw at them. That circle will be adjacent to the one I reserve for the guys who invented clamshell and compact disc packaging. There will be an endless pile of CDs to open, and there will be no scissors available, because they will be trapped in a clamshell package that cannot be opened without its contents. – Phil Reebius

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CreateSpace: My Experience

In my last post I noted that it took me a couple of years to finally get The Randy Scuffle Papers published using the CreateSpace publishing platform. I want to be clear that it didn’t take me two years to do it because of CreateSpace. No, that delay was completely due to my constant re-editing of the book. CreateSpace was easy to use with minor exceptions, which I’ll get to. Seriously, The Randy Scuffle Papers is kind of weird because it was written A, as a series of letters from the main character to his doctor (and a few companies) and B, because it wasn’t written with any particular sequence in mind. I just pulled this stuff out of my darkest places and wrote. In putting it together as a book, it was completely chaotic, as it had been written over a period of years and using many different pieces of software. Ugh. Talk about a formatting nightmare. But I’ll get to that. Today I wanted to clear up any suspicion you might have that CreateSpace sucked. It didn’t.

I actually thought it was preposterously easy to use. Remember, I’ve done publishing the old fashioned way, with typewriters, typesetters, galleys, wax, pasteup and blue-lines. Yes, the whole thing. And I’ve lived through the transition from that to what we have today. It is amazingly easy compared to how it used to be done. Now, if you have your book in shape, and you can convert it to a pdf file, CreateSpace is happy to turn it into a book for you. Aside from formatting issues that would keep their machines from producing a halfway decent publication, they’ll take anything you churn out. If you meet their technical requirements, they’ll print it. It’s a bit of a shared responsibility.

I used the cover creator, which offers very limited selections, but you can modify within those themes. It’s a bit like using WordPress. I did my own photography for the cover. This was the only place where I had a bit of a problem. At one point, the cover creator tool refused to accept a simple change to my title and the way I wanted the lines to break. I went back and forth with their help desk and was able to resolve the issue. It took some doing, and they had to revert my cover to a previous version in order for me to work through the issue. Generally speaking, I thought their customer service was pretty good. Again, you have to be patient with the entire process. Over the years, I’ve dealt with some real idiots who can only read from their scripts. I found the CreateSpace team to be more empowered and more thoughtful about the product, and with how their tools and the process works.

The only other issue I’ve ever had has been with the review process itself, where the automated internal reviewer insisted that there was some kind of content outside of the page print area on every page. Nothing seemed out of place, and I triple checked everything. I just said hell with it and told it to ignore the warnings. Nothing ever came of it; my proofs and final copies have always printed just fine despite this warning which was received every time I uploaded a new pdf for the interior.

The first version of the book had a glossy cover; in subsequent versions I’ve used matte, as I like the feel better. I’ve had one book get trashed in shipping due to something puncturing the side of the box. For me, it wasn’t worth it to pursue this and I absorbed the loss as part of the cost of getting my author copies. But that’s me. – Phil Reebius



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A Short History: “The Randy Scuffle Papers”

I have always imagined writers of serious books to be the kind of people who sit down at the computer (or typewriter, back in the day) and just start writing. The book flows out as a nourishing gift to the world, someone does all the hard work of the printing and marketing, and the author starts on the next book. And every time I have ever tried to write anything remotely serious, I get bored with my own ideas long before it becomes anything beyond a quick essay. I have also found that I cannot write anything without being tempted to address the absurdities within the idea, or that come along as my mind wanders about, looking for the next important thing to say. So I end up, almost always, writing from an angle that I find amusing. Hopefully funny.

The Randy Scuffle Papers has, at its root, characters that go back a long way. One thing I used to do to fend off boredom at work was to write letters to my own company, complaining about something I saw in one of their publications. I thought it was hilarious to send a letter to the editor of a sister publication, knowing that the editor, who sat right next to me, would be reading it and wondering how to respond, if at all. Frequently, I’d use the name “Phyllis Scuffle” as the signatory, and it was her voice, sent through letters, that would form the basis of what eventually became The Randy Scuffle Papers. Of course, it evolved into more than that, as the primary character (and her son) Randy, began to communicate using that medium.

Over the years, I started writing these more for myself, and started keeping a collection. I think that the letters used in The Randy Scuffle Papers were written over at least a 10-year period. Actually, probably more like 12 or 13 years. At some point I thought these may be worth putting together as some sort of book, but I never made the time to do it. Then I had an opportunity to participate in open mic readings at The Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series. I thought “what the hell” and started showing up with the letters. While my wife has always encouraged me to do something more serious with the stuff I write, I had always hesitated because, well, quite frankly, there’s a lot of stupid ideas in my writing. It’s just my style! Well, people did seem to enjoy them, and after a few readings, I was asked if I intended to publish any of my work. Here’s the thing: once you say “Yeah, I’ve thought about it…I really should do something…” you’re committed.

That “something” ended up as The Randy Scuffle Papers. I won’t lie to you. It took a couple of years to edit, format and finally publish the thing through CreateSpace, but I did it. More about that another time. – Phil Reebius


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Maybe Something Good, Maybe Something Bad

Years ago I worked in magazine publishing, trade magazines to be specific. I really liked how we had complete creative control over what we produced, but note I said “we.” The workload was shared, and we had people who were very good at layout, editing, sales, etc. You could specialize and thrive if you were really good at something. Despite all of the hands working to create an issue, I swear to you, no matter how many times you edited, read, corrected and scanned your work for errors, the first time you’d pick up the magazine after it had been printed, you’d find a typo. Boy did that suck!

In the digital world, we can have complete control over everything. That’s good. And that’s bad. If you’re doing it for yourself, as I did, you’ll find that the freedom you gain with the new technologies can also become a burden. You don’t have any experts in layout, editing, sales, etc. Now the hundreds of decisions that must be made in order to bring a publication to fruition are all on you. And it can be exhausting sometimes, especially when you’ve hit the point at which you’ve read your own words so many times that you fill in the missing words, autocorrect transpositions in your mind, and completely miss the extra period at the end of that one sentence on page 3. Page 3! You’ve seen that one a thousand times! Trust me, you’ll do this.

This is where patience comes in. You’ve got to have patience with yourself and you’ve got to find someone you trust to read for you. Once you get the book in pretty good shape, it is very rewarding.  – Phil Reebius

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