Is it just me, or has it been unbelievably hot these past two months? Hot and hectic, to say the least. Not, mind you, because I was working on a new novel. Stories from the Steel Garden took four months to complete, start to finish, and was quite a pleasure throughout. The heatwave, though, the move into a new apartment, my computer’s unexpected death—that was more than the typical amount of the Gordonian heat, especially for this time of year. But now that the dust has settled, I’ve actually found a few random moments in which to tidy up my home office, consolidate old notes, and so forth. The new place is adequate, quiet—but it is Anaheim (Anacrime?), so what can I say? A stepping stone.
Speaking of stepping stones, several of you have asked about my novel, Stepping Stones, and when it might be released. The answer: never. Stepping Stones, while a complete novel, was actually supposed to be a stand-in version of The Knack intended to woo the publishing houses—but I got impatient when no one picked the project up, and so ended up publishing it myself shortly after discovering Lulu.com. The book itself contains many of the same scenes that are in The Knack, though Stepping Stones sticks strictly to Bryson’s point-of-view (the idea was that The Knack, with its Koontz-ish multi-perspective approach, might be too precarious for most folks’ taste). Personally, I prefer The Knack over Stepping Stones—but, as the book’s author, I’m obligated to say that, aren’t I?
I learn by imitation, and so have been poking around the POD (print-on-demand) scene a lot, checking out other authors’ POD offerings to see what they’re doing and how I can do it too. I’m also looking for what not to do—miniscule page margins, inch-wide tabs, initial chapter pages with no top-spacing. From the look of things, I seem to be one of the more anal of the POD People when it comes to layout and formatting. Not perfect, by any means, since I haven’t yet appropriated a dedicated layout program like InDesign or PageMaker, but good enough that I feel confident my shiat isn’t going to be mistaken for a photocopied shopping list.
Desktop publishing is steady, meticulous work, but worth it when I consider the alternatives. If I’d continued submitting The Knack, for example, and waited patiently for an agent or editor to magically whisk me through the gilded gates of Contract Heaven, I would still be an unknown. No one would have read the book; two years would have gone by, and nothing would have come of it. I took the gamble, put the book out myself, and have sold a decent number of copies—nothing remotely close to what I might have sold had I a mainstream publisher, but enough to make subsequent POD projects worth the time and effort.
Of course, this isn’t the only way to go. Most authors prefer to focus solely on the writing aspect, and with good reason: being a POD Person requires you to switch modes, from creative to technical, artist to editor. It can be time-consuming and extremely annoying on days when you just want to write and not worry about font sizes or spacing issues. And if you’re patient enough (or lucky enough to be born into a family with a mainstream publishing history), the old-school method can much more quickly get your prose into eager readers’ hands—but for the rest of us do-it-yourselfers…well, let me compare POD to sex using a line stolen from “Sole Mortal Thing of Worth Immortal,” by Robin Wilson: “When it’s good, it’s very, very good, and when it’s bad…it’s not so bad.”
But, then, that’s only me.
Still, Stories from the Steel Garden is out, and I’m pleased with the results, both literary and technical. I’ve been using Lulu for almost two years, and their quality has always been very good, with sharp, clear print and sturdy paper stock. Their web site’s publishing process has also improved greatly. Really, it’s a great way to go if you want total customization for your book, and with a zero-dollar up-front cost for basic projects (ISBNs and distribution options are extra).
It’s a means to an end, and, for the time being, I’m satisfied.