Since I began writing professionally in about 1980 (professionally is defined as getting published and paid for it), I’ve seen a lot of change in how writers do their work and how books are published and marketed. I started my career in the days before home computers were in widespread use and before the public at large had access to the Internet. Research in the early and mid 1980s involved countless trips to libraries and archives, phone calls, letters, notebooks full of notes and clippings, and folders housed in crates and file cabinets. Writing was much more tedious and paper-dependent back then, often starting with handwritten notes and drafts and then moving to the manual typewriter with carbon copies and White-Out in hand, and finally organizing and mailing crisp, clean cover letters, manuscripts, hard-copy photos, and SASEs. And the waiting for replies, often in the form of rejection slips, seemed like forever.
When I bought my first electric typewriter in 1984, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! I scrimped and saved for that $189 machine, but it was so much easier and faster than my old Royal manual, which I wish I’d kept. Such an antique it would be now, and an emblem of accomplishment! My first home computer, made by Commodore and purchased in 1988, was a godsend! My husband and kids used it too, for schoolwork and games. Sometimes I had to get in line to use my own computer. And it took a long time to “boot up.” Remember those floppy disks and dot matrix printers?
Then came the World Wide Web with so much information at my fingertips. The sound of “dial-up” connecting to the web, with its honks and quacks and beeps, is a treasured memory of late 1980s progress. It opened windows for me to so many new sources of information and was fast compared with my old methods. I could email libraries and archives and knowledgeable people on the topics I was researching and get quick responses, sometimes the same day. I created my own website and launched myself into cyberspace!
Needless to say, the research and writing resources have multiplied immensely in recent years. I still have those crates and filing cabinets, piles of notebooks and sheets of slides and b&w photos—I’m a bit old-fashioned about them and haven’t converted everything to digital form yet—but so much of my work has been simplified by the electronic age. I’ve gone through more than a dozen different computers since the 1988 Commodore, each one better and faster and more convenient than its predecessor. I’ve learned new software and word processing programs, have endeavored to stay abreast of changes and try new gadgets, and I consider myself a sound technology user. I’m networked and well-connected, and I now can honestly say my head is truly in the clouds, or “The Cloud!” People can easily find me on the Internet and communicate, yet my privacy remains much intact. Something new is always around the corner to try; the learning never ends…
Yesterday, I launched some new learning—
Like most writers, I’m proud of my work and display the covers of my books on the wall of my home office. I added a new one yesterday, a cover I couldn’t tear off a print book and mount in a frame. Instead, I printed it from the digital cover I submitted to Kindle for my first E-Book. Yes, my first E-Book!! I’m thrilled I’ve acquired this new skill and have entered the digital age of publishing with my own E-publishing name--Cat in the Window Press. The name is telling. One of my two cats, or both, is always sitting in my office window as I work. I seem to do some of my best writing when there’s a cat in the window.
Learning to format and upload an E-Book wasn’t easy. There was a lot of hand-holding by several kind people. I’m grateful for their help and encouragement. Last January, I took an E-publishing class with my friend and colleague from Olympic College, Daphne Van Berkom. Daphne has hit it big in E-publishing with her crime novels (www.dvberkom.com) and is computer savvy too. In fact, she’s so successful at both, she was able to quit her job at the college and focus on writing and E-publishing full-time. She taught herself how to publish on Kindle and other platforms, and fortunately for me, she’s now teaching others how to do it. She’s been quite patient and generous with me as a novice E-student, even helping me format the cover of my first E-book to fit Kindle’s requirements and giving tips and advice whenever I ask for it. She’s my steady and much-loved friend in this new endeavor. I also took a short class at our local library and read several how-to books (E-Books, of course). My first effort is sound; I’ll get better with each new E-title.
If you’re planning to try your hand at this, I can assure you E-writing is different from traditional writing, and E-publishing is a bittersweet affair. Everything must conform to the rigid electronic rules; you own it all—writing, designing, formatting, publishing, even most of the marketing. You’ll bang your head on the wall on occasion, or stand up and cheer when something goes just as planned. You’ll cry for help and rue your early mistakes. You'll upload and re-upload many times to get it right.
Some pleasant moments from traditional publishing are sacrificed. There’s no box of hard copies that arrives in the mail from a publisher, no opening that box and smelling those fresh-from-the-printer tomes. No holding the books and flipping pages in the usual way, wrapping brand new books in gift wrap for family and friends, or spreading them out on a table at a book sale/signing. In fact, there’s no autographing E-Books at all. Transactionally, they’re a bit impersonal. But you can print out the cover, digitally of course, and mount it on your office wall. It’s as real as your print books, just entirely otherworldly, pixelated, and floating around somewhere in that undefined place where all electronic media live.
There are perks, for sure, many of them: No book proposals with outlines and sample chapters, no rejections slips, no haggling or compromising with publishers, editors, and designers, no waiting months, even years, for publication, no closets in the house devoted entirely to book storage. Best of all, prices are lower, royalties are bigger, and if there’s a typo or mistake missed the first time around, or something to add or remove, a simple reload will fix it. I love that part.
It‘s a tradeoff for those of us schooled in hard-copy print publishing. As Daphne wisely tells all her students: “You’d better know your stuff and your audience and be meticulous about editing and marketing. You have control, and that’s a good thing. Don’t let it be a bad thing.” (I copied that quote directly from Daphne’s lips during her class last January, as I knew I needed it to be front and center when I launched into E-publishing. Someone else has done most of these tasks for me in the past. Now I own them.)
So here it is, my first E-Book: The Funky Chicken: Memories, Truth, and Tribute. No lighthouses, you say??!! No lightships, buoys, fog signals??!! No amateur astronomy or maritime history??!! That’s correct, and there’s no disappointment about it for me. I haven’t fallen out of love with my track-record topics; I simply wanted to depart from my established genre for this first E-effort. (That way, if I screwed it up, all my regular fans would forgive me.)
Departures are good for many reasons. Sometimes we need to revitalize with new topics, chase new ideas, and dream new dreams. Our readers need to know we have other interests and other knowledge. It’s exciting to chase down this new information and professionally stretch. My friend Joe Follansbee, who wrote two very successful Fyddeye guides on marine/maritime topics, wrote a kids’ book and now writes science fiction. A woman I knew years ago who worked for a big newspaper, switched to romance writing under a pseudonym. The popular novelist, Anne Rice, switched gears a few years ago. I hear Stephen King likes to write poetry. If the big names choose to do it, then we small fry should take a lesson from them. The bravest among us will do it under our own names.
Why chickens, you ask? Quite simply, I love them. They're fascinating, much unsong creatures, and if you read my book you'll discover just how special they are. I have my own flock and spent a good portion of my childhood taking care of my mother’s Plymouth White Rocks. When I think about the lessons I learned growing up—the truths about family, friends, hard work, caring for things, and life and death in general—well, those chickens were instructive. They still are. Hardly a day passes that they don’t impart some bit of wisdom or deliver reminders about life.
Two weeks ago, as I was preparing to upload this new E-book, one of my flock died. My husband found her lying peacefully on the floor of the coop, her eyes closed as if asleep. It was a bit of a jolt for us both. She’s the one we thought was a rooster at first. She was big, she crowed, she bossed the other chickens. We called her Zeus, and then she laid an egg. It was all so comical and fun. We tried calling her Zeusette, but it always came out Zeus. We made a lot of jokes about her and became quite fond of her. And then, for unknown reasons and without warning, she died. Life throws us such curveballs—unexpected and inexplicable events--and if we choose to look we'll find wisdom in them. Zeus, I hope, is now immortalized in this first-effort E-book.
My mother is remembered for sure. She died when I was a young woman; my children never knew her. Perhaps they'll find some essence of her in my E-verbiage. I certainly found her again while creating this E-book.
Cyberspace—the new bookshelf. Go see, and let me know what you think—