Dear Author, So you think it's time to bring your out-of-print books back into the light?

Andromeda Romano-Lax is one of my favorite Alaskan authors and when I read her blog in 49 Writers, Back in Print, Part II: Re-publishing your out-of-print book in digital format, it reminded me that I have my own re-publishing story to tell. It's mostly a how-to for those considering self-publishing in digital AND print, and I'm pretty sure that, like hers, it will grow into a map with turns and alleys at every juncture.

Andromeda writes… "I no longer had the Word files from my manuscript. Because I was living on the road, with most of my belongings in storage, I didn’t even have a copy of my own book."

My first three novels began as manuscripts written on software that no longer exists-- think of the old days before Word or Word Perfect were around. They were mailed to the publishers in hard copy-- in shoe boxes to be precise-- and everything was done through the mail.

Around 35,000 copies of the original mass market copies were printed and there's still a few in bookstores scattered around the country. They can be found and purchased in less than five minutes through an on-line search and they'll anywhere from $1.00 to $50.00 plus shipping, but their age is showing. The pages are brittle and yellowed, and there are fewer every year. I have a box of each in my closet, but I needed digital versions to bring them back to life.

I knew that I wanted them to be available, and that someday I'd bring them back out, but I put that "someday" off for years. I wasn't procrastinating, just aware of the work entailed and I waited until the time seemed right. For me, that meant between projects. I had just finished a new novel and was shopping it around and the time seemed right. In the end, it took a full year to revise and republish three novels in paperback and as eBooks and get them into bookstores.

Andromeda writes... "I ordered a copy online, shipped directly to a book scanning service that would convert it into files for about $40."

The first step was to digitize the original copies, and to do that they had to be scanned. I thought about doing it at home-- I'm a pretty extreme do-it-yourself type, but I quickly learned that scanning every page by hand was impractical to the point of being downright stupid.

Fortunately I had a friend who had gone through the process  a good dozen times herself and she led me to a great service called "Destructive Scanning." I used Bound Books, and I highly recommend them. They are called "destructive" because you don't get the copies back. They remove the covers and cut away the inside margins, and run the book through their OCR software. You get back a searchable PDF and Word file-- I paid $60-- and the work begins.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is an imperfect art and requires a lot of proofreading. Letters are switched and mistakes are made. One of the most common errors I found was the word 'burn.' It kept turning into 'bum' and 'I's' became 'L's', fonts weren't recognized and so on. Many of the problems were easy to fix with 'search and replace' operations, but no matter how you look at it, a very close reading is required. More than once.

Not to put you off, but here's a picture of the worst page, because of the all the odd fonts and symbols:

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Proofreading is one of the services that can be purchased from professionals but, tedious as it was, I chose to do it myself because I also did a pretty deep revision as I went along, and that's not something that can be handed off. I cut paragraphs, changed wording I no longer liked, tightened scenes, frowned at repetitions. The story is the same, but it's shorter, tighter and worth the time invested.

I learned the most about the self-publishing journey by following Jane Friedman, at www.janefriedman.com, and she's a great place to start. Unless you're a top-name author it's unrealistic to expect that a traditional publisher will consider your out of print list and self publishing is far more respectable these days than ever before. Jane Friedman's tagline is "Helping authors and publishers make smarter business decisions" and that's exactly what she does online,  at conferences, and though her personal services. AND... she was even here in Alaska last year, answering questions and helping authors.

Friedman offers a free downloadable self-publishing checklist which, at first glance, looks overwhelming but it's a great overview and helps break down the steps, so they're more manageable.

As soon as you have a clean manuscript and you're comfortable that it's finished and is going to shoot straight up to the best-seller list (according to beta readers and your writing group, workshops and agents-- in other words,not your parent or best friend or kids), then you're ready for step one.

I'll get to that in the next blog post. Thanks for sticking around.

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