Saturday, December 08, 2012

Going Lardcore: A Pending eBook Launch

Learning the Hard Way: Galley Proofs are Still Important
A couple of years ago, intrigued by Amazon's then-still-new Kindle Direct Publishing, I undertook to publish my own e-Book. More than anything, I just wanted to understand how the whole process worked and what the possibilities were. I knew e-Books and Internet distribution promised to transform the book publishing industry and the business of writing even more than the Paperback Revolution of the mid-20th century had, and I want to get inside and take a look around.

The result was The Fried Green Tomato Swindle, a collection of various pieces I had written over the years. I cobbled the text together pretty quickly because I wanted to get to the actual production of the eBook, which requires everything from creating HTML and Cascading Style Sheets to designing a book cover. I figured it would be a good learning experience, and, boy, was it. I stumbled through various versions and iterations, and perhaps the hardest part was just figuring out what tools to use and how the ePub books are structured and how to make it all work so the text looks good in the end on the various reading devices.

And so it was with a feeling of accomplishment and a little nervousness when I had my "final" file ready. I uploaded it to Amazon (and, subsequently, to Barnes and Noble for the Nook), waited a few days until it had been approved, then purchased it on my Kindle and became my own first customer. The text downloaded to the device in less than a minute, and I was holding in my hands a published version of my writing, all delivered electronically, and all put together by me and me alone (except for the massive Amazon infrastructure, of course.)

"This is really cool," I thought to myself. I could feel the disruptive potential of the technology, how it might open whole new worlds for ambitious and creative authors.

People more ambitious and creative than me, that is. I figured I would probably be both my first and my last customer, since my mom doesn't own a Kindle. So, imagine my surprise when a few days later I checked the stats and saw that three people had bought the book. And every day or two another sale would occur. And, this was just from people stumbling across the book by accident: the extent of my promotion had been to put a link on my blog.

And that's when I realized that I probably should have paid a little more attention to the text when I was rushing to get the thing assembled. There were typos and misspellings, the kind of things that close editing would have caught, as well as numerous issues with formatting and rendering, since I had created the book through a convoluted process of going from word processor to HTML to ePub, which created a lot of styling and markup issues.

Fortunately, unlike printed books, it's easy to make corrections to eBooks and distribute the revised version, except, of course, for the hours of work involved. So, I undertook a thorough proofreading and made extensive revisions . . . and then learned the pain of trying to incorporate changes into an ePub and also updating and maintaining the right versions on multiple platforms. Changes I thought I had made mysteriously wouldn't show up out in the actual ePub ready for downloading, some changes overwrote others, etc., etc.

After a month or two of wrestling with it and still having problems, I pulled the book down and stopped selling it. My plan was to take it all the way back to the manuscript (that is, Word processor) stage, re-do the whole thing, and get it back out there the right way. Which is to say, to go back to the exact same process--manuscript to galley proofs to page proofs--that I knew well from the old fashioned dead-tree publishing world.

And that takes a lot of work, which meant it kept getting pushed aside for more pressing (i.e. paying) projects, and it's been sitting dusty on the shelf ever since. In the years that have passed, I've produced a lot more material on the same themes as the contents of that original eBook--especially, Southern food history and dining in the contemporary South today. Finally, it seemed like I had the critical mass needed to take another stab at a collection. And this time, I started back at the beginning of the processes and, having been through the whole thing before, was able to avoid about 90% of the pitfalls that tripped me up the first time.

And, so, I'm preparing to roll out a new eBook collection, which I've entitled Going Lardcore: Adventures in New Southern Dining. It includes what I felt were the best pieces from the old eBook collection, and adds in a bunch of new stuff, including several long pieces on liquor and cocktails as well as a look at the current state of "good eats" like burgers and barbecue. As a whole, it provides a multifaceted look at a remarkable decade of dining in the South at large and Charleston in particular.

Going back over old pieces and revising and combining them together into a longer form has been quite rewarding, a nice way to look back and reflect on how the Southern dining scene has grown and evolved since I first started writing about it in the early 2000s. All told, it's been a great time to be an eater in the South, one full of rewarding experiences like the ones captured in Going Lardcore.

So that's the backstory. I'm putting the final touches on the "page proofs" (ePub file) right now and should have it out to the world through the magic of the Interwebs in just a few days.

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