Taking a shot at e-books

My notion of what an e-book looks like

Of my seven published novels over the last thirty years, five are out of print, only two remaining in print and easily available. It has been often suggested that I convert the out of print books into e-book format, which certainly makes a lot of sense financially, as well as the possibility of acquiring a wider readership.

I haven’t pursued this until now because it would require more time and effort than I could give, while at the same time continuing to work on new writing.

All my writing begins with a pen on paper, which is later typed into a word processor for editing, the edited pages handwritten again (the words feel better to me when they appear as ink on paper, and from the pressure and pattern of my own writing hand), then retyped into the word processor for more editing, then finally printed out for submission — although virtually all submitting these days is done with electronic file transfers, I still print a copy for myself.

The problem with those five out of print novels is that they were written before I began using a computer word processor. There are no electronic versions of those five books; they exist in three forms: the handwritten version, the typed (on a manual typewriter) version, and the published book itself. Which means that for each of those five books, I have to type them into a word processor in order to produce the format required for the various e-book readers.

From this to the typewriter and back again

Yes, I could send the books away somewhere to be scanned (using my primitive scanner would take almost as long to do as simply typing the pages again), but it occurred to me that this would be an opportunity to fix some things that have bothered me about those books over the years. These would be “edited for the Kindle edition” versions.

These books already have cover art, so all I have to do is scan the covers into a file to go along with the manuscript file.

I am a pretty fast typist; touch typing was the most useful class I took in high school, and following that with a few years as a journalist (using manual typewriters), then two decades writing novels on a typewriter, I got good with the keyboard. I haven’t bothered to test myself lately, but a while back I averaged about 130 a minute when simply transcribing.

I’m starting with my first novel, One Easy Piece, 1982. It is 288 pages in print. I plan to allot about two hours a day for the retyping. In three days I have reached page 50. (Because it is single-spaced with no formatting, those 50 pages are  29 pages in Word. Already I have found two mistakes in the book: a dropped word from a sentence, and a missing letter in a word. Shows you that no matter how many times you read something, no matter how many times your editor reads it, and even after the copy editor is finished, and you’ve finally proofed the galleys, still in 50 pages there are two major mistakes.

One Easy Piece, 1982

I am doing far less editing than I imagined before starting to read this old book again; I have not looked into it at all for nearly thirty years. I still like the distant, objective, narrator’s tone, even the plethora of passive verbs work within the context of the plot. A few times I’ve cut out what seemed to be a redundant word, a couple of times I’ve changed a word, and more often added a clarifying line to an image I thought too vague. So far.

This is the test e-book. If it works all right and doesn’t cause me a lot of wasted time, then I’ll consider the others.

One thing I would like to do — and since all rights to the Hatch trilogy reverted to me, I can do anything I like — is return that trilogy to the original concept, the original version Bantam bought in 1984. Then it was one book, not three, and the story line less convoluted and, I think, hyped. I wrote an ode to Conrad and Greene; Bantam published Rambo Revived. That project is worth the trouble over and above any potential e-books sales.

So there it is. I’m in secretarial mode a few hours each day.

But I am also still trying to find any hope of saving Danika and Tomáško. That fills the rest of the day, and all of my thoughts.


13 replies »

  1. the first thing that came to my mind when i read the title of this post – ‘Don is going to have a good time editing his novels’.

    i’m sure it’s going to be fruitful labor. good luck!

    • It’s a mixed feeling, Nicole. Some of it is fun, but it is also dismaying to catch so many simple writing mistakes. I keep reminded myself there is 30 years between that writer and this writer.

  2. Excellent! Are there seperate rights for cover art? Those reverted back to you as well? I ask because I don’t know. It seems like there’s rights for everything…the right to read on Tuesday, another to read without socks…etc.

    When you get to point of putting them out, price them low. At Amazon you get a 70% royalty depending on the price point, which means a sale at 2.99 will net you something similar to a traditional hardcover sell. I think.

    • I hadn’t thought of there being separate rights for cover design. There is credit given to the artist who did the Piece cover, and I was told it came from an original art work of hers. I don’t even know who I might ask, since the publisher that brought out Piece was long ago absorbed into Putnams and disappeared forever.

      What I got back when rights reverted to me were copyright, and the subsidiary rights — meaning that if one sells to the movies, I don’t have to share any of that, ditto reprint rights. Everything now belongs to me … except maybe cover designs, and I need to find out about that.

      2.99 seems like a good deal to me, if I’m getting 70%. I mean, right now I’m getting 100% of squat.

      Thanks for bringing up the cover art question.

  3. I think this is a great idea.
    A fabulous plan for the 21st century.
    Not all of us can revisit our past and correct our mistakes!

    • Some of my mistakes are better left in the far distance.

      But I am sure a whole lot better writer than I was thirty years ago. One of the few things I’ve gotten better at with age.

      Missed seeing you last week, and I probably won’t be there next week.

  4. OK, I’ve just finished doing this with my own out-of-print books, deciding eventually to offer them for sale through my website. And at the end of the day realising that I had to offer the eBooks in different formats for different eReading devices.
    The point being, if you need any help along this road give me a call. You may come up with different answers to me, but then again, maybe not . . .

    • Did you have to retype the damn things from the print version? That’s what’s taking so much time.

      This is a wildly obvious things to do with out of print books, and I don’t know why, other than my usual slovenly way of goofing around, that I’m just now figuring it out. But much of my hesitation was in facing five books that were written with a pen on paper and then a typewriter, that do not exist electronically.

      Now they will.

      I’ll report back here at some point as this project moves along.

      Thank you for the offer to help when necessary.

    • Hello Stephen.

      If the literary world were a train, then I am standing on the station platform watching it pull away, because I spent too much time in the coffee shop and missed the call.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.