Lessons From My Book

A Comic Experience

Do you remember the first time when as a child you tried to paint your bedroom wall? Paint on the carpet, both adjoining walls, your hair, your clothes, your hands - and some on the right wall. I am just coming out of the experience of writing my first book. I made so many errors I might as well laugh. It has been a learning experience.

How It Began

Sometimes I meet people at a crossroads in life. The crossroads quite often coincides with the need to develop a new career, or a new dimension to their existing career. Sometimes they are considering writing a book, but do not know what to write about.

My personal crossroads was that I had taken voluntary redundancy from work, because I was no longer enjoying significant parts of it. I had the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy, and jumped. I had cash to keep me going for a while, but eventually that would run out. My choices were to work as a lawyer, to work as a teacher, to find some other work, or to write a book. I could start a book while waiting for job interviews. "Writing" looks better than "unemployed" on a CV.

Taking My Own Advice

In those pleasant days before the recession hit, I was reasonably confident I would find other work eventually. There was also the possibility that whatever book I wrote would enhance either my legal career or my teaching career.

It makes sense to write your book about something you know about. If there are twentyfive books already published about this area, your book has to be not just better, but different. It is much better to find an area where there is no competition, and be the first to publish there.

The example I often give is of a young barrister (specialist trial lawyer) who had a "chicken and egg" problem. He was young and good, but he needed cases to take to court to demonstrate he was good. You need a reputation to get the cases, and you need the cases to make a reputation. One way to kick start a reputation is to write a book.

Look For The Book That Isn't There

The common areas of law all have books already published. Most areas are well covered. What he needed was a book that had no competition. So he went to the best legal bookshop in London. He spent hours looking for the book that was not there. Eventually he found a topic that had no book.

The market needed a "Noddy Book". A "Noddy Book" takes a simple or complex task, and breaks it down for the solicitor as if explaining to Noddy. Noddy is a children's character created by Enid Blyton, who seems to be aged about two and a half years old. Noddy needs things explaining to him very very carefully. A Noddy Book not only explains the law, but has sample forms already completed so the lawyer knows where everything goes. Quite a few solicitors bought the Noddy Book because it met their needs. Then when they had a case of this nature, they thought "What barrister shall I use?". His name was on the cover of the book they were using. He got the cases, built the reputation, and he is now enjoying a distinguished legal career.

I could not think of a Noddy Book to write. I had a few books in mind, but they were about niches within immigration law, which is already a narrow area.Sales would be slow. I had already largely written a book on Chess for Children, but that was likely to be a slow grower rather than an instant hit.

The Answer Appears

When I was working, a colleague from another department had asked me to devise a Law module on a course he was developing on Packaging Technology. I had put some thoughts together, prepared a broad syllabus, sent it to him, and then I had forgotten about it. Just before I left at Christmas 2009 he said that if the course received all the permissions needed he would need someone to prepare all the course documentation for the Law module. The whole course was distance learning, so there was a great volume of material to prepare for non-lawyer students. Given that the Law department was going to be short staffed after I left, it was unlikely the Law department would have the time to write it.

If the course got the go-ahead in February or March 2010 he would wish to admit students in September 2010. If it got the go-ahead, he would have to commission people to write all the course materials including Law. Subject to all the ifs and buts, was I in principle interested in writing the Law material? I said I was interested.

If the course got the go ahead, someone would be required to teach Packaging Law from September. The Law department would be fully stretched. I said that if I were still available I would be willing.

Equal Opportunities

The College being a public body, it had to be very hot on equal opportunities. I could not just be given the work. Each opportunity would be advertised, and I would have to apply and be interviewed. I needed to use my time now to make sure that I was the obvious person to choose in maybe four months time.

Two modules I taught for the Law Department had had the highest pass rates in Years 2 and 3. I was a qualified solicitor, LLM (Master of Laws) and had a teaching qualification.The only slight problem was that I knew zilch about packaging and packaging law. Some prissy purists might think that the packaging law course materials should be prepared by someone who knew something about packaging law.

To position myself for a job that might be coming, I could write a student textbook on, say, the Law of Packaging. Then when they needed someone to write the educational materials I would be well positioned to apply. So I set about writing a book for students on the Law of Packaging.

Opportunity Knocks!

When I prepare anything for students, I turn to the nearest textbook. To my shock and horror, I found there was no Packaging textbook. There was something published in 1999 which was wildly out of date. I bought it on Amazon, and it turned out to be somebody's Masters thesis slightly rewritten. Even if it had been up to date it was no good to me.

You may know the story of the two shoe salemen who go to Africa to sell shoes. At the first port one cables home (It is an old joke) "No-one here wears shoes. Returning immediately". The other cables "Market wide open - send more shoes".

This was my opportunity. If there was no book at all about the law of packaging I could be the first in the field.

A Door Closes

The recession hit the college where I had worked. With compulsory redundancies inevitable the management put all new developments on hold. The course approval process was pretty well frozen because with axing staff the College would be shedding modules and courses, not setting up new ones.This did not mean the course would not run, but clearly would not run in 2010.

There was not going to be a market for a student textbook, but there was a huge market for a Guide to the Law of Packaging for managers. I beefed up some of my earlier chapters.

An Interesting Discovery

Packagers not only have to follow the rules about Weights and Measures, they also have to mark on the packaging "e" marks and CE marks. The "e" mark means that the weight of the goods has been calculated by the correct European Union methods. The CE mark means that the goods comply in all respects with the EU laws for that category of goods. There is also a lot of labelling needed about the manufacturer and so forth.

It slowly dawned on me that the project needed to be not just a Guide to the Law of Packaging, but that Labelling needed to be included.This lengthened the project hugely. One problem was the Food Labelling Regulations 1996. They have been amended over 30 times, but there is no freely available Internet version which is up to date. There is not even a comprehensive list of Regulations which amend the 1996 Regulations. There are also more than a dozen Regulations about specific foods, some of which have been amended. The Regulations to do with Food Packaging materials came out in 2007 and were amended in 2008 and 2010. And there are some other issues around food packaging materials that these Regulations do not deal with.

The Garden Calls

For long and complicated reasons we had decided to sell our house, and so the garden needed to be beaten into shape. The garden is pretty big by English standards, at about 2 acres.By the time you have mowed the lawns and weeded the beds, it is time to start again. And because we were preparing the property for sale the garden had to look really excellent.

My original plan was to complete the Packaging book before the English weather became good enough for me to be out gardening. Now there was tension between the garden and the book. The garden won by a clear margin, and so if the weather was dry I had to garden 7 days a week.

Another time consuming issue was that with my wife out at work, it was reasonable to have dinner ready for her when she got home. I could combine that with writing fairly easily, but I could not be outside getting muddy and dirty. and indoors clean cooking dinner. My gardening day was shortened, with no benefit to the book.

When it rained or it was dark I could work on the book. It seemed to me to be a dry spring and summer. In mid September there were enough wet days that I could really press on with the book,with a clear conscience. We had also put selling the house on hold for reasons nothing to do with the book.

A December deadline

The original deadline had been the end of March. My new self imposed deadline was January 2011. If I called it "Guide To Packaging And Labelling Law 2011", and brought it out in January 2011, that would look good. I had largely finished the writing by 1st December.

Premature Confidence

 I gave the file to a professional proof reader. There were so many errors that she suggested I start again by deformatting everything and formatting carefully. She also said that the first paragraph of Chapter 11 was lazy sexist stereotyping. She knew I could do better!

Ouch!

Now we get to the comic bit.

The downloading of legislation I had done from the internet included tables. I had also downloaded many formatting instructions which I knew nothing about and did not realise were there. In a previous project I had used text boxes and found them uncooperative, so I had since devised an easy shortcut. I would create a table one row deep and one column wide. In the past that had worked really well for me. But I had never previously put tables into the box. This time I had slotted into my boxes tables containing tables and surrounded with hidden formatting instructions from the online legislation.So I had Tables within Tables within Tables.

Well of course I started getting stray areas where the text broke up or I had large white areas where the tables I had downloaded had split or scrambled. I corrected these with Indents, with blank spaces, and sometimes by cutting and pasting from one area to another.

An additional complication was that I was swapping back and forth from a PC without internet access using Word 2003 and a laptop with internet access using Open Office or Word 2007. Every time I moved a piece of writing from one to another I confused the formatting further.

A lot of the book is legislation. There will be a section or article or regulation number 1.2.3.

Regulation 3 will often have a (1), (2) subsection, sometimes up to 16.

Regulation 3(2) may well have an (a) or (b), going sometimes as far as (t).

Regulation 3(2)(a) may have a subsection i or ii.

With the formatting shot, what was supposed to be indented was reverse indented (outdented?) so that (a) was to the left of (2) which was to the left of 3. I tried correcting these with indents, spaces, and anything else I could think of.

Despite my best efforts I had various versions of each chapter and each annexe scattered across the PC, the laptop and two memory sticks.Instead of naming files incorporating the date I had put them in directories. I ended up with at least six directories to complicate the struggle.

As I got close to publication I looked at the Lulu site. The good news was that Lulu would accept uploads in Word 2003, which is what I was working in most of the time. But I had to insert margins. I did not know how to do this, so my wife created a template into which I fitted all 300 pages, shuffling everything again.

My wife explained that there is a feature on the Word computer display called Show/Hide, which looks like two parallel sides of a Roman column with a black splodge at the top on the left, a bit like a reversed"P". If you press that you can see all the formatting instructions. Being able to see them all does not mean you can eliminate them all. In desperate cases I had to retype part of the Chapter or Appendix. I spent December correcting as best I could 300 pages of scrambled words and instructions. Sometimes the previously hidden instructions were so thick on the page they overlaid each other. As I got rid of some, others which had until then been repressed burst into joyous life!

The tables straddled pages. Some I could fix, and some my wife worked on. Eventually we had everything right -in Word 2003. My wife must have put in 40 hours correcting my foulups - a real labour of love.

Nearly there

My wife is highly intelligent and strong minded. As an English teacher she deplores my putting commas everywhere. She also suggested that words and phrases like "Tort", and "black letter law" are not in every day use. Some of the sentences made sense to me but would not make sense to an ordinary intelligent person. So she corrected my grammar and my writing style.

We paginated the 300+ pages. This first involved depaginating some sections because the paginated sections were fighting each other. But we got there. Then I went through trying to make sure that each chapter started on a right hand side, which meant it had to start on an odd numbered page. I almost wept when I had to cut a quote from Magna Carta to get the next chapter starting on an odd page.

It was at this point, as I was working through the numbering, that I discovered Chapter 12 was missing and Appendix 2B was Appendix 2A repeated instead of the 2B it should be. I had to dig through my other directories to find replacements. Then I had to work on Chapter 12 because the version I had found was a very old version, There probably is a joke about "2B or not 2B" but I was too frustrated to see the funny side.

The indexing proved much easier than I expected. I was stunned how easy it was.

At some point I had gone through the text, listing over 100 European Directives, Regulations, Decisions and Communications in date order. I had listed 50 Statutory Instruments and 35 decided cases in alphabetical order. I now had to add in the page numbers.

Nearly nearly there

My wife took the photos for the covers and put the title on the front cover. We numbered in a different numbering style 18 pages of tables and text for the Contents and Introduction area.

By this time I had gone off Lulu and had decided on createspace.com. When we went on the web site we found the A4 size we had worked to was the absolute maximum they would accept. But they would not accept Word. The three files (cover page, introduction and tables, and text and index) had to be converted into one PDF file.

We have an ISBN number from createspace and hope to upload tonight.I will keep you posted!

Nearly nearly nearly there

Adding PDF files together is very challenging iif you do not have a programme that can do it. Fortunately we have a friend who is employed in Desk Top Publishing who has Acrobat on his home computer. He did it for us.

He raised an interesting question. Our calculations for the spine were based on 325 pages (including introduction, tables, and index). Did createspace mean by "pages" "pieces of paper" or "sides"? It looked to him as if we had a spine roughly twice as wide as it needed to be. I have sent an email this morning to createspace asking if we should multiply by 325 or by 163..

He is visiting this weekend to work on the cover, because apparently the quality of our cover  photographs is too good. It is something to do with the number of pixels to the page.

So we should be uploading over the weekend.

Createspace replies!

 My 325 figure is correct. It is the number of URL pages, i.e. sides that matters. I got something right!

URL panic

The updating site had an URL (Uniform Resource Locator) which I had put into the "How To Use This Book" section, I put that into an email to a friend, and after I had sent the email decided to check it. Clicking it in, the link went straight to the site. Great!

The following day I found that Google did not recognise either of the URLs. After about 15 minutes of panic I consulted the Oracle. She told me that most people would know to type an URL into the Web Address bar and not into Google. I typed the short URL into the Web Address bar and it worked perfectly. Panic over! Its a learning experience.

Nearly nearly nearly nearly there.

The first part of the uplifting process was not too challenging. The first excitement was the request for a BISAC reference number. BISAC is some kind of American book industry categorisation system. It was not too difficult to find a BISAC category.

The next question was my American tax reference. I had to fill in an application for a tax reference, and an affidavit requesting that I have the benefit of the double taxation agreement between the USA and Britain. Without these Createspace will deduct 30% tax from my earnings. So I will lodge these with Createspace.

And in the meantime a human being at Createspace will look at what I have uploaded, check there is nothing obviouslty wrong, and I will then buy one copy.

Then I will read that, and if it is perfect begin marketing. And if it needs correcting I will make changes. Watch this space!

Createspace respond

Createspace promised to review my book and comment within 48 hours. They actually responded in 4 hours.

They said that they could publish it as it stood, but made some suggestions. I had worked so hard to make every chapter start on a right hand side. Unfortunately with the Introduction and tables I now had every chapter starting on a left hand side. It was just a question of popping in a blank side between the introduction and the text.

I have emailed their comments and my comments to our friend, who is visiting tomorrow night.

In the mean time, I get on with forms to disentangle myself from the Internal Revenue Service.

 

Implementing Createspace

Our friend had no difficulty slotting in the blank page. It seems that for reasons to do with PDF there was a need for pages to be in multiples of 4, so at 325 pages including indexing and tables there were actually 3 blank pages at the end, one of which he moved to between the title page and the introduction and tables. It did not affect the page numbers because they were frozen on PDF. He researched my E mark, and found a better version and sized it better. And there was a blue shadow within the cover photo that he removed. It took a few days.

So I uploaded it again. Createspace replied same day that it was now fine. I ordered my proof. $4.50 for the book and $40+ dollars for postage!

The Proof Arrives!

It took about 10 days for the book proof to arrive from the USA. It was enormously exciting to see the book. I was a little upset that there was a dent on the cover page. I was surprised to see that the postage was $4.76, and the piece of cardboard wrapped round it could only have cost a few cents if bought in bulk. I emailed createspace to query the $40 post and packing, and they had the good grace to refund it all.

The next problem was some mistakes in the book. Skinny letters like i,l,t and e had a tendency to run together, three letters trying to fit into the space of two. Our DTP friend explained that Arial sometimes does this when converting to PDF. I would do better to convert the font to Helvetia, which looks similar.

The fault did not lie with createspace, but with us for not checking whether the process of transfer from Word to PDF introduced errors. Createspace could perhaps be criticised for not noticing the problem, but createspace had not created the problem.

Although there are 4 computers in the house, not one had Helvetia! We tracked down a computer with Helvetia and have made that transfer. Watch this space!

Nearly (x5) There!

It turns out that 12 point Helvetica is slightly larger than 12 point Ariel. The transfer to Helvetica changed the number of pages, which of course then threw out the pagination and made a nonsense of the Index, the table of contents, and 9 pages of tables. It also messed up a couple of cross references - "(see Romalpa clauses on Page 39)" for example.

Our DTP friend telephoned to say that he had delved into the problem further. Normally Word transfers to PDF the information about the fonts actually used in the pages transferred. For some reason our Word had transferred information about every font on the Word system. He had stripped this out, and the PDF now looked fine. I looked at the PDF he sent us and virtually all the errors were gone. I then did what I should have done weeks ago, and ran the original Word documents through the spell checker. From the number of spelling errors and punctuation errors it is clear that I did not do this the first time round. Yes I was stupid and my own stupidity is a direct cause of my needing a second proof, quite apart from the PDF issue.

I then took the precaution of running through my revised "final" version of the Word documents against the printed proof. It was fine until Chapter 7, where suddenly the Word document has gone from single spacing to 1.5 spacing. I know my wife can fix this, so that will be her task over this weekend. It will probably take her 2 minutes and I can then check the pagination against the proof again.

Nearly (x6) there

 My wife showed me how to fix the problem. Interestingly, although the spell checker was useful, the Mark 1 eyeball is also needed. I have whanged it over to our DTP friend to put into PDF. Then I will print off and ,look for error, and then upload.

Nearly (x7) there

I printed off the PDF version, and found that most of the problems had gone. The running together of letters and the spacing problems in sentences had gone. Sometimes though a couple of sentences had slipped from the top of one page to the bottom of the preceding page. I had to put extra line spaces in to fix that problem. And I found a huge number of silly errors which neede fixing,I fixed them. Now it has gone off to our friend to convert to PDF and then upload and order a proof.

And the IRS has answered my emailed query after only a month. The answer is that I can have a copy passport notarised or I can walk in to the US Embassy any morning and they will copy my passport and other documentation.

Nearly (x9) there

Our friend telephoned to say that he had turned the Word into PDF, but there was a new problem. In view of our past problems he had checked over the PDF. Quite a few of the tables in the book contained a letter or number immediately next to the vertical line of a table. which made the table look amateurish. I have to go over every table to insert a space between every vertical line and every number or letter. Looking at the proof, it really is only a small imperfection. If that is the worst problem, I should celebrate! So I will do it.

I had also been talking to my newly acquired web site gurus (see the marketing hub). They had observed that Google really does not like duplicate text, so they suggested that all my new text from now on should only go on my dedicated publisher web site www.contentpublications.com . I should gradually trim the existing hubs about the book, and do my updating on the www.contentpublications.com site and not the hubpages updating site. The effect of this activity would be to lift content publications upwards on Google. Also, if I put the site into Adsense I would receive 100% of the click values instead of 60%.

This change involves making some small changes to the book which fortunately I am revising for other purposes.

And it goes on!

 I sent all the stuff to my DTP friend.He explained that as a DTP professional he has certain standards. The book is not up to standard so he will not take the next step.

1. I have to make sure that if a paragraph goes over a page there are at least two lines at the bottom of the first page.

2. I have to make sure there are no orphan words making up the last line of a sentence or paragraph.

3. I have to do a much better job weeding out rogue spaces and breaks, and make sure all my indenting is right.

4 Generally I have to smarten up the appearance of the printed word.

THE LESSONS

1. At a fairly early stage decide what size the book is going to be, so you can create a template for page size. A standard industry size will be cheaper than a non-standard size. The advantage of a template for page size is that you can lay things out on the page in confidence they will stay where they are and will not straddle or move between pages.

2. At a very early stage decide whether you are self publishing or going with a publisher. If you have a publisher the publisher will have a strong interest in the size of the book.

3. If downloading from the Internet, be aware of the possibility that you might be importing unwanted formatting instructions. Use the Hide/Show button at regular intervals so you can see what is going on.

4. Marry an English teacher who knows about IT. No matter how good your English is, and no matter how wonderful your powers of expression, a second view or editor is essential.

5. Do not send your book to the proof reader until you are utterly certain there are no errors. Do not use the proof reader as a first frault finder but as a last fault finder, because iotherwise the proof reader will charge for hours of labour you should have prevented. 

6.  Decide on your title early so you can build a hub or web site that will season while you write. I am now on Google Page 1 for Packaging Law and Page 4 for Labelling Law.

7. Try to use one machine, or at least one word processing system throughout.

8. Ink Cartridges never print out a whole book. Look for, or order, the X size which are extra large. They cost twice as much but hold 5 times the ink. They are unlikely to collapse on you when you try to print out a book.

9. Buy paper by the box, not by the ream.

10. Before getting the book printed research your BISAC category.

11. Sort out the tax issues. Be aware that this will take much longer than you think it should.

12 Think about how to maximise your return. Your own web site and self fulfillment earns more than doing it through Createspace or Amazon. If you decide not to have your own site make sure you have a hub and earn Amazon commission on your sales.

13 If using a foreign publisher find out about shipping costs!

14, Have a friend in the DTP industry to rescue you.

15. Use Helveti font instead of Arial.

16. Do not forget to run the finished Word version through a spellchecker.

17. Check the documents again after you have made the transfer to PDF and before you upload.

18. Check the printed proof meticulously. If you cannot find any faults at all, ask your mother in law if she can find fault. Then send it to a professional proof reader.

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