Does it seem like I’m feeding the blog less lately? Maybe that’s because I’ve been working on stuff other people wrote. I’m just about to release three books on Hamaca Press, all by Mérida writers. Then I can focus on at least three more books that are on the horizon, due out this fall.
When I started getting with books, I capitalized on my experience from daily newspapers and weekly magazines, where I’ve worked all my professional life as an editor and designer. I’m accustomed to a fast pace. Stories run through the meat grinder, and if you’re bored with one project, another one is right behind it. I wasn’t sure how I would cope with having one project linger for weeks and weeks. Turns out that wasn’t really a problem. A properly published book of 50,000-100,000 words actually takes months and months of painstaking work. And I’ve found that I have a perfectionist streak (not that I’m doing perfect work).
This blog has a proofreader, my persnickety partner Paul. Since he’s always finding mistakes I’ve overlooked, I realize that I need to farm out the proofreading to others. Since I want to track the changes, I had the freelance editor proof the old-fashioned way … with a red pen on paper. Know how many pages an 80,000-word book is? I have to input all the changes, which is a tedious chore to say the least. Eileen, my eagle-eyed paid editor, is better than me when it comes to that or which, and she’s the ultimate comma cop. In my day job, Eileen is in charge of a weekly feature I put together. It’s a society page filled with reader-submitted photos and captions all about civic groups and charities, and I re-write the submissions to the newspaper’s standards. Each week I strive for a perfect page, and each week she catches something. “Fundraiser is not hyphenated!” “They raised ‘more than’ $40,000, not ‘over.’ ” “We say chairman and chairwoman, not chairperson or chair.” “Things like that.
Also, in typography, there so many little details that writers and readers may not be aware of.
For a proper book, in my humble opinion, it’s best to adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style, a huge volume with rules on everything from where to put commas to which numbers are spelled out. This makes Hamaca books consistent with the mainstream publishers’ offerings. The guide decides which things get quote marks and which are italicized. I’ve gone by the Associated Press style guide since college. So I’m not used to US instead of U.S., or age three instead of age 3. I’ve always omitted the last comma here, here and here. The Chicago Manual insists it’s here, here, and here. Dashes between words are em dashes, not en dashes, and certainly not double hyphens, and there are no spaces before and after them. I have to catch all the double-spaces. Elipses are three spaced periods, and I have to insert invisible nonbreaking spaces between each period, other wise I’ll inevitably get an elipses that hyphenates like . . –
I purchase art, or hire an artist, and design the typography myself or hire a designer. The slow pace actually helps me, giving me time to put away a project for some weeks while I work on another one, and then return to it with a fresh set of eyes. I’ve redesigned the covers and over, and have rethought the design of the interior pages again and again. How big to make the chapter heades? Should they all start on the right-hand page? Are the page folios too contemporary? Too stodgy? Is Minion a more suitable typeface than Garamond? (It usually is.) In time, I start to feel out the book’s personality, and try to achieve a design to reflect it. The back-office duties also fall to me. I purchase and assign each book its all-important ISBN number, which makes the book a legitimate bookstore-friendly book; I generate a barcode, also something retail outlets seem to appreciate; and submit a copy to the Library of Congress, because that’s what publishers do when they want their titles to be in the Cataloging in Publication Program, making them visible to libraries and book vendors. But mainly I aim at Amazon, and offer each book as both a paperback and Kindle e-book. Aside from uploading files, we agonize over the description and the author’s biography, find the keywords so the book is “discoverable” in searches, and then I sort out the pricing in U.S. dollars, pounds, and euros. The author then gets a share of any royalties after a certain number of sales. I like authors to have their own blog and/or social media following, and they call the shots for their own publicity. But I try to help by supplying p.r. materials as needed and suggest ways to promote their work, and I announce each book on Facebook, Twitter and the Hamaca website.
As it happens, I’ve found a treasure trove of writers in Mérida, starting with the Mérida Writers’ Group, which handed me Hamaca’s first book, Our Yucatan. Through them, I met another author who granted me print publishing rights for her successful recipe book, Detox Maintenance Recipe Collection.
Of my next three books, which I’ll announce very soon, one is a reference book, one is fiction and one is self-help. The common thread is they are written by Mérida writers, or more precisely, members of Mérida’s creative expat community. They are part of a force that will potentially have Mérida rivaling San Miguel as Mexico’s top enclave for writers.
It’s work, but unlike my output at the newspaper, this work will be lasting. There’s something satisfying about producing a book, as opposed to a newspaper page, otherwise known as tomorrow’s birdcage lining. (At worst, today’s book will be tomorrow’s paperweight.) Even more satisfying is the fact that these tasks put me mentally and emotionally in Yucatán, even though I am far away. It’s been my introduction to so many intelligent, engaged, interesting and friendly people,* people I hope to count as neighbors someday soon.
*Known alternately in the Chicago Manual as so many intelligent, engaged, interesting, and friendly people.