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From slugs to e-publishing

April 4, 2012

I admit it. I’m a writing dinosaur. No, it’s true. At my first job at a daily newspaper they were still using slugs and hot type. Not sure what those are? Not to worry. Like Tara, they’re gone with the wind. The paper quickly switched to a computerized version of typesetting (read here a computer the size of HAL in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey that swallowed up the entire production room) and eventually to a half-breed version, a neat little machine that sat on our desks in the newsroom, replacing our IBM Selectrics.

My point in sharing all this is the exponential speed in which publishing has evolved. In fact, it was fodder for discussion at last year’s Killer Nashville writing conference. To wit, back-and-forth debate concerning Kindles, Nooks, iPads, et al, replacing the traditional book. Consensus? Content will remain the same but the delivery system will continue to change. I mean who would want to curl up with a clay tablet or scroll today? Seriously. (Although I must admit my love affair with real books will never end.)

And as I venture into the brave new world of e-publishing and digital-everything, I’m hitting a steep learning curve. I recently struggled to use an e-publishing site for one of my novels and found that I had formatted every blessed paragraph incorrectly. Then there’s Smashwords. Don’t get me started. I’m still trying to format my second book using their Style Guide and have totally massacred formatting for normal Word documents.

Of course you can pay someone to do it for you. Google the topic of formatting your e-book and you’ll find techno-wizards willing to take the muss and fuss out of it for you – for a fee, of course. You can also pay one of the many growing e-publishing companies who offer formatting as part of a bundle of services. These e-publishers make it easy by formatting your books to the specs required by various digital readers and allow you to set your price point for your novel.

For some of you all this e-publishing and formatting business may be second nature and as the kids say, “so yesterday.” But for me, it’s transitioning into an arena that smacks of Star Trek as I take my writing fate into my own hands on this Sisyphean-publishing journey. Despite the technical end of the industry today, what I do hold in good stead are the 30-plus years of honed seat-in-the-chair discipline of writing for hours for newspapers and magazines and meeting deadlines. Those skills are transferable as I now, at semi-retirement, am finally focusing on my novels.

With those traits firmly in place, however, I still feel digitally dumb. The reality is, I’ll either have to learn how to format my books, or pay someone else to do it. Even then, as comedienne Gilda Radner used to say, “It’s always something.” Next will be the promotion and marketing of my books via social media — Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. – which begs the question: When will I find time to start writing my other books?

I’m hoping to strike a balance down the road. For now, if only I could find a contemporary version of the HAL computer that asks aloud when I start to write something cliché and sophomoric, “Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave … uh, Marielena?”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2012 7:00 AM

    Oh, Marielena! I feel like you just read my mind and discovered all my doubts and fears. Writing/publishing today is truly a brave (and very confusing) new world. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone. Love this post.

  2. Marielena Zuniga permalink
    April 4, 2012 7:22 AM

    Thanks, Sandy! It truly is a brave and confusing publishing world out there — and moving faster than I’d like.

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