Thursday, May 25, 2017

Nobody Got Hurt: A Reflection on Book Design & Self-publishing

It started out with a simple phone call. During my initial client meeting, I had many questions but the main one was,

"How many pages do you anticipate the finished book to be?"

When the response was,

"I really have no idea."

I thought that's a pretty open-ended answer but, ok, I can work with that. We both agreed that we would work from the estimate that it would end up being a 300 page book. In the end, it turned out to be just under 200 pages so at least we didn't guess terribly under!

I laid out some basics to get started but, to be sure, I had no delusions that this would be a simple project. I kept thinking that this would turn out to take more time than either of us expected--many months of work to be exact.

My client was looking to compile all the material written as a biography by her late husband whom she loved dearly. Her husband was a well-known dentist who practiced in the local community for over three decades. However, though he was well-known, my client felt that he had led such an interesting life outside of dentistry and that those life stories should be shared. She encouraged him to write the book and together they both researched and gathered information for it. So, it was a very personal project for her to which I saw as an opportunity to not only help her achieve this goal but provide some additional closure.

My estimation of my time involved in the initial page layout and design drafts resulting from the giant black binder was at least close enough to be useful. However, this did not account for all of re-typing involved for both the hand-written and missing digital copy content for inclusion. In fact, only a very small amount of digital content (less than twenty pages worth) was actually provided to me that didn't need re-typing. Since the author is no longer living, locating the original digital files proved to be unsuccessful.

Original typed and hand-written manuscripts

So, the first major step of the project was to re-type 90% of what was given to me. Glad my typing skills were in good shape! In addition to digitizing the copy, numerous versions and drafts of stories, sections and chapters existed in similar forms. These needed to be sifted, read, and re-read to ensure the entirety and clarity of the content was included and left fully intact. Together, my client and I compared, re-ordered and re-arranged all of the writings to get it just right. This happened over several months but, after much patience, it was all sifted through and we felt like things were really taking shape!

Along with all the writing material, there were numerous old photographs, articles and documents that supported the stories and held significance for the author to include. They also needed digitized. From old family portraits to newspaper articles, I carefully scanned and re-touched them all.

Author's family portraits and photographs

Baby photo of author (ca. 1932)

From there, they needed placed with accompanying captions into the pages to coincide with the appropriate chapters, stories and writings. Once all of the images were placed and in order, the book was really looking more complete!

After reading the writings over and over, I really started to get a feel for the author's life--his values and his adventures. I particularly enjoyed reading the letters written by himself and his siblings when stationed overseas and elsewhere during World War II. What real, amazing and sad experiences.

I also enjoyed the quotes tied to each chapter and interjected into different portions of stories. A few of my favorites being:
It is not good for all our wishes to be filled; through sickness we recognize the value of health; through evil, the value of good; through hunger, the value of food; through exertion, the value of rest.” ― Dorothy Canfield Fisher
At the punch-bowl's brink, let the thirsty think what they say in Japan: first the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man.
I prefer liberty with danger than peace with slavery.”  –Jean-jacques Rousseau
I never knew the author prior to his passing a couple years ago but after reading through the raw, personal and honest writing of this rough-and-tumble cowboy turned dentist I got good insight into who he was.

Initial front, spine and back cover design proof

This immersion in the stories allowed me to design the overall page layout from cover to cover to really fit the tone and intent of the book. My client also had a particular photo of the author that she wanted to include on the cover in some form. When I presented the first design draft of the cover, my client said it brought her to tears to see it. Whew! (as well as an honor to hear)

At the same time as the cover proof, a first draft proof of all of the inside pages was ready.

Proof of inside pages

Once we got to this point, it was round after round of more editing and revising. Back and forth I went to my client's home to discuss changes and edits. Thankfully, it wasn't a very far drive so I got familiar with the view!

When we were finally both satisfied with all the changes, it was time to publish and print. So, now what was once a box of unorganized photos and papers was a finished book!

Original book content and materials
Finished, printed copies

Something my client kept saying to me throughout the process was that many people have stories about their lives and experiences that only a very few ever hear or sometimes others don't even know about. And once that person is gone, so are the stories.

Very few people take the time to write them down. She felt strongly that it is beneficial to do that. Judging from the response to her distribution of copies, she is right. A few months after delivering the books she called to let me know what a fantastic response she received from those that received one. She even thought she might need to order more.

Thanking me again, she shared what a success it had been. She said it really surprised her since she really didn't know what to expect. In her words, "I had no idea it was going to go over this big."

While the thanks for helping design and publish this book is certainly gratifying, it is really the willingness and effort of the author to write and share his life story with others and the dedication of his wife to complete the publishing process that readers are connecting with.

So, in case you are wondering what it takes to successfully self-publish a book, I think that though there are many different aspects and lots of time involved, I think the best way to describe it would be patience, tenacity and a whole lot of heart. While I didn't author any portion of this book, I am happy to have played a part in the process.

And throughout that process, I am also happy to say "nobody got hurt."