Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wirting. Harder then I thouhgt.

Once upon a time I thought it might be nice to write a book.

In fact I thought it would be a lot more than nice. A career, maybe. An ongoing quest. A mission. A calling. Maybe it is. And maybe it is for me. Sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do, all else be damned.

After all, I'm the guy who quit his last job after coming to the realization that he'd rather die than keep working there. So far that's been working out for me. Ain't dead, ain't working there.

Haven't been earning any money legally, but three things are amazing: how much I put away when I was working, how little I need to live, and how much a rising stock market can make up for me being flaky and just walking out of a job that paid a lot more than I needed.

Everyone should be so lucky. And so frugal. Or not. It takes a toll. Even I wake up in the middle of the night and say (out loud, to myself) "Man, you are one weird dude, dude."

So who isn't?

Something I realized a long time ago. Everyone is crazy. Twitchy, jumpy, hopping up and down, bug-eyed mouth-foaming wild-eyed, perversely crazy. It just depends on what you like, personally speaking.

Just cuz you like it don't mean it's right. It means you feel OK with it going off in your pocket. That and not a whisker more. That and nothing else. That is how everyone is. They may be better or worse than you in some subjective or objective sense or some other sense, but it don't make no never mind. Basically we all run on the same rails. Period.

So where was I then? Writing, yes I was.

I wrote a book. A pretty good one, for a faker. I put things together and the words didn't fight except where I wanted them to, and looked pretty in the other places, and the book she was a good one. Not great literature, not scary, not something that would knock you right flat on your whodunit under any circumstances, but it was good, and still is.

Modern publishing made it possible. Because I knew I had a way to make it available, even if no one ever bought it. I could do this without spending a year writing and six months editing and three months making photographs and one month designing the cover and then still have to spend $10,000 at a vanity press because no publisher would touch it with any number of 10-foot poles taped together, even if allowed to wear a gas mask and rubber gloves.

I did it.

And then I had to format it and upload it to Lulu.com.

Now the next part is not going to be any more interesting than what you've just read. I'm not going to uncover any seamy creepy stories of hair pulling and corporate malfeasance. Nothing interesting happened at all, in fact, and there is no plot to what I will next write, so be warned.

But it was still ugly.

Luckily I have OpenOffice. I mostly don't have any complaint, except that there is so much there, and so little documentation. I know I could do more with it, it I could figure out how, but slowly, I can, mostly (though the table of contents and indexing features are still mostly opaque).

OpenOffice is actually a joy, compared to Microsoft Office. One of the neatest things is that you can export a document as an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) document. This is so cool. Just do it, and it happens, and it works.

That was the big half. The little half, the part that took 90% of my time for weeks on end, was laying in my text and getting it formatted right. I started out a little wrong and had to keep correcting things I thought I'd already done. Yeah, OK, the learning curve thing, and I kept bending it in ways it didn't want to be bent. I should have learned first how to make styles and a template, and then laid things into that, and the whole process would have gone so much easier.

But of course I didn't, and maybe no one does, so it went on nearly forever, over and over and over again.

This was the hard part, really. For every day I spent formatting my book I probably lost two or three days of writing time. Days I could have used to start on the next book, or to market the first one. I'm a slow learner.

But eventually that got done. Eventually.

Then later I decided I maybe really should buy a distribution plan so that outfits like Amazon could list my book and maybe the first book would then (slowly) generate some (moderate) buzz and I could materialize on the world's radar (a bit at at time).

Except that for some reason OpenOffice isn't good enough to generate PDF files for this. You have to produce them from Adobe Acrobat, which costs something just shy of $1000. And accepts only Microsoft Word documents, not OpenOffice documents. Lucky me.

But Lulu.com accepts Microsoft Word documents, and will generate PDFs on their end, and OpenOffice can output Microsoft Word documents, so I'm OK, right? Yeah, right, as they say.

Several more months of work.

First, I had to learn Google Sketchup, which is a great little program. I wanted to enhance some of the illustrations while I was at it, and Sketchup's 3-D images were great. But this took a while.

So OK, done.

Next, getting OpenOffice to properly output Microsoft Word documents which it does pretty well, but there are limitations. Two areas specifically, images and web links.

I didn't want to embed any links in the text, but I do have some that I wish to display as text. Hard. Very hard. OpenOffice wants to make them blue, with underlines, if exporting as Microsoft Word documents. Pure hell to get this right. Finally gave up and then tried to get all of them blue and underlined, which was also pure hell undoing behind the scenes confusion inside the document. In the end it all sort of worked, sort of.

But images. Never did get that quite working. They do fine in OpenOffice but not in Microsoft Word documents. For some reason the latter format encourages image to move around inside the document pretty much willy nilly. Captions, too.

I eventually learned that you can put a border on all four sides of an image (no just on one, two, three or all four sides as with pure OpenOffice), and then lock the image in place and then click on the "caption" option which will link the caption to the document, sort of generating a box something like a siamese twin of the image into which you can put text for a caption, keeping them bound together.

And after weeks and weeks of screwing around I got that to work well enough.

Done, save for one last indignity.

And that was that since uploading, I would have to forgo any exotic typefaces that I have installed, and instead use the generic few that Lulu.com has. Which means that I had to drop all my chapter titles and story titles and subheadings and drop caps in Pupcat and use plain old mush, which made the book visually boring.

All this, and Lulu.com was able to print my book just fine the old way, when I generated the PDF from OpenOffice and uploaded that. But there seems to be some secret arcane witchcraft involved when they make the book available to everyone that they say prevents doing just this very same thing. So they say you have to do the other thing, which is where I lost weeks and weeks of my life.

Dang.

But I got it done.

Had to upload the nine meg document about a dozen times because it just wouldn't format correctly when converted to PDF. That, and then download a 22meg PDF to view it. Around in circles, tail, chasing the.

So finally, done. And then I began playing with Scribus, the desktop publishing program, which looks really good but is about halfway there. Will be magnificent when they get it complete. Pretty solid now, but you have to push hard to make it go. Supposedly it is one of the very best in the world at outputting PDF documents.

I used it on my second book, which is an excerpt of the first, just the few technical chapters at the end. Anyway, it allows me to use Pupcat and solidly place images and precisely align text, and it all stays just where I put it though I have to manually format each and every single paragraph and heading and caption, and that is maddening and maddening and error prone. And it doesn't do automatic hyphenation. If you turn on hyphenation it will ask you three or four questions about each word as it lays them in, and you can't see even a whole line while it's doing this, so hyphenation is almost useless. Or unimaginably error-prone if you decide to continue because it will make you crosseyed and then make you howl.

Yeeg.

The story of my life. But at least I finished the second book. It is 83 pages compared to the original book which is 320 pages (after I removed a lot of nice white space -- originally 372 pages).

Then I found a couple of errors in the main book, which I had spent weeks formatting just to make it ugly and acceptable to Microsoft Word format.

So now I don't know what I'm going to do.

I want to get back to writing, but I still have an unformatted book. It would be a huge amount of work to reformat it using Scribus and I don't know if that would ultimately work or not (who knows who these prickly unforgiving printers are anyway). So I may eventually reformat in Scribus and if that doesn't work, drop back to what I have now in Word format (after correcting the typos).

And then again I wonder if I just shouldn't stay with what I have, use OpenOffice, generate PDFs the easy way, sell exclusively through Lulu.com, and put my real effort into marketing.

I keep trying to figure out what I would do if I was smart, and that ain't easy.

References:
Dave's Guides
OpenOffice
Scribus
Sketchup

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