ASSOCIATES (2009, March, v. 15, no. 3)

Column

Library Life:
A Column of Eclectic Rantings

Katie Buller Kintner
Msm00@yahoo.com

Well here it is March again and as usual, I’m stuck for a relevant topic so I thought I would share with you my experiences as a self-published author.

Yes, self-published. A pariah in the world of publishing—I did it myself, thanks. I don’t mean that I have a printing press in the garage and I’m out there running off copy after copy of my book to satisfy the howls of my fans. No, I’m using an online service called lulu.com. Yes, that lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/). Some people believe lulu is a “rip-off” (to quote one critic) but one can actually publish a book there free. I’m not making this an ad for lulu but I found it hard to resist, so I set fingers to keys and wrote “the book”.

What book? Ahh…yeah, that’s the book that’s been in me since I was sixteen years old and barely knew the difference between an ampersand and a bass clef. Well, actually, I just learned what a bass clef was a week ago, even after several years of high school band, church choir and a stint in the chorus of a traveling revue. Anyway, to get back to the subject, I had been toying with this book’s characters for decades, writing stories out in longhand in bed late at night and really quite enjoying it.

Then I took the next step and bought a little portable electronic typewriter that I could put on my lap and type like crazy. The only problem was that the ribbon it came with only lasted for about half an hour of typing before it had to be changed! But, I had an alternative—the typewriter would also work with thermal paper! Remember that stuff? Anyway, I started writing on my little machine and was really going great guns until I looked at my growing stack of written pages. My ignorance of the properties of thermal paper had resulted in page after page of NOTHING! It had all faded!

That meant that I had to retire the little typewriter (more like toss it against a brick wall) and look for another means of putting pen to paper.

A new writing tool had captured my attention when the little Interlibrary Loan Office I was working in acquired it’s first M300 OCLC Workstation. Remember those? Well, ours sat in the box for quite a while before someone came to hook it up. Then it sat on this spiffy new computer table for a while more, making a wonderful addition to the décor but not much else. Finally I decided that I was going to learn how to use it!

Up until that time, my computer experience had been limited to occasionally typing names into a dumb terminal at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation but I was not afraid. Not me. I sat down in front of that M300, manual in hand, and proceeded to teach myself how to use a computer. This was no easy task. “Windows” were those clear glass things in the wall—this computer used MS-DOS. One actually had to know c:/ line commands to use it. Talk about confusing!

But somehow, I persevered and within a few weeks, we actually were using it as it was intended to be used, hooked up to a printer and everything!

Now the printer wasn’t the only thing that was hooked. So was I and I had to find a way to bring this new technology into my home so I could use it for my writing. I looked around at lesser machines, even experimenting with a Commodore 64 for a time. This little machine—a keyboard that you hooked up to a television set—was not for me. I spent a frustrating afternoon trying to learn to use it and all it would let me do is build a name and address database. Sounds useful, right?

Not when the machine is assuming that you are a complete idiot. As I recall, the exchange would go like this.
I would enter a name.
The computer responds: “That’s news to me! Would you like add this name?”
I ignore the cutesy programmed response and click “yes” and wait…and wait…and wait…and wait some more.
The computer finally responds. “Would you like to add an address?”
I enter the address one line at a time, waiting for up to two or three minutes between EACH LINE for the computer to digest this.
Then the computer asks me: “Would you like to add a phone number?”
At this point, I pick up the keyboard and fling it as hard as I can against the wall and then…well, not really. But that is when I packed it up and took it over to a consignment shop. I am sure it got a good home.

Now what? I realized that if I wanted to pursue my writing hobby seriously on a computer, I would have to figure out a way to get a proper machine into my home. This is not as easy as it sounds because at the time, only businesses were utilizing desktop computers such as our M300. Home use was unheard of! But I had to have one even though my pockets were empty and there were no Best Buys around.

Somehow, I found out that a car dealership leased computers on the side. I eagerly headed over and picked out a top of the line model—an IBM XT with a 20-megabyte (not gigabyte) hard drive and a 5.5-inch floppy disk drive. I also picked up a lightning fast Hayes 1200-baud modem and an Epson serial printer that is probably still clicking away somewhere. The final cost over the length of a year lease? $1000.00. In 1986 terms, this is equivalent to ten million dollars now. Well, it might as well be, right?

So I dragged my new computer home and set it up, unable to wait to get typing away. I forgot one thing though.

Software. I plugged in the computer, started it up and was presented with a blank c:/. Now what?

With that big black blank eye that was the monitor staring at me, I knew that I had better come up with something or the computer would have to go back. As luck would have it, I found a little cash lying around somewhere (in a U.S. Savings Bond) and went out in search of software. This is not as easy as it is now as very few stores even carried computer related items, but somehow I located a copy of a software package entitled “First Choice”, a suite of office related programs rather like Microsoft Office offers. This included both a word processor and a spreadsheet program. I was in business!

For the next two or three years, I typed and printed madly, saving quite a bit of my work on floppies that no longer exist. However, after a time, I realized that I needed to upgrade so I turned around and sold my system to a friend for $1000.00. Yep, I got all my money back! It seems that computers were becoming necessary for home use but that they weren’t yet available at reasonable prices so a grand sounded cheap to my friend. Even now, I still feel a bit guilty about it but she apparently got quite a bit of use out of it and I take some satisfaction in that.

My next acquisition was another IBM machine with a 30-megabyte hard drive, a 2400-baud modem and a printer so horrible that I’ve blocked the name out. Besides being faster, this computer had something new and terrible on it—this thing called “Windows”.

After having painfully learned MS-DOS and years of using line commands, I found this program to be incredibly obtrusive! How dare it try to get in my way when I want to type c:/fc to get into my First Choice program! Of course, the programs included with Windows did the same thing but they intimidated me and I really left them alone for quite a while. Finally, I ventured into Word and that was it—I’ve been a Word nerd ever since then.

metatronicSo now, after three or four more upgrades of both machine and Windows, here I am writing a book. I can hardly believe it, but after all this time of what my mother would say “futzing around” on these stories, I finally decided to try to assemble something resembling a novel. It took me two years to complete it, working ten minutes here, an hour there, but finally it was ready or so I thought.

Yeah, right, the FIRST DRAFT was ready. I am not patient enough to send out manuscripts to publishers and wait months for their rejection slips. I decided to use the lulu service because it was fast and cheap. What I didn’t know was that when I uploaded my manuscript, lulu required me to buy a copy of my new “book” and edit it! Yikes! I had no idea how hard it is to edit your own work! Every word was precious, every nuance and action required and indispensable!

After I uploaded it again, revised, I had to buy another copy to have as a final, a copy for the Library of Congress if I wanted an LCCN (they lost it in the mail so I never got one) and a couple copies to give away to friends so they could read and review it. This is getting expensive! After all that, I decided that my generic cover made on lulu would not do and so I created a new one myself. Yep, that’s another revision, another upload, another copy purchased.

Do I have regrets about doing it this way? Not at all—in fact, book two is in editing and book three is being written. I’m probably going to publish them the same way. Have I sold a lot? Nope but I am hoping that maybe one day I can sell a few dozen here and there on occasion, maybe at flea markets or consignment shops. And then I can proudly tell myself that I am a published author who has sold her book!

My typing fingers are growing numb so I will end this but as I do, I am sure you are curious about my book and what it’s about. Maybe you would even like to add it to your collection—well, one can always dream. You can actually find out more about it at my website http://www.metatronicchronicles.com and read a sample chapter. I hope you enjoy it.

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