Ever heard of Walter Gibson? How about Maxwell Grant? Actually, they’re the same guy, so if you’ve heard of one you’ve heard of the other even if you didn’t realize it. If you haven’t, don’t fret; not a whole lot of folks in this day an age have. Walter Gibson was an extremely prolific author in his day (he died in 1985) and stage magician. He’s estimated to have no less than 300 novel-length books (60k+ words) under his belt. Gibson (as Maxwell Grant) wrote The Shadow novels that were popular in the 30s and 40s. He also wrote more than a hundred other books on magic, psychic phenomena, true crime, mysteries, rope knots, yoga, hypnotism, and games and was a ghost writer for Harry Houdini. It’s estimated that at his peak he was writing nearly 1.7 million words a year and to satisfy the demands of his fans he was writing two Shadow novels a month. Each of The Shadow novels clocked in right around 60k words each.
By any reckoning, that’s a lot of typing. And remember, he was writing on one of these:
For those of you too young to remember manual typewriters they were cantankerous beasts, prone to jamming, running out of ink, and breaking keys. Also, here’s your intersting but useless bit of trivia for the day: the current standard keyboard layout is set up the way it is because of mechanical typewriters. Each keystroke pushed a physical level forward that caused that character to impact on an ink tape and make a mark on the paper. The way the letters were laid out meant that some of the letters had longer levers. The longer the lever the more prone to breakage it was, so someone did an analysis of character use in the English language. Characters that were used less were relegated to the outer edges where the longer levers lived. The logic was since those characters were used less there would be less wear and tear on those longer levers and the whole typewriter would last longer.
If you ever get the opportunity, try writing on a manual typewriter; it’s definitely an experience.
I guess one thing spouses of serial writers have going for them is very few people use manual typewriters anymore. Imagine living in a house with someone knocking out 10k words a day on machine that made a noise every time a charater was typed. Now, you might have the click clack of laptop keys, but it pales in comparison the thundering hammers of a typewriter.
Last week we were watching Romancing the Stone and something about it clicked in my head. Remember that scene where Joan Wilder is taking he latest novel to her editor?
See that big box of paper? That’s her book. That’s how manuscripts used to be sent to editors. You type them out, put the pages (hopefully in order) back in the paper box and walk it over. It was likely a huge pain in the ass and you had to have a ton of paper handy. Also, try kicking back on sofa and writing with a manual typewriter in your lap. If it didn’t break your knees it would cut off all circulation to your toes.
Writing was different back then. If you had a story you typed it up, shopped it around, hoped someone would buy it and publish it. From that point on, your words were out of your control. Where it went, what it cost, how it was advertised, all that was out of your control. You could make some good money writing as a traditionally published author, but the vast majority of published authors still had to have day jobs. One of my favorites, John Steakley, made ends meet by owning a car dealership. He was apparently part way into Armor 2 when he died.
Such are the ways and means of traditionally published authors. For every E.L James there are thousands of John Steakleys.
Now, one advantage those traditionally published folks had over us indies? All they had to worry about was the story. Before everyone starts squawking, I get it: there are plenty of indie resources out there. You can find people to edit and proofread, design your cover, format your ebook, and do everything but write the story for you. Some folks go that route, others don’t. I’m one of those that insists on doing as much as possible myself; I do my own covers, I do my own formatting, I make my own marketing decisions. Good, bad, or otherwise, I’m pretty much on my own. I’ve had help with editing and proofreading from a few trusted beta readers (editing is pretty much impossible to do on your own), but otherwise, I’m on my own.
I’m not saying this to toot my own horn or say I’m more indie than anyone else, it’s just how I am. I enjoy writing, I’m actually learning to like editing. I like designing book covers. I like doing book layout. I enjoy learning the little tricks that make things easier.
It wasn’t always like that, though. I finished Henchmen in 2013 and thought it was the greatest story ever told (it wasn’t and it actually required some monstrous rewrites later on). I’d heard it was easy to publish on Amazon but still largely didn’t what I was doing. I knew what mobi files and epub files were but as for how to make one? Not how to create one, mind you, but what they were. I thought I was ready.
Boy was I wrong.
Henchmen went live with a bad cover, tons of editing issues, missing an internal image, and was generally not a good product. It was a product of “I’m tired of this, let’s just get it done.” I tried to follow Amazon’s instructions and created an HTML document out of my Word document. The results were less than spectacular.
Since then, I rewrote huge portions of Henchmen, wrote Arise, learned a lot about making a decent cover, figured out how to write a better blurb, convert and edit files before uploading them, make a decent looking Table of Contents, and a handful of other things.
In the interest of saving some other folks that kind of misery, when The Clock Man is finished and edited, I’ll be taking copious notes and screenshots about the process of putting it together, how the cover came to be, and some other technical issues that popped up. Then, I’m going to take all that and compile it into a simple how-to book that will hopefully stave off some of my problems for others.
Consider it a thank you to all the authors, designers, and readers who have helped me out over the past couple year..