The road to the self-published a book is not without twists and turns. Having decided that 45 agents and two publishers didn’t know good stuff when they saw it, I decided to go it alone and publish The Hippies Who Meant It myself. I was encouraged by Spider and Bob, whose spoken, written and published words I respect, and who saw the MS at the point when I first thought it was done and ready, and who gave what I regarded as their imprimatur, which is extraordinarily important to me because they really were there and did that back when the US-Canada border was considerably more porous than today.
I started out by looking at the websites of companies who undertake to publish your book, whoever you are. Clearly, they are aiming their pitch at people who had never had their work published before, because they all stated or implied, “We make can make it easy for you.” They then made the process sound incredibly complicated, listed step after step, and offered “your own project officer” who would interact between you and your editor, designer, illustrator, cover artist, through phase after phase, consultation after consultation. The sub-text was clear: “Send money in suitably large quantities for us to hire people to do the work so that we can then pocket the mark up on their fees.”
As a published author, I knew it wasn’t really all that complicated. (My previous publishers weren’t interested in The Hippies Who Meant It — not their thing.) Eliminate the middle man, I intoned, and replaced the project officer with my un-humble self. I found an editor, Sylvia McCluskey — the largest single cost, and worth every penny. I had already worked with Shirley MacKenzie, who is the super artist who did the illustrations for The Laughing Princess. I discovered that Mary Montague, the retired principal who had tutored my son Ben more than a decade ago has turned herself into a skillful book designer. And I co-ordinated, that is, I worried a lot, no doubt making my three co-conspirators weary with my barrage of emails and phone calls.
As we worked — or rather, as they worked and I worried — the Canadian dollar did one of its increasingly familiar imitations of the peso. If I had the books printed in the USA, I was faced with paying in shrunken Canadian dollars for books to be manufactured in the USA and then shipped north, with the added cost of duty at the border. If I had the books printed in Canada, the logistics were the same going the other way, with the added disincentive to American buyers of having to deal with strange northern folk. Solution: do both. CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon, prints my book on demand and sells it for me on Amazon, along with the ebook Kindle version. In Canada, Rapido-Livres of Montreal prints the Canadian edition.
All copies are distinguished with a Canadian ISBN. This is more than a patriotic gesture: it gets two copies of my book preserved for posterity in Archives Canada, and more importantly it gets my book onto the electronic registry of Canadian books that comes up on the computer screens of friendly local Canadian book sellers if and when someone wants a copy, or better still, if the bookseller wants to stock copies of my book.
After all this preliminary work was done and dusted, CreateSpace proved they could make the book look reasonably good. I made the Amazon Kindle edition available if you’re part of the Kindle club for one month at no cost, during which the Amazons count the number “bought” and I keep my fingers crossed that some of the readers will give it lots of stars, and at a modest price thereafter. If you want a hard cover edition, it’ll cost you $15 in the USA and $20 in Canada. (See “peso,” above.)
I drove to Montreal where I picked up 100 copies of The Hippies Who Meant It from Rapido-Livres on St. Urbain Street — my first, only and exceedingly tenuous link to Mordecai Richler. I’d been dealing with Simon Dulac and his son Henri by phone and email throughout preliminary investigations from setup on through to a successful proof copy, so I was feeing confident when we finally found 6600 Rue St-Urbain. I went into the four-story anonymous light industry building and consulted the board by the elevator that tells you who lives where. No Rapido-Livres. I went into the ground floor office that smelled of toner and printer’s ink and asked for help. They sent me to the third floor where I discovered multi locked doors to which I did not have the passcode, and one open door through which I saw where some Montreal library dead-stores archived printed materials.
I descended to the rez de chaussée (that’s the ground floor, not the big rez) and asked a second person if he knew the whereabouts of Simon Dulac. She spoke into a phone while I waited. Then she asked me my name, and a few minutes later Monsieur Simon arrived, shook my hand, led me out of the office back into the exceedingly drab main foyer, and asked me to wait while he fetched the books. Several anxious minutes later, he reappeared pushing a trundle-cart with six boxes on it, each clearly labeled “hippie”. He was accompanied by his son Henri, and shortly thereafter, his wife. We all shook hands, I examined a copy and pronounced it good, a cheque changed hands, while I small-talked about not being able to see the name Rapido-Livres anywhere, and seized the opportunity to make a pun in French to the effect that they were un famille société anonyme, to which they dutifully laughed, and helped me load my books into the car.
Does the company whose name is on the door know that la famille Dulac is selling books in their foyer? Encouraged by the fact that they DID charge HST, which in Quebec is the sine qua non of respectability, particularly in my corner of the province where not paying tax is a way of life, and bolstered by my lasting enthusiasm for entrepreneurism, I got into the car, told them to keep the files in case I wanted more copies, and we parted, all smiles. The whole thing was strangely reminiscent of scoring a baggie of weed in those high and far off times about which The Hippies Who Meant It was written.
Then we went and celebrated the 100 copies and Katherine’s birthday with a blowout meal at Montreal’s Ritz Carleton. Talk about puttin’ on the Ritz!
The following Monday, I went to my local post office and sent eight copies to the Leacock Award people, then two copies to the National Archives, and on the 17th I sold, well, quite a few, at a launch party in an Ottawa pub.
Economically, this all makes no sense at all. However, it makes me incredibly chuffed to think that I wrote and published my own book. Now, completely lacking the delivery systems by which old-fashioned paper-producing publishers get their books to bookstores, I have to promote my book to indie bookstores. This should be fun.