Over the past year, I’ve been working on a creative publishing challenge I set myself. It’s time to blog about it here and draw a line under the project.
A few years ago, my parents showed me a faded typed manuscript of a memoir, The World of an Insignificant Woman. It was written in the mid 1980’s by my grandfather’s sister, Catherine Thackray, about their parents and family. It is based in a large part on the handwritten memoirs and letters of my great-grandmother, Hilda Marjory Sharp (born 1882).
In recent years I’ve taken a particular interest in new forms of publishing. I drink in the columns of Cory Doctorow and the experiments of James Bridle (two London-based thinkers I have had the pleasure of meeting a few times, through English PEN and Free Word Centre activities). The potential of print-on-demand and eBook publishing is huge, and I had begun to think seriously about getting in on the micro-publishing action.
The World of an Insignificant Woman seemed like the perfect source material upon which to base a publishing project. The prose is well written, impeccably researched, and detailed without being verbose. It’s themes and protagonists are relevant to the history of the twentieth century in general, while having an obvious personal resonance for me and my family.
So I conceived a publishing project in line with the advice given by entrepreneur and programmer Saul Griffith in MAKE magazine, who advocates ‘Productive Procrastination’. His advice is to have some creative project in progress that you can develop during the time when you find yourself procrastinating, so that those moments can still be productive.
Always have a learning project in mind. For me, it’s typically learning some new tool, some new math, some new physics, or some new programming skill. It doesn’t really matter what it is, just have something on the back burner. It helps if it’s a skill you might need in your next project.
With The World of an Insignificant Woman I was able to get to grips with typesetting on the scale of a 288 page book, and also learnt how to negotiate the formalities of publishing and the most efficient way to create print-on-demand books. I also discovered some useful tools for converting to Kindle and ePub. The challenge turned out to be a chain of small and discrete problems to solve, which was perfect for me as I had to complete the project in lunch hours and evenings.
Throughout 2011 I kept a separate project blog, which details what I learnt at each stage of the process. You can download an electronic version of the finished book from there, or buy a print copy in the Lulu.com marketplace.