What?–Are you writing a book?

I have been asked that question in one form or another (“What are you writing, a book?”) by persons waiting for me to draft a quick reply to an email, or leave a comment on Facebook, etc.

At times, recently, the answer was a resounding yes!

One back-burner project that I moved to a front-burner during the pandemic was the publication of a book called Practical Agitation for the Twenty-first Century. It’s a new edition of a book published by John Jay Chapman in 1900, Practical Agitation. If you’ve never read any Chapman, or haven’t even heard of the man, I think that’s a pity, and I’ll include some links to help rectify that situation later in this post.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapman’s Preface to his book:

This book is an attempt to follow the track of personal influence across society. . . .Th[e] idea is, that we can always do more for mankind by following the good in a straight line than we can by making concessions to evil. The illusion that it is wise or necessary to suppress our instinctive love of truth comes from an imperfect understanding of what that instinctive love of truth represents, and of what damage happens both to ourselves and to others when we suppress it. The more closely we look at the facts, the more serious does this damage appear. And on the other hand, the more closely we look at the facts, the more trifling, inconsequent, and absurd do all those reasons appear which strive to make us accept, and thereby sanctify and preserve, some portion of the conceded evil in the world.

Self-publishing with Amazon

Why a new edition? Well, the book is out of print, other than a few facsimile editions and Kindle e-books of varying quality. I’ve added a Foreword and an Afterword, not because the book needs any updating, but primarily to comment with some amazement at how timely his 120-year old observations remain. This is from my Foreword:

John Jay Chapman published his Practical Agitation at the dawn of the 20th century, but his analyses and criticisms of the political machinery of his day, as well as his encouragement and advice to those seeking to reform it, may sound familiar to those who lament the current state of politics. Replace his references to Tammany Hall with discussions of Super-PACs and you could pass the book off as newly written.

The Afterword serves to introduce some separate essays of Chapman’s that I felt needed to be included, since they dealt with matters of what would come to referred to as “civil rights,” but which he covered under the heading, “The Negro Question.” The term is cringe-worthy, but his writing on the subject is surprisingly ahead of its time. I blogged previously on the horrible event from 1911 that prompted his writings. I have to say now that recording that New York Tribune news article for the audiobook was the most difficult narration I’ve ever done.

You may remember I claimed to have made three things: Those are the Kindle version, the Paperback version, and the Audiobook version of the book. And if you think those are really only one thing, you’ve got another think coming. (Until fairly recently, I always said “you’ve got another thing coming,” but apparently—and literally—I had another think coming. When that think arrived, I realized to my surprise that I actually agreed with those who spoke of “another think” rather than a “thing.” But I digress.)

Nerding out with software

The largest portion of my own writing on this project I did using a program called Scrivener, which I highly recommend to anyone who might’ve caught the writing bug. Whether you’re writing a novel, a play, a screenplay, a blog, or something else, this program helps keep all your materials organized. This project was fairly straightforward, but other things still “in the pipeline” are benefiting greatly from Scrivener’s tools. No, I’m not getting paid to plug it, though that’s something I should probably look into.

With the writing, editing, and rewriting done, I exported from Scrivener into Microsoft Word, where my years of experience as an IT Support professional came in very handy. Creating a Table of Contents, running headers for the different chapters, and properly formatting page numbers can seem daunting, but I felt very comfortable, especially since I was my own boss and didn’t have anxious law clerks who were trying to get their boss’s opinion ready to be released looking over my shoulder.

That was the paperback version: the Kindle version had somewhat different requirements, since there are no running headers, and page numbers don’t exist because pagination depends on each reader’s platform and the font-size they choose.

At some point I needed to create a cover for the book, or more accurately, three different covers. Most of the how-to blogs and YouTube videos recommend you hire an actual graphic artist for this, going to sites like Upwork or Fiverr. But I’m kind of a hands-on person, so I did it myself. Honestly, if I were cranking out books all the time, hiring someone would be a good idea, perhaps after I’ve done a proof-of-concept in Photoshop. Maybe next time.

It so happens I enjoy playing around with Photoshop, and if I can’t figure out how to do something I’ve thought of there are always multiple YouTube how-to videos out there. I thought the new edition of this 1900 book needed some “old-fashioned” elements, so for the textured background I used the cover of an actual book by John Jay Chapman, his compilation of his son’s letters from World War I. Pictured here is the front cover, but I used the blank back cover. But I also wanted that gold-embossed look you see on the front, and created that effect pretty cleverly (I thought) for the book title and author’s name.

Getting help from the truly creative

I also wanted some current visual elements, and long before I actually started on the cover art had decided to include the political cartoons of Honest Politician, the Instagram handle of Sam Olmsted, obtaining his permission.

I selected a cartoon with no text, one I thought would still be clear at a reduced size to include on the cover. I thought about adding the additional credits to the cover (for myself as co-author and Sam as cartoonist) by scrawling them on a Post-It note stuck to the “old” book cover. But my penmanship leaves much to be desired, and after looking at a mock-up version I decided I liked the look of the strip of Scotch tape holding a “type-written” scrap of paper. It was a choice, and I wasn’t going back to make more changes. (Or so I thought.)

The print version of your book will need a front cover, back cover, and something for the spine of the book. Amazon is very helpful in providing book cover templates depending on the size of paperback you choose, and the number of pages your book will be. If the spine of the book doesn’t match the size of your book, it will bleed onto the front or rear covers, or vice versa.

A nerd’s-eye view from Photoshop

The Kindle version needs only a “front” cover. This could be exactly the same as the front cover from the print version, but you have to keep in mind that actual Kindle readers display only black & white (or grayscale), so choosing colors and elements of the cover for contrast is important.

The Audible version needs cover art that is perfectly square, and they really frown on simply using your regular front cover with black (or blank or white) space on the sides to make it square, so some re-design is necessary. It’s also important to know that the Audible cover art is going to be displayed really small, at least until the reader/listener has purchased and downloaded the title, so less really is more here.

After I had come up with all three covers, and had even uploaded the Kindle and paperback versions (and surreptitiously “released” them while recording the audiobook), I became dissatisfied with how my print and Kindle covers looked. They just didn’t “pop.” So back to Photoshop I went, changing the title and author credit to be brighter like the audiobook.

The process of narrating/recording the audiobook served as one final proof-read of the book. Of course, though I had realized early on it would serve that function, that didn’t stop me from eagerly exporting from Scrivener, and then doing the “final” formatting of the print and e-book versions in Word. As you may have figured out, that those little errors I caught while recording the book—and believe me, my reading aloud in real-time is a more exacting process than multiple “proof-readings”—had now to be corrected three times: in Scrivener, and in the two separate Word versions (print and Kindle). That’s a valuable lesson learned.

The Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX.com) doesn’t allow one (“one” being the author or rights-holder of a title) to create an audiobook unless they have already published the Kindle and/or paperback version. That’s why I ended up posting the audiobook version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that I recorded in the week leading up to Christmas of 2020 on my own website rather than on Audible. It’s a public-domain work, but they still require a print version first, and I had neither the time nor inclination to add another hastily-produced version of the Dickens classic.

Also, ACX doesn’t allow you to have a single account as both an audiobook producer (narrator/producer, in my case, since I’ve narrated a handful of audiobooks already) and a rights-holder (author, editor). So to create a separate ACX rights-holder account I first had to create a separate Amazon account. Then after creating an ACX rights-holder account linked to it, I had to “claim” my book from the already-published titles on Amazon. It sounds more complicated than it was; it was easy to prove that I am me, so to speak.

There are plenty more details to the process, especially concerning launching and marketing books, but maybe I’ll post something about those once I’ve made some in-roads. In other words, I need to get some sales and reviews!

The link I shared above is to the Kindle version of my book, but the paperback and audiobooks are linked from the same Amazon page. If you’re interested in reading it, the Kindle e-book is a better bet than the paperback right now. It seems the global supply-chain problems we’ve been hearing about have affected the supply of paper stock for Amazon or whoever does their print-on-demand books. The proof copies I ordered last year came within a couple of days, but the author copies I ordered almost a month ago at the launch day have yet to ship.

Even better, if you like audiobooks, I can provide vouchers for free downloads from Audible.com. The audiobook is four-and-a-half hours long. I would ask politely that you consider writing an honest review of the book on Amazon (for the Kindle version) or Audible (audiobook version, though Audible is now affiliated with Amazon). As I said, I’m still learning all the ins and outs of how to get attention for a book, but apparently a large part of it has to do with reviews.

If anyone reading this post is interested in getting a copy of my book, in whatever format, please let me know in a comment or an email, or private message. Of course I want to sell copies, but giving away copies and earning reviews can lead to that, so it’s all good.

I’ll close by sharing a few pithy quotes from John Jay Chapman:

Our system of party government has been developed with the aim of keeping the control in the hands of professionals.

We think that political agitation must show political results. This is like trying to alter the shape of a shadow without touching its object. The hope is not only mistaken, it is absurd. The results to be obtained from reform movements cannot show in the political field till they have passed through the social world.

The candidates in reform movements are tools. They are like crowbars that break open the mind of the age.

* * * * * * *

John Jay Chapman (March 2, 1862 – November 4, 1933) was, among other things, an essayist, playwright, literary critic, lecturer, poet, and biographer. Educated at Harvard in his undergraduate studies and for law school, he practiced law from 1888 to 1898, when his literary pursuits took over.

He published Practical Agitation in 1900. Perhaps his most well-known books were his 1898 Emerson and Other Essays and his 1913 biography of the abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison (revised and enlarged 1921).

His oldest son, Victor Emmanuel Chapman, was the first American aviator to die in France during World War I, in 1916. Chapman published Victor Chapman’s Letters from France, along with his own memoir of his son in 1917.

A more extensive biography and bibliography can be found at:

https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Jay-Chapman

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