As I started the new year, I was thinking about how I ended the old year. Apologies in advance for all the insider shop talk about indy book publishing that follows.
Last week I came across this quote from Father Andrew, an Anglican monk, in one of the devotionals I read:
“We have to remember that we shall never have this life again. We shall pass to other conditions, but in this life we have a unique opportunity of serving God and our neighbor in a particular way, and it will never come to us again. It is well for us to remember that we have our opportunity here and now to witness to God in this world and to do our part as well as we can while there is time. This life is the opportunity of faith. When we can see God, we shall be able to give Him our worship and our love, but we shall no longer be able to give Him our faith. That belongs to our period here.”
I immediately decided I wanted to add the lines to a book that I had written two years ago where I explored The Mystery of Faith. I had published the book myself. I was then learning about the new opportunities and changes in the way that books had been published for years. E-books and the internet had made the distribution of books easier than the traditional way of finding a publisher willing to take a chance on new writers. I found there were companies that operated an on-demand system of book distribution. If an author was willing to do the work and supply a print-ready document file, these companies would take the risk with you and make it available. No charges up front — and no payments until someone actually bought the book.
I began to teach myself about the special formats required for e-books. I published The Mystery of Faith three months before I had the stroke. When that happened, I lost my ability to rapidly touch type on a keyboard. Everything I’ve written since then has been by one-finger hunting and pecking. It is slow work, complicated by double vision and dizziness. But it’s about the only work I can still do.
Sales on all my books have been minor. (How often does anyone buy a book written by someone you don’t know? Or even if you do know them?) The other part of independent publishing is the responsibility to take care of your own publicity and promotion. The stroke damaged my speaking voice and made any further public appearances difficult. I have realized my books are just so much bread cast upon the water. They are in God’s hands. He decides if He is going to use them to encourage anyone. Since The Mystery of Faith was not yet a best seller, I decided to go ahead and add Father Andrew’s quote. And I thought the simplest place to make that revised edition would be in the e-book version. All my future readers could find it there.
I opened the book file copy I had on my computer and copy-and-pasted in the extra lines. I opened the web page for my e-book publisher and uploaded the file. This took only a couple of minutes.
The first email in response from the company showed up later that day. Their computerized review of the new book copy I had sent had been flagged. They had detected some technical code errors in the EPUB file, one of the several versions that exist in the new world of computer e-book readers. Since this independent author business is all DIY, it was up to me to find out what was wrong and fix it before they would send it to their chain of distributors around the world. I was surprised. I had only changed a single paragraph in the whole book and the original file had been accepted for two years.
But I tinkered a bit and uploaded a new revised file. And I got another email saying there were still red flags showing up in the file’s code.
I sent a request for help and directions. The next day I had a reply from their friendly help desk directing me to a page they had at their website dealing with common EPUB file problems. Apparently the EPUB standards are easy to get wrong and it happens a lot to everyone. The long page of suggested fixes included a list of hidden computer codes to search for and remove from the file. These sometimes get added by the Word program I had used when I wrote the book.
When I opened my copy of Word on my computer to start this task, I discovered that the clean up instructions included some steps that could only be followed using a newer version of Word than the one I had. I had gotten my version back in the last century. It still worked fine. It wasn’t broke, so I had never seen any need to pay for a newer version. Now it looked like I was stuck. If I couldn’t fix my edited book file, I thought I might lose my listing of the book altogether.
The instructions were all ^P and CTRL-A and ALT-E steps that meant nothing to me. They might as well all have been Q-W-E-R-T-Y to my swirling head. I thought about asking if the publisher could just forget I had tried to change anything and go back to the original book file from two years ago.
Saturday, Melanie had some year-end errands to run. She hates to leave me alone in the house, in case I fall or have a problem. But I knew I had a day on the computer that I had to deal with.
I retreated to my office. I squinted at the monitor screen. I tried Googling for help in fixing EPUB files. Nothing made sense to me. I felt the dizziness returning to my head. It was harder than ever to think straight, even about simple things. And this was a jungle maze to me.
I prayed. The Lord reminded me about a gift that church friends had brought me when I was first taken to the hospital. They had given me a laptop computer that had been used by their son in high school. Now he was off to college (and presumably had graduated to using a smartphone for email and internet surfing). The laptop had a newer version of Word loaded on it. If I could transfer my book file to the laptop, perhaps I could do the full file cleanup there.
To transfer the file I copied it to a USB thumb drive. Then I plugged it into the laptop. I tried to read the cleanup instructions and learn the same-but-different layout of the newer Word software. (This is another hell in the world of updated software. Even the familiar old features that survive in updated software get shuffled around and have to be rediscovered in their new hiding places.) I squinted and tried to keep my fingers steady on the laptop keyboard, finding where the control keys were on this slightly different layout.
I ended up transferring the file back and forth via the USB stick three or four times. I repeated the dozen cleanup steps three or four times after making errors and finding out the file still had problems. I composed an email in my head. Guys, have pity on me. I had a stroke. I can barely see straight. I don’t understand anything I’m doing here.
I was ready to give up.
Then, one more click, and the file seemed done. All I had to do was move the USB drive with the revised file back to my desktop computer.
Let me say here, if I haven’t already, the stroke has left me with shaky, hard-to-control hands. Buttoning a shirt collar, signing my own name on paper — it’s not pretty. And USB sticks go in very small holes. And they only go in one way.
I had been fumbling with this all afternoon. Now, as I tried to slide the USB in one final time to the port hub resting on my desktop computer tower, I disconnected the unit. All the lights on the port went out.
In the good old days, this was when I had to crawl under my desk and sort through the cables and wires running in and out the back of the computer tower. This is something I have not done in the two years since I had the stroke.
When I drop something on the floor these days, if Melanie can’t find it and pick it up, whatever it is stays down there. I struggle to keep my balance leaning on a walker. I was taught in rehab how to climb back up if I fell, and I’ve needed that training after falling down a couple of times. It’s entertaining to watch. But the plan is for me to stay away from the floor to begin with. Now I could see no choice. Asking Melanie to climb under that desk and try to sort things out? No. I would abandon the book first. Or get down there to fix this simple, vexing little problem myself.
I don’t walk right because my legs won’t go where I want them to go. They didn’t go where I needed them to go as I tried to ease myself to the floor. I awkwardly got into position in front of the computer tower. I began to sweat and feel anxious.
And I had a thought. Or got instructions? Look down the side of the tower next to the desk.
I pulled the tower out a bit. There was the extension cable that had come loose from the USB port hub, laying on the floor. I wouldn’t have to go fishing and feeling around the tangled wires farther back in the dark behind the tower after all. I reconnected the port hub. The lights came back on.
I began the task of getting back up on my feet so I could sit safely in my chair once again. I had all day but ended up needing only five minutes.
I uploaded the book file one more time. I downloaded the EPUB file that had been created and ran it through the EPUB test. The red-flagged code problems seemed to be gone. And suddenly the whole process seemed simple. I had gotten through it, one step at a time, never really understanding what I was asked to do.
I didn’t hear back from the publishers until Tuesday. (Their office was closed Monday for the New Year’s holiday.) Their message told me, in so many words, “Well done.”
On Sunday, New Year’s Day, as I sat in church, I thought about Father Andrew’s words again.
“We have to remember that we shall never have this life again. We shall pass to other conditions, but in this life we have a unique opportunity of serving God and our neighbor in a particular way, and it will never come to us again… This life is the opportunity of faith. When we can see God, we shall be able to give Him our worship and our love, but we shall no longer be able to give Him our faith. That belongs to our period here.”
Our steps of faith get taken in the face of what look like huge problems and complications. Last year was like that for me. The last two years were. Saturday was, in many ways, just another day.
At the end of our days, from the perspective of being through with it all, I wonder if we will feel like saying to each other, “Was that all it took? Why were we ever worried?”