When I launched this column, the plan was to have copies of With a Little Help into final production by October 2009, and to have it for sale by Christmas. Instead, I find myself in the final throes of production in early May, with a likely pub date of June or July 2010. How'd that happen?
In my opening column last September, I laid out an ambitious plan, with a good strategy for making it happen. Most of the serious tasks associated with the book, I reasoned, were "parallelizable," to borrow a term from computer science. That is to say, each task could be performed independently of the others so that a delay in one wouldn't have to throw off the schedule. For example, collecting paper ephemera from my writer friends, getting the audiobook recorded, writing the commissioned story, getting and preparing the cover art, proofing. In theory, all of these could be done with very little interdependency, the opposite of the "for want of a nail"–type tasks.
It turns out that a few tasks were dependent on earlier stages. And Murphy's Law being what it is, this meant delays. Specifically, as I wrote in March, typesetting delays meant that I couldn't get into final cover designs and proofing, nor could I get into prototyping for the limited edition hardcovers. The sound editing couldn't be done until the sound recording was done, and some of my readers had other priorities that took precedence (such as paying work!). In hindsight, I should have taken notice that the two tasks with the largest number of dependencies were also the tasks that required the most work from my collaborators.
Now, though, all the critical pieces are in place, and the book is definitely, finally, trembling on the verge of becoming a reality. And, I must say, when the typeset book arrived, it was absolutely glorious and well worth waiting for.
I've just run the first proofs of the paperbacks, so this is probably a good time to take stock of my spending and income so far. In general, I've given my suppliers whatever they asked for. For example, some of my cover artists wanted upfront payments while others wanted a larger percentage of the net from sales of books with their covers.
Here's a breakdown of the spending on With a Little Help so far:
Cover art: $1,000.
Postage: $200 (for SASEs for people who donated paper ephemera).
Scanning: $627.30 (paid an assistant to scan the ephemera).
Recording studio: $250 (one of my readers needed help with studio rental).
Fonts: $120 (per my typesetter's recommendation).
Galleys: $58.90 (four galleys, one for each cover, plus shipping, from Lulu).
Total expense: $2,256.20
Of course, I've already taken in $10,000 for the commissioned story, so I'm still ahead of the game. I'm ballparking about $500 in additional costs to prototype the limited hardcovers, and then I'm in business. My cover designer, Pablo Defendini (who changed jobs in the middle of this), has already adjusted the spines by a few millimeters to get the alignment right, and I've just finished setting up the next set of proofs with Lulu.com. I don't know how long proofing takes at a traditional publisher, but with Lulu, it's a moderately quick three to five days, depending on whether I'm willing to pay for rush printing and shipping. This gap between setup and proof was made less onerous because Pablo really knows his cover design, and we were able to get it perfect in just two rounds.
Now there is another snag. I'm on the road for my next book tour, going out with my YA novel For the Win, for Tor. I'll be hitting Chicago; Austin, Tex.; Boston; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; San Francisco; New York; and Toronto. I'll be on the road from May 10 to June 6—which means I won't be able to really get into hardcover prototyping until I return to London, mid-June. The handmade hardcovers are the kind of thing that I have to be in town to oversee. Unlike a real publisher, I don't have someone who keeps the project moving while I'm preoccupied or on the road.