Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 6

Early in 2017 I was asked to give presentations on “How to Self-Publish on CreateSpace at No Cost.” This is a program I’ve been giving since 2010, and I update it each year, mainly because CreateSpace makes changes each year and I want the program to reflect those changes.

Each time I give the program, I use screenshots from my own books, so that people can see the decisions I had to make on CreateSpace. But in 2017 I decided I would do something different — something that might benefit those attending the presentation even more.

Self-Pub copy

Instead of showing how I use my own template (which I prefer), and instead of showing them the beautiful covers that Robin Koontz created for my books, I decided I would actually publish a book using the CreateSpace template. And I would make my own cover using CreateSpace’s Cover Creator.

This would more closely approximate the experience that most people who use CreateSpace encounter: they use the CreateSpace template, and they use Cover Creator.

There was just one problem.

I had no manuscript to publish.

What, oh what, could I do?

The answer came to me suddenly. I could take 20 or 30 of my blogs, format them, and publish a book.

It took me not quite two weeks to decide which of my 60-some blogs I would select, to put them in order, and then to write an introduction to the book. I titled the book almost instantly, based on a reference to one of my blogs.

Because my “blog book” wouldn’t be a large one, I chose a smaller sized template than I had been using. Instead of 6”x9”, I went with the 5”x8” size. Instead of creating my own 5”x8” template, I downloaded that size from CreateSpace. Then I pasted my manuscript into the template.

I inserted a header and also a footer, and I wrote the front matter and inserted a table of contents. This took me perhaps one full day, mainly because I spent some time experimenting with type size and page breaks and such.

Once my book was ready, I uploaded it to CreateSpace, which informed me that I could proceed to Cover Creator while the CS automated system checked my manuscript for errors.

Cover Creator offers 30 different cover choices. I picked one, and I searched through the CreateSpace data base for a photo of a boat, to go with my title, Xenia Steered the Boat. I found absolutely no photos of boats.

So I asked my friend Sandy Katz if I could use part of one of her paintings. Sandy generously said yes, and she sent me a JPEG of the boat painting I wanted. I uploaded her art to Cover Creator and was very pleased with the results.

But I wasn’t all that happy with the five choices of font Cover Creator gave me for the book title and author name. In fact, I outright rejected three of the five choices. Then I had to decide which of the two remaining ones was less objectionable. The font I really wanted had poor leading: the second line of the title ran into the first line of the title. I called CreateSpace and spoke to a customer service person about changing the leading on the typeface I wanted, but she informed me that this was not possible. So I opted for my second choice, which was an all-capitals title. Not my fave, but definitely acceptable.

Xenia

I took screenshots of the entire process and made a huge update to my presentation.

After I “approved” the cover I had created, CreateSpace asked me to look at my book online. Which I did, catching no mistakes. But I also ordered a softcover copy of the book before publication, and I’m glad I did, because when the book arrived, something I hadn’t noticed in the online copy leaped out at me on the physical copy — my left-hand margins were a quarter-inch larger than my right-hand margins!

How this happened, I have No. Idea. Something makes me think the error was somehow related to the CreateSpace template I downloaded. Perhaps. Perhaps not. I went back into the template and made the left-hand and right-hand margins equal. Then for good measure I proofread the book one more time. And then I uploaded again. And proofread online. And ordered one more physical copy.

When that copy arrived, I went through it page by page. And then I hit the Publish button and my tenth self-published book entered the world.

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Xenia Steered the Boat: Thoughts on Writing is a collection of Barbara Gregorich’s blogs on writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s books.

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 5

After publishing my first volume of poetry, I turned to the exacting task of constructing Volume 2 of Research Notes for Women at Play. Just as with Volume 1, I first created a template and then typed my book into that template. (For all my other books, I wrote the book first and then pasted the manuscript into a blank template.)

There was so much formatting involved with all three volumes of Research Notes that I just felt more comfortable doing everything in the template itself, thus decreasing the chance that I would create some inadvertent error if I were to transfer the manuscript to the template.

GregorichRNNotesIIKindleCoverI published Research Notes for Women at Play, Volume 2, in July of 2013. It was my second self-published book of that year, and my seventh self-published book since early 2010.

Not long after publishing Volume 2, I was hit with a desire to write a book on how to write a mystery novel. I’ve been reading mysteries since I was eleven years old, and mysteries account for perhaps 50% of all the books I read. As an avid reader, I find that over the years I’ve developed annoyances at certain things I encounter in some mystery novels — and if I encounter them, I do not continue to read that author’s books.

I’ve published two mystery novels, and while writing my second one, Sound Proof, I created charts and graphs. These allowed me to track the appearance of minor characters, track their motives, and always be aware of where all the characters were within the setting. I drew a diagram of the farm and buildings where the action took place. I made certain that the minor-character villain was present often enough to register on the reader’s consciousness. I tracked all the elements important to developing plot, character, tension, and resolution.

One day (who knows why) I was struck by a desire to explain some of the things a mystery writer should consider in order to write a mystery that doesn’t cheat, doesn’t sound improbable, and doesn’t annoy the reader. So, pulling out all my saved materials for Sound Proof, I wrote a 25-chapter outline for my to-be nonfiction book and then, week by week, wrote the manuscript. And, because most of the books I’ve written are not mysteries, the guide contains a lot of information on writing in general. (Reviews have pointed this out.)

Let me digress a moment to say that one of the truly wonderful things about self-publishing (and there are many) is that it allows writers to publish books that, because they have a small market, are unlikely to be picked up by a traditional publisher. All three volumes of Research Notes serve as an example. Th existence of high-quality self-publishing also allows writers to self-publish books that are unlikely to sell to a traditional publisher because the author isn’t a big enough name. My how-to serves as an example. I felt that traditional publishers might like my manuscript, but wouldn’t take a chance on publishing it. I love that I was able to publish it myself.

COVER-WITH-TEMPLATE

And now back to the process of self-publishing my how-to. With this how-to, which would become my eight self-published book, I ran into a word-processing roadblock. Fitting all the charts and graphs into my 6”x9” template proved impossible: there was something about Apple’s Pages program that didn’t allow a long chart (three pages long, say) to flow from one page to another. Instead, I had to chop the chart into pieces that would fit on each page. And even then, I couldn’t make it work. So, as before, I asked friend Robin Koontz if I could hire her to format the document. Robin agreed, producing a publication-ready template — but even she thought it was difficult to do.

Of all the titles I’ve come up with for my self-published books, this one is my favorite: Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies. The title promises information, lots of examples, and humor. The book, I think, delivers those things.

Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies, was published in October of 2014. It soon became my best-selling self-published book. To this day, Guide battles with Jack and Larry for the number one position in my monthly sales.

After I published Guide in 2014, I dove into the work of publishing the final volume of Research Notes to Women at Play. I self-published the first volume in 2010, and the third in October of 2015.

BookCoverNotesCoverIII-FINALIf you’ve been reading these posts on my self-publishing adventures, you may remember that I intended to donate my thousands of pages of research notes to the Baseball Hall of Fame . . . but then I got the brilliant idea of self-publishing a portion of the notes.

So, after the third volume was finally published, I began to organize my notes, so that I could deliver them to the BHOF in a neat order. I began in November, 2015, and I finished in July, 2016. The project was a big one. I delivered the notes in August, 2016. And then I spent the rest of the year catching up on what I had neglected while organizing the notes. So I did no self-publishing in 2016.

In fact, I thought it was unlikely that I’d self-publish anything for two or three years. But such was not the case.

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Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies vies with Jack and Larry for best-selling of Barbara Gregorich’s self-published books.

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 4

After I self-published two books in 2010 and another two in 2011, I planned to make Volume 2 of Research Notes my fifth self-published book, to come out in 2012. It was still my intention to donate all my research notes to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but I couldn’t do that until I finished publishing all three volumes.

As it turned out, I realized that instead of publishing Volume 2, I would end up self-publishing a totally different kind of book, though a baseball-related one. Jack and Larry is a nonfiction crossover (Ages 10 – Adult) book I had hoped a traditional publisher would offer me a contract on. I had been trying to get Jack and Larry published for more than three years. Editors told me they liked it . . . but they didn’t offer to publish it. Based on the personalized rejection letters I received, editors didn’t want to take a chance on a story set in Cleveland, Ohio: they didn’t consider that as exciting or as big a market as New York or Los Angeles. And some felt that the story should center on either Jack Graney or on Larry, his bull terrier — but not on both.

February 2012 would mark the 100th anniversary of Larry joining the Cleveland major league baseball team, then called the Cleveland Naps. By late summer of 2011 I realized that if I wanted the book out for that 100th anniversary, I would have to self-publish it.

And so I did.

BookCover5_5x8_5_Jack and Larry-FINAL-FINAL

Somewhere around late 2011 CreateSpace developed templates for all of its book sizes. (Lulu had had such templates all along.) So now it was possible for a user to download a template and paste her manuscript into it. In other words, she didn’t have to create her own template. I downloaded a CS template — but I wasn’t happy with either their default margins or their default typeface. Rather than change the CS template, I figured it would be easier to use my own 6″x9” template.

What I didn’t figure on was how difficult it would be for me to create the screened sidebars that appeared on some of the pages. Jack and Larry is written in free verse (also called lined prose), but some pieces of information appear in prose sidebars. Either because I couldn’t master Pages back in late 2011, or because it wasn’t possible to create pages of free verse with screened sidebars back in 2011, I asked Robin Koontz if she would like to design the book interior. Robin was willing to try, and she designed a beautiful looking interior — as well as an attention-grabbing, heart-warming cover.

J&LPg2

This page contains both a free-verse poem and a screened sidebar.

I published Jack and Larry early in 2012, so that it was out for the 100th anniversary of Larry joining the Cleveland Naps. The book received numerous reviews in baseball publications and bull terrier publications and became my best-selling self-published book. I have spoken on Jack and Larry in Ohio, Illinois, and Canada, and presented the story to middle-grade and junior-high school students. Even now, more than five years after its publication, I am still asked to give presentations on the story. Had I not self-published this book on the 100th anniversary of the event, I think it would never have been published. Timeliness of publication is a very strong argument for much self-publishing.

Because I spent all of 2012 giving talks on Jack and Larry, traveling, and publicizing the book in many different ways, it was the only book I self-published that year.

So, then: would I self-publish a sixth book in 2013? And would it be Volume 2 of Research Notes?

Yes. And No.

Either because I enjoyed writing the free verse in Jack and Larry, or because I loved the 6″x9” format, or for some reason still unknown to me — I decided to start 2013 by self-publishing my first collection of poetry.

Cover-with-Template

Because this book contained only poetry (no sidebars, as in Jack and Larry), I was able to format it myself. And even though CreateSpace now offered templates, I still continued to create my own, rather than download and modify theirs. (This would change when I self-published my tenth book.) Once again I duplicated my trusty 6″x9” template and pasted the pages of my manuscript within.

For this book, unlike any of the others, I wanted no header or footer information except for the page numbers. That is, I didn’t want my name or the title of the book to appear on the pages. My reasoning was that such information would, in one way or another, interfere with the lines of poetry. In addition to not wanting headers or footers to interfere with the poems, I also didn’t want the page numbers to interfere. So I made certain that the page numbers were in much smaller type, and that they appeared in the far-right corner of each page: where the lines of poetry were least likely to run into them.

Crossing the Skyway was my sixth self-published book. By this time I was thoroughly enjoying not only the writing of the books, but also designing and publishing them. I was finding (and continue to find) self-publishing rewarding on many different levels: immediacy; control of design; control of pricing; higher royalties; and, especially, collaboration between writer and designer. I enjoyed going through the cover design process with Robin Koontz, who not only was interested in how I “saw” the cover, but who also (because she read each manuscript), had her own ideas from a reader’s and designer’s perspective. From the very beginning, I found self-publishing to be a very rewarding process.

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In Jack and Larry the Cleveland Indians win the World Series.

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 2

When I first considered self-publishing, what I was thinking of were manuscripts which, for one reason or another, would have taken years to find a home with a traditional publisher. So I was thinking of books I had already written. Or perhaps had not written yet, but soon would.

I was not, I assure you, thinking of going into my file cabinets, pulling out thousands of pages of research notes, and publishing them. Yet that’s what happened.

The existence of easy self-publishing through CreateSpace is what made me even think about publishing a collection of research notes. As a result of all my research on the history of women who played baseball, I had thousands of pages of information in my file cabinet. My original intention was to get all these notes in good order and then donate them to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

sc004dc527Which I would have done back in 2010 had self-publishing not come into my life. Because one day, as I was eyeing the stuffed file drawers, trying to figure out how and when I would put them in order, a thought crossed my mind. Two thoughts, actually: (1) Might baseball researchers, historians, teachers of the research paper, and others be interested in some of these notes? (2) If so, why couldn’t I self-publish the ones that were public domain (1923 or earlier)?

I was so excited by the possibility of this venture that I immediately sat on the floor in front of my file cabinet and began sorting. It soon became clear that, unless I wanted to publish a 500-page book (I did not), I would have to divide the notes into at least two volumes. Digging deeper into the files, I realized that three volumes allowed for a more logical division of the materials. Okay, then: I would self-publish three volumes of research notes!

Shoving future volumes two and three aside, I collected all the papers that would go into volume one and heaped them on my computer table. The stack was about 18 inches high.

The next day, I looked at CreateSpace book sizes again and decided that I wanted a bigger size than 6×9”, so that I could have wide margins in which people could write, and so that the book might more easily lie open. I chose the 8″x10” format and then created a document that size in my word processing — thankful that I had learned how to create such a format for my first self-published book. (See Adventures, Part 1.) CreateSpace at this time (2010) still did not offer format templates. Because I knew not only how to create a specific page size, but also how to change page margins, I ended up with a template that was 8 inches wide, with a 1-inch inside margin and a 1-inch outside margin. Because many of the newspaper articles were quoted in full and thus indented even more, readers usually saw a 1.25-inch margin.

Left Page V1              Right Page V1

From that time on (February, 2010) until early October, I daily typed notes into my 8×10 template. This was tedious work, not because the notes were uninteresting (some of them were quite lively reports from old newspaper articles), but because I had to create many headers and sub-headers and develop a style for the newspaper reproductions. In short, I was making design decisions as I created the book, entry by entry.

By October of 2010 my book was ready. Robin Koontz designed the cover for me, and in early November of 2010 I self-published Research Notes for Women at Play, Volume 1. Although both Robin and I knew there would be more than one volume of Research Notes, and although both of us knew that the CreateSpace POD process did not allow for printing on the spine of books that were fewer than 175 pages in length — neither of us anticipated something that would turn out to be a problem when I started to work on Volume 2. More about that in a later blog.

 

First Cover, V1

Cover design by Robin Koontz

This time around I was able to conquer the alternating headers problem: my left-hand pages contain the title of the book, my right-hand pages contain the names of the main players in Volume 1. But this time around I decided to put this information in the footers, not in the headers. My reasoning here was that information at the top of the page could interfere with the reader’s concentration.  The fact that I didn’t know how to create different left- and right-hand headers/footers with my first book, but was able to do it with my second, made me giddy with happiness!

If you recall, my goal was to format my second self-published book in three weeks or less. As it turned out, the process for my second book took longer than three weeks. In fact, it took eight months — but that’s because I was creating the manuscript as I went along. With She’s on First, the manuscript had been created years ago: my job was simply to format it. With Volume 1, creation, design, and formatting took place at one and the same time. This is a much slower process than pasting an existent manuscript into a template.

Also, this time around I did not use the New Pentium typeface that I had used in She’s on First. Initially I chose Palatino because I think it’s a beautiful, very readable typeface (with no problems when it comes to italics or Arabic numerals). But somewhere along the line I realized that Palatino is also a rather large typeface. I experimented with changing my document from Palatino to Times New Roman.

The result was mildly astonishing: my 8×10” book was reduced from 123 manuscript pages to 112 manuscript pages. At no cost in legibility. The reduction in page size helped me keep the price of the book at $12. (I would have preferred charging $10, but with the cuts taken by both CreateSpace and Amazon, my income per book would have been too low.)

A few days after publication I created a PDF of the document and self-published Volume 1 as a Kindle ebook. (More about PDFs as ebooks in a later blog.)

My Formatting Accomplishments
•  Created an 8″x10” Template
•  Created Wide Page Margins
•  Inserted Distinct Footers for Left- and Right-Hand Pages
•  Chose a Problem-Free Font
•  Designed the Interior with Consistent Headers and Sub-Headers
•  Decreased Total Page Count by Choosing a Different Font

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Research Notes for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, Volume 1 not only reports the stories of 19th century female ballplayers, it sets the stage for the dramatic intersections of these stories in Volume 3.

How I Wrote a Book in 92 Days

After She’s on First was published in 1987, I spent more than a year avoiding writing a nonfiction book on women who played baseball. Finally, toward the end of 1988, I decided I would write such a book. It would, I figured, take me a year to do all the research.

Ha!

It took four years of daily research, travel, and interviews before I felt I had enough material to tell the story of 100 years of women playing baseball. In 1992 my agent sold my book proposal to Harcourt — and Harcourt gave me 92 days in which to write the manuscript.

After I wrote the manuscript, I wrote an article about the 92-day experience. “How I Wrote a Book in 92 Days” was published in the 1994 Writer’s Yearbook. I’m reprinting the article below.

sc004dc527
Truth may not be stranger than fiction, but it certainly is faster. I needed two full years to write my first book, a novel about a female baseball player. Writing the novel led to what eventually became my fourth book, the real story of women who played baseball. After I developed a proposal for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, my agent submitted it.

On Sunday, July 12, 1992, my agent, Jane Jordan Browne, called from her office to say that a 19-page sample contract had arrived from Harcourt Brace Company via fax, and that while she was negotiating and modifying the contract, I should know that I had only until October 15, 1992, to write the manuscript. According to editor John Radziewicz, this was a “drop-dead” deadline.

Elated at the contract, but stunned by the deadline, I counted the squares on my wall calendar. Exactly ninety-five of them from Monday, July 13 through Thursday, October 15. But three of them were filled with day-long events, leaving me ninety-two days to write a 50,000-word book and collect at least fifty photographs of female baseball players.

No time to panic or complain. That very Sunday I sat down and figured it out, day by day. The 27 chapters listed in my proposal (each chapter containing two, three, or four sidebars) were organized into four sections, each with an introduction. Counting each introduction as a chapter, I had 31 chapters. This gave me a smidgen less than three days to write each chapter and its accompanying sidebars. That night I went to sleep knowing the next morning was critical: I would start off right and keep on schedule.



Monday, July 13 , Day 1 — My schedule calls for me to write from 7:30 A.M. until 2:00 P.M., exercise from 2:00 until 3:30, answer correspondence, return phone calls, and run errands from 3:30 until 6:00, and then write again from 6:00 until … whenever.

At 7:42 A.M. I face the computer and begin Chapter 2. (Chapter 1, the sample chapter of my book proposal, is written, so I’m three days ahead of schedule already!) Chapter 2 is the shortest in the book and I finish it by 7:30 P.M. of Day 1. Hot damn!

Later, I type a long list of possible photos and their probable sources for Sharon Johnson, a friend who works as my research assistant five hours a week.

Monday, July 20 , Day 7— Chapter 4 completed, I place it in a green file folder that I nestle into a bright yellow pocket folder. Four of the yellow pockets sit on a shelf, each representing one section of Women at Play. On the two shelves above the yellow pockets sit eight linear feet of folders stuffed with photocopies of old newspaper articles, letters, diaries, and notes from baseball books — the history of women in baseball, 1872 to the present, and the product of my research so far.

Tuesday, July 28 , Day 15 — After reading comments on Section One from Jane and from my husband, Phil Passen, I rewrite the six chapters and introduction. By 9:15 P.M., I’m printing out the last of the rewritten chapters and am an amazing six days ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, August 12 , Day 30— Late in the evening I finish Chapter 10. The sidebars are fun: I write them first because they serve as a warmup to the chapter.

But Section Two is turning out longer than I thought. Worried about keeping the manuscript to a reasonable size, I consider deleting a chapter from Section Three and another from Section Four. I make no decision.

imagesTuesday, August 18 , Day 36 — At 7:00 A.M. I launch into the introduction for Section Two. Around 11:30, I break for lunch. As I’m eating a slice of pizza, I hear a loud Crack and feel something dreadfully wrong in my mouth.

I have broken my upper left bicuspid (tooth number twelve, I later learn). Some pain, but not much. Returning to the computer, I finish writing the introduction. I work until 2:00, as scheduled. At 2:01 I call the dentist, who tells me to come in at 4:30.

Thursday, August 20 , Day 38 — By the time I rewrite chapters 7-12, write the cover letter, make copies, and mail Section Two, I’m three days ahead of schedule.

Saturday, August 22 — Today doesn’t count: it’s the third of the Chicago White Sox 1992 seminars on women in baseball and I’m one of the speakers. Phil’s birthday is August 24, but we go out to celebrate tonight. It feels wonderful to have a whole day off.

Monday, August 24 , Day 41 — At approximately 9:30 P.M., as we’re lying in bed, we hear a strange sound — thousands of gallons of water rushing down the heating-cooling duct that runs behind my desk and in front of my fax machine.

Water flows down the walls: in the office, the bedroom, the baths, and the foyer. Working frantically, we move machines and boxes off the floor and out of my office. We sling old towels on the sodden carpeting and stomp on them: they turn yellowish-green from the coolant-filled water. A condo maintenance person with a wet vac arrives around 11:30 and begins extracting water. He informs us that a coupling in the air conditioning pipes broke in the unit above us.

At 12:15 we fall into bed, utterly exhausted. Phil moans, “Why did this have to happen on my birthday?” I moan, “Why did this have to happen during my book?”

large-paper-stack1Wednesday, August 26 — This is not a writing day. Sharon and I meet for breakfast and she shows me photos of female ballplayers. We then drive to Rockford, Illinois, where we read 1943-54 microfilmed newspaper articles on the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Baseball League. Exhausted, we drive home.

The carpet cleaners have come and gone, leaving disinfected carpet and three huge blower fans in their wake. Unfortunately, they have also stacked bookcases, chairs, and boxes of computer paper in the kitchen. Phil is out of town. I spend 45 minutes hauling boxes and bookcases out of the kitchen.

It will be a miracle if I finish writing Section Three on time.

Monday, August 31, Day 47 — I now see that two of the final six chapters won’t work. Rewriting my outline, I end up with 25 chapters instead of 27, the two former chapters becoming sidebars. I feel confident that the final outline works. In addition, it makes up for some of my lost time. In the evening I begin to write Chapter 13.

Tuesday, September 8, Day 55— Tackling Chapter 16, I recognize that in order to finish the manuscript on time, I must spend more hours of the day writing. Reluctantly I jettison exercising and cooking dinner.

Civility is the next to go. When telephone solicitors call and ask how I am, I growl, “Call me after October 15” into the phone and hang up.

Wednesday, September 16, Day 63— Chapter 18 is looking good, but lack of exercise is making me tired. I’m sick of home-delivery food. Sharon started medical-technician school full-time yesterday and tells me that she can’t even make phone calls while at school. It appears that I’ll have to finish the remaining photo research by myself.

Despite everything, I wake up eager to write. The good feeling usually vanishes by 4:30 P.M. — then resolve alone keeps me going.

Tuesday, September 29, Day 76— Another long, late day. I begin at 7:45 A.M. and finish at 9:15 P.M. But I complete the rewrite of the third and longest section. I’m now two days behind schedule.

Wednesday, September 30, Day 77— The home stretch. I confront Chapter 22. Every day I spend two hours making calls to procure photos. Instead of filing each piece of paper as it crosses my desk, I toss everything into a huge cardboard box. Come October 16, I’ll regret the mess I’ve created, but right now I’m probably gaining 20 or 30 minutes of writing time a day.

Sunday, October 11, Day 88— The knowledge that this is the last weekend of my ordeal enables me to start writing at 9:00 A.M. and continue all day until 10:30 P.M., wrapping up Chapter 24. Victory is in sight.

Wednesday, October 14, Day 91— Adrenalin kicks in. I write the introduction to Section Four and then rewrite it. In the evening I curl up on the couch with Chapters 22-25 and go through them with a red pen, making changes.

Thursday, October 15, Day 92— I start work at 6:30 A.M. Five hours later, the last rewritten chapter curls out from the printer. I’m euphoric. I call Jane to tell her I finished. I’m on a roll. I call John to tell him I finished and the final section is on its way via Federal Express.

It would be comforting to think that my 92-day writing marathon, replete with minor and major catastrophes, is an abnormality, something that won’t happen again. And frankly, if I stick to writing fiction, it may not. The truth is, however, that the writing of truth is changing.

Thanks to new computer technology allowing for use of the author’s “captured keystrokes” and for design of the book and production of page proofs in a matter of days, and thanks to the competitiveness of the market place on hot topics, more and more nonfiction books will be produced in a shorter time. Under such circumstances, publishers want the author to write the book in less than a year — in three months, even.

I was able to meet my “drop-dead” deadline and live to tell about it, but only because I developed a schedule that put me on track to complete specific chapters by specific dates. Writing to schedule made me write faster and produce more. When really pressed, I was able to write a chapter in two days and, on two occasions, one day. As a result, I was able to complete a book I had spent years researching. Sort of like a utility player who, when called in to play shortstop during a crucial game, comes through because she knows the fundamentals — and applies them.

__________________

In August 2016 Barbara Gregorich donated her thousands of pages of research materials to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. But many of the notes are available in book form, in Research Notes for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball — Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3.

The Index: A Nonfiction Tool

I’m not sure when I first learned what an index was, but I suspect it was when my tenth grade English teacher required each member of the class to write a small research paper. My subject was Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who set John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg. Once I realized there were no books on Dr. Mudd in the local library, I felt great dismay, thinking I would have to read many, many books on the Civil War and Lincoln in the hope of finding a mention of Mudd in some of them.

But then, sitting in the library, thumbing through one of the Lincoln books, I noticed something called an Index at the back of the book. In a single glance I inferred what the index provided: an alphabetical list of names, places, and subject matter within the book, with a page number detailing where each mention occurred.

Eureka! I wouldn’t have to read countless books after all, tediously combing through each for a crumb of information. All I really had to do was check the indexes of countless books and read only the chapters (I never read only the pages) in which Dr. Mudd appeared.

Future experiences, especially once I was in college, elevated my appreciation of the index as a nonfiction tool — one that allowed a peruser or a researcher to understand the topics (and the depth of the topics) within each book. Yes, a table of contents should give the reader a general idea of the topics covered, but only an index shows the details of those topics.

sc004dc527Take my best-known nonfiction title, Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. The table of contents tells the reader that in the section titled “The League Years” I have a chapter titled “Rose Gacioch,” which starts on page 114 and ends on page 120.

But the index references Rose Gacioch in the following manner (with italicized numbers refering to photos):

Gacioch, Rose, 114-20
    All Star Ranger Girls and, 35, 73, 74-75, 115
    retirement, 120
    Rockford Peaches and, 115, 116, 118-19, 135, 138
    South Bend Blue Sox and, 116

Simply by skimming this index information, the reader might infer that Rose Gacioch played for the All Star Ranger Girls, the Rockford Peaches and (perhaps) the South Bend Blue Sox. She did in fact play for all three teams. If somebody researching Rose Gacioch used only the table of contents, they would read pages 114-120 — and would miss the fact that significant information on Gacioch appears in two other chapters, neither of them in “The League Years” and neither of them titled “Rose Gacioch.” Not consulting an index can lead researchers to false assumptions and less information than if they had used the index.

When I teach nonfiction writing, I find that some people in the class don’t know what an index is. They think it’s a table of contents. When shown an index, they appear perplexed, as if they’ve never seen one in their lives. I don’t know how or why this happens: perhaps they have never searched a nonfiction book for information of any kind. This ignorance of indexes extends to search engines such as Google Images: type in “book index” and you’ll see photos of both indexes and tables of content, as if they were one and the same.

In Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies, a reader can look at the table of contents and see that I divide the topic into 25 chapters. Dialogue is one of those chapters, and the table of contents shows that Dialogue begins on page 163 and ends on page 172.

But wait. Look at the index. Under “Dialogue” the indexer provided the following information:

Dialogue
    avoiding exposition in, 150-151
    character development and, 163-168
    oblique revelations through, 168-171
    plot advancement through, 171-172
    without conflict, 90-92

This breakdown of the dialogue topics I wrote about gives a reader so much more information than does a chapter title. For one thing, the five subheads tell the reader some of the suggestions I make in regard to writing dialogue. They also indicate that I discuss dialogue outside the chapter entitled “Dialogue.” Specifically, I write about it on pages 150-151 and also on pages 90-92.

An index that works the way it’s supposed to work is somewhat forgettable. That is, the reader uses the index, is pleased with it, and continues with his or her research, giving the index not a second thought . . . until she needs to find something again and can’t remember where it was in the book. But when an index doesn’t work well — when it’s too shallow (not enough subheads), too ludicrously machine-made (words, not concepts) — the reader definitely notices. I have refused to buy books whose indexes look shallow and lack levels of indexing. In this, I’m not alone: many nonfiction readers refuse to buy books that have no indexes or poor indexes.

If you aren’t already a fan of indexes, learn to be one — you’ll soon find that the index is an indispensable tool for nonfiction books.

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Sharon Sliter Johnson created the index for two of Barbara Gregorich’s books: Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball and Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies.

Cooperstown Bound: Third Time’s a Trip

Last month Phil and I made our third trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The first two trips were mainly pleasure trips in which we saw and enjoyed baseball history as preserved and presented by the Hall. The third trip was part pleasure, but mostly business — its main purpose was to turn over to the Library of the BHOF all of my thousands of pages of research notes on women in baseball, and also on Jack Graney and his bull terrier Larry, mascot of the Cleveland major league team 1912-17. (You can read about Jack Graney here.)

By donating these research notes to the NBHOF I will be making them accessible to researchers all over the world. Some of them, such as old newspaper clippings, can be found elsewhere by diligent research (though in separate places around the world, not all filed together as they are in my notes). But others, such as my interviews with Joe Dellacqua, Mary Gilroy Hockenberry, Wilma Briggs, Dottie Collins, and dozens of others, are unique: they can’t be found anywhere else except, now, the Library of the NBHOF.

Truth be told, I’m delighted that the NBHOF Library wants these research notes and will make them accessible to all. Donating them allows me to help others. After 28 years, it also relieves me of the responsibility of answering researchers’ questions about women in baseball between 1883 and 1993. Being relieved allows me to go forward with other projects and interests.

I started my research at the beginning of 1988 and finished in July of 1992, the same month I signed a contract with Harcourt Brace to publish Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. The contract gave me a mere 92 days to write the book, and another three weeks after that to write the credits, captions, and permissions. The book was published in March, 1993.

During my four years of research, I created categories for what I was discovering. I kept my files in order, each sheet of paper within the proper file folder, each folder within the proper pocket, each pocket in the correct chronological order. But when I was confronted with a 92-day deadline in which to write a 50,000 word book that contained 99 photos, order rapidly disintegrated. Each day I worked from 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.— writing, rewriting, then rewriting once again. Under these circumstances, I had neither the time, the energy, or the interest to correctly refile all the notes I was frantically pulling out of various files each time I needed to check my facts.

By the time Women at Play was published in 1993, my files were . . . let’s just say they were no longer in order. And the very day the book was reviewed in The New York Times (March 4, 1993), I started receiving more information to supplement what I already knew. And the piles of new information I received were molehills compared to the mountains of questions I received via email, all of them inquiries about particular players, dates, games, etc. Each day for a couple of years I dug deep into my notes in order to answer questions . . . what had been a jumble grew into a sprawling mess.

IMG_3137As I accumulated even more information and more notes, I stored file boxes in the storage locker . . . under the bed . . . in the exercise room . . . and of course in my office.

After the NBHOF Library asked if I would be willing to donate my research notes, and I agreed to do so, I chose a year in which I would turn my files over: Summer, 2016. At that time I didn’t know how many file boxes I would end up with. At least three, I was certain, and maybe seven. That’s why I scheduled my file-collecting work to start in November 2015, so that I would have from seven to nine months to get the files in order.

I finished the first file box toward the end of November. I finished the second toward the end of December. I was on a roll! I would finish by the end of March or April and take the rest of the spring and summer off!

But then life, as usual, intervened. In late December of 2015 I was asked by the Private Eye Writers of America if I was willing to be a judge for the Best First Private Eye Novel Award, to be presented at the Bouchercon in September 2016 — judges’ votes due May 31, 2016. I said yes, thinking that the reading of first private eye novels would not take too much of my time.

IMG_3350Such was not the case. Even though there were only 20-some books to read and evaluate, the fact is that reading and evaluating takes more than twice as long as merely reading. So I didn’t finish the third file box until the end of February, 2016. But as I finished that particular box, I could see light at the end of the tunnel. First, I could see that my remaining research notes would occupy two more file boxes: no more. From the vantage point of February, I thought I could finish the last two boxes by mid-June.

Confession time. As I organized my files for the NBHOF, if I encountered any difficulties, I immediately shoved the difficulties aside, telling myself I would deal with them at the end of the project. Gotta keep things moving forward, you know. Which means that putting Box #4 together was a lot more difficult than putting Boxes 1 and 2 together: many of the things I shoved aside had to be decided upon by the fourth box. So I didn’t finish the fourth file box until mid-June.

Our hotel reservations for Cooperstown were set for late August, and I had already set a date of delivering the files to the Library on August 22. After I finished Box #4, I had nine weeks left in which to start and finish the fifth (final!) box.

Box #5 was the most time-consuming of all, because it contained my interview notes. For most of the interviews I had conducted between 1988 and 1992, I immediately typed the notes after I finished the interviews. While I spoke to the person, I took handwritten notes. When we finished talking, I swiveled my chair from my desk to my computer, opened a new word processing file on my Mac, and typed everything into a document. I would say that I did this for almost 90% of my interviews. But there were a few interviews, conducted late in the game, perhaps while I was writing the manuscript, that I never typed up at all.

IMG_4483Back when I was typing the interview notes, spellcheck did not exist. So any typos I made stayed in the document and  in  its subsequent upgrades to new word processing programs. I didn’t want to present notes full of typos to the NBHOF: so my main job in putting together the interview notes was to run each document through spellcheck. And then to standardize the documents’ margins, pagination, and typefaces, so that they would look like they were part of a set.

Of course I had to type up the handwritten interview notes that had somehow escaped my standard procedure twenty-eight years ago. Box #5 took longer than I thought it would — but I finished it before the end of July, 2016.

And on August 22, 2016, I delivered the five boxes to the BHOF Library.

I don’t know yet what my next book will be.

I do know that whatever it is, I will not accumulate thousands of pages of notes on it!

______________________

Some of Barbara Gregorich’s research notes (those covering the years from 1875 to 1934) can be found in Volumes 1, 2, and 3 of Research Notes for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball.