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Byron Jennings | TRIUMF | Canada

View Blog | Read Bio

In Defense of Scientism and the Joys of Self-Publishing.

As long-time readers of Quantum Diaries know I have been publishing here for a number of years and this is my 85th and last post[1]. A couple of years ago, I collected the then current collection, titled it “In Defense of Scientism,” after the title of one of the essays, and sent it off to a commercial publisher. Six months later, I got an e-mail from the editor complaining that he had lost the file and only found it by accident, and he somehow inferred that it was my fault. After that experience, it was no surprise he did not publish it.

With all the talk of self-publishing these days, I thought I would give it a try. It is easy, at least compared to finding the Higgs boson! There are a variety of options that give different levels of control, so one can pick and choose preferences – like off an á la carte menu. The simplest form of self-publishing is to go to a large commercial publisher.  The one I found would, for $50.00 USD up front and $12.00 a year, supply print on demand and e-books to a number of suppliers. Not sure that I could recover the costs from the revenue – and being a cheapskate – I decided not to go that route. There are also commissioned alternatives with no upfront costs, but I decided to interact directly with three (maybe four, if I can jump over the humps the fourth has put up) companies.  One of the companies treated their print-on-demand and digital distribution arms as distinct, even to the point of requiring different reimbursement methods. That is the disadvantage of doing it yourself, sorting it all out. The advantage of working directly with the suppliers is more control over the detailed formatting and distribution.

From then on things got fiddly[2], for example, reimbursement. Some companies would only allow payment by electronic fund transfer, others only by check. The weirdest example was one company that did electronic fund transfers unless the book was sold in Brazil or Mexico. In those cases, it is by check but only after $100.00 has been accumulated. One company verified, during account setup, that the fund transfer worked by transferring a small amount, in my case 16 cents. And then of course there are special rules if you earn any money in the USA. For USA earnings there is a 30% withholding tax unless you can document that there is a tax treaty that allows you to get around it. The USA is the only country that requires this. Fine, being an academic, I am used to jumping through hoops.

Next was the question of an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). They are not required but are recommended. That is fine since in Canada you can get them for free. Just as well since each version of the book needs a different number. The paperback needs a different number from the electronic and each different electronic format requires its own number. As I said, it is a good thing it is free. Along with the ISBN, I got a reminder that the Library of Canada requires one copy of each book that sells more than four copies and two copies if it goes over a hundred and of course a separate electronic copy if you publish electronically. Fun, fun, fun[3]. There are other implications of getting you own ISBN number. Some of the publishers would supply an ISBN free of charge but then would put the book out under their own imprint and, in some cases, give wider distribution to those books. But again, getting your own number ultimately gives you more control.

With all this research in hand, it was time to create and format the content. I had the content from the four years’ worth of Quantum Diary posts and all I had to do was put it together and edit for consistency. Actually, Microsoft Word worked quite well with various formatting features to help. I then gave it to my wife to proofread. That was a mistake; she is still laughing at some of the typos. At least there is now an order of magnitude fewer errors. I should also acknowledge the many editorial comments from successive members of the TRIUMF communications team.

The next step was to design the book cover. There comes a point in every researcher’s career when they need support and talent outside of themselves. Originally, I had wanted to superimpose a picture of a model boat on a blackboard of equations. With that vision in mind, I set about the hallways to seek and enroll the talent of a few staff members who could make it happen. After normal working hours, of course. A co-op communication student suggested that the boat be drawn on the blackboard rather than a picture superimposed. The equations were already on a blackboard and are legitimate. The boat was hand drawn by a talented lady in accounting, drawing it first onto an overhead transparency[4] and then projecting it onto a blackboard. A co-op student in the communications team produced the final cover layout according to the various colour codes and margin bleeds dictated by each publisher. For both my own and your sanity, I won’t go into all the details. In the end, I rather like how the cover turned out.

For print-on-demand, they wanted a separate pdf for the cover and for the interior. They sent very detailed instructions so that was no problem. It only took about three tries to get it correct. The electronic version was much more problematic. I wonder if the companies that produce both paper and digital get it right. I suspect not. There is a free version of a program that converts from Word to epub format but the results have some rather subtle errors, like messing up the table of contents. I ended up using one of the digital publisher’s conversion services provided as a free service. If you buy a copy and it looks messed up, I do not want to hear about it.[5] One company (the fourth mentioned above) added a novel twist. I jumped all the hoops related to banking information for wire transfers, did the USA tax stuff and then went to upload the content. Ah, I needed to download a program to upload the content. That should not have been a problem but it ONLY runs on their hardware. The last few times I used their hardware it died prematurely so they can stuff it.

Now, several months after I started the publishing process, I have jumped through all the hoops! All I have to do is lay back and let the money roll in so I can take early retirement. Well, at my age, early retirement is no longer a priori possible but at least I hope to get enough money to buy the people who helped me prepare the book a coffee. So everyone, please rush out and buy a copy. Come on, at least one of you.

As a final point, you may wonder why there is a drawing of a boat on the cover of a book about the scientific method. Sorry, to find out you will have to read the book. But I will give you a hint. It is not that I like to go sailing. I get seasick.

To receive a notice of my blogs and other writing follow me on Twitter: @musquod.

[1] I know, I have promised this before, but his time trust me. I am not like Lucy in the Charlie Brown cartoons pulling the football away.

[2] Epicurus, who made the lack of hassle the greatest good, would not have approved.

[3] Reminds me of an old Beach Boys song.

[4] An old overhead projector was found in a closet.

[5] Hey! We got through an entire conversation about formatting and word processing software without mentioning LaTeX despite me having been the TRIUMF LaTeX guru before I went over to the dark side and administration.

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