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Tuesday, 23 October 2007
My long, strange road to becoming a published novelist (Part III) by Mark Chapman
Topic: Author Interview


(This entry is a continuation of one on author David Boultbee's blog. Click here to return to Part II.)

By 1995, the size of the online books I was writing had grown to more than 600 pages in total, a large percentage of them about OS/2. I counted and found that I had accumulated nearly 800 OS/2-related Q&As. By then, I'd noticed that a number of IBMers had written books about IBM products, including OS/2. So I checked and found that as long as I didn't reveal any confidential information I was free to write a book about OS/2 myself. And because I'd written all those Q&As myself, there was no reason I couldn't use them in a book.

So I wrote to the two biggest publishers of books on operating system software at the time, Sam's and McGraw-Hill. Sam's wrote back and said that they had all the OS/2 books they needed just then. McGraw-Hill replied that they were interested. They asked for an outline of the book and some sample chapters.

I didn't have any finished chapters written, so I organized a bunch of Q&As from the online book into chapters of related information (installation questions, printing questions, and so on). I wrote back that it was a concept document, rather than a finished manuscript and submitted it.

Within two weeks, they offered me a contract for the book, but I had to have it finished in 2 ½ months. I agreed and returned the contract. Then it dawned on me that I had just agreed to write an entire book in 10 weeks. True, I had 800 Q&As ready to go, but they all needed to be edited and formatted for the book so that everything hung together.

While doing all this, I quickly realized that while I had a ton of Q&As already written, they'd been written individually, haphazardly, rather than as part of an organized whole, and there were many gaps in the content. There were plenty of questions a reader might ask that either hadn't come up in support phone calls, or were so basic the support person didn't need to consult the database for an answer. So I found myself having to write more than 200 new Q&As to fill in the gaps, even as I edited and formatted the existing ones. Plus, to make the book less dry, I tried to find computer jokes and humorous true stories about computers with which to start off each chapter. This turned out well, but took a considerable amount of additional time to find and edit.

My wife graciously offered to help with the typing and formatting, which freed me up to do the new writing. Before I knew it, I was almost done. I still had two weeks in my deadline, and only a week or so of work left to finish the first draft. So, naturally, that's when everything blew up in my face.

This was back in the days when most people backed up their work to floppies (tape drives and Zip drives were expensive and rewritable CDs didn't exist yet). One day I decided to delete the backup files from my floppy so I could copy all the individual chapter files onto it in numerical order, to make it easier to find things. Through a comedy of errors, I managed to delete not only the backup files, but also most of the originals off the hard drive! (So much for me being the computer expert....)

I had two weeks left until my deadline and it looked like I'd have to start from scratch. In those days, there was no automatic backup of files on the hard drive, and no Undelete command. Something like a dozen chapters of my book were simply gone.

Gulp! So now what? Find out if I saved my book and made my deadline here in the next segment of the story, on author Suzanne Kamata's blog.

Posted by joyceanthony at 7:16 PM EDT
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