The Life and Times of a Book
Dear Writer Revisited
In the history of the world, 1988 is not so very long ago; in the history of publishing, it’s forever. My writing manual Dear Writer was first published by McPhee Gribble in 1988, and was also published by Virago. It was revised, and republished by Random House in 1996. There was a time just before the 1996 publication when Monash students needed copies so I had a limited edition printed by Wild and Woolley. It has also been published in Indonesian. Three years ago, by which time the world of books and publishing had undergone the revolution that is continuing, Dear Writer needed a new revision. I was unable to interest publishers in this idea. I let it rest for a while, and then – about eighteen months ago, I decided I would publish it as an ebook.
Ah – easier said than done.
So the first thing to do was to get the manuscript on file. I didn’t have it. I would have to scan the book and create a file. It so happened that I had only one copy of the (1996) book, the one I needed. I was reluctant to destroy that lone copy, so I tried to buy one, but this was impossible. Then one lovely day when I was visiting children’s author Glenda Millard I saw on the bookshelf her battered copy of Dear Writer. I told her the story of why my need was greater than hers, and she gave me her copy.
Then page by page I scanned it. This was a very tedious process. Even more tedious was the business of converting the scans into a Word file. But then I had the enormous pleasure of doing the big re-write. I realised that although the world of writing – creative writing courses, festivals, book publishing, web publishing, blogs, tweets, ebooks and so forth – had undergone a revolution and was still evolving, the basics of writing fiction had not changed, and the human beings whose imaginations created the stories had not changed either. So the core of Dear Writer was constant. However I needed to acknowledge the changed environment. The exciting thing I did was to allow myself, the author of the book, to intervene in the narrative, to speak to the reader as myself.
I included short comments throughout the text, signalling them with ‘Author’s Note 2013’. These interventions give the whole thing a new dimension, a kind of post-post-modern tone. Letters – and this is a book written in letters from a writing teacher to a new writer – are not something a writing teacher of 2013 would be sending by mail to a student. So the core of Dear Writer Revisited is in the quaint old narrative of the letters, while the reader of the work is conscious that there is a presence, this time ‘Author’ who is owning up to running the show.
All very nice, then. So I have the manuscript of the transformed text. But it isn’t an ebook, is it? Enter Simon Groth of if-books – the Institute for the Future of the Book. Out of the blue he asked me to write an essay on my recent use of technology. So I wrote up the story of Dear Writer thus far. Simon directed me to websites on the production of an ebook.
It was at this point I realised the project was not something I could do alone. I didn’t have the skills to follow the directions, and it would take me a long time, I could see, to acquire those skills.
I asked Bronwyn Mehan at Spineless Wonders if she would help me, advise me, or perhaps take on the production of the ebook. Yes she would take on the production, clever woman. And furthermore, she would like to publish the book, or should I say the pbook. Dear Writer Revisted will be published as a book and as an ebook in October 2013.