One of the rewards of my retirement is the time to get to long-postponed projects. Other than dropping 30 lbs and getting ripped abs, the longest-postponed project in my life has been updating How Was Your Week, the LifeRing convenor handbook.
How Was Your Week came out originally in 2003, at a time when LifeRing was a toddler in diapers. We produced 25 copies at a time at a local copy shop, bound with a plastic comb like a college reader. It was very expensive to produce it that way and LifeRing Press made no money on it. The print was tiny (10-pt Times New Roman) and under heavy use it soon fell apart. By now, many of the references in the text were obsolete, and we had tons more experience not reflected in the book. Still, it served its purpose, and it might still be on sale today if it weren’t for the Swedes.
A Swedish recovery group sympathetic to LifeRing got a grant to translate the three main LifeRing books into Swedish. I had no problem giving them the green light to translate the Recovery by Choice workbook (updated in 2011) and Empowering Your Sober Self (updated in 2014), but I almost gagged when I thought of the Swedes having to translate this dated, ragged convenor handbook. It’s in a way the most important of the three books, because it is a resource for forming the core of the LifeRing network: the convenors.
It took several months of intense focus to update How Was Your Week. There was the mechanical stuff, such as transferring the text from OpenOffice to Adobe InDesign and completely reformatting everything in a larger page size, bigger font (13 pt Garamond Pro) and more white space. Then there was the easy editorial stuff, such as updating references from the old unhooked.com website to lifering.org, and deleting references to out of print titles (like Keepers). Then came the heavier stuff, namely deleting the autobiographical passages, including my personal riff on spirituality, which really doesn’t have a place in an organizational handbook. (I’ll republish this stuff later in a more personal volume.) And then came the add-ons — new experience gathered in the intervening dozen years, which led to the addition of two new chapters and the expansion of several others. A number of current LifeRing convenors pitched in here with their experiences, and flagged mistakes. The most fun part of the update project was going through the past 7,500 posts on the LifeRing convenor email list and picking out the gems that struck my eye, and adding those as sidebars to the book’s body text. Those add-ons really help liven up the book with more voices. The least fun part was doing the index — Adobe InDesign’s indexer is really medieval, but eventually it got done. There it is, with a full-color cover, all of 368 pages, printed and bound like a real book.
With this book, we not only update the text and cover, we move into the brave new world of On Demand Publishing (ODP). My previous LifeRing Press books were done the conventional way: I sent a PDF file to a printer, the printer sent the LifeRing Office half a truckload of books, the office stores the books and office volunteers fulfill orders for the books as the orders come in. I did that myself for most of fourteen years; since my retirement Craig W. has been doing most of it. No more, at least for this title. Now this is the drill: I sent a PDF file to CreateSpace, an affiliate of amazon.com, and CreateSpace takes the orders online, prints exactly as many copies as are ordered each day, and sends them directly to the customer. No boxes of books piled in the LifeRing office. No volunteers needed to process the orders, pack the books, and cart them to the Post Office. It’s all outsourced to CreateSpace, which prints in South Carolina.
At an exhibition a few years ago I saw an early model of the commercial POD technology. This was a machine maybe 45 feet long, with a computer at one end and a bin at the other. For demo purposes, you entered your name and a few other names into the computer. Half an hour later, a bound novel with your name as author and the other names you entered as the main characters in the novel dropped out the other end into the bin. I haven’t seen the current versions, but I’m fairly confident that they have production time down to a few minutes. The cost per book is the same whether you order one copy or a thousand. Most important, that cost is in the same ballpark as a conventional printer quotes on the same book in quantities of a thousand.
It’s also useful that for books ordered by customers in Europe, the work is printed on a POD machine inside Europe. No more exorbitant international shipping charges.
The quality on these POD titles is excellent. I published my book of Cesar Chavez Park photos this way, and have no complaints. The proof of the new edition of How Was Your Week is flawless. These books are indistinguishable to the naked eye from offset press products printed and bound the conventional way.
There are downsides to this arrangement. LifeRing Press no longer has a record of who ordered books, useful for mailing announcements of other titles or events. LifeRing Press can’t include brochures or little handwritten notes of encouragement with the book shipments, something that Craig likes to do, and is probably deeply appreciated by the customers. We’ll go with this system for a few months or a year and see how it fits. If it’s a headache, we can always go back to the old way.