by Janis Patterson
I grew up in a do-it-yourself family. Okay, I grew up poor, where if you didn’t do it yourself, it probably didn’t get done. Money was to be used only if you couldn’t cobble whatever it was together at all. My mother made both hers and my clothes and even my father’s dress shirts for a while. Going out to eat was silly, since we could cook better food cheaper at home. It was almost a dictum in our house that just about anything could be fixed with duct tape, bailing wire and determination.
Our fortunes changed, of course, and money became more plentiful. We went out to eat occasionally and my dad bought store-made shirts. As an adult I am fortunate enough to be able to live comfortably and even buy all my clothes. (Which is a blessing, because though Mother was a gifted seamstress, I am a total klutz. No one in their right mind would wear what I can sew!) Still, however, the we-can-do-it-ourselves mentality was so deeply ingrained that to this day I call a repairman only when I know I cannot fix it myself. (This is written as I wait for the refrigerator serviceman.)
So what does this have to do with writing?
I am in the process of bringing out a few more books of my backlist to which I have just had the rights reverted. Since they were professionally edited at major houses back when major houses really edited, there’s little I have to do about that. I am tweaking somewhat, as I hope I am a better writer now than I was then, but nothing major enough to justify paying for the services of an editor.
But then there is the process of converting my newly-vetted document into a book. Now there are simplified processes for ebooks, one that even a complete techno-naif such as I can do, but when I began there were sheets and sheets of instructions written in a techno-speak only slightly less incomprehensible than Urdu. While now I can click a few buttons and some kind electronic server somewhere does the work for me, there is the terra incognita of print awaiting me.
So – where this long and convoluted post is going is that I am going to – gasp – hire the conversions done, as I did when first dipping my toe into the epublishing pond. Yes, there are those technologically gifted who sail through formatting et al and who look askance when I announce I am hiring it done, all the while telling me how simple the process is. I can only say ‘joy go with them.’ If it could be done with duct tape and bailing wire I might fare better.
I also send my apologies to the self-sufficient, do-it-yourself stalwarts of my ancestry, even as their shades look down with disapproval. “There are instructions right there!” they shout. “All you have to do is read them and follow them!”
Both my parents (the greatest do-it-yourselfers ever born) passed away before the computer-in-every-room era, so their ghosts have no idea of what is necessary, or how much time it would take to learn what all those odd words and acronyms mean, to say nothing of what to do with them.
Yes, I could learn everything in those instructions and do it myself. For that matter, I could learn how to repair my ailing refrigerator, and, given enough time, probably learn how to build a more efficient jet engine or CAT machine. There is nothing wrong with my brain-box and I am considered to be reasonably intelligent. On the other hand, I have come to believe in the law of diminishing returns. While I could learn these things, doing so would take time, time that would be better spent writing and caring for my family.
All of life is a trade-off, so I trade money for formatting skills that I have neither time nor desire to learn and spend that time gained doing what is better for me, my career and my family. It works – even if I doubt my parents would have approved.