This is a lesson I learned the hard way, when I helped found a software company in 1999: it's the interdependencies that kill you. The thing about interdependencies is they're just plain hard. As anyone who's ever had a house renovated knows (something else I'm going through at the moment), the time between everything being nearly done and getting all the little bibs and bobs completely sorted out can be very long.
So far with With a Little Help, I've worried a lot about getting the audio readings in and edited, about the contractual stuff with Lulu.com (which my agent, Russ Galen, has handled), and about soliciting, receiving, scanning, and uploading all the paper ephemera. But I completely failed to note that any delays in the typesetting would grind the whole process to a halt. No galleys, no proofs of the printing process, no chances to experiment with the small-scale printing, not until the book is in a print-ready form. Let that be a lesson to you, Doctorow: job one is typesetting, period.
John Berry, my wonderful typesetter, is nearly done. But once that file is prepped, I'll still need to start test-printing, both with Lulu and with my bespoke rag-paper printers in Hatton Garden around the corner from my office, in London, where the special edition will come from. Then Pablo Defendini from Tor (who has graciously volunteered his time) is going to have to experiment with getting the spines and covers designed, while waiting for proofs to come from Lulu for each iteration.
On the plus side, the audio stuff is basically in the can. I still need to record some kind of intro for the podcasters who'll be playing it, along the lines of, “This story is a Creative Commons licensed audiofile that is part of Cory Doctorow's With a Little Help collection, which you can buy at...” and so forth. The problem there: the URLs for purchasing the book and the prices can't be fixed until Pablo's done the layouts, which can't happen until John's finished with the typesetting—interdependencies.
Meanwhile, I have also vastly underestimated the way that everyday tasks would scale. For example, I scan stuff all the time—tax letters have to be scanned and e-mailed to my accountant for decoding, immigration lawyers need scans of my passport, and so on. But scanning 600 pages worth of paper ephemera is an entirely different matter, not a few minutes time before I get to work on my novel for the day, but days worth of work, and soul-crushing, dull work at that. So, I paid someone else to do it (thanks, Isis!).
But I couldn't pay someone else to correctly label the files. They weren't always easy to identify, especially without access to all the correspondence from the writers who provided them. But, hey, how much work could it be to label 500-plus files? After all, I make a point of labeling all the pictures I dump off my camera every day. A lot of work, as it turned out. I spent 30 minutes a day for two weeks on labeling. And uploading—how hard could that be? I upload images to Flickr all the time, pretty much daily. Not easy at all.
Even my late-model camera doesn't shoot 300 DPI scans of letter-size pages. These files are huge, some 20MB—30MB each, for a grand total of 54 gigabytes. Turns out Flickr won't even accept most of these images at full-res, so I had to downscale them to 90% size and applied a 10% .jpg compression—so much for my plan to put up a neatly browsable archive of full resolution, uncompressed images. Further, uploading 54 gigs of scans was impossible until I had British Telecom come out to my office and troubleshoot my line, which turned out to be suffering from a defective router and wiring in the basement that had been water-damaged by a leak over the Christmas break.
All these logistics remind me of why I'm a sole-proprietor freelancer. I hate managing people. I hate critical paths and project management. And I suck at it. None of this is a surprise. I knew that these details would be the hardest part of the self-publishing job, and it's been made harder because pretty much everyone is working for free or cheap as a favor, so I can't call them up and demand results.
Mixing work and friendship is always tricky business. Still, I'd rather do it this way. I love my friends and I love the work they do. I hope that they still love me when this is all done.