Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scanning and scrubbing not tiresome at all

This book-scanning-and-cleaning-up business isn't as tough as expected. Now that the learning process--not sweaty at all--is done, getting my 1994 book Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America into e-print is going rapidly.

I'm using a 2009 Mac mini and a seven-year-old Epson Perfection 1650 Photo scanner with VueScan scanner software and the ABBYY Finereader Express optical character recognition program. The process is quick and simple: Slap a page from the book (I cannibalized a paperback copy) into the flatbed scanner, then tell VueScan to scan the page and save it as a TIFF file. Once that's done, VueScan automatically fires up ABBYY Finereader, which reads the TIFF and, when prompted, saves the text as a Rich Text Format (.rtf) file.

That takes about 30 seconds for each page.

Once all 16 or 20 pages of a chapter have been scanned, I then open a new Word file, then click on each successive .rtf file, copying and pasting it one by one into the Word file.

In less than a minute Word will reformat the chapter to specs. I'll then read it as carefully as I can, cleaning up the (very) few OCR errors as I go, and finally give it a swift kick with the spell check.

The next step is to e-mail each chapter to the loyal volunteer railfan proofreaders and wait for their responses. (One caught me in an egregious error in the original book, an error that went unmentioned for 18 years.)

The whole process takes about 90 minutes for each chapter, including making notes of items to update for the future Epilogue.

I'm doing just one chapter a day. That prevents me from growing weary and careless. And hey, there's life outside books.

In two weeks all 12 chapters and the Author's Note should be done and the original book completely converted into Word, ready for conversion into e-book formats.

Except maybe for the index. I'll have to research the possibilities of adding an index to the e-book version. That might be the toughest job of all.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Small bump in the publishing road

It was as I expected: that 3 1/2-inch floppy disk stored in the safe deposit box and containing the original manuscript of Zephyr, the 1994 book that I hope to revive as an e-book, is unusable.

First, the file dates back to December of 1992 and is a copy of the unedited e-manuscript I submitted to Times Books/Random House that month, hoping the publisher would accept it. It's not a copy of the final edited manuscript that I had hoped it was. So much work is done on a manuscript in a publishing house that the raw original is a poor shadow of the book that finally appears.

Also, the manuscripts (original and edited) were written with XyWrite, a pre-Windows word processor, and saved in that format. If any XyWrite documents are readable today, only specialized (and expensive) file rescue services can save them. And there's no guarantee that any, let alone all, the bits and bytes in that magnetic file have survived 19 years.

There's more. The two 3 1/2-inch floppy drives I kept all these years are no longer readable by any of my computers, not even my wife's six-year-old G5 iMac.

Finally, there were a few errors in the original hardcover Zephyr of 1994 that were corrected for the paperback edition of 1995 -- and I've forgotten what they were!

And so I shall apply myself to scanning every page of the paperback, reading the resultant file with optical character recognition software, and finally cleaning it up with Word. After a little more research (including another ride on the California Zephyr) and re-interviewing of principals in the original book, I'll write an epilogue bringing the project up to date.

I'll also have to scan in all the original photographs used in both books -- and maybe take some more shots for the epilogue.

A very good friend with considerable scanning experience has offered to scan the book for free, and believe me, I'm tempted. But the painstaking scanning process will force me to pay more attention to the words than I otherwise might, and so I've elected to do it myself.

Once it's done and formatted, I'll send the thing out to my loyal corps of proofreading volunteers before republishing it as an e-book (and, I think, a publish-on-demand paperback).

The first task is to buy OCR software, and I'll give the trial version of the much-praised ABBYY Fineprint Express for the Mac a whirl before plunking down the $99 for it.

(Deep breath.) Here goes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

'Zephyr' to rise anew

Had some good news today. Crown Publishing, parent of Random House, has reverted all rights to my 1994 railroad travel book Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America, clearing the way for me to update and republish it as an e-book.

This means, of course, that I'll have to ride the Amtrak California Zephyr from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay and back at least once and maybe twice (and if I'm lucky, thrice), stopping to re-interview Amtrak personnel featured in that book for the update. Such a task will hardly be onerous, and I'm eagerly looking forward to it.

What I'm not exactly looking forward to is restoring the old manuscript. I do have a 3 1/2-inch floppy disk (remember those?) somewhere in the safe deposit box, but as I wrote last week, magnetic media are not terribly durable over time. All those little byte-sized electrons have a tendency to leak out and roll under the bed, never to be retrieved.

So it looks as if I might have to scan every page of the book into my computer, read the scan with character recognition software, then clean up the text with the help of crowdsourcing, the technical term for shamelessly begging loyal readers to lend their proofreading skills to an impoverished author.

But this task is sure to keep me off the streets and out of gin mills for the next few months. Look for Zephyr II to appear at the e-book vendors sometime next spring.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Feeling the tug of the train

I'm back from Upper Michigan at winter quarters in Evanston, Illinois, and getting ready for another workshop--the one for train travel writers and photographers that I'm co-teaching with rail lensman Carl Morrison at the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata, Missouri. It runs Oct. 16-21 and there's still room for participants, if you're interested.

Now that the three mystery novels are now available as e-books (Kindle, Nook and other platforms), I'm thinking about updating my 1994 nonfiction book about life aboard a transcontinental train, Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America, and re-publishing it as an e-book. That is, if I can get Random House (which seems to have no interest in bringing it out as an e-book) to revert the rights to me.

That would keep me busy for quite a while. The manuscript exists on a 3 1/2 inch floppy disk kept in a safe deposit box, but I have no idea if the disk is still good--magnetic media tends to spring leaks over time. I might have to laboriously scan the book, page by page.

Whether or not an e-book of Zephyr happens, some heavy-duty rail riding (and rail writing) lie in the future. The Lady Friend and I are planning a round-the-West Amtrak trip for next March--the Southwest Chief from Chicago to L.A., then the Coast Starlight from L.A. to Portland or Seattle, and finally the Empire Builder back to Chicago. That's six days and five nights enroute, with a stopover in either Portland or Seattle. I'll be in heaven.

We're also woodshedding a trip next fall on VIA Rail's Ocean round-trip from Montreal to Halifax,  with a 10-day tour of Canada's Maritime Provinces.

It'll be nice to get back into training.