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.


  1. I've found the OCR software built into Adobe Acrobat to be very accurate and worthwhile. I do not know if it is a part of the free Reader version or only in the full version. Good luck. Paul

  2. Hi Henry,

    Doesn't the scanner you will be using come with its own OCR software? Most do.

  3. Paul: Looks like the free version of Acrobat doesn't have the OCR software.

    Hermit: My scanner is a 7-year-old Epson 1650 Photo model, and it did come with rudimentary OCR software that I no longer have and which does not seem to be available anymore on the Epson site.

    So I bought the well-reviewed $99 ABBYY Express for the Mac, and after a couple of hours' learning, it seems to be doing fine.

    My scanner is not sheet-fed, which would save a lot of time, but a flatbed scanner. Got to do it page by page, but once the process has started it moves along at a reasonably decent clip.