Dog Eared: A Year's Romp Through the Self-Publishing World

Dog Eared: A Year's Romp Through the Self-Publishing World

by W. Nikola-Lisa


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During a yearlong office-cleaning project the author reflects on his life as a writer and as a reader, addressing several themes: the place of physical books in an ever-increasing digital age, the impact of social media on publishing’s rapidly-changing landscape, the skill set an author needs to survive in today’s publishing world, and the author’s measured transition from traditional author to independent author/publisher. Written in four parts reflecting the four seasons of the year, W. Nikola-Lisa offers fifty-two brief sketches of his life as an author, a reader, and a book collector. A fascinating, but quick read filled with insight and humor.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780997252446
Publisher: Gyroscope Books
Publication date: 09/07/2017
Pages: 354
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.79(d)

Read an Excerpt


Hole in the Head

ANYONE WHO KNOWS ME knows that I never make New Year's resolutions. I mean, never. I'd rather wrestle a wild boar knee-deep in mud than make a New Year's resolution. Why? Simple, most people don't keep them. So why make them? They're useless. So it was quite a surprise this year when I announced to my wife in late December that I was going to make one.

"Starting in January," I said with firm conviction, "I am going to remove all of the books in my office, wipe each one clean, and then — after culling out those that are no longer of interest — shelve them in a new and more accessible order."

"Sure you are," my wife shrugged and walked away.

"No, really, I am," I replied, raising my voice as she disappeared into the next room.

I anticipate the project lasting most of the year. My office isn't large, but three of its four walls sport floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. And since the ceiling height of our little Victorian farmhouse is 10 1/2 feet, that's a lot of shelf space, and by extension a lot of books. If my wife were a tweeter, she'd probably tweet "OMG" in response to my proposed resolution.

Impractical or not, I am resolved to carrying it out. After all, I haven't touched three quarters of the books I own since we moved into the house some twenty years ago. The idea of removing each book, wiping it clean of dust and grime, then replacing it thoroughly stirs my imagination. I've already begun to imagine all of the books that I will rediscover. Books that have meant so much to me, have shaped my early intellectual life, but are now all but forgotten. Books I bought with the firm resolve to read but for some reason or another have never cracked open. Books that were gifts from friends and loved ones, that contain hope and promise, but whose message has been buried by the passage of time. The prospect of discovery is endless.

But, first, I should tell you, so you don't work up an unrealistic sense of anticipation, I don't consider myself a bibliophile, that is in the technical sense: one who loves and collects rare and exotic books (with or without unusually fine bindings). I have very few books that fit into that category. I also don't have any first editions (at least, any that are worth mentioning). Moreover, I'm not a collector of fine literature; you'll find very few books by Shakespeare, Dickens, or Dostoevsky; no volumes by Keats, Wordsworth, or Coleridge; and not a lick of Longfellow or Thoreau.

So, you might ask: What do you have on those bookshelves?

Well, besides a gallery of family photos that takes up one row of adjoining bookshelves (a relatively new addition, I might add), and a stash of personal notebooks, you'll find an eclectic collection of fiction, memoir, biography, nonfiction, essays, reference books, and books for children of all ages. And all of it combined is precisely what I want to write about: that and my own work, which reflects my transition from a traditional author to a non-traditional or self-published author.

But first ... it's Inventory Counting Day!

EVERY AUTHOR KNOWS THIS because it's part of the annual federal income tax preparation ritual. After all, it's January, the start of the New Year, and as most authors know it's time to count last year's inventory. I usually start this ritual on December 25, Christmas Day, since my wife and I are "pedestrians" (our oldest daughter's term for people who believe in God, but don't affiliate with any particular religious organization). Yep, that's us: pedestrians (which means that we also have a little more time on our hands on Christmas Day since we're not celebrating anything except a little peace and quiet). Still, since it seems a bit sacrilegious to begin Inventory Counting Day on Christmas Day, I've decided to start the ritual after the New Year.

Inventory Counting Day begins by rounding up a few items — pad of paper, calculator, ink pen and marker, post-it notes, Scotch tape, and a flashlight. Okay, paper, pen, marker, and calculator I get. But what about post-it notes, Scotch tape, and a flashlight? Post-it notes because I mark each box of books with its contents — book title and number of books. Scotch tape because I don't trust the glue on the post-it note (even though 3M introduced "Super Sticky Notes" several years ago). Flashlight because half of my inventory is tucked inside an attic crawlspace where there's no light whatsoever. (When my wife sees me heading for the crawlspace she says what I really need is a miner's hat, and she's right because not only is it dark in the crawlspace, but the ceiling is low and I'm always bonking my head.) Oh, one more tool of the trade — an electric screwdriver. It turns out that the workmen who insulated our crawlspaces last year screwed the entry doors to them shut in order to block any unsuspecting drafts. They did such a good job that I need an electric screwdriver to unscrew their thick two-inch screws.

So, I'm headed for the crawlspace with everything I need, the only thing is I shouldn't be headed there at all. Since I didn't take any inventory out of the crawlspace last year it should be exactly the same. Right? Well, yes, technically, except for the fact that I lost my inventory sheet over the course of the year and have to start from scratch this year. The running joke in our house is that I'm incredibly organized, that I know where everything is, and it's true, more or less. You see, I rarely lose anything because I know, for a fact, that it's "in my office," which as everyone in my family knows is a euphemism for ... He's gone and lost it again!

But I know where the crawlspace is, and I'm headed that way. But what irks me is that I shouldn't have to do this silly exercise at all if I hadn't changed accountants (I had to: the last one I had went on vacation and never returned). My new accountant took one look at what I had been doing — or not doing — and said that I really needed to count my inventory every year and not just rely on last year's sales numbers. It's all about accounting for "shrinkage," which means things — inventory — go missing and should be accounted for. So, I'm counting. Well, actually I'm unscrewing the screws that hold the attic crawlspace's door in place. Three screws, that's all, and I'm in. But it's always the last screw that gives you the most problem. But, then presto! It gives way and I remove the door, only to be greeted by a dozen or more boxes of books.

Now, this should be a rather easy task, after all I did label the boxes last year. Unfortunately, the boxes are stacked three or four high and I can't actually see the post-it notes affixed to them. That means I'll have to remove some boxes and climb over others to get at the ones in the back of the crawlspace. Not what a sixty-something-year-old wants to be doing on a cold January morning. But what I find both delights and depresses me.

I'm delighted to find two boxes of an early book of mine titled Tangletalk. It's an absolute favorite of mine, published almost twenty years ago. I still enjoy reading it at author events, and to know that I have over eighty copies left makes me extremely happy. It's the only book of mine that I published some time ago that I don't discount (the thought of selling out of it is just too much to bear). When it went out of print and the publisher offered me the remaining copies at a steep discount, I jumped at the chance to buy them — and have never regretted the decision.

On the other hand (and this is what depresses me as I stare at the contents of the attic crawlspace), I counted not one or two, or even three boxes of my first out-of-print book. I counted seven boxes of One Hole in the Road, a counting book for young readers. Seven boxes! My God, what was I thinking when I bought them? And this is not all: there are more copies lining the shelves of my office downstairs. Indeed, what was I thinking, that I'd make a killing? Technically, at $1.00 a copy, I could make tenfold my investment. Only there's a reason a book gets remaindered — IT'S NOT SELLING, IDIOT! And it's not selling (even with illustrations by Dan Yaccarino, one of my favorite children's book illustrators). So, as I climb over boxes, pulling them apart, trying to read my scrawl on various post-it notes, I read over and over again: One Hold in the Road, One Hold in the Road, One Hold in the ... Head!

But I was new to the publishing game, a greenhorn. One Hole in the Road was an early book of mine, and the first to go out of print. So, like any greenhorn, I jumped at the chance to buy up the publisher's inventory — everything, lock, stock, and barrel. And that's why I have over three hundred copies of One Hole in the Road at home twenty years after it was first published.


This Is Going to Be Fun

OKAY, ENOUGH OF INVENTORY Counting Day. Let me tell you why I became a writer. It's 1976. I've just graduated from the University of Florida with a master's degree in education and I'm headed to Montana with my wife and newborn daughter.

Why Montana? Because several years earlier my wife and I spent a winter in Bozeman, Montana, with my wife's high school boyfriend's older brother and his family. (My wife's high school boyfriend was there, too, but only for a couple of weeks: he slept on the floor next to our bed.) We liked Montana, and we liked Bozeman (though I didn't particularly care for my wife's high school boyfriend). So, after I graduated from the University of Florida, we packed our belongings and headed west. It took three-and-a-half days to drive from Florida to Montana and for the entire trip our dog — a mixture of Siberian husky and Norwegian elkhound — slept curled up in the front passenger-side foot well. Great for us, but not for him: he emerged with a crook in his back and couldn't walk in a straight line for almost three weeks.

We settled in Bozeman where I began work as a teacher in a local alternative school, which was housed in the residence of a prominent Bozeman family (he taught photography at the university; she ran the alternative school). We deemed the school a success when we had six or seven children signed up for the year (three from the director's brood and several more from the neighborhood). The director held music classes on the first floor and art classes on the second floor; I taught math, science, and literature in the attic. Lunch was in the kitchen or, on warm sunny days, in the backyard.

It was during this time that our second daughter was born, which meant that I was a teacher during the day and a father at night. And that's exactly how I developed an interest in writing books for young readers. I was always making up stories, singing silly songs, and creating puppet shows with a homemade theater in our living room. I also read to both of our children from books we checked out of the local library or received mail order from our book-of-the-month-club subscription. It was a happy time at home, but at work things were not going so well (there was never a clear boundary between the director's home and the school, which made for some awkward moments). So, I began to look for another teaching job.

It was while driving the Herbie Bus for Bozeman's summer activities program that I got to know one of the local schools. When I had the time I used to wander around the school, which was one of our stops each week, dreaming of teaching there. I dreamt of teaching second grade in my own room and with my own students. By the end of the summer my "dreaming" turned into a regular meditation because I had found a room that really spoke to me. It was large and spacious, but not well lit (only two slivers of windows framed the double chalkboard at the front of the room). What you noticed first, however, when you walked into the room was the garish orange carpet that covered the concrete floor. Carpet notwithstanding, the room spoke to me. So, when I got the chance, I stood in the middle of the room and said over and over again: I want to teach second grade in this room at this school. I want to teach second grade in this room at this school. I want to teach second grade in this room at this ...

Now, I'm not superstitious or anything, but it must have worked because when a job suddenly opened up right before the school year began I landed an interview and was offered the job on the spot. The "job" was to teach second grade. Now all I needed was the room with the garish orange carpet. But that seemed somewhat of a remote possibility because as we walked around the school the principal mentioned that the other teacher he had hired earlier that day came from another school in the district and had first choice of two available rooms.

The first room he showed me was quite small, wedged between his office and the gymnasium (probably an afterthought during a school expansion project). The only thing that it had going for it, beside a beautiful old hardwood floor, was a bank of windows that faced south, flooding the room with sunlight. The other room was in the new wing. It was large and roomy, not too well lit, and it came fully carpeted (with a garish orange carpet). Of course, I imagined that the other teacher would fall in love with my room the way I had during the summer. But to my surprise, she chose the smaller, brightly lit room, leaving me with the room of my dreams (you know, the one covered with that God-awful orange carpet).

For the next five years I taught second grade at Irving Elementary School just down the hill from Montana State University, and I had a blast. The "blast" started the moment the principal told me — after I tried to tell him how I wanted to teach — that he didn't care how I taught as long as parents didn't complain.

That was music to my ears. Yes, the light bulb went on big time. I remember thinking: This is going to be fun! And it was because I followed my imagination, rather than the prescribed curriculum. I taught using a literature-based thematic approach, which I had begun to explore at the alternative school. With literature at the heart of the curriculum, I began to collect books, lots of books, which I kept in piles on my work desk in the back of the room. I had books to help me with my lesson plans. I had books to give to individual students. I had books to read aloud after lunch. I had all the new books that had just arrived at the library. And I had books that ultimately influenced my writing. These fell into two distinct groups: those incredibly beautiful books that you drool over because they are so well written; and then — like the orange pile carpet in my room — those God-awful books that make you shake your head, wondering how on earth they ever got published.

At some point I remember thinking that my writing (which I had secretly been doing for several years) fell somewhere between those two piles of books. That thought not only motivated me to write, but it also gave me the courage to start submitting my work to editors. After a number of false starts, dozens of manuscript submissions, and encouragement from several local authors, I sold my first book — Night Is Coming. It was 1988. But I was no longer married. No longer teaching second grade. And I was no longer living in Bozeman, Montana. I was starting a new life as a junior faculty member at a private college in Chicago, Illinois, where I had moved in 1986 with my soon-to-be second wife.


Excerpted from "Dog Eared"
by .
Copyright © 2017 W. Nikola-Lisa.
Excerpted by permission of Gyroscope Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Part I

1 | Hole in the Head

2 | This Is Going to Be Fun

3 | Kiss of Death

4 | Junior High Math

5 | An Award, Sort Of

6 | Sign of the Twins

7 | Il Dunce

8 | Booze, Bikers, and Bimbos

9 | Down a Quart

10 | Temple of the Universe

11 | Silver Lining

Part II

12 | Shake, Rattle & Read

13 | $11.11

14 | Buyer Beware

15 |Sherwood in the Twilight

16 | Medieval Cats

17 | Fool’s Cap

18 | Tip of the Iceberg

19 | Oops

20 | Authorpreneur

21 | Exercise Rule #39

22 | UpublishU

23 | Game-changer

24 | Palimpsest

Part III

25 | Midsummer Night’s Dream

26 | Brilliant

27 | The Quintessential Quail

28 | Chattering Away

29 | A Snigglement of String

30 | This Is Going to Cost Me

31 | How’s the Coffee?

32 | Time Present, Time Past

33 | Shadow Country

34 | Street Views

35 | Soul's Core

36 | The Doldrums

37 | Hey, That’s My Shoe!

38 | What’s the Hurry?

Part IV

39 | Dear Mr. Pirsig

40 | What Jane Yolen Said

41 | Body to Body

42 | Location, Location, Location

43 | Fire in the Belly

44 | Bicameral Mind

45 | Concord Dust

46 | Showstopper

47 | Old Possum

48 | Cease and Desist

49 | Paperwhite

50 | Of Mice and Men

51 | I Love Brown

52 | So Many Books

Source Notes

Selected Bibliography

Customer Reviews

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Dog Eared: A Year's Romp Through the Self-Publishing World 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Reader_Views More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Susan Violante for Reader Views (2/18) “Dog Eared: A Year’s Romp through the Self-Publishing World” by W. Nikola-Lisa tells the author’s story as he ventures from traditional publishing to the Indie world. This memoir/publishing/ business book takes readers through one year in the life of an Indie author giving them a personal, firsthand account of the ‘Author’s Life.’ It begins as Nikola-Lisa finally takes on the semi-quasi impossible job of cleaning his office. Slowly but surely he goes through the shelves by reminiscing on his past, and how the book he is holding each time, came about. The story unravels Nikola-Lisa’s life to the reader through anecdotes of his youth, his school speaking events, relationships with his family, the people he meets casually, etc. Yet, mingled within his life’s accounts, writers will actually receive wise advice about publishing books as an Indie author. I think W. Nikola-Lisa created a well written, entertaining account of what self-publishing entails. From the birth of his pen name to how some book titles came up, Nikola opens up on personal, and professional aspects of his life that are relatable to all readers, book lovers and writers alike. This unique book is fun and easy to read, but make no mistake, it is also amazingly informative, offering wise advice to writers on what to expect from the self-published life. I enjoyed reading this book and even took notes for myself; however, the narrator’s voice used some expressions that turned me off because they felt cliché to me. Even so, I was happy to read it and will recommend to my colleagues. Overall, I found “Dog Eared: A Year’s Romp through the Self-Publishing World” by W. Nikola-Lisa to be a well written and entertaining roadmap for new Indie authors. Definitely recommend!
Amys_Bookshelf_Reviews More than 1 year ago
What a wonderfully relatable book! If you're a writer or any kind of artist, this book will lend to something that many can relate to, and sometimes we do without saying it out loud. The first chapter, really stuck with me, and who could blame me, especially with a title of "Hole in the Head". The author is writing this in first person, sharing his experiences, and how this book came about. All because of the dreaded tax season. This is the first time I've read his work, but I know he has a lot of other stories out there, and I will definitely check them out. He starts out quoting Frank Zappa, "so many books, so little time." Isn't that the truth? A wonderfully written book that should be at the top of anyone's TBR list, and I just may add it to my TBRR (to be re-read) List.
marilivtollefson More than 1 year ago
W. Nikola-Lisa has finally made a New Year’s Resolution: to clean his office, aka the lost-and-found. But the resolution is not the point; the point is the story of a year making order where there apparently is none. The point is the man who tells the story, whose office cleaning provides, as all experience does for a writer, a metaphor. He’s a creative type and a Gemini. He has multiple projects going at once and procrastinates, to boot. This is the story of how he sorts, sifts, climbs, stacks, presents, reads, writes, travels, promotes… in short, takes stock of his craft from top to bottom. Read it like a manual or a memoir, or even an inspirational. This is not just a year’s romp through, but a lifetime’s worth of experience with the publishing industry, as writer, teacher, and eventually a publisher and bookseller himself. Nikola-Lisa offers funny anecdotes about giving up his safety deposit box as well as reading recommendations and instructions for setting up a vendor’s table. It’s as difficult to put a label on this book as it is to label the author himself. And lucky for us! The pleasure of this read is not in categorizing it but in listening to Nikola-Lisa sing. Again and again he comes back to this as a writer’s job: to enjoy the sound of words by singing them more than analyzing them. There are those for whom a book takes on a life of its own, such that knowing about the author detracts from the power of the book. Not so in this case. Now that I know a bit about the man, I’m eager to read more of his books for beginning, primary, intermediate and adult readers. This glimpse into the process of creating not only content but the product of a book inspires me to take my reading, and writing, to the next level.