Sunday, October 3, 2010

Twenty-Twenty Hindsight

By Lisabet Sarai

In 2003 S.F. Mayfair and I published an anthology called Sacred Exchange: Stories of Spirituality and Transcendence in Dominance and Submission. I'm very proud of that book, from both a literary and a thematic perspective. Some of the stories still take my breath away. To a remarkable extent, it accomplished what we had intended: to reveal, through fiction, the affinities between D/s and enlightenment, however the individual might define that term – to illustrate how one could be changed, elevated, refined and perfected by the experience of dominance or submission.

Alas, the book was a commercial flop. It never earned out its advance (most of which went to pay the contributors in any case.) Although published by veteran erotica imprint Blue Moon, the collection was (I believe) insufficiently salacious to attract an enthusiastic readership (despite the fact that many of the tales are graphic and a few would qualify as extreme). It went out of print quickly, leaving me with a couple of dozen author copies and a slightly wounded sense of that all our work was not appreciated.

Now, seven years later, I'm thinking of resurrecting the book and reissuing it as a charitable anthology through Alessia Brio's Coming Together imprint. I'd really love to give the book a second lease on life. I'm far more familiar with the erotica market than I was back in 2003, when I was a lucky, wide-eyed amateur. I have a lot more connections. And I think that I can get at least some readers' attention, especially if the book benefits a worthy cause like Doctors Without Borders.

There's only one problem. I can't find the digital manuscript.

This is so embarrassing! I'm a software engineer and I live with a guy who's got years of experience as a system administrator and who is a fanatic about backups. It's true that I've moved to the other side of the world since I submitted the book, but we still have archives of material from our computers that are considerably older.

I do have a directory in my writing drive called “anthology” and sure enough it has material related to Sacred Exchange: form letters to authors, critiques, a spreadsheet that Seneca and I used to keep track of our evaluations of stories, and yes, a zip file of stories in plain text. However, as far as I can tell, these are not the final, edited versions, but rather, the stories more or less as submitted, including many that we didn't accept. Furthermore, we spent a great deal of time working with some of the authors to polish their contributions. All that work is, apparently, gone.

What must have happened is that I must have voluntarily deleted the full manuscript, thinking that I didn't need it. (In those days I was always tight on disk space.) Maybe I thought that the stories zip file included the finished versions. Maybe, innocent that I was, I figured that once the book was published, I didn't need the manuscript file any more. You'd think that I'd have a backup somewhere, and maybe one does exist, but I sure as heck can't find it. The book was published during the period when we were selling our house and preparing for our international move, so our backup infrastructure was probably far less sophisticated and complete than it is now.

So now, if I want to continue with this project, what are my options? I could start with the raw submitted tales and re-edit them with the finished book in hand. Or I could slice the binding off one of my author copies, and try to scan and OCR the pages, then edit carefully to fix the inevitable errors. Either way, it's going to be a major task. Do I want to undertake it just to soothe my pride and maybe make some money for charity?

I'm still pondering this question. And I'm kicking myself for having so little foresight. This isn't typical of me. There have been very few times in my life when I've had to start from scratch – even now, I'm not actually at ground zero, since I do have the printed book as a reference. I'm determined that from now on, I'm going to have good, accessible backups of every file I might need.

Of course, I thought that I already did!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I feel your pain, Lisabet.

    I too and a professional computer geek. As a matter of fact, my day job revolves very strongly around storing and access of critical business information.

    A few weeks ago, I decided to "rebuild" my home computer which has grown sluggish with unused software. I made backups in different ways, to different places, and double checked and rebuilt the thing. I put everything back together, rather proud of how smooth it went...

    Turns out my wife had some stuff in the "shared" directories (my computer is the household "server".)


    We were able to reconstruct some things, but some files were lost.

    She has taken it in stride, but I still feel shitty and quite embarrassed about forgetting to back up that directory.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do with the collection. Scanning in, given the current software available to interpret, seems a good solution, but I know there would be a lot of editing.


  3. I've had this problem with some of my nonfiction in the past, with stuff written in the days when the floppy disk was the main storage option (they don't last forever).

    It may be, of course, that the publishers still have it and would send it back to you (though hasn't Blue Moon been sold and re-sold as an imprint a few times since 2003?). Or you may still have the file, but just under a filename you don't remember or on a disk you've forgotten about?

    Weirdly it may even be that you could find a digital copy, possibly based on photos of pages, on one of the pirate sites!

    If no other option presents itself I'd have to say working on the original submissions and re-editing the files wouldn't take as long as you think and could well be the the most time-effective way to do it.

    In poking about to find out what copies are still available I noticed some issues show as having 'Running Press' as the publisher? That's how it shows on the second-hand site anyway. Were they an export-only imprint or sister company of something?

    Incidentally I notice has a brilliant review of the book, which ends: 'This is an exciting collection of fiction that delves into an often misunderstood realm.'

  4. Hi, Craig,

    Yeah, it doesn't matter how conscientious we think that we're being... things just manage to slip through the cracks.

    Computers. Couldn't live without them, but they do take their toll!


  5. Hello, Fulani,

    Blue Moon was been sold twice and then dismantled. Running Press, part of Perseus Books, is the current owner of the back list. (Of course, I've reclaimed the rights. So strictly speaking they don't have the right to be selling this. Most likely it's used dealers on Amazon.)

    I'm leaning toward the OCR approach. We have some very good OCR software and my husband has been on a campaign to reduce our footprint by scanning and OCRing stuff that we no longer need in print (e.g. VMS and OS2 software manuals - Craig may know what I'm talking about!) So he has a lot of expertise.

    I wasn't able to find the review you mentioned - could you post the link here or send it to me off list, please?

    Thank you for your encouragement.


  6. Lisabet,

    I couldn't help but wince reading this, I feel for you!

    I'm not sure about what things were like for you when this book came out, but right now you have a fervently admiring fan base and readership! I'm willing to bet that there are people in that list willing to attempt the menial labour portion of the job in exchange for their own copy of a book you edited that they probably didn't know existed.

    Of course time management and quality control might become an out-of-your-hands issue (which always drives me up the wall and down again) but if it's something that you might not be able to undertake just because possible outcome < amount of time and effort necessary to accomplish, this might be a way to balance the scales a bit.


  7. Hi Lisabet!

    Wow THAT is back to square one. A whole book. I've got that book too, its been riding around in my book box in my van for a couple of weeks. (I have a kind of personal mobile library in my van.) I keep picking it up and reading it, wherever I am. I guess to me, the more interesting question is why it didn;t sell better, because this is a really interesting and well thought out book. I was fortunate enough to get a used copy of it. I think this is the question that always plagues creative people in any field, when you make something light and it sells well, and then you put your heart and soul into something and it flops. It can drive you crazy.


  8. Maybe a kind soul out there will volunteer to scan the text?

    Or maybe the authors have edited versions of the stories in their files?

    Having done several Blue Moon athos in the past, I know they can be a hard sell and were usually published as catalogue filler.

  9. Oh yes...if only we had a rescind button that could reach out and snare back the previous few minutes. I know you can rescue some files through backups, but when you do something stupid like I did and, with two files open, I renamed an entire manuscript and lost months of work because I wasn't paying attention to which file was which. I learned a hard but valuable lesson.

  10. Lisabet -

    I've run into this recently too. I'm putting together a collection, but two older stories are simply gone from my computer. One of them, thank goodness, someone had archived and sent to me. The other, I tried to scan. I must have crappy OCR software, because I wasn't able to use the scanned text.

    I can't figure out why I have copies of older stories I didn't like much, but these two, which are favorites, didn't carry forward in my computers changes year after year. Annoying, isn't it?

  11. Dear sweet, funny, talented Lisabet

    Ouch! You've lost your m/s, which is a tough call. If only computers were more forgiving of our errors.

    Here's a thought --- Sometimes a lost opportunity is a new opportunity in disguise.

    Maybe you can look at this from another perspective: is it time to do something new, not revisit past endeavors.

    I'm betting you've come far since you published this anthology in 2003. I know you think this anthology is the best you've written - and maybe it was in 2003. But, hey! That was 7 years ago and long gone. You're voice and style will have changed. You've changed. You are no longer the author you were in 2003.

    You're a talented, accomplished author.

    Write a new anthology - thrill your reading public.

    I'm betting all those authors who contributed have also changed, and if they continued with their goals, have got new material that is perfect for your project.

    Erotica is selling strongly. this is your time to wow the world.



  12. Hi Lisabet,

    That really does sound like an 'ouch' situation. I sympathise.

    Do you need to go down the OCR route? From what I understand of OCR it's time-consuming (with every page needing to be scanned) and it's also far from fallable.

    If you've already got a copy of the book and copies of the original raw files, why not just compile them in order, and then go through the material (with the copy of the book in hand) amending and editing accordingly? You'd have to do this last part if you went the OCR route. This way you get to cut out the nuisance of scanning every page.

    Good luck with the project. I hope you do go ahead with it.



  13. My life right now is in rebuild, resurrect, find the old files mode so I feel ur pain cutie. Out here in Silicon Valley there are always ways to retrieve files, though often it costs big $$$. In my early writing days when I was not good about backing up, I lost a bunch of really important files. I remember standing at the countertop of one of these fancy pants firms that claims they can find anything. When I told this really young girl at the desk I was just me, a writer, and I didn't have the $5,000 to get started to retrieve the data, she looked at me in that bubble-gum chewing,twisting of the hair I'm-bored-to-death way and said, 'Just write it all again.' I felt like knocking her to the ground but alas, I did exactly what she said, I let some of it go, which is what Im doing right now in my personal life and then went straight back to the drawing board trying to recreate stories I had lost. It's all part of this crazy process we call the writing life, I guess...Mary Kennedy Eastham

  14. Wow!

    Thanks for all your comments and encouragement!

    Madeline - I'm humbled by your praise. Thank you! But I would never ask someone else to pay for my carelessness!

    Garce - actually, square one would be to not have any way to proceed at all. I actually felt that I was cheating a bit, using this as an answer to your topic, since I do have both the edit and the OCR alternatives, and the physical book as a reference.

    Michael - Yes, as a fellow Blue Moon author, I know you suffered some of the same "indignities" that I did. It really burns me that they didn't do more to capitalize on their history and reputation.

    Ginger - I've done that too. Argh! I always make a temp copy of my WIP somewhere else before I start working. This kind of mistake is all too easy to make.

    Kathleen - What stories are you looking for? It's not likely that I have copies but one never knows. (I noticed that I still have a directory for your scifi book that I edited back in the mists of time!)

  15. Amy - Thanks so much for your compliments. Anyway, this anthology is not primarily my stories - it's a mixed collection by multiple authors.

    Ash - we have a document feeder on our scanner, so actually the scanning/ocr part of the process doesn't require much manual intervention at all. And I suspect that editing total garbage mistakes such as the OCR would create might be easier than picking up the kind of changes one might make as the results of a critique.

    Mary - The disk that originally contained this MS is long gone! No amount of forensics would help me recover it.

    I guess that if I learn a lesson from this, it's well worth the pain.

  16. One method of storing files without taking up precious space is to email them to yourself. Gmail and hotmail have lots of space.
    I know this doesn't solve the problem, sorry I can't turn back time. Losing files is so painful and as Ginger said, it can happen so innocently. One mis named file and you can lose months of hard work.
    Good luck with recovering your anthology.

  17. My condolences, Lisabet! I hope you soldier on with this project. Don't forget that I wrote a fairly long review AND interviewed you & Seneca re the theme of the book(& I know where that interview is, *g*), and you're welcome to use any of that material to promote the new version.
    - Jean Roberta (who is only recognized here as "Anonymous").


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