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Don Lancaster
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Matthew Paris
 

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Post Sat Jan 24, 2004 4:56 pm - Don Lancaster
A Small Gloss About Don Lancaster



1


I donít like to repeat anything that somebody else has done brilliantly. For all information on Acrobat, Post Script and P.O.D. books generally along with a capacious treasure of other information on a zillion subjects I would suggest the reader repair to www.tinaja.com where Don Lancasterís Guruís Lair explains everything one needs to know about this and other aspects of printing better than I could.
Itís always delightful to find that somebody else has made their way through a path with mastery one is now half-familiar with and has thought some of oneís thoughts along the brambly way. Lancaster has been there before me, and is the man to consult on all P.O.D. matters. We all have to be grateful for his generosity. He has a beautifully designed site too.
To read it, one has to download the free Adobe Reader, no big problem. Lancaster says one can only read his troves on Netscape but I found I could look at it on other browsers too. One canít do better as an introduction to the mechanics of how to create a physical P.O.D. book and try to market it than read his madidans on these subjects. Lancaster has been around the block; he has a clear eye and a fine way of putting down his testimonies about what he has seen.
I donít want to say more about Lancaster if I can help it than to invite everyone to look at his Guruís Lair. There is nothing more to say.
I found out several things from Lancaster I did not know. He describes people who call themselves ďbook distributorsĒ, that is businessmen who can look at a P.O.D. book that has specific niche market possibilities, and decide whether or not they want to do the distribution. He mentions the Coralia Group run by Jeff Dundermann.
He also gets deeply into the mechanisms by which one can in oneís own home produce P.O.D. books, the glue process, the paper, the trimmer, everything. Heís got all kinds of tricks and utilities for using Postscript and Acrobat, all manner of commentary on various lists people sell one- he says they are apparently genetically all crooks- and everything else one might want to know about this business. The manís range is great; heís as liable to write about astronomy as source code.
Acrobat itself has tolerable to good help files. I only want to reiterate what the Acrobat Manual says about not making conversions to its files until one has soiled oneís problems as much as possible in a world processor or pagemaking programs. Most of the difficulties Iíve had, problems I see were lethal to the hopes of big companies like Xlibris and Iuniverse to turn out reliable books fast, is that there are inevitable mistakes with the search and replace conversions that change formatting and fonts with millions of commands.

Iíve heard from one reasonable and honest company, Fidlar Doubleday, that Ariel as a font poses problems from them. One really has to do some very serious experimenting and printing with small documents taking care and working without haste to see what converts to what with few or no problems.
At the end, just as in word processing itself, after the spell checkers and grammaticks run their routines, somebody real, not a robot or machine, has to read the files slowly and with care, word for word.
Secondly, one has to ask oneself, now that one has total freedom to make a book anyway one pleases, does one want the fancy colors and designs and the columns of text one can see on Lancasterís generous offerings or does one want something simpler? Itís not an easy question. Itís not a matter one wants to answer immediately either.
With Acrobat one can try both directions and see which is preferable for oneself. We are accustomed generally to simple bound books for the masses made in volume, and the often bewilderingly virtuosic layout one sees in contemporary magazines where one has to search for the text among the gaudy bits of cluttered computer virtuosity. My own preference is for simple text.
One sees the difference of points of view comparably in theatre which is sometimes about directors and actors, not plays they do, and art galleries which are about curators, not painters. Magazines or books in the hands of layout people are going to show their wares and ignore the text naturally. An author wants as few distractions to his words as possible. Acrobats gives you pdfwriter for simplicity, distiller for getting fancy.


2


I am basically an author and musician from another age and technology who fell into computers because of what they could do for my books, journalism and music. I have some of the provincial quasi-European outlook of one who was trained in college as a scholar to see historical patterns in a large way.
Lancaster is wonderfully at an utter polarity from me. He is apparently one who has a strong engineering background and with his genius expanded from it, as many people have done in the computer world, and is intrepid in building whatever he needs to in hardware and programming to accomplish his aims. He writes very well too.
I want to say a few things about Lancasterís impeccable descriptions of the publishing world as it stands now. They will be a few things that he didnít mention. As he says, publishing has changed severely from the 50s when one would submit oneís book to a trade publisher, and sit back, let them edit, make their covers, and wait for the royalties.

Authors never had control over their books in this age, even at a time when one didnít have various radical idealists in the editing rooms trying to make oneís texts conform to their notions of political correctness. Now one can go to these firms and find some Savanarola has changed the world ďfiremanĒ to ďfirepersonĒ; this actually happened to a friend of mine. He changed it back. With such censors one can imagine what books are accepted by trade publishing, irrespective of money, and what small markets they can reach with such babble.
Books from Gutenberg through our time have always been eminently political. We donít burn people at the stake anymore for publishing the Bible anymore but our society has strictures that are hidden and subtle. Any author writing books or for magazines for the past two hundred years had over his shoulder a little demons saying that if he wanted to sell in volume he better not produce anything that might unduly jostle the minds of millions of mediocrities who are not looking to read a book that will make them uncomfortable.
I always felt that at all times this was simple false reductive crap. Human beings are pretty smart; they always want to know what is true and avoid what is false; outside of a few brief season spent vacationing from the nodal rules of life in huge benign empires, it has always been deeply a matter of life and death.
Our species is one step from being Natty Bumpo at all times; it can settle in a place or a cult but it is also always going camping. The old censors who whispered such things had a very poor opinion of a species that has survived a million years mainly on their ability to endure some very painful truths and losses, master them, make them work for them. Human beings naturally are much more intelligent than these fascists assess they are. It is true that with the same money and labor it is easier to sell a book that is pitched as more or less like a previous book, only a little different.
It is also true that most of the people who buy books have been shoved by seduction and force into the procrustean bed of reliability in a business world which often values banality as a sales pitch and narrow thinking as a substitute for focus.
Yet most of the books we value from the past jostle us, whether they are the Bible or the Travels Of Marco Polo. It cannot be different in the present. We are the same sort of people and genetic mix as the denizens of the past. There will always be a market programmed into our biology for the book that will bring us close to the truth that may save us from tigers or lead us to a field of berries even at the cost of a momentary spasm of terror or pique because we have been told lies by others we credited about both the nature and intent of tigers and berries.
This biological imperative is not acknowledged by too many states. They are rather unhappy at the idea that freedom is not something that is under the aegis of their whim but something human beings canít help valuing and acting to garner, that they can only make the price of wanting it and trying to get it very unpleasant to impoverishing to lethal. Sates also donít like to think that successful closing down of avenues to truth is eventually going to lead to their own enslavement or death. Some society will have more tolerance for honesty and truth, inventing a few weapons with the knowledge they aquifer from honest cinch and do them in.

Most of Latin America and Africa have suffered not from lack of intelligence, industry, charity, morals or spirituality but lack of science that could meet guns and domestic horses. The history of the world that is staring us in the face testifies to this. Christianity took a real beating for a thousand years because it was antagonistic to science. Islam has taken the same beating for the past eight hundred years and for the same reasons.
Sometimes there are slight variants of this history. If the Greeks had freedom and power for their aristocracy for two hundred years or so thanks to their science, the Romans used Greek science to keep power for a thousand years. Greek science came back in the West over hundreds of years after much martyrdom with the states and cults of Europe kicking ad creaming as it dominated the Western reality because it alone had access to truth without a fear of whether or not it was doctrinally correct.
Since truth is at odds often with what makes us comfortable it is always at least vaguely impolite, I have made it part of my life to listen to people who make me feel a discomfort with their discourse. The odds are better that I might find more truth in their arguments that I wish to know. I need truth as a human being, not comfort. I can always stand pain, change and discomfort; I have. Secure as I am in this huge empire, one day, lack of truth might kill me.


3


Thus when Lancaster is examining clearly and masterfully the changes in publishing of books in the past fifty years, he might also be looking at the application of a biological principle to a social dilemma. Unquestionably, large masses of people cowed and momentarily comforted by the state are going to read those blockbusters produced by trade publishing, just as they see movers that they read have been watched by hundreds of millions of people in week, setting perhaps imaginary financial records for their industry of illusions.
That is a function of force that pulls people into on commune the way trekkers across the plains once put up a circle of their vehicles against the assaults of marauding Indians. It is going to make the readers feel comfortable, which is not a negligible emotion.
Another ineradicable set or readers are going to look to the margins of book publishing if they can find them to read books that are going to promise to offer them the truth. That in the biological principle behind the existence niche markets. Lancaster says that one should define oneís books as specifically as possible in this market to hit the audience they target. He regards technical books as perfect examples of this genre.

After reading Don Lancaster, I thought that my assessment of what I should publish had been upside down. I was from another age, thinking of novels I wanted like Ernest Hemingway or Moses to be read by everybody. I should have been thinking that those books might at best be sold by readers who wanted my studies of enthusiasm as different as silent movers and stuttering. Both are subjects millions of people are interested in, some will be book readers; in P.O.D. publishing, if there are five or one, it doesn't matter. As Lancaster says, if one has a few or dozens of books with specific targets, one has a better chance of one hitting their market.
We can see in the aegis of the biological imperative to know truth, how the Internet and P.O.D. publishing are two specific aspects of a force that might be cosmic as well as life-embracing. What else is there in the universe but explosion and implosions, dissolutions and organization, the personal and the impersonal?


4


If we credit this biological imperative we can understand some of the reasons why books have few readers in our society and why it is becoming increasingly post-literate. The reason to read a book is always squarely rooted in survival. One can presumptively learn more from life that books; life lies less.
As long as books can persuade readers they can discover more trust form them than if they take a long and alert walk in the woods, they can make a case for themselves as an artifact of life. When they canít, they cannot argue for being read beyond reasons of obligation or sentimentality. We donít need them anymore than moustache wax.
Our declining and often defunct educational system, our descent into a Dark Age such as Christianity once ruled and Islam now manages in its ubiquitously squabbling and impoverished territories, may be different in its appearance but not in its effects: enslavement and death. As unpleasant aa it can be to live among free people, we might be wise to endure its follies as long as they do not equally stifle us or kill us.
Nobody can make a movie now on our entrenched institutions; at least we ought to understand what is wrong with them and make our individual actions based on a fair assessment of what is in front of us.
We are pushing in and out of schools in the West toward a definition of life that is easy, comfortable and filled with instant pleasure. If the end of such a tragic quest is addiction, stupidity, ignorance, and a blank torpor close to sleep, those of us who know better about these follies have trouble persuading others they should honor pain and endurance more than they have to.
We have a million twelve step programs and other rehabilitation centers to attempt to educate people to avoid or defer what is instantly pleasure or a relief. What else is our society with its pills and television about? Itís no wonder we canít persuade tens of millions of children to read and love books. Reading is harder than most things in life. If life is about living in a perfumed fog as affluent slaves in an empire of constat pleasure, we should never open a book. We canít at once preach comfort and literacy and think that our congregation is going to embrace the first and not neglect the second.

On the other hand if these seasons of instant pleasure we have the option to enjoy in our age are a vacation from life, we have an argument for truth, reading books and literacy.
When we see a young person walking down the street mumbling some enraged rap ditty, we at least can honor that this splenetic and loud rap piece is mirroring his anger and remittance from people and institutions around him as nothing else in competition with rap does.
We can also acknowledge that his fury is in his perception more of a central definition of who he is than anything else. He is living by a biological imperative to discover who he is, then find the instruments to acquire freedom and power for himself. He isnít practicing to be a cog in the state. It might be better for him, certainly it is more comfortable, but it doesn't suit him. As a species, we can be gelded but we arenít born oxen.
Thus, the direction of books at the margins are not only going to be to find specific target markets but help the reader to process what do what that rap pieces did for the adolescent, if few of us are as enraged or one step from turning on bystanders with a machine gun as he may be.
Books in the service of nature and truth will last. Books that aim to comfort the reader are tied to organizations which promote comfort for their life and utility. We are a long way from faith in the Olympian gods; we still read Homer because his narratives are mostly about human beings. We recognize everybody in Homer. We are much less interested in Ptolemy, who aimed to persuade his readers that the sun revolved around the Earth and so did the planets and stars in complex epicycles.
An author who aims at the truth as he knows it is liable to find many readers who are heading in the same direction. Honest writers will eventually find readers. Dishonest ones only stand a better chance of making money. Occasionally an Einstein, a Newton or a Copernicus is the only man on the palest to know something central and physically important to all of us, but we usually arenít that much different from each other that, no matter how marginal we are from the capitals of comfort, we find ourselves alone anywhere.


5


I think of all the wonderful tips I got from reading Don Lancasterís web site the best was ď think creativelyĒ. This perhaps means something quite different than it did in my youth. It dent invite one to take up writing rhymed verse or putting up an easel to do still life. It assumes that we tend to think in habitual ways that present seemingly self evident ideas to us that were never true, are no longer true, or may one day but true but not now. My problem has been since I am a slow thinking Litvak that it sometimes takes me decades to realize certain things I want to be true that were true in the past arenít true anymore.

It doesnít happen all or en most of the time but I do get snagged occasionally in situations that I donít seem to have the sense to realize are imaginary. I have been punished by my tardiness whenever it has happened. Justice has been done.
I came up in a time when books were made for everybody. By this word, people meant a mass of people that did not include imbeciles, hermits, and a few souls beyond both God and understanding. Lancaster says this age is over. Diversity is in. Now you want to write for the specific enthusiast with the specific interest, find him where is he and wants to be.
I had surmised some of this before I read Don Lancaster. I certainly knew from the bookstores centrally advertising authors dead many decades ago that my age was over. I was living in a museum, not the worst place to inhabit when one thinks of plagues, floods and World War Two.
I also knew that mass market books were with a few exceptions a piece of history. What stunned mobbed his remark was his implication that books I had been wiring on the side for the crystallization of my understanding about some subject arcane to most was the very place I should be looking at for what books I wanted to market first. Lancaster suggests ďtechnical booksĒ.
As one can see all too well from this essay I am still immersed more than I should be in a humanist and populist mode of thinking that places technical books somewhat to the side of my large intents. Perhaps I am one lungfish that canít make my way very far out of the water and become a land animal. If so maybe I can point the way to Don Lancaster as one who can guide one onto dry land and maybe even onto the mountains.
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