Sunday, July 30, 2017

Notes From a Novice RVer Part I -- Why The Hell Would a Vintage BMW Guy Be Interested in an RV?

If you know me from my 30 years of Hack Mechanic columns in BMW CCA Roundel magazine, you might think "WHAT? AN RV? Has Siegel finally inhaled too much brake cleaner? Did the Kugelfischer injection in one of the tiis cause him to lose his marbles (or, more appropriately, his bearings)? Or does he feel the collection needs a behemoth to balance the very small and very light (but very dead) Lotus in the garage?

I assure you, I'm quite sane. As with many things, understanding why I bought a small budget RV simply requires the proper context. (And, if you know me, you know I'm all about the context.)

In the dim and distant daguerreotype past, what now seems like grainy newsreel footage in our minds, Maire Anne and I owned a succession of Volkswagen buses and campers. We moved down to Austin TX in 1982 in Maire Anne's rusty '71 VW bus. My keeping the bus running actually predated my BMW fixation. We then bought a '69 VW Westfalia camper with a dead engine. I pulled the engine out of the '71, refreshed it, and installed it into the '69, and that became Maire Anne's daily driver.  We loved the camper, and occasionally overnighted in it around Texas.

When we moved back to Boston in '84, Maire Anne drove the camper north (I was driving a U-Haul towing our other worldly possessions, including my rust-free BMW 2002). Maire Anne continued to daily-drive the camper around Boston until the kids were born and it was clear it wasn't the best safest choice for a daily vehicle.

We sold the '69 Westfalia in the late 1980s for $500. It's what it was worth. I'd say I rue the decision, but I really don't. It was simply an old car that was starting to rust and was out of sync with our needs. Plus, I wasn't accumulating cars then as I tend to now, and I had nowhere to put it.

But our attraction to VW buses and campers continued, simply transferred and updated to VW Vanagons. Over the next ten years, we had six, including an '83 Westfalia, and a diesel, which was, by far, the slowest vehicle I've ever driven, even slower than the old buses.

So we had lots of exposure to and understood the charm and the limitations of these vehicles, including the joy of having a line of angry vehicles behind you as you held your foot to the floor in third gear and struggled to hold 40 mph. But hey, the campers had a fold-out bed, a small cook stove, a "closet," and an icebox (or a finicky refrigerator in the later ones). All that you could want. At least when you were in your twenties.

The fact that Westfalias didn't have a toilet or a shower wasn't a big deal. Those were hygiene issues. So you'd get a little fragrant and pee outside. Big deal. Plus, to get a vehicle with actual plumbing, you needed to buy an RV, and it was something of a point of pride among Westfalia owners that their vehicles weren't RVs. To us, Westfalias represented quiet minimalist ecologically-responsible left-leaning escapism. RVs represented loud fat fuck Barcolounger-sitting beer-swilling flag-waving American excess. Two totally different camps. (Though I must admit that Maire Anne and I were blown away when, while camping at Yosemite in '79, a woman in the RV in the adjacent campsite offered us a slice of pie that she'd just baked in the oven in the RV. Perhaps the origin story began right there. We just didn't know it yet. We had already met the enemy, and they already were us.)

The VW van / bus / camper idea took a long time to flush through my system. The waterboxer motors in the '84 and later Vanagons are shit, reliability-wise, and there are a whole variety of motor swaps to increase reliability and power. As recently as five years ago, I was hell-bent on the idea of buying a late-model Vanagon, like a '90 or a '91, and installing a 230 hp Subaru SVX motor. It's a not uncommon transplant, with a lot of support in terms of kits for the engine mounts, wiring harness, etc. Oh, to have a VW bus or camper that wasn't underpowered! I looked at a few candidate cars and came pretty close, but a few things steered me away.

1) Rust. Like most old cars, pre-1980 VW buses are rust buckets. Vanagons aren't really much better; they rust along the seams if you look at them with so much as a moist thought in your mind. This meant that, if I owned one, it would need to be garaged. When I framed the question in that way ("are you willing to surrender one of your precious garage spaces to this?"), the answer was clear: No.

2) Cost. Pre-1980 buses, especially pre-1974, especially the split-windowed pre-68s, had gotten pricey (they're insane now). Even Vanagons have been on the upswing for some time. Now that I have more places I can store cars, I'd love to have another one, but only if its financial bite is minimal.

3) Real Predicted Use. When I spoke with Maire Anne about the idea of a Vanagon or a later Eurovan camper, while we waxed nostalgic about the good old days in our buses and Westfalias, we both readily admitted that, at this point in our life, we like hotel rooms, and there's no shame in that.

So that was that.

And then something interesting happened. A post on Bring a Trailer re-introduced me to the Vixen, the boutique RV that was designed by Delorean designer Bill Collings and built by the Vixen Motor Company 1986 through 1989. The original Vixen 21TD was an innovative package. It did have a toilet and a shower like a real RV, but there were other features that made it attractive to a former Westfalia owner. First, it simply looked massively cool. It was low and streamlined and looked like an escaped design exercise from Space: 1999. 

And it was incredibly fuel-efficient. It was powered by a BMW turbodiesel M21 motor, the same engine that was in the short-lived BMW 524td. I had been aware of the Vixen's existence, since, because of the BMW motor, the introduction of the RV was covered at the time in the magazine I write for, but I had totally forgotten about it. The fuel-efficient motor, combined with the Vixen's aerodynamic shape, low weight, and 5-speed manual transaxle, resulted in a reported 29 mpg fuel economy at 55 mph. It didn't have a tall roof like most RVs, instead having a pop-top roof that was hinged on one side, offering walk-around headroom when the rig was parked. Because of the pop-top roof, it didn't have a rooftop air conditioner like most conventional RVs. That, combined with its 21-ft length, allowed it to fit into most garages.

Only 376 TDs were built before Vixen's investors got antsy and pushed the company to make the RV more conventional. They released the Vixen 21SE with a Buick V6 engine and automatic transaxle, a molded fiberglass roof for increased headroom, and a rooftop air conditioner, the pair of which almost guaranteed it would no longer fit in a garage. Vixen went under shortly after.

The fact that the Vixen 21TDs have a BMW motor is no secret. In fact, many of these rigs have sprouted familiar BMW blue-and-white badges on their nose and/or tail that were not there at the time of production. Make no mistake--Vixens are not BMW RVs; they are RVs with a BMW engine. Still, when one shows up at a vintage BMW event, it is welcomed warmly into the fold. And as a guy who regularly attends a fair number of vintage BMWs events, there was a lot of appeal in that.

While I was doing some field geophysics work in Denver in the fall of 2016, I found an affordable Vixen 21TD in Santa Fe, not exactly right around the corner, but close enough to go have a look. This was right after the election. Everything was in turmoil. In addition to the appeal of showing up at vintage BMW events in something rare and weird, I became entranced by the fantasy of buying this Vixen RV, telling the rest of the screwed-up world to go fuck itself, and running away with my darling Maire Anne and trying to be the full-time the touring singer/songwriter I've always wanted to be. It didn't happen; once I saw the Vixen in person, it was clear that it was far too hobbled to consider such a quest (for a lot more information and a good laugh, see and But I did get to walk around inside a Vixen and experience the feel of a slightly larger RV that actually had some living space instead of just a fold-out bed to crash on. It started me thinking more seriously about small RVs.

But oddly enough, the thing that really kicked my RV search into gear occurred months later. It was an offhand comment Maire Anne made about going "mothing." My wife is technically not an entomologist, but she owns a business called "Bugworks" which does hands-on programs with live insects for elementary schools, libraries, and museums. As I am plugged into all manner of vintage BMW-specific online resources, she is plugged into many insect-related forums and Facebook groups. Back in the spring, Maire Anne mentioned that The New England Entomological Society (an official-sounding name for a pretty laid-back group of insect enthusiasts)  was hosting "Moth Ball in Athol," about an hour and a half from us, a night-time activity where knowledgeable lepidopterists (people who study moths and butterflies) would be there to identify whatever winged creatures were attracted to the white sheets with the lights behind them. The invite said that people were welcome to camp out in the host's yard.

I heard this and thought "so, if we had an RV that we could sleep in, we could use it for this. We could go mothing in it. We could do this, together."

Now, you might think this sounds sweet and a bit quirky, and I guess it is, but is in fact central, because it combines two huge things. The first is that owning a car usually works best if the car is actually for something. Sure, you might buy a car specifically to flip and make money on, or to be a hanger queen that you rarely drive and mainly look at, if you have that kind of money and space, but the cars that I love best are the ones I actually use. Sometimes they're daily drivers for a period of time, sometimes they're beloved classics that I drive thousands of miles to vintage car events. But they're for something. If they're not, if that's missing, the car just sits in storage. Taking a step further, car people often look at cars the way that normal people look at clothing or shoes. You never have enough of them. You look at new ones and think "ooooh, I could wear these doing this." You're always thinking about which car would fit a certain task, or how to modify the task so taking the car would make sense.

But the second and more crucial thing is the idea of buying something that allowed Maire Anne and I to spend time together doing something we both enjoyed, or, at least, that one of us enjoyed and the other one politely tolerated. For many years, we were in a band together. It was a wonderful thing to do as a couple, something that took us outside the standard parameters of parenthood. We still jam a few times a year with old bandmates, but it's not a consistent activity. People get in ruts, wrapped up in the minutia of their lives, and we're no different. Some of my car friends are surprised that Maire Anne doesn't tend to accompany me on my long road trips in my vintage cars; the 17 straight hours I spend driving the 900 miles to The Vintage in Asheville is her idea of hell. Vintage at Saratoga, on the other hand, is about 4 hours; she'll come with me to that. And on the way back, we'll take the long way, and stop at any quilt or craft store she wants.

Now, for the record, I think the whole tiny house thing is stupid. I don't give a shit about millennials with Instagram accounts and a dog living in vans and eking out a living endorsing Nalgene water bottles. My singer-songwriter fantasy notwithstanding, I wasn't trying to engage the all-or-nothing paradigm of selling the house and wandering around the country like Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty in Lost in America .(One of our favorite movies. Let me explain the nest egg philosophy to you.) I don't care about any of that. I'm not part of a trend. I was simply looking for a means of doing something fun with my wife. The idea that, if I bought a small inexpensive RV, we didn't have to immediately drive off to Yellowstone in it and begin debating whether we'd be happier staying in hotels and B&Bs, and instead we could simply use it to go "mothing" together, was tantalizing. I wondered, if we owned a budget RV, what other activities we'd never thought of, like mothing, might materialize.

So, really, that's how it started. Mothing.

(Next week: Having laid out the case, I educate myself.)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Notes on Self-Publishing Ran When Parked

This is long. Strap in. (That’s what he said. BOOM!)
I’m sorry. I’m a bad person.
But those two snappy one-line paragraphs in fact encapsulate a big reason why I self-published Ran When Parked. I wanted to be able to say shit like that without having to argue over it with an editor or a publisher.
Notes on Self-Publishing Ran When Parked
I have no desire to be one of those writers who blogs on self-publishing. However, several people have asked me what the mechanics were in self-publishing Ran When Parked (as they say in med school, see one, do one, teach one), and in particular, how I did it so quickly. A few friends have even asked me if, now that I’m a publisher, I can publish their book.
As I now have had one book (Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic) published via the conventional path of being an outside author who signed a book deal with a publisher (Bentley Publishers), two books published as an inside author while working as an employee of Bentley Publishers, and one book self-published, I do have certain insights into the process and the pros and cons of each approach. They are, however, very niche-y insights. I sure as hell ain’t Stephen King.
Here we go.
Background: The Bentley Books
Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic Written as an Outside Author
When I signed the book deal with Bentley Publishers for Memoirs (a standard royalty agreement in which I own the copyright), I told the story of the genesis of the book in a Roundel column that can be found here ( There was some back-and-forth with Bentley regarding the content, and it was softened in places and focused and expanded in others by my excellent editor at Bentley, Janet Barnes, but it is totally my book, written in my voice. I love Memoirs; it contains many of my core automotive and life beliefs, and has resonated with a surprising number of people.
When Memoirs was published, people told me that, even if you sign a book deal with a publisher, they’re not going to do much for you in terms of marketing; you’re still going to need to heavily market your own book. However, the marketing guy at Bentley at the time, Maurice Iglesias, got Memoirs reviewed in both The New York Times and The Boston Globe. That’s nothing I could ever have gotten done on my own. I was quite impressed.
But, as anyone who has had a book published with a standard royalty agreement will tell you, you have to sell a shit ton of books to make any real money. I get a check from Bentley Publishers every year for about $1300 for the royalties from Memoirs. It is not anything close to life-changing money. It’s barely even income.
As with any publishing agreement, the royalty is on the basis of the sale price of the book that is paid to the publisher. That is, just to make up numbers (and I am intentionally making up numbers), if my royalty is 15%, and if someone buys Memoirs directly from Bentley publishers at its full $29.95 list price, I make $4.49 per book, but if Amazon buys the book in quantity at a 30% discount for $20/book, then I make $3 per book. While being picked up by a real publisher is way cool, you can see why the publisher needs to sell a lot of books to produce any real income for you.
Besides royalties, there’s another potential income stream—direct book sales. When I speak at events and sign and sell books, I need to buy my own books from Bentley Publishers and then resell them. Bentley sells books to their “outside authors” not at their cost, but at the same discounted rate at which they sell them to “the book trade” (meaning Amazon and others). I stress that, as with royalties, there’s nothing wrong or unusual with that. Publishers own the books they publish. They don’t give them at cost to their authors to resell. It’s not a complaint; it’s just the way it is. So in order for me to make any money reselling books, I need to sell them at list price or near. So (again, making up numbers), if I buy a box of 10 of my own books from Bentley Publishers at the “book trade” rate of $20/book, and if I sell the books for the list price of $29.95, I’m making $9.95 per book. And, if you’re a fan at a book talk, it’s generally expected that, when you buy a personally-inscribed copy of a book from the author, you pay list price for the experience of meeting and talking with the author and getting the inscription.
Interestingly, I do also receive royalties for copies of Memoirs that I buy and resell, just like I receive them when Amazon buys and resells them (I used to joke with Bentley that, after Amazon, I was probably their biggest customer, and it really wasn't a joke). So, again, making up numbers, if my royalty rate is 15% and I buy a box of 10 books for $20/book, I receive a $3 royalty per book. Then, if I sell the books for the list price of $29.95, I’m getting $9.95 + $3 = $12.95/book. On paper, that sounds pretty good, and it’s certainly better than $3/book, but it’s not like I’m doing book talks every weekend, so the number of books sold this way is quite small.
After Memoirs was published, I started receiving a steady trickle of online requests for personally-inscribed books. I asked Bentley Publishers how we should deal with this. “Don’t worry about it,” they said; “there’s not a publisher in the country who offers a turn-key method online method of ordering a personally-inscribed book. That’s what book signings are for.” And they were right.
However, the trickle of requests never stopped. For that reason, I began offering personally-inscribed copies of Memoirs off my own website, and marketing that through social media and enthusiast forums, particularly around Father’s Day and Christmas. In addition to providing a modest number of book sales, it also provided me a poignant window into people’s relationships, as I’d receive requests from sons buying books for their fathers, inscribed with “dad, thanks for teaching me everything I ever knew,” or vice versa, or spouses for their car-obsessed spouses. Filling these requests has turned out to be one of the most meaningful part of being an author. 

But it's still a small number of books that get sold this way. People have to know this service is available and be able to find you. It's not the same as seeing the book on Amazon and clicking and buying.
The Hack Mechanic™ Guide to European Automotive Electrical Systems Written as an Employee
In January 2015, I was hired as a full-time employee of Bentley Publishers to write books they were interested in that I could never do in my spare time. I wrote two books for them (The Hack Mechanic™ Guide to European Automotive Electrical Systems, and the soon-to-be-published Mechanical Ignition Handbook: The Hack Mechanic™ Guide to Vintage Ignition Systems). Since I was an employee, they own the copyrights, and thus I receive no royalties. There is nothing wrong or unusual with this arrangement, as I was paid salary for the nearly two years I worked there. In terms of the money, given the small amount I made in royalties from Memoirs, I’d take two years of salary over royalties any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
However, as a Bentley employee, I had to write what they wanted me to write, and there was much back-and-forth over both content and voice. Although the title of the Electrical book carries my Hack Mechanic trademark, it is a focused repair manual written in the third person except for occasional sidebars, and as such, has less of my voice. Again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; the negotiation, and ultimately doing what they asked, were both  absolutely appropriate and professional parts of being an employee writing a technical manual.
In the run-up to the release of the Electrical book, and in its aftermath, I was encouraged to use my social media presence and personal appearances at car events to promote it, and I did so relentlessly. It was less clear what Bentley Publishers brought to the table in terms of marketing the Electrical book; there were no “I can’t believe this is happening” events like the review of Memoirs in The New York Times. Then again, in fairness, an electrical repair manual simply doesn’t get reviewed in The New York Times.
Voice and marketing issues notwithstanding, I think that the Electrical book is a great book, with a unique set of content. I strongly recommend it, and I completely stand by it. It is in no way a lesser product because I don’t go full-on gonzo in the narrative. I have not yet seen the soon-to-be-published Mechanical Ignition Handbook, but I fully expect it to be excellent as well.
When I speak at BMW events or give book talks, I do also sell the Electrical book, and because the list price is higher than Memoirs, I actually make more money per book selling my own copies of the Electrical book than Memoirs, which offsets the fact that I don’t receive any royalties on the Electrical book. However, because it is not my story in my voice, I have less emotionally invested in it, and thus less energy behind it. (Again, it is a great electrical book, unique in its scope and content, and I highly recommend it. This is all just background for…)
Why I Began to Think About Self-Publishing
Prior to the trip with Louie, an acquaintance who’d been reading my Hack Mechanic columns for many years—a guy who teaches entrepreneurship at Babson—began taking me out to breakfast and trying to help me to think of ways to monetize this thing that I do, whatever the hell that is. He threw a bunch of things against the wall to see what would stick. Could I make money fixing cars? Flipping cars? Writing and self-publishing books? Doing videos? He pointed me at Kevin Kelly’s well-known article about needing only a thousand true fans in order to be successful. Usually I brush off this sort of Internet-based crowd-funded stuff, but when I actually read Mr. Kelly’s article, both the concept and the numbers made sense to me. When I combined that with the ideas that I could reach my own fan base without a publisher, and that, if I self-published, I could earn not just a royalty but the full load of the book sale, self-publishing my next book began to make sense. I just didn’t know what the next book would be.
When I returned home on March 1st from the road trip with Louie, I thought that the adventure might be book-worthy, perhaps a combination of the story and some amount of how-to, not unlike the “a memoir with actual useful stuff” subtitle of Memoirs. I began fantasizing about not only writing the Louie book, but getting it published in time to release it at The Vintage in Asheville NC on May 19th. The combination of the quirky niche-y subject matter and the short time frame made me think that the only way to do it was to self-publish it. I was unemployed (well, I had lost my full-time job at Bentley in October, went back to doing geophysics full-time for several months, thought that was going to last for half a year, and had that abruptly fall through in December), so other than the Roundel writing and the standard car stuff, I had a lot of time on my hands.
The more I thought about self-publishing the book and looked into the mechanics of doing it, the more appealing it became. I realized that I didn’t want to have to try to convince anyone that this was a book that had a readership; I knew that a non-trivial number of my readers would buy it. I wanted to retain my raw unedited voice. And, if the goal was to get books in time for The Vintage (11 weeks from when I arrived home), a publisher would only get in the way.
It was really that simple.
Plus, what was the worst that could happen? I failed? I burned out on it and quit? I didn’t get it done on time? There was no real monetary investment other than that horrible economic concept of "opportunity cost." Since I had the time, and since I like writing, the downside was almost non-existent.
Writing the Book
Many people have asked me “how the hell did you get it written so quickly?”
I have no problem pounding out words. Between writing my Roundel magazine, Roundel online, Hagerty online, and former Bentley assignments, pounding out content has rarely been a problem for me. And pounding out content where I’m in control of the content is like talking (which anyone who knows me will tell you I do a lot of). In fact, much of what I write (or wrote) for the above outlets needs to be edited to length. So length isn’t a problem. (That’s what she said. BOOM!)
I got back from the Louie adventure, sat myself down at the laptop, and simply wrote for two solid weeks. The fact that I had done a very thorough job Facebooking the trip was invaluable; the first thing I did when I began writing was pull down the Facebook posts and use them as the fixed points in the time on which to hang the content. I rapidly settled on a structure of one chapter per day, with intro and outro chapters dealing with logistics, how-to, and lessons learned.
In two weeks I had a credible first draft.
I kept pounding on the manuscript, adding major sections and emplacing photographs. By the 8th week, I had a complete 3rd draft ready for an editing pass and then layout.
It’s said that, when a battery is being charged by a three-stage charger, that batteries really love the “topping” stage of the charging—that this stage adds a lot to the health and lifetime of the battery (you can tell I wrote an electrical book, can’t you?). I feel the same way about writing books. The things you add as a book is approaching completion are often the most valuable, everything from story arc to technical information to tone to anecdotes of human interaction, all sorts of things big and small. I could’ve easily kept at it and added more and more and more, but I was using The Vintage as a release date, and I need to stop writing to allow the book to be laid out by a book designer.
Editing the Book
For better or worse, Ran When Parked did not have a professional editor. My wife, Maire Anne Diamond, gave it a read for typos, errors, and glaring omissions, and caught a few things, but there was no editing pass by a pro to restructure it or focus it, or to relentlessly scrub it to style-book standards. Much of the reason why this didn’t happen was that the time frame was so crushing that I needed to put the book in the hands of the book designer the moment I thought I had a complete typo-free third draft.
As with many things, there are pluses and minuses to this. The big plus is that the voice is unfiltered and unmistakably mine, like an extended version of my Facebook posts, and that was what I wanted. The minuses are that there are some redundant sections I should’ve caught, and there are probably a few grammatical fumbles. But if others argue with my frequent use of italics on words that are emphasized during speech, or my embrace of the Version of Case Capitalization in Which the Little Words Are Not Capitalized, or my capitalization of “the” in “The Vintage” and in “The Automotive Powers That Be,” or my eschewing of the kind of overly fussy hyphenation that both my former Bentley editor Janet Barnes and my Roundel editor Satch Carlson are so fastidious about (as they would write it, "overly-fussy"), or my occasionaland intentionaluse of run-on sentences written without commas to let the language run downhill like kids on toboggans and pile up at the bottom, I don’t really care. I felt that things like this fell on the side of style and voice as opposed to violation of either absolute rules or even deeply-held convention. If that's a mistake, it is my mistake to make, and I will make it with a good deal of antler-flashing iconoclasticism.
Many times, people, after hearing me give a book talk, will come up to me and say “gee… you speak just like you write.” I'll often say “no, I write just like I speak, and I work very hard at that, thank you very much. The big picture was that, while I obviously did not want any howling typos or egregious grammatical errors, I felt that the road-trip subject matter and the self-published format spotted me a few quid in terms of not being held to a standard of perfection. More than anything, I wanted to be able to look at the end product and to know that it read the way I wanted it to read, without the softening of an editor, or the recasting of the writing in a way that I would never have written it. In that regard, I am very satisfied with the end product.
Manuscript and Photos
I wrote the Ran When Parked manuscript in Word, as it’s what I’m comfortable with. I tried to incorporate as many of the photos I’d taken during the trip with my iPhone that I thought didn’t suck as possible. Since Ran When Parked is a road-trip story, my photographic standards were pretty lax, certainly waaaaaay more lax than the illustrative photography I did for the technical books I wrote when I was at Bentley Publishers.
I inserted reduced-resolution copies of the photos in the Word document to keep the manuscript file size manageable, but kept the original full-resolution files in separate folders, one folder per chapter. I cropped the photos in Word, and also added some arrows in Word, pointing to things I wanted to call attention to. I did these things in Word because I don’t own Photoshop, and even if I did, I thought that any final editing of photos was better left to the book designer. In the captions of the photos, I included the original name of the image file. In this way, I could tell whoever eventually was responsible for the book design “you’re going to need to re-import the full-resolution photos using whatever layout tool you use (e.g., InDesign, etc). The file names are in the captions. There’s one folder per chapter. You’re going to need to crop the photos like I did, and add arrows like I did.” The guy who designed and laid out the book, Eric King, had no trouble following these instructions.
Selection of Book Trim Size
Whether you’re at the step of taking the book to a book designer or entering information into online databases like Bowker to get an ISBN (more in a moment), you need to select the “trim size,” meaning the physical size of the book. For most paperbacks, that’s 6”x9”. Reference books are often 8”x11”. But you need to decide on this early on in the process. You also need to know the total page count to get an estimate on book printing costs, and you can’t really know the page count until the book is laid out in the trim size. Coincidence or not, my 200 page 8x11 Word manuscript turned into a 200 page book in 6x9 trim.
Oh, by the way, there’s a different between “page count” and “leaf count.” A page is what Word or Acrobat numbers as a page. If the highest-numbered page in the PDF file is 200, the book has 200 pages. There are two pages per leaf, but that’s not your problem. Don’t overthink it.
Book Design
Don’t underestimate the amount of time and expense necessary to go from a manuscript in Word to a book ready to be printed. Someone has to take your Word document, turn it into a book design (one PDF file for the “book block” interior, and a second PDF for the front and back covers), and work through the details of making certain that those two PDFs are compliant with the requirement of whoever is printing the book. 
Let me say that again in a different way. Whatever company you are using to print the book is going to have submission requirements for the PDF files. These may be in a template, or simply listed on their website, or both. Someone needs to be responsible for making sure that the book design is compliant with those requirements. Not only am I not a graphic artist, I don’t fully understand what terms like bleed, four-color printing, flattening of transparency, and others really mean. Someone has to understand these terms, and to react to feedback from the printer when there are problems with the submitted PDF files. That someone totally isn’t me. While I worked at Bentley, I played around with Adobe products enough to know how to set a trim size, import text, place photographs, and output a PDF, but that did not qualify me to produce a set of printer-ready book PDF files.
If the book has zero illustrations and photographs, the manuscript layout process should be relatively straightforward, and may even be largely successful using an existing template. However, if the book is a fully-illustrated art book or a repair manual, the quality of the design and the final laid-out and printed product is as important as the text in the book. Ran When Parked was much closer to the former. Although pictures of people and cars were part of the story, they weren’t “use 10mm wrench on bolt A” pics. But I didn’t want them to look like shit either.
But even if the manuscript is photo-free, there’s the book cover. I’m a musician, and in the musical world, there’s an analogous issue regarding CD artwork. Anyone can download the templates and put together their own CD artwork, but as with so many other things, if you want it to look professional and to be taken seriously, the advice is simple: Hire a professional.
So, someone needs to design the book—to go from your manuscript and photos to a final set of PDFs for the interior and the cover. Both The Harvard Square Bookstore, who is printing the first hundred copies, and Amazon Createspace, who is printing the rest, offer book design services. I did not use either of them.
I have several friends locally who do book design, but for a variety of reasons, I dealt with Eric King, a gentleman who I’d met at The Vintage last year. Eric and his daughter are doing a father-daughter BMW 2002 project. I developed an immediate bond with them. I give them phone and videochat support on their project. Eric has done all sorts of mad Photoshop things with me on Facebook, like putting my face on Kurt Russell’s Used Cars body and having me stand in front of a used car lot that, when you look closely, is full of my cars.

At one point, Eric came up with a joke cover for Ran When Parked that said Ran All Morning: How I Drove a 2016 BMW from Hartford to Boston

The joke notwithstanding, I loved the look and feel of the joke cover, and asked Eric “could you do a real cover for me? It doesn’t need to be much more than the mock cover.” I sent him a photo a friend took of Louie in front of Jake’s pole barn, and he ran with it and sent me a draft of what turned into the real cover. I liked it.
Soon, one thing led to another, and Eric offered to do the interior book design as well—to own the entire book design project. I told him the time frame, and he said he thought it was possible. I told Eric “in a similar vein to the cover, if the interior looks similar to my first book, Memoirs, I’d be very happy. I’m not going to have a lot of input into type faces and whether each chapter starts with a big letter or a big word.” And I didn’t; I’m not a graphic design person. For this reason, there were no real iterations between Eric and I in terms of the book’s basic graphic design; I accepted what he came up with and was very happy with it. This enabled him to get done very quickly. And Eric had no trouble whatsoever following my instructions regarding images, captions, file names, cropping, etc, which was great for both of us. So we worked very well together.
Eric sent me proofs of both PDF files which I pored over for formatting errors, but of course I also used it as an opportunity for several final editing passes. Each time a new PDF came, I found more things in the content to massage. He was very tolerant of my asking him to make these editorial tweaks. I think that some of that tolerance was bought with the fact that I wasn’t at all fussy about the basic graphic design.
Printing at The Espresso Book Machine at The Harvard Bookstore
When I began looking at self-publishing, many people mentioned Amazon Createspace, but when I checked into it, there appeared to be a non-trivial learning curve.
I described what I wanted to do in terms of having a hundred books available for The Vintage, and the dizzying maze of ISBN-related issues, to a friend (Sharon Pywell, a published novelist who self-published her third book when her publisher declined it, and who, if you read link at the top about the origin of Memoirs, is the person who started my entire book-writing career by sending a copy of one of my Hack Mechanic pieces to her literary agent). Sharon said “well, you could do what I did, and just take the manuscript to The Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square. They have an Espresso Book Machine. They print them right there.” (Information can be found at

I liked the sound of that—simple and direct. I want 100 books for The Vintage, they’ll print 100 books. I can learn about ISBNs and all that crap later. I looked at Sharon’s self-published book, and sure enough, the front matter of the book had no publisher, no ISBN, no Library of Congress number, nothing except the statement “Printed in the United States.” Perfect.
I developed a strategy—I thought that what I’d do was have The Harvard Bookstore (THB) print the first hundred copies with no ISBN Library of Congress number or bar code or any of the other things I didn’t understand, and after The Vintage, then I’d look at printing more books in a manner where they could be distributed and sold in a manner other than out of the back seat of my car.
Should you do something like this? As is the case with so many things in life, it depends what the goal is. If the goal is to get a small number of physical books in your hands and not to sell them online (sometimes called “vanity pressing”), then you don’t need to worry about an ISBN, or a library of congress number, or a bar code; you can simply get books printed at someplace like THB. Think of it as Super Xerox that spits out a bound book, because that’s essentially what it is.
I spoke with Spencer Hawkes, the Print On Demand manager at The Harvard Bookstore, several times, and came up with the following time frame. I cannot stress enough that it was the ability to speak with him and then meet him, an actual person at a local physical store, and have him commit to this time frame, that convinced me to do this first printing with THB:
·         Thursday April 27th: Email the draft PDFs of the book interior and cover (supplied to me by Eric King, the book designer) to THB. Have Spencer evaluate them for any formatting problems. There was, in fact a miscalculation on the spine size, caused by the difference between pages and leafs, that was caught.
·         Friday April 28th: Go into THB in Harvard Square and pick up two proof copies (one for me, one for Eric). Fedex the one to Eric for Saturday delivery. I'm here to tell you, there are few things more exciting than seeing the first physical copies of a book.

·         Sunday April 30th: Work with Eric to make any changes needed. These were mainly adjusting the book cover to get the printing centered on the spine, and lightening almost every image in the book, as the proof copy showed that almost all of them were too dark.
·         Monday, May 1st: Email the final PDFs to THB. Approve the printing of 100 books (well, 110; I set ten aside for family and those who directly helped me on the trip).
·         Monday, May 15th: Drive into Harvard Square and pick up 110 books.
·         Wednesday, May 17th: Load 100 books into the back seat of Louie and drive to The Vintage in Asheville NC for the official book release, which, to be clear, is nothing more than selling them out of the trunk of my car.
The cost of printing the 200 page 6x9 book at THB (color covers, black and white interior), in quantity of 100 which gave a 15% discount, was about $10/book. There was also a $25 setup fee. The two proof copies were charged as regular book copies.
As it happened, I did wind up getting the ISBN, Library of Congress #, and bar code (more about these below) in time to include these in the THB-printed copies. Eric inserted the last of these into the PDFs in true just-in-time graphic design fashion. So the THB-printed copies are not in fact some off-the-grid copies; they’re just like the Amazon Createspace copies (again, see below).
International Standard Book Number (ISBN)
If you’re going to do any sort of online or bookstore sales of a book, it needs an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). In the United States, all ISBNs originate with a company called Bowker ( If you use Amazon’s Createspace platform (below), they will give you an ISBN for free, but it is their ISBN, and then they become the publisher of the book, not you, and you apparently lose the right to choose how else and where else you may wish to publish the book. There are entire web sites devoted to this issue. The bulk of what I read seemed to say that CS-assigned ISBNs look amateurish and books that carry them are less likely to be picked up by bookstores, and that you should spend the $125 to buy your own ISBN, and then, if you use Createspace, to select the option to supply your own ISBN. So that’s what I did. However, if you’re doing a “vanity pressing” that you know is never going to be sold in bookstores, it’s difficult for me to see the real downside of just running with the CS-assigned ISBN.
I went onto the Bowker website (, and saw that one ISBN is $125, but that a block of ten ISBNs are $295. Aside from the inherent lure of a volume discount, why would you want to buy ten? You need a new ISBN if you are doing a new or revised edition of a book, or if the trim size changes, so that wasn’t an issue for me for a first printing. However, there appears to be lack of consensus on whether you need a new ISBN for an e-book version. Let’s assume you do. So that’s two right there, at $250. So, I thought, the question became: Do I see myself self-publishing another book?” The answer immediately appeared to be “yes,” as I’ve thought about doing either The Collected Hack Mechanic or The Best of The Hack Mechanic. Or a vintage air conditioning book. Or a 2002-specific book. Anyway, I made a snap decision and bought ten ISBNs.
Becoming a Publisher
On the Bowker website, when you buy the ISBNs, you have to specify a publisher and “imprint” (essentially the publisher name) to be associated with the ISBNs. It can be your name, but then the front matter of the book says “Published by Rob Siegel.” I found myself writing in “Hack Mechanic Press.”
So... to self-publish a book and sell it electronically, you need to, at some level, be a publisher. I guess, linguistically, that makes perfect sense, but I was surprised by it.
So I am now Hack Mechanic Press.
For now, it’s just a name, but it’s a name that winds up getting used in a lot of places. If nothing else, it’s a build-out of my Hack Mechanic brand, and that can’t be a bad thing. I haven’t done anything with LLCs or DBAs. I did register Up the road, I’ll do something with it.
Initially, what you have when you register with Bowker is an account on and a block of ISBNs associated with the name of a publisher. As a book is being developed and nearing publication, you go to and assign a title to one of the ISBNs. You need to enter quite a number of factors including the trim size, page count, and price, and upload an image of the cover and a basic description of the book and author bio. This all goes into a database indexed by the ISBN.
Bar Code
If you’re selling books out of your trunk, you don’t need a bar code, but you do need one if you want to have any hope of selling online or in bookstores. If nothing else, a bar code makes the book look more professional. I thought I’d run without it for the first hundred copies for The Vintage, but getting a bar code turned out to be trivial. You can buy barcodes from Bowker for $25, but I found that you can get them for free (or with a small PayPal donation) from You need to enter the ISBN for the book, as that is part of the barcode graphic, and encoded into the barcode itself. You can leave the book price blank, or enter a price, or enter “90000” for no set price. I did the latter for reasons little more than not understanding it and wanting to keep my options open. Bookow immediately e-mailed me a bar code which I e-mailed to Eric for emplacement on the back cover. Done.
Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN)
This was an afterthought. If you read about the LCCN, you’ll find that it’s not required for a book, but is considered a mark of professionalism, and it enables libraries to order your book (as one self-published writer says on her website, “there are 9,000 public libraries in the country, and if they all ordered my book, I’d be quite pleased.). I followed the information at this site ( and applied for an LLCN as the book design was about to go to the printer. The Library of Congress quotes 3 to 5 days to get an LCCN, and says right on their website “don’t do what Rob Siegel is trying to do and get the LLCN at the last moment—plan the acquisition of the LCCN as part of your design calendar,” but I was e-mailed an LCCN in several hours and it made it onto the Front Matter page.
Which brings us to…
Front Matter Page
A book’s Front Matter page typically has publisher, author, copyright, printing, edition, ISBN, and LCCN information on it, but, as I said, my friend Sharon’s self-published book had a single line on the front matter page that said “Printed in the United States.”
The sample front matter page in The Harvard Bookstore’s template shows one level of complexity above Sharon’s:
I Have Feelings, Too: The History of the Puppet
Copyright C 2010 by Coyote Hand Puppet

All rights reserved. This book, or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the expressed written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Printed in the United States of America

First printing, 2010

ISBN 0-9000000-0-0

Hand Puppets Unite Press
4567 Main Street
Upandcoming, MA 00000

    I looked at that, looked at what was in my Bentley books (which is much more complicated), consulted my inner lawyer, and came up with the following Front Matter page:
Ran When Parked: How I Resurrected a Decade-Dead 1972 BMW 2002tii
and Road-Tripped it a Thousand Miles Back Home, and How You Can, Too

By Rob Siegel

Copyright © 2017, Rob Siegel

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced
in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the
publisher, except for brief quotations in critical articles and reviews.

First printing May 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9989507-0-9

Library of Congress Control Number: 2017906583

The author and publisher recognize that some words, model names,
and designations mentioned in this book are the property of the
trademark holders. They are used only for identification purposes.
Portions of this work appeared previously in Roundel Weekly and are
reprinted here with permission where applicable.

This is not a repair manual. The author is not a professional mechanic.
Neither the author nor the publisher are responsible if you injure
yourself while working on or driving your car. If you have any doubt
as to your ability to do some of the things described in the book, or
whether the car is safe to drive after doing them, don’t do them, and
seek the services of a professional mechanic instead.

Design by King+Sons
Front Cover photograph by Dave Gerwig
Back Cover top photograph by Scott Aaron
Other photographs by Rob Siegel

Printed on Paige M. Gutenborg, the Espresso Book Machine at the
Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge Massachusetts

The Hack Mechanic™ is a registered trademark of Rob Siegel

Hack Mechanic Press
19 Mague Place
West Newton, MA 02465

And, Finally, Createspace
Createspace (CS) is Amazon’s self-publishing platform for both physical books and e-books. There is a huge amount online about its pros and cons. It’s pretty impressive. Ran When Parked is now for sale on Amazon due to Createspace.
A big advantage of Createspace is that it provides a single platform for the creation, publication, printing, royalty generation, and distribution of books. You upload a set of book PDF files, and Createspace handles the physical printing of the books, and the availability of those books through Amazon—a site where, to put it mildly, lots of people like to shop and buy books. I can’t say that I know enough about publishing to understand the downside, but you can read online about how it centralizes too much publishing power in the hands of Amazon, and how, if you’re Danielle Steel, you might not want to be using Createspace. Do I fucking look like Danielle Steel?
In addition to learning curve issues, one of the reasons I was so hesitant about using Createspace was that I thought I would have the same issue that I had with Bentley Publishers—since CS is the publisher, I thought I would need to pay market rate to buy my own books from CS. The idea that, even when self-publishing, I’d need to pay tens of dollars for my own books rather than single dollars drove me crazy. This was one of the reasons why I went to The Harvard Bookstore—at least I was paying a printer directly, with no “publisher” in the middle from whom I’d need to buy my own books. I figured that, once I learned how to do this through THB, I could switch to a larger printer to get a better price for the next round of book printing.
I was, simply, completely mistaken about this. CS gives you an option to “order author copies.” They even give you a tool to estimate your printing and shipping costs before you commit to a book. As you’ll see below, they’re very reasonable. You don’t, however, get royalties on the author copies (no double-dipping).
I have to say, they do make it very easy to self-publish. You set up an account, and like many websites, they give you a “dashboard” where you can track the progress of each of your titles. You set up the book title, and either elect to use their free CS-supplied ISBN number or to supply one of your own, as I did (lots of pros and cons on this). If you have a book design (the interior and cover PDF files), you upload the PDFs, and the files then go through an automated review process where they are checked for compliance with CS’s printing requirements. If you don’t have a book design, you can get that done within CS, though I have no experience with doing so.
I began jumping through the CS hoops in parallel with the printing of the book at THB. In my case, since I already had a book design (meaning, again, one PDF file for the cover and another one for the interior), I was able to submit those files to CS for the automated review process. CS found one problem where the book has, near the center, a map spread that was designed to print right to the inside edges of the pages so the center of the map was seamless. The Harvard Bookstore had no problem with that design, but with CS, Eric needed to change the layout of those two pages so the pages had margins (whitespace in the center of the map). After that, the PDFs passed the automated review process. I also had Eric make a small change in the Front Matter page of the CS interior file, changing the Harvard Bookstore reference to “Printed in the United States.” Those were the only changes needed.
You also select the distribution channels through which you want the book to be available. Obviously the big advantage of Amazon Createspace is the “Amazon” part; you want your book to be available on both Amazon as well as on the Createspace e-store (more on this below). There are other “expanded distribution” options as well, such as libraries. Those are apparently automatically available if you use a Createspace-supplied ISBN, but there’s some complication if you use your own ISBN; I haven’t looked into this. Note that this obviously isn’t the be-all and end-all of book distribution. There’s a marketing component to convincing bookstores to carry your book. But it’s a very easy way to get the book available for sale on Amazon, and that is one of the biggest advantage of Createspace.
Once the PDF files pass the automated review process, they need to be reviewed by an actual human being at CS. This was quick, literally overnight. In the morning, my dashboard showed that the book was approved and I could order a proof copy.
I ordered two proofs, one for me, one for Eric (getting two proofs sent to two different locations took manual intervention via an actual phone call to CS, but they were very responsive). I selected the fastest shipping and Eric had his in two days. Mine took three. With the expedited shipping, each of the proofs cost about $25—very reasonable. Eric reported that the proof looked great, with the halftone screening of the black and white images looking even better than the proof from THB.
I then—by accident!—approved the proof. I hit the “approve” button, thinking another menu would pop up, but instead I was told that the book was immediately ready for order on Createspace, and would be ready for order on Amazon in 3-5 days. Sure enough, I searched for Ran When Parked, and there it was. Conversely, I searched for it on Amazon, and came up empty; it wasn’t up yet.
However, to my delight, when I looked the following morning, I found that Amazon had already listed the book, that it appeared as “in stock,” and that two-day delivery times were quoted. So 3-5 days for availability on Amazon turned into just overnight. Ah, the wonders of print on demand.
Note that Createspace is “an Amazon company.” It is not Amazon. That is, a book for sale on “the Createspace e-store” is, well, for sale on the Createspace e-store. That is a different thing than it being for sale on Amazon. A buyer would have to go to Createspace and set up an account there, as they would with any online retailer. It’s a separate account from Amazon. Further, since CS is not Amazon, books bought on CS won’t link the same way they do on Amazon (where other books by the same author appear, and you see that “people who bought that also liked this”). For this reason, many blogs recommend that you either go “left” of the Createspace e-store and instead sell on Amazon (lower royalties but much higher visibility, and Amazon’s vaunted “linking” ability), or else go “right” of it and simply sell books off your own website and get not a percentage royalty but all of it.
I have not yet read and understood on how both Amazon and Createspace are calculating the author’s share. I believe it’s a combination of the per-book printing cost, a per-book fee, and a royalty. Ran When Parked is selling for $20. I just checked my Createspace dashboard for the money coming in from the Amazon sales, and my income is $8.73 per book. By my calculation, that’s 43%. Again, that’s with me not laying out any money up front to buy the books, with Createspace doing the printing on demand, and with the books being sold through Amazon. That’s pretty impressive.

I could not know in advance what the CS time frame would be in the same way I knew it at THB by talking with an actual human being who worked there, but this wound up being the dated sequence of events:
·         May 1st: Final submission of PDF files to CS
·         May 2nd: Message from CS that the PDF files met their technical requirements for printing and that a proof copy could be ordered
·         May 2nd: Proof copies ordered for both me and Eric
·         May 4th: Eric’s proof copy arrived in Cincinnati. He reported that it looked excellent. Mine arrived a day later.
·         May 4th: While futzing about on CS, I accidentally hit the “accept proof” option, and the book was published and available for sale without my having seen the final proof (not panic-inducing, as I trust Eric). Sure enough, I checked and saw that the book was immediately available on the CS e-store (
·         May 4th: I selected the “Order Copies” option on my author-only dashboard on CS, and learned that my price on my book is $3.27/book. The cost doesn’t vary by quantity; that’s the cost in quantities of one, ten, a hundred, a thousand. The more books you buy at once, the better the shipping cost is per book, but it’s not bad. For example, for printing 100 books and shipping them to my house in Newton:
Standard shipping (12 days): $43 ($0.43/book)
Expedited shipping (7 days): $90 ($0.90/book)
Priority shipping (6 days): $213 ($2.13/book)
·         On the basis of all this, on May 4th, I ordered another 100 books and had them shipped to the hotel at The Vintage, scheduled to arrive a day before I do. So I should have 200 books there, not 100 as originally planned.
·         May 5th: I search for my book on Amazon, and find that it is available, well ahead of the 3-5 days quoted by CS (
·         May 6th: In the morning, I announce on my Facebook page that the book is available on Amazon. I also announce that I’ll sell personally-inscribed copies off my own website as soon I have books.
·         May 7th: 24 hours after the announcement, I see on my CS dashboard that Amazon has sold 67 copies of my book. I receive $8.73 per copy. I see in my PayPal account that I’ve sold six copies off my own website. I receive the full $20 per copy. Moral: People like buying stuff on Amazon.
·         May 7th: Createspace informed me that the order for 100 books had shipped to The Vintage. So it took them three days to print the 100 copies.
So, again, as I entered the process of book self-publishing and printing, I had no way to know whether Createspace would get me books in time for The Vintage. For this reason, I relied on THB because I could talk with a human being who would give a firm commitment on delivery time. As it turns out, Createspace is getting me books in time for The Vintage, at about 1/3 the price per book of THB.
Still, I don’t regret the parallel path or the added expense of THB for one moment. Part of my worldview is that you can only act on the basis of facts and data that you have while you are making a decision. Had I put off the decision until I fully understood everything I understand now, I never would’ve gotten this done.

One small thing: When my CS-printed book arrived, an extra page was added at the end on which was is apparently a CS-specific bar code (not the same one as on the back of the book), and the CS-added text: 

Made in the USA
Middletown, DE
05 May 2017

I guess this is their way of adding what is usually part of the front matter.

It is a huge understatement to say that printing and publishing the book and making it available on Amazon is only the first step; you then have to convince people to buy the book.
I am blessed that, through my 30 years of writing my Hack Mechanic column for BMW CCA and my near-constant presence on Facebook, I finally have a small set of diehard fans who I knew were nearly certain to buy the book, and a larger set of fans who I suspected were very likely to buy it.
As is the case in music, the need to already have an audience in order to sell books to an audience is a nearly insurmountable catch-22. I really have no advice here, other than the observation that if you write with passion and truth and conviction, you are more likely to find your audience than if you don’t.
I am really quite impressed with the ability of Createspace to provide a fairly easy to follow, cost-effective path to get your book produced, published, printed, and up for sale on Amazon so that an audience has a chance of finding and buying it. And that’s pretty cool. The $8.73 I earn on the $20 sale of a book (effectively a 43% royalty)  isn't as high as the $16.73 ($20 minus the $3.27 book cost) I receive when I sell them myself, but Amazon's reach is obviously much greater than the trunk of my car or my website. To get a higher percentage, I'd need to look at paying to print the books myself in quantity and ship them to Amazon, but then I'd need to deal with inventory management, etc, and I would risk what happens in the singer/songwriter world when you press a thousand CDsyou have 500 of them in your basement 15 years later. The Createspace model avoids all that. 

To me, the main value of having done this is two-fold. I got my quirky fun little book Ran When Parked published and available to those who will find it interesting. And, I learned how to do it, so when the time comes, I can do it again.

Maybe the next one will be longer. That's what she said. Boom!
--Rob Siegel