When I decided to start writing my novel, “Inconstant Moon“, I bought a refurbished IBM Thinkpad to use exclusively for writing. This laptop came with a truncated version of Windows 98, because anything more recent wouldn’t fit on the tiny hard drive. Originally the machine would have came with a floppy drive, or perhaps a CD writer, but it has neither now.
Instead it’s got a DVD player and a slot for an Internet wireless card. I suspect the computer shop cobbled it together out of bits and pieces with the intent of creating a DVD watching laptop, though I’ve never even played a DVD in it. Today probably opt for a netbook, but for the moment, my laptop remains an excellent dedicated writing machine. And any technology we can keep out of the landfills is to the good.
I was relying on the USB port to be able to get documents in and out of the laptop. The problem is that Windows 98 didn’t recognize the USB port. Rather than mess around with Microsft patches, I decided to dump Windows and instead install Ubuntu, a gnu/linux free software operating system. [If you’re interesting in finding out more about free software, Richard Stallman, founder of the free software movement, explains the four freedoms. here.]
So my my debut novel, “Inconstant Moon”, was written on a Linux machine, using the free OpenOffice Writer software.
But there was another problem with my laptop. I was unable to connect the wee beastie to the Internet. So when it came time to upload the novel, first to NaNoWriMo for the “win”, and then to CreateSpace for the proof, I hadn’t yet resolved the problems of connecting to the Internet with my laptop, so I used the USB thumbdrive to transfer my manuscript to my desktop machine, which was running Windows XP.
And transferring my novel into Windows meant the Ubuntu fonts didn’t work properly because Windows didn’t support the free software fonts (surprise). So transferring “Inconstant Moon” into Windows made it a visual disaster. But it was my only option. I had to replace the free fonts in Ubuntu with Windows proprietary fonts. It required reformatting, which was a great deal of work. But I did it and the whole thing looked good. All the subsequent editing on the desktop Windows machine for one reason only: I didn’t want to have to reformat every time I switched machines.
When the proof came back from Create Space it was gorgeous. I planned to proof read and then publish, but excellent new feedback from my beta readers transmogrified “proof reading” into “major editing”. The Windows fonts I had selected printed nicely in the proof, so I wanted to keep them. Nienke was quite taken with the look of the overall book design, which is a great compliment, and gratifying, as she is one of the people I look to as a natural arbiter of style. Everything in the proof looked so good I didn’t want to risk the book design by messing with the fonts.
And the next proof looked great, too. But again, proofing turned into editing, including the addition of several new scenes. Even so, this time through it was only a minor edit. The final rounds of editing “Inconstant Moon” took much longer than I thought, but I have to say I am very happy with the result.
@notveryalice has lately been exploring what makes art “good” in her blog. Personally, I find it extraordinarily difficult to tell if my own work is doing what I want it to without a lot of distance. I can read my own work with perfect objectivity… years after I’ve written it. First I have to get beyond remembering the writing with perfect clarity.
That’s why beta readers and/or editors are essential to the business of self publishing. Beta readers provide feedback and allow me to get a different perspective. Much of my confidence that I’ve written a good novel is from the feedback I’ve received. It is always a good sign when beta readers are so drawn in to the story they forget to flag the typos. The last rounds of editing have smoothed off the last rough edges and enriched the story. So I’m pleased.
The most important thing I’ve learned as a writer is when to stop. You can keep editing forever. That’s not what I want, I want my work to be out there. Anyway, although theoretically there is always room for improvement, once you go beyond the sweet spot, my experience tells me that the work generally goes downhill. With the final edit complete, the last bit of business before uploading “Inconstant Moon” to CreateSpace was research for an afterward “Notes on the Type” page.
I was aware that fonts might be covered by copyright, but, self publishing noob that I am, I foolishly had the idea that “Windows XP Professional” would have licensed the fonts they made available to me so that I would be able to use them in desk top publishing. But now the novel is done, and I’m planning to finalize it.
Just to be certain, I wanted to check that I could use the selected fonts for a commercial project. So I tried to find out what the license was. I spent days jumping through Windows hoops trying to find out what the license was. I’d chosen four fonts in the manuscript and on the cover. Perhaps some or all might not allow for self publishing, which is, after all, a commercial use.
What a shocking concept: the possibility that I might not be legally entitled to use the fonts included with the software. All I need to know is whether or not I can legally use the the fonts I’ve chosen in my novel. Like most self publishers, I don’t have legal advice on tap.
After a week of trying unsuccessfully to find out from Microsoft if I could legally use the five fonts I’d selected, I decided instead to dump all the old fonts and find free alternatives. What it came down to is that I simply couldn’t find out. Microsoft is much tougher than I am. [I expect I’ll blog the details later.]
For me, of special importance is the ability to have licensing that will allow me to release my novel “Inconstant Moon” under a Creative Commons license. There was a moment of weakness when I considered paying the license fees just to get it over with. But the language of the license was disturbing. Although I’m not a lawyer, it certainly made it sound as though the font licenses might restrict my ability to use the Creative Commons license I want. Most frustrating is the fact that Microsoft does not make this information available on one of their web pages.
But it is simply not worth risking a copyright infringement lawsuit. The amount of time invested in this wild goose chase was more than enough, and it was time to pull the plug and look into free fonts.
the world of free fonts
Because I didn’t want to risk the successful book design, I had put off making the full fledged migration to Ubuntu I planned so I could keep the Microsoft fonts. But when I began looking for alternatives, the irony is that the wider world offers better choices under free licenses, and makes what’s on offer from Microsoft look pitiful by comparison. I will blog more about my situation later, in hopes of trying to help others avoid the problems I’ve been having. But first I need to get my novel finished.
Libreleft Books logo
When I decided to self publish, I decided I wanted my own imprint, so I came up with a name, “Libreleft Books.” The logo I designed for it consisted of encircling the ‘Libreleft Books’ text with a wreath of laurel leaves. It seemed like a good idea, as my name is Laurel, after all. The Laurel wreath has long been used as an emblem of quality, a symbol of superiority. Or, as @CharlieSheen famously says, #winning.
But. A conversation with @notveryalice reminded me that the movie festival circuit has embraced the laurel wreath as a symbol of festival winning. Which means that using my laurel wreath design might open myself up to charges of copyright or trademark infringement.
I have read about the ways copyright and trademark law are being used to suppress creativity and competition. And while no one is likely to confuse a book with a movie festival, lately the law no longer seems to make such distinctions.
Back in the days I wrote for television I had learned it was always safest to name a character something terribly common, like John Smith, or incredibly uncommon, like John Dortmunder. The most dangerous in terms of lawsuits is a name that only one person has. The extrapolation is that the safest course would be the redesign of my lovely Libreleft Books logo.
The very definition of chilling effect.
For an eleventh hour change, instead of my wreath, it would be safer to use a book. I’m pretty sure that the most common book publisher logo going is some graphic representation of a book. And the very commonness of the symbol is in itself protection. So I after dumping my beautiful wreath graphic, I drew a picture of a book to be the background. It has entailed a huge amount of effort, and what is galling is that it has delayed my self publication. I like this one too, but not as much as my crown of laurel leaves. But between the Caslon font and the wreath… well. Chill.
And the new logo would need a free font; the one I’ve chosen is one of Manfred Klein‘s free fonts, GoticaBastard, released as “charity ware.” The licence allows for commercial use,
“but if there’s any profit, pls make a donation to organizations like Doctors Without Borders.”
I’ve done a wee bit of modification, adding a copyleft arrow as a serif on the capital L, extending the serifs into swashes to join the letters k and s. But that’s the thing about free: I am legally free to make these alterations. I’m not sure I’m happy with it, but I don’t have time to second guess just now. Maybe it’ll grow on me, or maybe I’ll change it down the road. The point is that I can proceed. So, thank you, Manfred Klein — and all the other designers and digitizers — for making sure to populate the Internet with free fonts.
So. There is a happy ending.
I am finishing up the reformatting, and my novel “Inconstant Moon” will be uploaded to CreateSpace by tomorrow. The chilling effect for fonts and logos hasn’t stopped me, but it did slow me down. And I will share the information in an effort to try to help others avoid the same trap, because the ability for writers to self publish is a good thing. And important.