The ‘Stocking Stuffer Steve Book’ Sees Daylight

I was fast running out of midnights. Our family had put together a book based on the AppleCart columns for My Mac (with a sprinkling of articles from the MacTimes Network) and it was all over but the shouting. Or rather, the advertising. Anyone who has seen what a flood of Internet hype can do for shares of Yahoo and the Web, or what some bondi-blue hoopla can do for the iMac and Apple, knows how vital that last step is.

But, by the time we realized we were actually going to self-publish a holiday book based on the Steve’s first year back with Apple, time was growing short. This was due in part to natural procrastination and in part to the fact that, if we couldn’t end the book with ‘and they all lived happily ever after’, there wouldn’t be much point in doing a book at all. It wasn’t until September, with the success if the iMac assured and Apple on everyone’s lips, that we felt we could commit ‘The Stocking Stuffer Steve Book’ to the printer.

Had we known in July what we know now, we would have gotten in touch with
, one of My Mac’s advertisers, and then sat back to bite our nails in peace. As it was, there was plenty of nail-bitting, just not much peace. And precious little sleep.

But if it was too late to follow protocol and have all the necessary things in place for, there was still iCat at, an internet ‘mall’ where people with limited skills could set up all kinds of virtual shops.

It not only seemed like a good bet for selling and showcasing the book, we liked the name. It had a familiar ring. Sort of second cousin to the iMac. And it seemed like it could be fun to set up a store, using our own ideas and our own graphics. Even the price was perfect. Free to those with less than ten products to sell.

Trouble was, that to set up the store with custom graphics, they had to be done as either JPEGs or GIFs. And the uploading had to be done after midnight when traffic was less on the Web. I was having no luck in getting my graphics accepted by the program and seemed to be stuck on ‘Step Three / Store Design’ forever.

As the book was to be offered during the holiday season–when else would something called ‘The Stocking Stuffer Steve Book’ be a hot item–I began counting midnights instead of sheep. (See “iMacs, iCats, Best Buy or Bust”, MTN

We had, by now, decided against setting up the ordering, shipping, and payments through and would use the site primarily as a showcase. Why? Other than slow loading and a tendency to crash, we knew that worked well. I’d already ordered a couple of books to check it out. And it seemed like a sensible, business-like way to keep track of everything. So what was the hitch? The hitch was that I not only had to have Excel on hand, I had to know how to use it.

Use a spreadsheet? Me? The Desktop Dilettante.The Eternal Amateur. The one who keeps vital records on the backs of envelopes and then loses the envelopes? Or mails them. It made gif-ing look like child’s play. And while one of my original aims was to find a secure way of taking credit cards, the responsibility, the complexity, the (let’s be honest) the math involved, was leading to second thoughts.

In the end, Tim, My Mac’s gallant publisher, rescued us. First with his suggestion that, if I had GraphicConverter by Thorsten Lemke, I could GIF and JPEG with the best of them. Well, maybe not the best of them, but at least I could get on with Step Three. Actually see my own ideas transformed into my own digital showroom. And he was right.

I had never realized that GraphicConverter worked both ways. What a joy to have my little 80×80 GIF online and see just how neat my store could be. Even better, what a relief to have something up for others to see. Hopefully to shop. But, just to get the store up and running as a showcase would take more midnights than I had left. It was already the middle of October and we were well behind schedule.

And that was where Tim came to our rescue the second time. He had generously offered to put up an ad for the ‘Steve Book’ using his professional skills and experience. In fact, it was practically ready for prime time. In which case, said Tim, why not give up the midnight vigils and… get some sleep!

As Tim pointed out, with his ad running and available as a link, why did we need the iCat store. I had been so focused on getting to Step Four, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could just quit. Hang it up. Get some sleep. So, with some of my daughter Meg’s illustrations and Tim’s talents, we now have an ad and (this is a shameless, self-serving tout, here) about 2,000 books waiting for a good home.

What have we learned. Well, life would have been a lot easier if I had considered early on. See: Publishers Resources / Author’s Guide in the lower righthand corner at for details on using to sell your own book. But these details do take time. And time was what we no longer had.

As we were only planning on selling through the Internet, we had decided against the expense–and the paperwork–involved in getting a proper ISBN number. This was short sighted as we could have put the actual sales into Amazon’s hands, a benefit both to us and to the customer.

We did set up an AppleCart account with the bank that is able to accept Visa, but without a secure way of offering it on-line, use it only for those who specifically ask. Again, this would not have been the case if we had been ready with an ISBN number so that we would have been able to use as our virtual storefront and cashier.

On the other hand, doing it ‘our’ way, right or wrong, was a real learning experience and has brought the family together. Daughter Meg was our Illustrator. Daughter Amy, our Editor. Son Chris, was Technical Director. And Dad? Well Dad was Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. He never once complained that both wife and phone were forever on-line. Thanks, Gene. And thanks, Tim.

Susan Howerter

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