The Joys of Small Business Ownership
The O Pine

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© 2003 Brian F. Schreurs
Even we have a disclaimer.

Some days make brainless minimum-wage jobs look pretty good.
Overall, having a small business is cool (assuming "cool" means lots and lots of work for little pay, but impressive at informal parties). The best part about it is the unexpected challenges that make the workday so exciting.

Part One: Contractors

Mid-October: After reformatting a backlist title for the digital age, I prepared the book in Acrobat to be stored by an on-demand printing contractor. Through this process, titles with low sales are stored digitally, available to the publisher as needed for very short print runs -- on demand. This is a title's last hope before becoming entirely unavailable. Because the printer receives Acrobat files, he needs only prepare the files for use with his printing equipment, and assemble the books. I sent a CD with the files along with a printout of the final book and a check to cover setup fees and 25 hardcopies to a printer that I'll refer to as Knucklehead Digital Press.

Late October: Knucklehead Digital Press called. The CD got smashed in transit. I sent another.

Early November: The proof copy arrived. I reviewed it, only to find a typo on the back cover -- not the printer's fault, to be certain. Strangely, he'd also deleted page two, moved page one to page two, and put a bad photocopy of the cover onto page one. I sent an e-mail asking for a correction to the typo and clarifying that I wanted the book printed as delivered, not with the funky first-page silliness. He replied that he'd take care of the typo.

Late November: No books. No reply to an e-mail asking about the books. Finally, I called, and after identifying myself, he asked "which book was that again?" After straightening that out, I asked if he'd made the correction to the cover, which he answered with "I don't know about any corrections." Finally, after explaining my concerns with the book, I asked that he please hurry up with the 25 copies, as I needed them soon. He asked if I'd be paying by credit card. When I pointed out that I'd already paid for them, he said: "Oh." Then promised to print them just after Thanksgiving.

Late November, Plus One Day: I checked to see if it was too late to cancel the check. It was. Rats.

Early December: Still no books. Knucklehead Digital Press couldn't tell me when to expect them, as the critical staff went home due to a couple inches of snow on the ground. With serious doubt that the books would be finished in time for my December 30 deadline, I made arrangements with another press to run off a separate batch. Much gnashing of teeth ensues over the excess expenditure.

Mid-December: UPS finally notified us of a shipment from Knucklehead Digital Press.

Late December: At last, they arrived! Well, sort of. The box only had 15 copies, not 25, and every single one of them had the funky page-one photocopy thing going on. They were useless, unsaleable, wasted copies good only for internal use. Sigh. How anyone can stay in business doing this kind of garbage is a mystery.

Part Two: Government

On the same day the defective books arrived, I got a letter from the U.S. Copyright Office. Seems that after the anthrax attacks a couple years ago, the post office has been irradiating all packages destined for the Copyright Office. Irradiating them so thoroughly, in fact, that they were damaging magnetic and optical media. I'm not sure how much radiation it takes to zap an optical compact disc, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be operating that machine.

Of course, a CD-ROM I'd submitted had been zapped.

The letter went on to explain that due to the irradiation activities, new parcels were taking a long time to process, so the replacement CD wouldn't likely arrive for 90 to 120 days, if it ever did, and even if it did, it too probably would be zapped. Then the letter suggested that those who wished to complete their deposit ought to send it by private carrier, such as FedEx or UPS. Those packages would arrive promptly and would not be zapped.

Which makes me wonder why, exactly, they're going to the expense of irradiating U.S. mail packages, when they're sending out explicit directions on how to circumvent the system.

I'd be pissed about the incompetency of government, except that I'm still too steamed about the incompetency of private industry to really think about it.