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The More Things Change

I spent this past Sunday afternoon double-checking Iceberg inventory. We don’t have much on hand –– just the left-overs from marketing events we’ve done over the past decade. Because our distribution is handled by Ingram, those are the only books we keep nearby.

We’re currently preparing a shipment of old Canadian editions of the first twelve Defense Command novels to go to Halifax. Sorting through the old boxes has been quite an experience… yet another look back at the way Iceberg has evolved over the past decade. Much is different –– but not everything.

First, what has changed: printing.

The earliest DC books were printed by a small company in Alberta that had been created to offer a new print-on-demand solution for book publishers. They’ve been in business for 20 years now, but if memory serves, were relatively new to book printing when we started working with them for A Daughter’s Gift. They were offering writers and publishers low print runs at a cost that was significantly under the cover price, something that hadn’t previously been possible unless you were printing thousands of copies. It was cutting-edge, and the learning curve for everyone –– us and them –– was steep.

At the very beginning they were even shrink-wrapping individual books for us, because I was convinced that shipping a box of books halfway across the country would inevitably leave some damaged in transit. We soon stopped that, though it’s a testament to their customer service commitment that they met the unusual request until I accepted it wasn’t actually necessary. In the meantime, we were changing formats.

Though Iceberg started with trade paperbacks, the Equations and DC books were introduced in a pocket paperback size. This new format (for digital) offered lower cover price, similar profit margins, and much easier shipping. It was also a good fit for the length and pace of Defense Command, so it arrived at exactly the right time. Interestingly, even though we produced a ‘more convenient’ pocket paperback edition of A Daughter’s Gift, I never felt the book fit that format. The story somehow needed more space.

Within a few years, companies that were involved in traditional long-run book printing had begun investing in the equipment that allowed them to attract customers who had previously been limited to the smaller, specialized shops. This undoubtedly required huge internal adjustments within these organizations, but when those evolutions were complete, it opened a whole new world to us. We began to work with traditional, large commercial printers –– first in Ontario, then in Manitoba. Each printer represented a trade-off; shipping time against production features, quality against volume. It was a classic printing game –– quote, print, sell the run, reprint –– which continued until evolving technology let us implement the 2010 plan, and true print-on-demand, at even better quality.

Quite a journey –– one that I hadn’t expected to retrace when we opened the boxes on Sunday and checked the books before preparing them for transit. I must admit I’d almost forgotten how steady and constant the change was throughout those eight years –– recent developments have eclipsed aspects of that time. But every move in those early days put us in exactly the position we needed to be for the next one, and proved that publishing is as much about working with words and playing with numbers as writing is.

But for all that change, Sunday proved to me that one thing has remained the same.

The first box we opened contained The Mercury Assault. I carefully cut the packing tape on the top of the box with my Xacto knife, lifted the cardstock that was protecting the covers, and didn’t expect any particular reaction –– after all, I’ve packed and unpacked this book many times for events.

I was caught off guard by the physical jolt of energy –– the excitement, quiet satisfaction, and anticipation that I always feel when opening a sealed box of new books. These weren’t new, of course, but I guess I’d spent so long away from them, it somehow felt that way.

I’m glad that reaction hasn’t changed. I hope it never does. Because if publishing a new book stops bringing the joy that feeds the countless hours or work and care that goes into it… then books will have become only a commodity. Not a labour of love. Not magic.

And that would be inconceivable.