The re-issue process

It was at some point in early 2012 that The Hal Jons Estate became generally aware that they now owned full copyright in all of Harry Jones’ works. Jones’ widow, Alice, had been well aware of this – there is documentation showing that she actively tried to get Jones’ work re-published in the late 1980s – but she managed to keep it fairly quiet. Probably she’d decided that news of republication, should she pull it off, would be a wonderful surprise for the family. On the other hand, the message “books still not republished” had almost zero newsworthiness. So she kept quiet about it, presumably on the basis of no-one being particularly interested.

To go back a bit, though, after Jones’ death in 1983, number five son had persuaded Alice to write her life story – he’d never heard of the word “catharsis” at that point but just had the idea that writing her life story would give her something to do. In truth, Alice later stated that she’d gone ahead and written her life story because she’d thought that she would be following her husband in death before very long. As it turns out, she spent 27 years a widow.

In 2009 that same number five son suggested that Alice’s life history could become the second book published by his newly-formed Bristol Folk Publications. This is still a possibility, but the pertinence of the above is that at no point in the proceedings did Alice mention that she had full copyright in her husband’s seventeen published (and various unpublished) works and that it might be the perfect time to present these again (or for the first time) for the general reading public’s edification and delight.

It was shortly after Alice died in September 2010 that her children discovered that, not only did they own full joint copyright in the seventeen published and numerous unpublished works, but also that existing publishers were actively trying to find the copyright holder so as to republish some of the titles.

It was shortly after Magna was given the rights to republish selected titles for the large print market that number five son looked into what republication rights this left the family. Basically this was full publishing rights for all books, other than large print for those few books licensed to Magna. Even for those republished by Magna, the family was free to republish those even in large print once the agreed license period had expired.

Well, legal rights is one thing, but the thought of getting seventeen books to print was rather a daunting one for number five son, even with his recent induction into the wonderful (cut-throat) world of publishing. The biggest barrier to action was the costs associated with getting physical copies of each book to market. The times they have a-changed, though, and it came as something of a revelation when said son woke up one night with the idea of creating e-book versions instead of physical versions. Had he known exactly how much work this process would require it is likely that he would have given up there and then.

However, at this point, in spring 2012, number five son was on sick leave, house-bound and recuperating after some fairly intrusive surgery, necessary after the Bristol Royal Infirmary had done its best to kill him in October 2010, and was, in his own words, “…bored out of my mind, in pain and in need of something mindless to do.” The biggest stumbling block was in digitising each book. Retyping each book by hand was out of the question: it would be time-consuming and, besides, the current course of various opiate-based pain killers rather precluded any precision work at this point.

His memory is somewhat vague as to how he hit on the exact process, but he scanned one book as an experiment, which took about two hours. He then stumbled across some well-hidden functionality in Microsoft’s OneNote, which lets you convert text in a .tif image to editable text. The bad news was that the process stuck in hard returns after each line and any age damage to the page, or any foxing or age-spotting, was converted into random text elements, such as extraneous umlauts (if lucky) or completely random sentences made up of words that were almost correct (if not).

A fun evening was spent in trying to work out how to automate as much corrective work as possible. Basically, the entire document had to be gone through with original book in hand, entering another return at the start of each paragraph. Then Word’s ‘Find and Replace’ function could be used. To add to the fun, this function inserted incorrect special characters (^v instead of ^p for paragraph break), a bug, which as at Word 2013, is still not fixed.

Once the text was in decent shape, all the words that were hyphenated over two lines had to have both parts joined up. At this point Word started indicating typos, grammatical ‘errors’ and unrecognised words – the red and blue underlines had been automatically suppressed up to this point because there were too many instances for Word to cope with.

Number five son’s original decision was that his father’s work was ‘sacrosanct’ and that the e-books would merely be faithful transcriptions. This idea lasted about ten minutes once he started looking at the typos and other errors. He therefore decided to act as copy editor (luckily, he does this as part of his day job) based on the fact that even such wonderful wordsmiths as Sir John Betjeman relied on someone else making sure that their heliotrope prose made a decent transition from manuscript to printed page.

Apart from the typos, certain variations were made consistent (e.g. “jailhouse”/“gaol-house”/”jail-house”/”gaolhouse”, “hitchrail”/”hitch-rail” etc.). Also, the original style was to run two or more sets of dialogue together, these joined by narrative – this may have been down to the original publishers ensuring that each book came in at the same number of pages, which is impossible without a certain amount of massaging. These clustered sets of dialogue and narrative were split out into several ‘paragraphs’ for ease of reading on mobile devices. The whole book then had to be read to make sure that nothing ‘odd’ had happened during the text conversion process. A lot of funny stuff was thrown up at this stage, such as the text conversion transposing (sporadically) large chunks of text wherever a capitalised chapter heading appeared.

With a process in place and a set of ground rules, number five son digitised all of the later Hale publications and a couple of the earlier Sombrero Westerns; the Sombreros, thanks to major foxing, didn’t take to conversion so easily. One has to wonder what copy editors actually do. Close reading of subsequent conversions was the point at which various editors can be seen to have fallen down fairly heavily on the job. In one book the hero’s ranch, the chief baddy and several horses changed names for three chapters. In another book one character was in two places at once, probably due to some extensive editing down at some point.

The scanning process for around eleven books and the sorting out of the conversion issues, including close reading of all books, took another two weeks, which now brought to light a major question. How exactly do you convert a digitised book into e-book format?

Let’s just say that finding the answer to this took the best part of a year. Well, to be more accurate, number five son, now back at work, gave up in lieu of a more convenient season so as to have the time to concentrate on both the day job and his own book projects. The other major problem that caused said son to give up was that of jacket illustrations. The Hal Jons Estate owned copyright in the text, but not in the original jacket illustrations. Jacket illustrations were going to be a problem.

In August 2013, number five son was again on sick leave following yet more intrusive surgery, further Bristol hospitals having failed the test. The Hal Jons project was also in his mind as a conspicuous failure. There were too many loose ends and the end of the year that marked the 100th anniversary of Harry Jones’ birth was looming at midnight on 23 October 2013 – over a year previously it had been said son’s intention to re-publish all of Jones’ work in celebration of this auspicious anniversary.

Always mindful that inaction is a sure way to fail, number five son digitised and ‘cleansed’ the remaining books to see if this got the trouble-shooting juices going. At least, he digitised and cleansed those books he had access to. He was missing three books. Later on, Harry’s daughter managed to scan one of the ‘missing’ books using a hand-held scanner (it was a paperback edition, so using a normal scanner would have split the book’s spine). Number five son managed to find a second-hand copy of one of the other books (for a whacking £16, minus dust jacket), so all bar one book was now digitised. Why didn’t said son have copies of these books? Well, these were the ones published before he was born, so he never received his ‘complementary’ copy from his father!

A lot of time was wasted in converting the digitised books to various formats using various specialist e-book software applications, which created various proprietary mark-ups for ePub and Mobi formats. In the end, number five son decided to use to host the ePub versions and discovered that the ePub formatted files failed to upload and convert. Basically, all the ePub files had to be converted back to plain Word files, which then uploaded and converted with no problems whatsoever. The same happened later on with Kindle when the online Mobi converter failed to recognise Mobi files but happily converted Word. Okay, so whilst the books were now near ready, there still weren’t any jacket illustrations.

Number five son woke up in the middle of the night (again) with a sudden inspiration on the jacket illustration front. He’d once been fairly alarmed, whilst on a bus between Burnham on Sea and Weston-super-Mare, to find himself surrounded by hundreds of gun-toting cowboys. It wasn’t the sight of the cowboys that alarmed him but the realisation that Wild West weekends existed and that they seemed to be jolly popular. Right, the idea was to find out when the next Wild West weekend was and go and take lots of photos. However, Wild West weekends suddenly seemed to be a bit thin on the ground. Perhaps they’d all shot each other.

The next idea was to find some online image libraries and see if some images could be licensed from there. Most images were, frankly, bad! Basically, lots of adults play acting as cowboys. Okay, so what happens if you start manipulating the photos in Photoshop (e.g. to edit out cars, wrist-watches, moronic facial contortions, pylons and helicopters)? Ah, interesting results, was the answer. The main issue from this point on was in finding images that not only had potential and fitted with one of the plots, but also where the license agreement allowed digital manipulation prior to use. £50 bought enough images for all seventeen books. Only one image needed no manipulation and the next week saw a very steep learning curve with Photoshop Elements and lots of 3am starts.

Harry Jones’ number four son had meanwhile been developing chapter titles for most of the books. This is not as easy as it sounds! The job of chapter titles is to create a sense of anticipation and said son came up with a neat line that both did this and provided a little fun along the way. All those cryptic crosswords obviously helped. Jones didn’t use chapter titles, but the menu-driven model in e-books requires more than just “Chapter One” and so on. Taking number four son’s cryptic lead, number five son developed the chapter titles for the last few books so as to hit the publication deadline.

The next hurdle was to write the marketing blurb for each book. It was thought at this point that the existing blurb was written by and copyright the publishers. Halfway through the process, Jones’ number three son pointed out that Jones wrote his own marketing blurb, so a combination of new and old was used.

It took two days to create and publish the ePub versions of the books on at the tail end of August 2013, with the Kindle versions published a couple of days later – The Llano Kid and Montana Nemesis were latecomers but both were published in both formats just in advance of the end of the 100th anniversary. Cattleman’s Gold was the only book to miss the deadline, which isn’t such a failure after all. We’re still awaiting digitisation of that one. Yes, it’s that rare. There’s a copy in the New South Wales State Library, but that doesn’t really help!