Friday, May 24, 2013

The Changing Rules of Publishing

'Was talking to the wife about Zach Sobiech, the guy who sang "Clouds" on YouTube and garnered millions of views, tens of thousands of likes, and sold hundreds of thousands of copies of the song on iTunes. The song was not being promoted by any recording studio, he just went up and posted the video and it just took off from there. There's a lesson in that story.
The rules of the game are changing these days. Years back, if you wanted to become a singer, you had to audition and impress somebody enough to take a chance on you. If even one of them liked you, you got a recording contract. If not, you took other options...but not the one you wanted in the first place. Today, you can record a video and post it on YouTube and, if you're really good, you can become a successful singer on your own right. People like Justin Bieber and Alyssa Bernal come to mind.

The rules for authors is changing as well.

In the past, an author would have to type up a manuscript, send it to a publisher or agent, and wait for a message saying his/her manuscript was accepted and could they please come to the office to talk. For most authors, the answer is usually, no. For every author's book you see in a bookstore, there are probably tens, or maybe hundreds, of other authors who have received a rejection letter. Some are brokenhearted and, maybe, never write another book. Others persevere until someone decides to give them a shot. An example would be Kathryn Stockett, who was rejected 60 times before agent Susan Ramer agreed to represent her and her book, The Help. That book became a best seller on The New Times Best Seller List and stayed there for 100 weeks. One wonders how the other agents could have made such a mistake as rejecting her.

But that's only true in print publishing. The internet has been the game changer for the publishing world just as it did for the world of singers. You only need to go to the websites of iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and others, to find books from thousands of authors who decided to self-publish their books. Ebooks, as they are known, are the electronic versions of print books and you can buy them at a cheaper price than the paper version. If you don't want to spend anything, free ebooks are available too!

So, if today's authors are self-publishing, where does that leave the traditional print publishers? They're still here but I don't know for how long. The feeling of having a paper-type book with your name on it is still one of the reasons why authors go for them. After my own book was rejected, I decided to print it on smaller, book-sized paper, just to get that feeling. It was a waste of paper, however. When I saw my book on Smashword's website, I had the same feeling I got when I held that little book in my hands. It wasn't the feeling of touching the book, but the fact that I had a book out there for people to read.

Ebooks may be cheaper and that's good for the readers. For the authors, self-publishing is providing a way to get better deals out of writing a book. A print publisher will give you between 5 to 15% royalty for each book that is sold. On Smashwords, at least, you get about 45 to 80% royalty.

As with anything, you have to be good at what you do. Good singers make it on YouTube. Good writers make it on the internet's bookstores.

Note: I wish to send my condolences to the family and friends of Zach Sobiech, who died last 20 May 2013. You will be missed.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Childbirths 3

Sometimes God doesn't give you what you ask for. Sometimes he gives you more...

When the wife and I got married, we decided that we wanted two children, a boy and a girl, and that's what we prayed for. After Ericson was born, we now had the requested boy and girl...but God had other plans.

During Loida's pregnancy with Ericson, we told the doctor that we wanted Loida to be ligated in case we needed a Cesarean . If the delivery was normal then the ligation won't be done but, instead, I would have a vasectomy. It was all agreed upon by all parties present.

During Ericson's birth, the need for an emergency cesarean made everyone forget about the ligation and it was not done. The ob-gyn apologized but I said it was alright. Our minds were on different things back then. I would have to get a vasectomy.

I went to the company doctor to ask for referrals and advise but he reacted in horror the instant I said it. "You're too young to have it," he said. I wasn't aware of a lower age limit for this type of operation but he was very adamant. His most telling argument was, "what if something goes wrong with the operation?" I guess he got to me in a way because I hesitated to ask other doctors though the thought was never far from my mind.

In the meantime, the wife and I continued controlling which we seemed to be good at. Her monthly visits came regularly and we began to think a vasectomy was not really needed. For the next four years, things went well...until she missed her period. The pregnancy test was positive. The wife was a little upset. She was afraid of going through the same trauma as the last time. Besides, didn't we ask God for only two kids?

We visited the ob-gyn who predicted that Baby Number Three would be coming in the second or third week of September 2003, five years after Ericson. A few months into the pregnancy, we went for an ultrasound. This time I really saw the baby on the monitor. The doc let us see it for a few minutes before she started doing her measurements. She confirmed the expected date of birth at the second week of September.

All through the examination, Loida was silent, looking at the baby on the screen. I noticed a tear that dripped down the side of her face but she didn't say anything. Later, she admitted that seeing the baby filled her with a yearning for the child. I guess being a mother does that. Even if the baby was unexpected, seeing it for the first time will surely melt any mother's heart.

Then, about a month before the expected birth, I got an offer from the factory manager to go to Switzerland to attend an automation workshop. Thinking about my wife and the coming baby, I refused the trip, saying I couldn't leave my wife right then. When I got home that evening, I told the wife about the offer. She told me to call the factory manager right that minute and say that I was accepting. She would call her sister to stay with her while I was gone. This opportunity might not come again, she said.

So, I was going to Switzerland but I wanted to ask the doctor when the birth might actually happen. We explained the situation and she ordered another ultrasound to assess how much the baby had developed. Looking over the screen, she said that the baby could be delivered about two weeks before the previous estimated date. That meant I could be at the delivery and still go to Switzerland. It was a happy arrangement for all.

On August 26, 2003, Loida and I went to the hospital for the delivery. It wasn't going to be a normal one, though. It was going to be a C-section but, this time, it was planned. Loida would be ligated at the end of it, I reminded the doc. The date was also set to avoid the same problem we had with Ericson. August 27 was the day before the fiesta and the day when the streets would be clogged with parades. So the delivery was set the day before.

The procedure went off without a hitch and there was none of the long waiting like the last time. Loida was in and out of surgery and we were resting in our room in no time. The only problem that remained was what name to give our new daughter. Thinking of our two previous kids, we decided to stay with tradition and give her a name that started with E-R-I. The only name I could think of was Erin so that was the name we put in the certificate. About two weeks later, I was in Switzerland.

Erin arrived when I was almost 42 and Loida was 38. I jokingly tell her to study well but to get married immediately after graduating from college. That way I wouldn't be too old to walk her down the aisle. (",)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Childbirths 2

There was a time when couples were encouraged to space their children at around two year intervals. They said it was healthier for the mother and easier on the pocket. All sorts of information were presented that we were convinced that it was the way to go.

Two years after Erika was born, we decided we were ready for another kid. We stopped controlling and waited for Loida's visits to stop so we could test for pregnancy. Several test kits and false alarms later, we began to think that we'd never have another child. The months turned into years until, finally, four years after Erika was born, the test kit showed positive. Baby number two was on the way.

There are all sorts of stories about looking for signs to tell if the kid's a boy or a girl. In the previous pregnancy, more people predicted a boy but it turned out to be a girl (Erika). This time everyone again said it was going to be a boy. We weren't really concerned with that. Whatever the Lord gave us, we'd accept, but it was an exciting day when we went to the hospital for an ultrasound (things had changed in just four years eh?).

The doctor let me in the ultrasound examination room so I can see what the kid was going to be. Being a technical person, I was just as curious about the ultrasound equipment as well as the procedure. I knew the principle of how it operated but it was still fascinating to see. I watched as the doctor began to move the transducer all over Loida's abdomen and shapes began to appear on the monitor.

I had seen ultrasound pictures before and expected to see a hazy but unmistakable image of a baby on the screen. Try as I might, however, I could not recognize anything on the green monitor. The doctor kept pushing buttons, clicking the mouse, doing whatever it was doctors do with ultrasound equipment but the shapes were formless. Suddenly, the doctor said, "it's a boy!"

I was startled by the doctor's statement. On the screen were two large roundish smudges that looked nothing like a baby. I leaned closer but it was hopeless. I couldn't see any telltale signs that this was a baby boy.

"Ah, doc? How can you tell it's a boy," I asked. She pointed at the two large blobs on the screen.

"Those are his nuts!"

Maybe I should've fainted dead away or something similarly dramatic but I didn't. All I was thinking of was the image that I'd be cradling my son in my arms using his nuts as a pillow.

If my face betrayed anything, the doctor didn't notice because she went back to whatever she was doing. Presently she explained that she was measuring the head or something. It would help her determine how far along the child was. Using this information, she estimated that our son would be born around the third week of August.

During her previous pregnancy, I had sent Loida to Iligan so there would be relatives and friends who could help her when the time came. This time, with the lessons of the previous childbirth in hand, we decided that Loida could stay in CDO. Her sister volunteered to come over to look after Erika when we entered the hospital.

The months flew by and the third week of August came and went. The kid was taking his sweet time. Hoping to accelerate things, Loida and I took a walk around the subdivision which is a hilly place. The exertion seemed to have worked because, that night, Loida woke me up to tell me that the contractions had started.

I almost jumped off the bed, thinking we had to go right that moment. She calmed me down saying it would take a several hours before the baby came and we could go to the hospital in the morning.

"Are you sure," I asked. My greatest fear was that I would have to bring my son into this world with my own hands. I had missed first baby's birth so I was the most inexperienced between us.

"Yes," she said, "go back to sleep."

I slept fitfully that night. Come daybreak, we got up and prepared everything though my movements had a certain amount of urgency in them. I desperately wanted to get Loida to the hospital as quickly as possible and let the hospital staff take charge. We already had a bag prepared so we were good and ready in record time. We called for a taxi to take us to Polymedic General Hospital on Velez St.

The driver didn't drive off immediately. He turned to us and said, "I can't take you there."

"What! But why?"

"There's a parade going on in Velez St. and they're not allowing vehicles to pass through there."

Why was there a parade? August 27 is the day before CDO's fiesta. Different schools and organizations parade through the city's streets during the celebration and Velez is the main thoroughfare going to Divisoria, where the parade usually ends.

I tried to explain that this was an emergency and that we needed to get to the hospital quickly but the driver was not willing to accommodate us. The best he could do was to take us to the City Central School on Yacapin Street which is three blocks away from the hospital. There was no choice for us but to agree.

The driver let us off at the City Central School, as he said, and we started walking toward Velez. The driver was right, the street was filled with parading students and the sidewalks were jammed with people watching the festivities. I lifted the heavy bag to my shoulder and told Loida to follow me.

At a gap in the marching groups, I crossed the street with Loida at my heels. I pushed my way through the throng, saying, "excuse me," every two or three seconds. There were a few angry glances but when they saw Loida, they gave way. I've passed this way several times before and Yacapin Street doesn't usually seem very far from Polymedic. This time, however, I kept looking for the tall building like it was an oasis in the desert. I was breathless by the time we entered the hospital emergency room.

Since Loida still had a ways to go, they put us in the labor room to wait it out. Every now and then, a nurse would come in to check Loida's dilation. When the nurse pronounced that Loida was already at two centimeters, I thought it was much too small. Certainly too small for my son and his nuts.

Several hours later, another pregnant woman came into the labor room. Loida was looking forward to talking to someone in the same predicament but after reading a magazine for a few minutes, the woman got up and left the room. She did not return after about thirty minutes so when the nurse came in to check up on Loida, we asked about the woman who had entered and left. "Oh, she's given birth already!"

Loida and I were stunned. We had been in the labor room for hours while she was in there for only a few minutes and now she was done. It was unfair.

Soon, however, Loida's contractions got stronger and stronger until she was doubling up with pain. The doctor finally decided she was ready and they took her to the operating room. I left the labor room and stood outside the operating room doors, pacing back and forth, sitting down and standing up again. Just a few minutes later, the doctor came out a bit breathlessly and said, "Eric! The baby's heartbeat is getting faint with every contraction. I'm going to need to do a C-section. I need your permission."

In a daze, I nodded my head and said, yes. She disappeared behind the doors and left me standing there with my heart thumping. This was no normal childbirth anymore. It was now emergency surgery. Later, I learned that the baby's umbilical cord had wrapped itself around his neck and each contraction was strangling him.

For the next hour or so (can't remember anymore), I waited and prayed. No one came out to tell me anything, the doors remained obstinately closed. I was alone, there was no one there with whom I could share my fears or who could reassure me. It was the loneliest time of my life.

Suddenly, the door opened and the pediatrician peeped out with a smile on her face. "Eric! Your son is soooo white," she said and then closed the door again. What did that mean? Perhaps she meant he had white skin, like mine. Her smile meant he was alive but I had no news about Loida.

Soon after, Loida's ob-gyn came out looking tired. "Loida and the baby are fine. It was touch and go for a minute there but everything's alright now. They're going to take Loida to recovery. You can stay with her there."

After about an hour in the recovery room, they took Loida to her room. Loida was so weak and the wound from the operation was painful but she finally rested and I took the opportunity to get some shut eye.

Suddenly, I heard something. I woke up to find Loida struggling as if she was unable to breath! I bolted from the bench that I was using for a bed and tried to ask her what was wrong. She was unable to answer and made whimpering sounds in her throat. "I'm calling the nurse," I said but she held my arm, shaking her head.

"Why not? What's wrong?" I was almost crying. Then she answered weakly, "nasamid ako." Her saliva had irritated her throat and she was trying hard not to cough because the stitches on her stomach was very painful.

The feeling of relief was tremendous but it ended abruptly. Suddenly my vision started to swing around and I felt very faint. I had risen from the bench much too fast and the adrenalin rush had pumped me up and now things were settling down but my body was unable to adjust.

I went back to the bench and lay down. Women have to endure the pain of giving birth but men only need to worry. Worrying, however, is nothing to laugh at.

The next day, I went up to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) to look at my son. I didn't bump heads with the glass window this time. I'd learned my lesson. He was in a bed with a bright light on it. His eyes were covered. I can't remember why but the doctor had told me to expect that so I wasn't too concerned. Looking over my son, I was relieved to see that he had normal-sized nuts. (",)

Choosing a name, however, was not a problem. We already had a name for him.