SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - "Hey Lady! Your Tin Snips are Showing!" probably won't be picked as book of the month by any reading clubs, unless the Sheet Metal Workers union starts one.

But that doesn't matter to the novel's author, 45-year-old sheet metal worker Beth Szillagyi. She's just happy to see it in print.

"I've been walking on cloud nine," Szillagyi says. "I keep a copy here on the table, because I can't believe it's real."

"Hey Lady! Your Tin Snips are Showing!" chronicles the-on-the-job adventures of Valerie Szabo, a woman who joins a formerly all-male sheet metal shop as an apprentice. Valerie, or "Val" as she's usually called, learns to bend, shear, swear and spit with the guys, while teaching them a few things as well.

Szillagyi says more than a little of Val's life and personality is based on herself. "There are some (experiences) that just stick out so much that you don't even have to write them down to remember," she says. "They become part of your history. They become part of who you are."

Many of those experiences are recounted in detail in "Hey Lady!," from the first time Szillagyi walked into the SMWIA Local 218 office to apply for a job and was told, "Women shouldn't work here," to the day she accidentally walked in on the project superintendent using the unisex portable toilet.

An unusual story

If you think that sounds like a strange subject for a 164-page book, Szillagyi would agree with you. "It is kind of an unusual story," she says, but adds it was one she felt she had to get down on paper. "This is a lifelong dream. I've always wanted to be an author."

So around 1990, Szillagyi, who worked as a journalist while in the National Guard, sat down in front of an old IBM Selectric typewriter and started writing the semi-autobiographical story of a 25-year-old divorced woman who decides that "typical female office jobs" won't pay the bills and answers an ad in the newspaper for sheet metal apprentices - "women and minorities encouraged to apply."

She thought other women would be interested and inspired by the story of a strong, dominant female who becomes a success in the macho construction industry, a career that she loved and often found hilarious, to boot.

But the book was not an easy sell. She sent the manuscript to dozens of publishers, all of whom passed on it. "I've got enough rejection slips to wallpaper a room," she says.

Szillagyi really thought her breakthrough was coming in September 1991, when Cosmopolitan magazine reprinted a short story on the subject she had written for a now-defunct trade journal. Now she had something to show the skeptical publishers. The only thing that changed, however, was that instead of publishers telling Szillagyi she had nothing to say, she was told everything there was to say was in the Cosmopolitan article.

It was the budding e-book publishing industry that finally gave Szillagyi her break. E-books, short for "electronic books," are computer files or CD-ROMs that contain full-length manuscripts to be read on a computer screen or special e-book viewing device. E-book publishers also give authors with books that would not appeal to a traditional publishing house the opportunity to see their work in print, because most also offer limited press runs of the author's work in paperback.

It was Internet e-book company SynergEbooks that finally decided to publish "Hey Lady!" as an e-book in 2001.

"When I read the first three or five pages, it just grabbed me," says Deborah Staples, an executive editor and publisher at SynergEbooks. "I was laughing out loud, which I don't often do. It just seemed so real and down to earth."

The book has proven to be a success for SynergEbooks, which reports that it's one of the company's top sellers.

Now Szillagyi is at work - slowly, she adds - on her next two books. She says these will chronicle Val's life as a journeyman sheet metal worker, stepmother and 40-something Baby Boomer reluctantly entering the age of computers, e-mail and fax machines.

("Hey Lady! Your Tin Snips are Showing!" is available as an e-book, in paperback or as a CD-ROM directly from SynergEbooks. Visit www.synergebooks.com or email inquires@synergebooks.com. The book is also available from major booksellers such as Amazon.com or as a special order at many bookstores. Information is also available on Szillagyi's personal web site, www.bluecollargal.homestead.com. A portion of Szillagyi's royalties will benefit the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union Sept. 11 Disaster Fund.)