Self publishing used to be called Vanity Press, meaning I suppose that you thought your book was so damned good it deserved to be published and if you couldn't find a publisher to do it, you'd bloody well do it yourself. In those days it cost a bundle to do - as much as $10,000 because you had to guarantee the printer a goodly amount of copies before he'd print 'em. I wonder how many garages and storage cupboards were stacked with boxes of those books, lost forever there, after the first few were handed out to friends and relations, who didn't want to read the thing in the first place, and the number of bookstores who'd actually stock them were few and far between.
Then came the age of digital printing and suddenly you could self publish your work for a measly $600, if you wanted to self edit, self line edit, self proof and design and pay for the cover. I know, because I did it. After sending the manuscript of my first book, A Portrait of Phillip, to dozens of publishers and receiving the big thumbs down I put it aside and tried to forget that no one recognized my true genius - and wasn't that their big fat loss?
Then one day a friend called and asked if I'd read the article in our Sunday paper about companies that actually would publish any book, ANY book, as long as the author paid the bill. Several companies were listed but I chose iUniverse because they were partially owned by Barnes and Noble, and I in my innocence and naivity thought that the giant bookstore chain would also SELL my books. Ha!
Not being terribly au fait with computers then - still not - I had a degree of trouble getting the format right for the upload, but eventually got it done. I was sent a digital copy and an editing sheet that allowed me 50 corrections of mistakes I might find in the original. What tosh, I thought, there won't be anything like the need for 50 corrections. Oh. My. God! It was more like 500! And for every word over the fifty there was a substantial fee per word to correct. Maybe I needed their professional editor. Yes, that was possible for close to a thousand dollars!
Then there was the cover. I had no idea of the existence of iStock Photo or the myriad other photo companies that for a few bucks you could get a copyright free image of just about anything, so I painstakingly described in great detail what the cover should look like. It's a portrait right? On an easel, but it's unfinished, the artist having been clubbed half to death and in a coma for three years. I received images that were so hilariously bad that I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. I lost count of how many times I emailed the 'design' department asking for a redo until I was snippily told I had better accept one of the designs or go it alone. So I settled for an eerie representation of a man's eyes peering out of a blue darkness.
I hated it, but what's a starving author to do?
So the great day arrived. My book was published, 'twas in my hands...ugly cover and all. Breathlessly, I read page after page marveling at my narrative and peppy dialogue, then my eyes fell upon the first typo, then the next and the next... The best one was when I had mistakenly scribed AOL instead of AWOL. And all of this mess was already on Amazon and B&N and Booksamillion and on and on.
My friends of course were supportive. "Oh, I've read tons of books with typos in them." If I heard that once I heard it a dozen times. But I didn't want a book filled with typos! And so, A Portrait of Phillip second edition was born, anxious emails sent to Amazon to please delete that offensive copy - they wouldn't of course, and if you'd like to purchase a copy of my first edition it can be had for the bargain price of $250.00!!
Someone said, can't remember who, 'The great thing is that today just about anyone can get a book published - the awful thing is that today just about anyone can get a book published."
I like to think that I have improved over the years and the fact that I am published by two reputable publishing houses gives me confidence that my work will go out to the public typo free - but of course it doesn't always happen. To err is human they say, and when I read a book printed by say, Random House , and see "He retched for her to cradle her in his arms," I smirk, just a little.