I self-published my first book, a collection of stories called The Principle of Interchange, in 1990. At that time, set-up costs for printing a book were considerable. The vast majority of that expense was in the pre-printing phase. If for some odd reason you wanted to print a single copy of a book (say, a novel of 200 pages with no illustrations), you would have to pay for typesetting, paste-up, printing machine set up, labor, binding, trimming, and a lot more. Although paper for a single book would cost almost nothing, the final out-of-pocket cost on such a book would be--if you used an inexpensive printing company--around $3000.00. In other words, to print a single copy of your book would cost you $3000.00.
To get a book's cost down to where someone might be tempted to buy it, you had to print more of them. Printing 100 copies, therefore, would bring the cost of each copy down to $30. Printing 3000 would get it down to a manageable price. Add a markup for yourself and then set a price for the book. In the case of The Principle of Interchange, I got the per-book cost down to somewhere between $2 and $3, then marked it for sale at $7.95 which, at the time, was a little high for trade paperbacks. Still, if I sold it through a distributor, who wanted 40 percent of the cover price, I would still be making a dollar or two. The total cost to me for printing somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 books was about $5000.00. Luckily I had a pretty good day job at the time.
A few months ago, I decided to rerelease The Principle of Interchange as an e-book. This presented a lot of problems, as I had no computer file of any kind to work with. I ended up cutting the binding from one of the copies and scanning each page into a tif file. Using Microsoft's One Note application, which has a character recognition feature, I was able to come up with a rough Word file in several days. Of course no character recognition software is perfect, so I had many hundreds of places where commas appeared as periods, question marks appeared as capital P, and so forth. And so the proofing began.
For one reason or another, I had never felt the need to actually read the printed version of the book, so this was a first for me. Before publication it had been read by several professional editors and proofreaders as well as myself (who was also a professional editor and proofreader at the time.) And no one who had ever read the book (and yes, there were some--it been used as a textbook in a literature class at Florida State University for several semesters) had pointed out even a single typo. Imagine my surprise, then, when errors began to pop up in my reading--errors having nothing to do with the scan.
My main goal in republishing the book was to get an e-book version, but when I kept finding errors I decided to do a print a paperback version as well. As I read on I was pleasantly surprised to find that the stories seemed to hold up over time. But no matter how happy an author is with his or her work, there are always just the little tweak here and there that would make the story a little tighter. So I tweaked here and there. Although I only found a couple of dozen actual typos, I ended up making over a hundred actual changes--all very minor. At this point, I decided to make the new version of the book a "25th Anniversary Edition," and with it came a new cover. Why not? With the Publish on Demand services now available, set up fees are a thing of the past.
But what to do with the dozens of boxes of the original version of The Principle of Interchange that I have been carrying around with me for the last several decades and take up valuable space in my closets and attic? I am no longer a young man and no longer have visions of being discovered and having my early work command high prices and vast audiences (well, maybe I am, a little). In fact, I have been donating copies to libraries and thrift stores for years, as well as giving copies to my family and friends with instructions to do the same. And last month, the paper-recycling bin received ten full boxes or unread books.
Read my next post to see where I am going with this.