Monday, June 1, 2009

Behind the Curtain

Last Friday, my husband and I drove down to Centralia, Washington, to pick up the first printing of MOURNING BECOMES CASSANDRA. Such has been the family busyness of late that this was the closest thing we've had to a date in a couple months. May I recommend the self-publishing process to all who need to inject some romance into their lives? Nothing lights a fire like a few thousand dollars going out the door.

Not only did I get to hold the Dudleys' metaphorical fourth child for the first time (the proof didn't count because they don't bind the pages--kind of like a preemie that you have to look at through glass in the NICU), I also met my cover designer and text designer face to face, while my husband/slave-laborer loaded up the twelve boxes of books. Afterward, another employee gave us the tour of the printing operation. This must be how Dorothy felt when she twitched back the curtain on the Wizard in Oz, only with less disappointment.

There was a table full of stacks and stacks of book covers, ranging from gorgeous, professionally-designed ones indistinguishable from those you might see in bookstores, to template covers that looked quite harmless but would never blow your socks off, to self-designed covers where you wondered if it was truly ethical for the printer to agree to run them. One in particular, an ambitious memoir with a run of 550 copies, featured a giant flower on the front, with the memoirist's PhotoShopped face blooming smack in the center, where the sunflower seeds would ordinarily be. Dada meets Anne Geddes, with frightening results.

My favorite was the binding machine: the neatly-stacked pages ride a little roller coaster to where a flat cover comes up from underneath. A squirt of glue, then the pages meet the center of the cover, and the machine folds up the sides. Neat-o. The hungry binding machine mangled one in front of our eyes, and it got tossed on a reject cart. I wonder if the worker ever sneaks rejects home to read, like people in the food industry munching up discards until they get sick of them. If a munched version of the flower-lady's memoir had been on the cart, I would certainly have tried a diversion tactic, so I could stuff a copy in my purse.

The twelve boxes were modestly-sized, and with a little rearranging in the garage of my husband's vast Christmas paraphernalia collection, we found room for all. Now today I get to experiment with shipping to Amazon's four warehouses, and after the two book launch parties in June, I can plan where to stash my own ambitious next printing: 500. Or maybe I'll design a whole new, second edition--I kind of like that flower-face cover.

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