When I hear of the books in the history of publishing that were self-published, I react like Lenin, who, on hearing of the 5,000 print run of Mayakovsky’s poem 150,000,000, scoffed that it was “a colossal waste of paper.”
E.E. Cummings, for instance, published The Enormous Room at his own expense, petulantly dedicating it to the 15 publishers who had binned it. Publishers turned down Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull 140 times? It only makes me wonder where he had found so many publishers. Stephen King’s Carrie? Rejected 40 times, which sounds like a compelling argument for the soundness of America’s cultural fabric. Harry Potter? Twelve times, and all to the good, no doubt, though I must admit to not having read a single word.
It is when one leaves the purlieus of the modern that doubt begins to nag. The tale of Nietzsche’s essays in self-publication—which I know after reading William Schaberg’s The Nietzsche Canon—rivets attention like an adventure story. One comes across such queries in Nietzsche’s hand as,
Please force yourself to remember who has copies. My memory tells me: Lanzky, Windemann, Fuchs, Brandes, most likely Overbeck . . . How many copies were there? ...