“Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America. This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither they have fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still.”
On this date, January 9th, 1776, Thomas Paine published “Common Sense.” The pamphlet that changed the thinking of the American colonist, and started the movement towards revolution. I find it interesting that he was a corset maker in his teens. Just saying. He was also responsible for writing a pamphlet that is credited with prompting the French revolution in the 1790s. Sounds like a rabble-rouser to me. But the self-publisher, pamphleteer, a recognized profession in the day, sold an estimated 500,000 copies of “Common Sense.” With a U.S. population around 2.5 million 1776, that would be considered a “best-seller” of grand proportion. And its message changed the thinking of the colonists, who up until then just thought they were mistreated subjects of the crown.
Self-publishing has become all the rage again. Just look at blogging. I don’t have 500,000 subscribers yet, who can hardly wait to read my opinions, but my readership is not, at least, declining. I can’t take credit for starting a revolution, or even, for that matter, swaying a vote, but I can publish a “Common Sense” and sell it on Amazon.com in paperback, or for download on a Kindle. Just because.
My first self-publishing effort was in 4th grade. The summer between third and fourth grade, actually. I spent a part of the summer participating in the summer reading program at the local Carnegie Public Library. We would move rocket ships or race horses on a cork board in the basement children’s section for each book we completed. You had to chose books in your grade level, as determined by the librarian, but there was very little validation done to prove we had read it. So we cheated of course. I can’t remember what the grand prize was, but I never won it, even by cheating. I was, however, on very good terms with the librarian, Miss Ferguson. An elderly lady who sounded like a steam engine with all the shushing she did to us kids looking for the latest “Harry Huggins” book in the stacks. Miss Ferguson is responsible for teaching me the Dewey Decimal System, or how to find fiction books alphabetically by looking at the end of the book shelves. I still have to mentally recite the alphabet to figure out what letter follows another, as I did then, but I could now find a book on my own.
A lot of smaller communities in the country had a Carnegie Public Library because Scottish-American philanthropist and businessman Andrew Carnegie put up the money for them. He believed in helping those that helped themselves and libraries were his thing. “You can’t push anyone up the ladder,” he said, “unless he is ready to climb himself.” Not many communities that sought assistance from Carnegie to build a public library were turned down. You had to show a need for a library, have the land, provide free service to all and the community had to provide 10 percent of the cost of the construction to the annual operation of the library. It was a very successful program. According to Wikipedia, when the last grant was issued in 1919, over half of the 3,500 libraries across the U.S. were built using Carnegie grants.
Back to my self-publishing effort. That summer I decided to write a book. After reading many, at least parts, of the books I had checked out for the summer reading program, I figured I had the formula: Paper, pencil, and some illustrations. So for two weeks I went about writing “Ghost At Wislow’s Mansion,” wrtten (sic) and illastrated (sic)” by your’s truly. (By the way, (sic) is Latin for “thus”. Basically it shows that you know the word preceding it is wrong from the original source.) The book had an even number of pages due to the folded sheets of paper, and the text was drawn out to fit the appropriate number, including the cover. Four folded sheets totaling 8 pages, nine pages of copy and illustration.
After completing the manuscript, I took it to the library to show Miss Ferguson. She acted like she had discovered the next Beverly Cleary, the author of the “Huggin’s” books. She ranted and raved about the small book, the prose, the illustrations, the plot, and said she would proudly display it on the table of books in the reading room. I went in the next day to return a book and move my rocket ship on the board, and there it was in a book stand in the center of the table. I paraded my friends to the library for weeks, just to see it.
The book was never in or out of print, so you won’t find copies of it anywhere, but my mother kept it and presented it to me in a scrapbook. A scrapbook she gave to me of all my report cards, and other minor accomplishments, on my high school graduation. She had saved it all. The “F” I got in Religion in 5th grade. The deficiency report from sixth and one from seventh. Clippings from the Sheridan Press when I was mentioned as a member of a team. It’s all there under yellowing scotch tape.
So I can offer proof of the self-publishing of “Ghost At Wislow’s Mansion” because I still have it. I can prove that I’m not making this up, although I never became the successful author of children’s books that Miss Ferguson was convinced I would be. Life got in the way.