Today I took on updating very old Word files on my computer before they became unrecognizable. In the process, I filed each one away, which meant glancing over it first. Then, of course, I got caught up in the web of my own history, finding short stories I’d written years and years ago, letters and diaries.

I’ve a few to share, but this one comes up first, a bit from a letter (well actually, a fax) written to my publisher in 1995. I’d been thrilled to get my first book?The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.?but I was a little disconcerted, to say the least, to discover that the first 25 pages was missing from the first copy I took out of the box.

I called my wonderful editor, Iris Tupholme, who told me, with her usual great good humor:

“It is a universal law of publishing that the one flawed book in the print run is sent directly to the author.”

Unfortunately, there were more than a few flawed books in the run that year. My poor publisher! Here’s from the fax I wrote on July 10, 1995, listing the problems I’d encountered:

the first signature missing (I’ve seen this twice, once in a bookstore)

glue spilling out the spine onto the pages

end-papers mucked up at the headband

holes through the inside pages (as if the pages had been closed over a bolt or something)

torn inside lining paper

ink smears inside

title on case upside-down

fabric on case torn

fabric on case wrinkled

first (blank) page glued to the inside cover

multiple covers on book (I don’t consider this a problem)

This was, I learned in the years since, highly unusual. No doubt that printer was quickly dropped, but these things can (and do) happen. Publishing is manufacturing, with all the problems that can go with it.





Now, of course, I wish I’d kept that first flawed book. Other, non-flawed copies from this first print run can be found on the Net selling anywhere from $50 to $250, signed. (The image at left is that of a bookseller offering it for $200 U.S. I can’t make out what the writing on the right is about.)