In 1997 a book was published by an unknown author living in Edinburgh.
It was to become a publishing sensation, but since nobody knew that at the time the first print run consisted of a mere 500 hardback copies, most of which went to libraries.
The book was “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, by J K Rowling.
If you want to buy a first edition, first print run, copy of the book today you’ll need to have several thousand pounds to spend on it, and if it’s a signed copy you’ll need several thousand more. The copy above apparently sold for $29,875 in 2011.
Then again, if you just want to read the book you can get the hardback in a new edition for less than £10 and the paperback for about half that on Amazon. If you’re lucky you might even pick one up in a charity/thrift shop for much less.
When I self-published a little guidebook to tearooms last year I had no idea how many copies to order, but I found out from the printing company I used that the more I ordered the cheaper each book would be.
Taking a complete stab in the dark and lured in by the lower cost price if I had lots made, I plunged in and ordered 2000.
Had I known then what I know now about the sort of quantity I was likely to sell, I would have paid more for each copy and ordered far fewer, but such is the benefit of hindsight.
On the plus side, lots of lovely customers have shelled out for this small tome, for which I am most grateful, and who knows I may even sell a few more before they become completely obsolete.
I was chatting to my sister about this today, and telling her that I felt I’d like to do something with some of the remaining copies.
The only idea I’ve come up with is to make them into some sort of art installation, but beyond piling them up, sticking them to a lamp-post, or arranging them in a sculptural manner, I’ve had little inspiration.
She suggested I ought to have a competition for people to propose things I might do with them, and that made me think about writing this blog post.
This reminds me of a situation my dad was in a few years ago, when he was lumbered with boxes of a book that wasn’t selling (he was running a book stall at the time). I remember leaving a copy on a train once, and on a bus, and I think possibly even on a park bench. I hoped that in each case someone might pick the book up and read it, or give it to a second hand shop or something, but I really don’t know what became of them.
I could do the same with my book, except that I am still selling it online and in a few shops, and I don’t want to upset anyone who’s recently purchased a copy.
The longer I have it, however, the more out of date it becomes, and I’d like to work towards putting it to another use.
If you happen to come up with an interesting idea for what I might do with, say, a box of 100 copies, perhaps you could leave a comment below. There might well be a teatowel for the winning suggestion.
Since I haven’t yet broken even on the cost of producing the book, I’d like whatever I do with spare copies to cost nothing. I have given quite a few to libraries, but I don’t want to offload more onto them when the book is getting a bit dated.
I’ll be putting my own thinking cap on again, and if I come up with anything of interest I’ll post about it anon.
Perhaps I’ll try wearing a pancake like this beautiful rabbit, to see if that proves more inspiring.