Monday, October 19, 2015

Ozbusters! Why did publishers turn down Oz?

When you hear of how The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published, you hear the claim that publishers were not interested in the book or didn't want to publish it. Many point to L. Frank Baum's text, claiming that there had been nothing like it. The movie The Dreamer of Oz even has a publisher reject "an American fairy tale" and then has Baum go into a rage over it.

However, I'm not sold on that.

L. Frank Baum had his name on a top-selling children's book from the previous year: Father Goose: His Book. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a good story, somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and Pilgrim's Progress. So, why would people reject it?

My thought is... they didn't reject the text.

What people tend to forget or not understand is that Baum and W.W. Denslow worked on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz together and split the copyright on it. Baum didn't just write a book then got someone to illustrate or let the publisher get someone to do it. That means the book's design was how both author and illustrator decided the book should look.

The book would be more costly to print than if it was just the text or the text and simple line art or even inserted plates. The book included color printing on the same pages as the text, creating artwork that would surround and be under the text. Today, this would be no problem to print because we can easily do that with today's imaging and printing technologies, but in 1900, this would mean that the pages would have to be printed twice: once with the color ink, and then again with the black ink for line art and text. This special tooling would increase the cost of publishing. In addition to this, you had the two-dozen color plates.

Thus, it wasn't the text, but the whole package of the design and illustrations with the text that had been turned down. And it wasn't until Baum and Denslow helped fund the production of the book that the publisher of Father Goose: His Book (who had previously had to be sold on that lavish picture book) decided to publish The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Does that make a little more sense than the book being flat-out rejected due to the text? I think so. You'll find that there were lots of books published during that period of time, because this was a major form of sharing stories. But not all of them stayed in print. Our trend of having books that may be enjoyable but aren't very good available alongside our major, memorable works has been going ever since publishing books became a business model, well over a century.

Baum and Denslow wanted something that would stand out, not something that would disappear after a few years, but in order to do that, this book would require extra care in its packaging, something that not everyone was willing to gamble on.

What do you think? Do you agree that the book was rejected by publishers because of how they wanted to publish it rather than just because of the story? Or do you think no, it was just the story? Or do you have another thought? Post your responses and theories in the comments. And what other topics that we might have the wrong idea about should be on Ozbusters?

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