How the West was Self-Published

A Friend Writes:

It was a hot, dry day in Printer’s Gulch. Slatch Greems sat on the front
porch of The Painted Lady Bookstore, thumbing through a weathered copy
of the Chicago Manual of Style. He was trying to figure out how to cite
an article in a multivolume work with more than one editor, but the heat
made it hard to concentrate, and his attention kept wandering to the
latest edition of Best American Essays, which he’d bought a few weeks
ago but hadn’t had the energy to pick up. Maybe tonight, he thought. His
friend Slim Folio sat beside him, humming tunelessly and sharpening a
red pencil with a rusted pocket-knife. The street was deserted. There
hadn’t been any patrons at the Painted Lady in three days. The books in
the front window were looking faded and worn, and a thin layer of dust
seemed to have settled over the entire town.

“When’s that new shipment of trade paperbacks comin’ in?” Slim asked. He
hadn’t read a page of literary fiction since a used bookseller had come
riding through town a few weeks ago with a box of old issues of the New
Yorker, and he was starting to get restless.

Slatch looked up. He could see a cloud of dust in the distance, beyond
the edge of town. “Don’t know. Maybe that’s them now.” The two friends
watched as a group of riders came into view, and behind them a wagon
being hauled by a team of horses. As the group came closer they could
see that, instead of the usual pallet of books, the wagon held a sleek,
white machine about the size of a small Xerox. The riders themselves
were lean and hard-looking, though, and Slatch could almost hear the
leather of their dusters creaking in the heat. Their horses were thin
and flecked with sweat, as though they’d been ridden hard for days.

Slatch’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t look now, Slim, but them self-publishing
boys is back….”