WASHINGTON — Clare Dickens only wanted to share her story to help others. But in the process, she became a successful independent author — with the help of a local bookstore and its instant publishing machine.
Dickens wrote "A Dangerous Gift" with her son Titus, a memoir of their life dealing with his bipolar disorder. She completed the novel after he took his own life at the age of 25 in 2006.
Though Dickens found a publisher in Iceland to release the book in 2007, she still wanted a broader reach. The Espresso Book Machine at Politics and Prose in the District of Columbia allowed her to bring the memoir to local bookshelves and beyond earlier this year.
Her book has since become the best-selling, self-published title at the local bookstore and its website.
"I didn't expect to sell any at all," Dickens said. "I didn't want to be a best-seller. It's really about getting my son's story out there and helping other people."
Self-publishing has been made easier since the Espresso Book Machine by On Demand Books debuted in 2006. The machine also can make copies of out-of-print editions.
The first machine was installed briefly at the World Bank's bookstore. Through a partnership with Xerox, the company now has machines in about 70 bookstores and libraries across the world including London; Tokyo; Amsterdam; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Melbourne, Australia; and Alexandria, Egypt.
Thor Sigvaldason, chief technology officer of New York-based On Demand Books, said the technology can help book retailers twofold.
"It can, potentially, give them a huge virtual inventory so they can have as many books as Amazon, all in a little bookstore," he said. "It turns independent bookstores into places to get books published. It's a new thing for the bookstore to do: not just sell books, but actually create books."
Dickens' book costs $10.38 to print and retails for $16. Bill Leggett, a bookseller who co-manages the machine, said about a dozen copies are sold a month. "That's better than a lot of authors who have major publishers," he said.
Politics and Prose has produced almost 5,000 paperback books — some in as little as five minutes — since receiving the book machine nicknamed "Opus" last November. Leggett said about 90 percent of the books printed on the machine are self-published works by local authors.
The others are out-of-print editions, millions of titles available in the public domain like Google Books, and digital formats licensed out through major publishers including Harper Collins.
Alfred Morgan Jr. was able to get a copy of his father's out-of-print 1923 aviation guide, "How to Build a 20-foot Bi-Plane Glider," printed on the machine for $8. The volume was on Google Books.
"Many would admit that the physical reality of a book in your hands offers something that you don't quite get from books on a computer or on a tablet," Morgan said.
The semi-retired physician, an avid Kindle reader, keeps the paperback copy of his father's book in his home office. "My father was ahead of his time in many ways. It's like a family memento," Morgan said about the book.