It turns out that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was self-published. At least that’s what Donald Wollheim says in the introduction to my extremely battered paperback copy of the book (New York: Airmont, 1965): “The manuscript was turned down by every publisher. But Baum had faith, and he also had the funds, so he took his book to a small publisher in Chicago, George M. Hill, and paid him to publish it” (3). Oz was put out by a vanity press, eh? That’s funny, when you think of it.
Actually, you kind of can tell. The story is a bit random in places. And there are plot holes that beta readers should have pointed out to L. Frank Baum. For example, he makes a big deal out of the people of the Emerald City’s belief that “No One is allowed to see the Great Oz, ever!” but then they don’t blink when he just walks out of his palace to climb into the hot air balloon. It’s not even that they don’t realise the little old man is the wizard – just that all of a sudden, the rule is forgotten by all, including the wizard himself.
And another plot point that bugs me is that the Tin Woodman gives as his chief reason for wanting a heart the fact that he once loved a Munchkin girl and got engaged to her, but when he got tinned and lost his heart, he stopped caring about her. So he wants a heart so he can love her again and go marry her, because, he figures, she’s probably “still waiting for [him] to come after her” (43). But once he gets to the Emerald City, and gets his heart, there’s never any mention of this Munchkin girl. The Tin Woodman, at the end, goes off and becomes the ruler of the Winkies (the Wicked Witch’s former slaves); the girl is forgotten. For all we know, she still lives in a cottage in Munchkin Land, pining for her lost love… That’s just not very well written, Mr. Baum. If I was one of your beta readers, I’d tell you to either drop the girl from the beginning of the book, or add a line at the end stating that the Tin Woodman goes back for her, and finds her happily married to a Munchkin farmer with half a dozen little Munchkin children, so Nick Chopper can go off and be Emperor of the Winkies with a clear conscience.
I almost wonder if some of those plot holes weren’t one of the reasons the book was rejected by publishers… but probably not. I imagine it was just too weird for them to take a chance on it. Little did they know that it would be such a hit that more than 100 years later it’s still in print, and had readers incessantly clamouring for sequels.