The proofs arrived in October. It's only when a book is on the page that you can begin to see it objectively. I found a few typos that two proof readers had missed, but I found a great deal more things simply requiring improvement. My typesetter is nice and sympathetic - I'm sure she won't mind that I've changed what seems to be every other word. And flipped two chapters (how did I miss that?). At least I haven't introduced any new characters at this stage.
I have a writer friend who agreed to read the book some time ago. He emailed a couple of comments as he read then went silent. I waited a year. Then I asked another writer friend, could he possibly? would he have the time? Amazingly he agreed, but after I sent the typescript I heard nothing more.
I chose to go the self publishing route after some bruising experiences with the big guys, and I love it. Apart from allowing you to do what you want with your book, it puts you in direct contact with the reader, and you don't have to go to any dreadful parties and pretend to be enjoying yourself amidst literary strangers. You can throw your own parties and invite your friends. But self publishing has one great drawback: just as there is nothing between you and the reader, so is there nothing between you and publication. No editor with a quick eye and sharp mind, someone who could point out to you what proof readers cannot - that you have two chapters in the wrong order. I could employ one, of course, but it would be a great expense. Perhaps I will in the future.
In conversation with the first friend (after I decided not to be frosty any more), it turned out that I'd told him to stop reading because I was making so many changes. When this was discovered, he began reading the proofs, starting about a week after me. Next thing his computer crashed big time and, after having had comments on the first 150 pages, I have heard no more. As to the second friend, I emailed him to say I was at proof stage and, hey, life's busy - no hard feelings. Just as well. We met today unexpectedly and both laughed out loud, realising that if we hadn't had that exchange in the last couple of days, we'd have both been scurrying in opposite directions. He's been working himself into a ghost this past year and hadn't even the time to frame a grovelling apology. No hard feelings.
So, I've gone to press without any help from my friends. Is this finally it? I will, of course, get the corrected proofs back to check. But I'm beginning to feel light and empty instead of down and depressed - and that's a very good sign that it's all over.