Saturday, November 29, 2008

Even Dickens tried self publishing

I have long maintained that there is nothing vain or historically new about the current trend toward self publishing. Although it often presents a rough road for authors, and considerable financial risk, it is both viable and honorable, and never to be sneered at. From the day the first printing press took the first bite of type on good, cotton paper, we have had self-published books. I have also shared the names of famous authors who self published, from Lord Byron to A. E. Housman to Marcel Proust.

But now there is another name to add to the roster: Charles Dickens. His scholars surely already have known this, but I only just learned from Jonathan Yardley's review of a new book that he paid to have A Christmas Carol published because his publishers were not interested. In Yardley's words quoting the author: His publisher, Chapman and Hall, expressed little enthusiasm for the book, so Dickens decided to have the firm bring it out "for publication on his own account." All the risk would be his own: "He would be responsible for the costs of the book's production, which would be deducted from its sales. He would also oversee the book's design, hire its illustrator, and consult on its advertising. In essence, his publishers -- which would receive a fixed commission tied to sales -- had become merely his printer. In contemporary terms, then, A Christmas Carol was to be an exercise in vanity publishing."

The book is The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford (Crown 2008).

No comments: