Can you believe that indie authors of yore had to publish actual books? On paper? And they didn’t have Twitter or blogs to help promote their work. Instead, they:
-sold books from the trunk of their car (James Redfield)
-bugged bookstore owners to sell their books (Ezra Pound)
– used inheritance money to pay a publisher of religious tracts and medical tomes to print their book (Stephen Crane)
-illustrated and printed the book themselves (William Blake)
-Started their own publishing company (Virginia Woolf)
-Advertised their book as a “literary curiosity” to attract readers (Walt Whitman)
Check out this list of famous authors who self-published. It looks like indie authors are in (mostly) good company.
1. Virginia Woolf- To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, and more (1920’s +). Most of her books were published by Hogarth Press, the publishing company she started with her husband. Incidentally, they published other famous writers like TS Eliot, and EM Forster.
2. Marcel Proust-Remembrance of Things Past, Vol.1 (1914). After shopping the novel around to several publishers, Proust was forced to pay to publish Swann’s Way. Later, the owner of one of the publishing companies who rejected Proust’s manuscript said, “The rejection of this book will remain…one of the most stinging and remorseful regrets of my life.”
3. Zane Grey- Betty Grey (1903). Not his most famous novel (which was Riders of the Purple Sage, in case you care) but everyone has to start somewhere, right? Many critics consider Grey as the author that shaped the western genre.
4. Beatrix Potter- The Adventures of Peter Rabbit (1901)
5. Stephen Crane- Maggie, Girl of the Streets (1893). These days, we all seem to love a good hooker with a heart of gold story but I guess they weren’t so popular in 1893 since Crane had to give copies of his self-published book away. He would later remember “how I looked forward to publication and pictured the sensation I thought it would make. It fell flat. Nobody seemed to notice it or care for it.”
Fiction that will be Forgotten (hopefully)
1. Richard Paul Evans- The Christmas Box (1993)
2. James Redfield- The Celestine Prophecy (1992). James Redfield sold 100,000 copies out of the trunk of his Honda before a major publisher accepted his work.
1. Richard Nelson Bolles- What Color is Your Parachute? (1970). This self- published book for job seekers was picked up by traditional publishers and has sold over ten million copies.
2. Irma Rombauer- The Joy of Cooking (1931). After her husband’s suicide, this St. Louis housewife used her insurance payout to print the first 3,000 copies of the Joy of Cooking. The book was intended for post-depression era women who needed simple and easy recipes. The book was so popular it was picked up by a traditional publisher in 1936.
3. Strunk & White- The Elements of Style (1918). Somehow a book created for use within Cornell University turned into one of the most influential books of the 20th century (says Time) and one of the best books on writing, ever (says me).
4. Benjamin Franklin- Poor Richard’s Almanac (1732-1738). Many of our favorite Franklin aphorisms and pithy proverbs originate from this popular self-published almanac.
Freaky Religious Books
1. Louise Hay- You Can Heal Your Life (1976). In 1976, Hay wrote her first book Heal Your Body, which began as a pamphlet, containing a list of different bodily ailments and their “probable” metaphysical causes. This pamphlet later became her bestselling You Can Heal Your Life, published in 1984
2. Mary Baker Eddy- Science and Health (1875). Eddy self-published 1,000 copies of what she called the “textbook of Christian Science”. She went on to found the Christian Science Publishing Society in 1898 to publish work by her and her followers.
1. Ezra Pound-A Lume Spento (1908). Pound spent $8 dollars to print 100 copies of his first book and eventually convinced bookseller Elkin Matthews to sell it in his shop. Matthews went on to publish Pound’s next three books.
3. William Blake- Songs of Innocence(1789). Blake created some of the most famous and often quoted poems of all time and then published them himself. He did everything—including the engraved illustrations.
2. Walt Whitman- Leaves of Grass (1855). Whitman did most of the typesetting for the book himself. First editions of Leaves of Grass didn’t even include his name, only an engraving of Whitman done by the artist Samuel Hollyer.
I’m sure I missed a bunch. What other famous authors self-published?