Peter Rabbit and Other Happy Tales by Ann Evans

With my article writing hat on, this month I've written a piece on Beatrix Potter, seeing as 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of her birth. Doing the research it surprised me to discover that she was an indie author herself at the start of her writing career – apologies if everyone except me knew this already!!

But for those of you who don't know her story, Beatrix loved wildlife and exploring the countryside and made pets out of all kinds of wild creatures such as rabbits, frogs, mice and the like. These little animals and birds were the inspiration for her stories in later life along with farm animals when Beatrix took up sheep farming in the Lake District.

In 1893, Beatrix was on holiday in Eastwood, Dunkeld when she decided to write a letter to Noel Moore who was the five year old son of a former nanny, who was poorly. She wrote:

My dear Noel, I don’t know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits…

That letter become The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The following day she wrote a letter to Noel’s brother, Eric, about a frog called Jeremy Fisher. No prizes for guessing what that became. The letters themselves are stored in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

It was some years later, in 1901 that Beatrix decided to try and get The Tale of Peter Rabbit published. She wrote the story out in an exercise book and sent it to six publishers. They all turned her down and so she decided to have it printed herself. She had 250 copies made with 41 black and white illustrations which she sold to family and friends for a halfpenny. They loved it and she soon needed more copies, so she ordered another 200.

It was then that publishers Frederick Warne & Co., gave her a publishing deal and produced 8,000 copies in October 1902, selling at a shilling each. And the rest, as they say, is history. Not so long ago a rare copy of one of her original books fetched around £30,000 at auction.

Beatrix Potter certainly wasn't the only famous author to self publish. A young Stephen King teamed up with his friend Chris Chesley in 1962 to create an amateur press called Triad and Gaslight Books. As 15 year old teenagers they published a joint collection of their stories called, People, Places and Things – volume I, then a two-part book, The Star Invaders.

Edgar Allan Poe is another name amongst the many who self published. Back in 1827 Poe paid a printer, Calvin F. S. Thomas, to publish 50 copies of Tamerlane and Other Poems, which was a 40-page pamphlet-sized collection of his poetry. He wasn't actually credited as the author, the book simply said: “By a Bostonian.” Tamerlane is said to be the rarest book in American literature. In 2009, a copy was auctioned for $662,500.

It's interesting to see just how well indie books can do. A bit more research turned up these facts and figures which I thought you might find interesting.

Feed Me, I’m Yours by Vicky Lansky was rejected by 49 publishers so she self-published and sold 300,000 copies. She sold out to Bantam and they sold 8 million more.

Twelve Golden Threads by Aliske Webb was rejected by 150 publishers. After self-publishing and selling 25,000 copies, she signed a four-book contract with Harper Collins.

Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan sold 370,000 copies before it was sold to Harper Collins for $1.7 million.

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Chris Longmuir said…
Great post, and I didn't know Beatrix Potter self-published. Other well known authors who self-published are John Grisham, Mark Twain, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Edgar Rice Burroughs, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Wolff, Rudyard Kipling, Alexandre Dumas - I could go on and on. So we are part of an illustrious band of writers.
Lydia Bennet said…
I"m a huge fan of Beatrix Potter, she was a scientist and science artist but the establishment rejected her for her gender, horribly crushing, but then she made it big with her animal books (based on accurate anatomy which she studied by dissecting and drawing her pets when they carked it). And THEN she spent the masses of dosh she made buying land to save it from being spoiled and donating it to the national parks. And became a top sheep breeder. What a woman! Not only were many famous writers of the past self-published, but many also were what we'd call vanity published, as they had to pay the publishers to bring out the books and hope they earned enough to get some themselves - in effect, a bit like an advance but from author to publisher! I seem to recall Jane Austen was in this position, at least at first.
Susan Price said…
Yes, we have a lot to thank Miss Potter for, not least her books. Mr Todd and Tom Kitten are perhaps my favourites. Oh, and the glorious 'Tailor of Gloucester.'
I love Beatrix Potter too - and think she was an amazing and very strong woman - thanks for this, Ann. Most writers in the 'olden days' went for self publishing of one kind or another. Robert Burns did an early version of crowd-sourcing very successfully. Only time he made serious money.

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