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A Peoples History of Self-Publishing

What were the roots of this radical publishing trend?

Self-publishing is a phenomenon that has transformed the industry. It’s given many up and coming writers a chance to see their work printed and ready for distribution without the help of a major company. Some of the most popular and beloved books of recent years only came to us through self-publishing. The world of mainstream publishing is wrought with fierce competition, so it’s not hard to see why so many writers today are choosing to self-publish rather than take a chance on a major publishing house. So how did this new trend arise?

Actually, it’s not new at all. Self-publishing has been a part of the literary world for centuries. Publishing as we know it came to be in the 15th century after Johan Gutenberg invented the printing press and evolved even further 200 years later with the invention of James Watt’s letter press. One of the first known people to self-publish is Benjamin Franklin, who owned his own letter press.

Image courtesy of Explore History

The same can be said for Virginia Woolf, who printed the works of other authors as well.  One of the most valuable copies of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables is a very rare edition printed by Woolf. William Blake published some of his own works as well, as did Beatrix Potter. When she couldn't find anyone to publish her first book, Potter took to doing it herself. It would go on to become one of the best-loved and iconic children's books of the ages.

The dot-com boom of the 1990s gave rise to Print-on-Demand websites, such as iUniverse.com. This also helped transform the self-publishing industry, and did a lot to help new writers get their work out there. The books downloaded from such sites didn’t look as impressive or glossy as those published professionally, but it was better than having no one read your work at all. For a small fee, many sites offered marketing tools, which were also helpful for emerging authors on a budget.

The industry continues to thrive, with up and coming authors finding success through the world of self-publishing. We hope to see many more success stories arise from exciting new writers in the coming year. Best of luck to all those embarking on the journey of self-publishing!

Image courtesy of EnglishBookGeorgia.