Tuesday, July 17, 2012

From the Trenches: Self-Publishing Pioneer

A story we've all heard almost didn't make it, because the author trying to publish it was rejected so many times. She heard the word "no" from publishers so much, in fact, that she decided to self-publish -- just like so many of today's authors. The thing is, she did it way back in 1902...more than a hundred years before the Kindle existed. 

Beatrix Potter started writing as a child. She invented her own secret writing code and started recording the events of her life as young as 15 years old. As a girl, she often secretly brought small animals into her house. She loved writing stories, but Beatrix Potter also has a scientific mind. She tried to publish a paper about fungi and algae, but because she was female she couldn't submit it. Her parents tried to find suitors for Beatrix as she became of an age to marry, but she rejected them all and retained her single status against their wishes.

Her Own Way

She wanted to be a writer. Beatrix submitted a children's book and accompanying drawings to several publishers, but it was rejected many times.Finally, she self-published the book at her own expense. All the drawings were done in full color, something Potter's youngest brother Norman insisted upon. The book was also made in a small size, because she wanted it to be easy for children to hold in their small hands. 

That self-published book was The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which would go on to become one of the most beloved children's books of all time. Frederick Warne & Company eventually published the book on their dime, though they didn't have a lot of hope for it. It sold nearly 30,000 copies that first year, and Beatrix Potter went on to write 22 more children's books. She introduced young readers to characters like Squirrel Nutkin, Benjamin Bunny and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. 

Beatrix Potter wrote and drew for the rest of her life, and ended up getting married while in her 40s. Today, young children still read Peter Rabbit and watch animated movies about the rabbit that stole into the garden when he shouldn't have. Beatrix Potter wrote in the trenches when women were supposed to be getting married and having children instead, and when she heard the word no she decided she didn't need any old publisher, anyway. She became a huge success in her market, but before she did it Beatrix Potter was an indie author, too.

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  1. An inspiration! I'm struck by how many female writers chose writing over marriage when it was frowned upon to be unmarried. Such a commitment to their art.

  2. So'm I! Beatrix Potter made me think of Jane Austen, who went the same route.