by Will Viharo
What do Gertrude Stein, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, D.H. Lawrence, Stephen King, and possibly you have in common?
All are authors who have self-published at some point in their careers.
So the next time someone looks down their nose at your own literary “selifies,” you can respectfully and truthfully inform them that, historically speaking, you’re in very good company…
Despite its continued success as a platform, there does remain a certain stigma attached to self-publishing, with both industry professionals (including your peers) and certain aspects of the reading public alike, even if it is fading somewhat.
However, long before the digital DIY revolution and the era of self-made success stories like Amanda Hawking, E. L. James, and Andy Weir, iconic literary figures were either resorting to self-publishing after multiple rejections, or choosing it as a more viable option.
Here are just a few examples:
Not many people realize that Twain himself initially published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, after a dispute with his publishers. True, by this point Twain was already a famous author largely due to Tom Sawyer, but still, the fact he made this decision, as a matter of creative authority and integrity, doesn’t detract from its value as an obviously dated but still relevant source of inspiration.
The idiosyncratic author’s almost impenetrable epic Ulysses was initially serialized in Ezra Pound’s ‘zine The Little Review, and then later compiled into a massive tome printed to limited distribution by the author himself. It took a while for the book to attain its current legendary status, despite Joyce’s already established reputation, but this is more evidence that artistic tenacity can eventually pay off.
Edgar Allan Poe
Still one of the most popular authors in the world well over a century after his death, Poe indeed self-published much of his early work, and struggled to survive as a scribe throughout his brief lifetime, receiving some notoriety with The Raven. His posthumous posterity may seem like small consolation – especially to his tormented spirit – but it does illustrate how one’s work can endure beyond the scope of one’s actual naturally limited lifespan.
One of the most celebrated memoirs in history, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas – an account of the author’s legendary years in Paris, told from the perspective of her life partner – was indeed self-published and became an international bestseller. Take that, Fifty Shades of Gray!
Long before King’s wife Tabitha famously retrieved the manuscript of Carrie from the trash can, King co-founded a small press in 1963, called Triad and Gaslight Books. King put out a collection of his short fiction as well as a two-part book, neither of which attracted much attention, but at least this proves he wasn’t born with a silver quill in his hand.
Other famous examples: Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit; James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy; Margaret Atwood, Double Persephone; D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover; Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass; and even Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way.
And again, that’s just a few.
I’ve self-published several of my own books, via both Lulu and Kindle, and now they’ve all been republished by a small press. So while I still don’t have much prestige to boast about, and being published by a small press isn’t much different from a process/promotional standpoint, I can claim I’m no longer a self-published author.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, obviously.
Have you self-published, or do you plan to at some point, and if so, why?
PHOTO: WILL VIHARO