The top classical American and British authors either founded their own publishing ventures, or occasionally subsidized their less “marketable” books. Authors’ greatest obstacle since the earliest books were released thousands of years ago has been censorship of radical, non-conformist, reformist, and otherwise contrary positions that stood in conflict with monarchs, presidents, corruption, and crime. Giant publishers use self-censorship to appease the demands of despots. It takes a radical self-publishing author to realize divergent idea.
Without author-publishers: the sun would still revolve around the earth (Galileo) and book printing would lack exquisite artistic details (Rembrandt). And Americans would still be living in the colonies of the United Kingdom (Benjamin Franklin). It is harder to find an innovative scientist, politician or creative writer who did not self-publish than those who did.
The Inquisition banned the Dialogue of Galileo Galilei on the Great World Systems because the idea that the earth revolved around the sun was contrary to the Bible. Meanwhile, the availability of bibles through the printing press made it possible for scholars like Galileo to quote scripture effectively during blasphemy trials. The press has been a tool for knowledge dissemination and empowerment of the masses. The few who govern these masses are more likely to win arguments and maintain power if their opponents cannot present this valuable knowledge. Since the introduction of the printing press could not be reversed, monarchs, emperors, businessmen, and presidents have been suppressing the radical media with censorship.
Only by creating an independent journal, All the Year Round, was Charles Dickens able to publish a novel about the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities, a few years after the 1848 European Revolutions. The other publishers Dickens submitted this revolutionary work to self-censored or rejected it as too seditious. Meanwhile, Sir Walter Scott could only publish a series of novels about the Jacobite rebellions (a part of his Scottish nationalism campaign), Waverley, by anonymously founding the Ballantyne publishing business in Edinburgh. Lord Byron’s “blasphemous” satire, “The Vision of Judgment,” and Percy Shelley’s objection to unfair reviewers, “Lines to a Critic,” could only be published in their own journal, The Liberal. Most of Virginia Woolf’s feminist and anti-formulaic novels, including Monday or Tuesday, would not have been published in the “mainstream” if her husband, Leonard, and she did not create Hogarth Press. Edgar Allan Poe’s campaign was against plagiarism among popular authors and undue puffing in corrupted review publications. Poe’s anti-publishing establishment views could only able to expressed when he had temporary ownership of Broadway Journal in articles such, “Voluminous History of the Little Longfellow War.” Herman Melville spent the modern equivalent of $29,571 to subsidize the printing of 350 copies of Clarel, his late epic poem about the Holy Land, with Harper because an inheritance allowed him to strive to create art instead of running after pop success as he did with his earlier releases. Even more outrageously, Mark Twain paid $1.3 million to J. R. Osgood, when adjusted for inflation, to subsidize the publication of Old Times on the Mississippi, before founding his own publishing company, Charles L. Webster and Co. Henry Luce and Briton Haddon spent a few disgruntled years as reporters before finding the funding to start the Time magazine, and later its offshoots under the Time Inc. umbrella. Dudley Randall used his savings from a college librarian career to found Broadside Press in part to release his own poetry collections like Cities Burning, and to propagate for the Black Power Movement through releasing works by other underrepresented black writers. Alice Walker imitated the Woolfs’ example when she and her partner founded Wild Trees Press to publish works about the struggles of black people around the world, such as a book for which Walker wrote an introduction, The Spirit Journey. Few modern readers of the Tale of Two Cities realize that it was self-published. Changing readers awareness of the role self-publishing played in the history of knowledge is critical to allow modern self-publishers to be heard.
These radical publishers lived dramatic, revolutionary lives that predominantly ended in violent deaths at sea, from poison, from malpractice, or from more blatant assassinations. Some of these deaths have been ruled as suspicious by biographers, while others have been dismissed as accidental or “natural.” Since all of the reviewed author-publishers delivered a radical, anti-establishment message, it is only logical that the establishment has done its best to suppress them and their messages. In some cases, libel or treason prosecutions stopped the presses, but in others there was nothing illegal in the truthful and democratic messages, so no open retaliation was possible. The suspicious nature of these radicals’ deaths is obvious because of their intersecting similarities. The subversive executioners of these radical authors have frequently been greedy physicians. Elite medicine as a whole in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was torturous. Sir Walter Scott died an excruciating death from bleedings, blisterings, drugging and other torments. The treatments either created the symptoms or worsened them. These symptoms included epileptic seizures or strokes, and partial paralysis. These same symptoms have been proven in Charles II’s case to have resulted from inhaling high amounts of mercury, which causes internal bleeding in the brain. Seizures, confusion, fevers and other symptoms that reoccur frequently in the deaths of author-publishers in this study are closely associated with the four most commonly used by physicians poisons: mercury, arsenic, antimony and lead. The details of many of these deaths clearly indicates malpractice. A harder causality to prove is if the malpractice was motivated by the physicians’ greed or if a specific monarch and his spies ordered an assassination because a legal censorship battle in the courts had been unsuccessful. For example, all biographies of Lord Byron’s death describe similar symptoms and “treatments” to Scott’s and repeat that there were “spies” in Byron’s household as he was actively funding and leading a Greek revolution in his final months. Benjamin Franklin also actively assisted a revolution after running a successful publishing business, but either because his revolution succeeded or because an ocean separated him from his monarch, he lived to achieve great things in his later years. Not all of these author-publishers died horrifying deaths, but even one unproven assassination is worthy of examination.
The misconception that self-publishing is something only the worst writers do is contradicted by the experience of some of the best writers in western literature, who were all desperate enough to see their great works in print to start their own publishing ventures. Their lives offer lessons about publishing that are essential for growing publishers, authors, librarian, and researchers that want to understand the essence of how recorded ideas can die or bloom depending on the power of the author-publishers that yield them.
I have been making a living from a cooperative publishing company, Anaphora Literary Press, for the last nine years, so my perspective on publishing is colored by my own daily struggles. It is easier to set type in Adobe InDesign on a computer screen today than it was for Woolf or Franklin to set each individual letter and then hand press the words onto the pages. With print-on-demand, there is no need to print thousands of copies and store them in your basement as Randall had to do half a century ago. Occasionally, authors ask me if I could print their book “traditionally,” and I have to explain that the old way of printing and distributing books should be left in the past. Small, independent publishers cannot survive 50% or more in returns that “traditional” bookstores generate when they purchase more books than they could ever sell. This is not the bookstores’ fault, as they are also struggling in the modern book marketplace. Buyers only had local bookstores to supply their reading needs just a couple decades ago, and now an infinite variety of books can be shipped from online stores. Leonard and Virginia Woolf had to sell their innovative titles to individual small bookstores, and they barely stayed afloat if the books were returned, but because there were few books competing in this market they remained profitable for decades. The expansion of the giant publishers has pushed such small ventures out of the equation. Bookstore buyers no longer have a personal connection with authors that would prohibit them from purchasing new books before old titles have sold. Thus, bookstores exploit returnable titles causing many small publishers to fail, or opt out of returnability thus mostly foregoing the physical bookstore marketplace. Meanwhile, as these publishers sink, they imagine that they failed to spend adequately on advertisements, catalog mailings or book editing. Given this climate, I had to invent a publishing model that would guarantee a profit from each released book, thus eliminating the risk of catastrophic failure.
One of the reasons so many of the examined author-publishers eventually suffered bankruptcies or sold their companies is because they took on debt and risk in quixotic attempts to donate cheap books and give huge advances to writers. These efforts are admirable, but a closure creates many negative side-effects for investors, authors, bookstores, bankers, and others in this chain. Instead, the subsidized origins of the Big Four provided inspiration for my own publishing model. I ask authors to purchase 50 copies of their book at 25% off the cover price. Ideally, writers will be able to resell them to students or at readings at the full price for a profit. I have been working to increase sales of each title by mailing catalogs to libraries, improving metadata by including html tagging, sending emails with review copies to 10,000 librarians, reviewers and professors, and numerous other innovative approaches. This model helped me to expand by allowing me to take four years off from teaching college.
This year, I taught full-time once again, while also running Anaphora, and the resulting profits might provide for sustained fiscal independence in the coming years. Recently, I have been working on applying to become a GSA contractor to provide publishing services to government agencies. Some giant publishers make a significant portion of their profits via such generous offers. I have also considered applying for the non-profit status. But, both government contracts and grants would be uncertain and fickle. Cooperative publishing funds from authors guarantee a steady stream of income.
Self-employment has allowed me to write over a dozen books, and a significant portion of the content for two of Anaphora’s triannual periodicals, Pennsylvania Literary Journal and Cinematic Codes Review. This explains why Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and the other writers were particularly authorially productive when they were running publishing companies. Combining authorship with the publishing trade is the only way for a writer to become self-sufficient in terms of not being censored by other publishers, or relying on them or other forms of employment for sustenance. This study has helped me to understand this path, and hopefully it will similarly help the writers I publish.
A few key terms need to be defined before jumping into this study. I have frequently been asked by confused writers querying Anaphora, what separates “self-publishing” from “traditional” publishing. Most dictionaries, encyclopedias, interviews with major publishers, and books use definitions that confuse rather than answer this simple question. The words combined to create self-publisher are “self” and “publisher.” A publisher as a person, two or more partners, or a corporation that offers a set of publishing services that are necessary to publish a book, including some or all of the following: formatting, design, editing, proofreading, art (illustrations, photos, graphs) creation, editing, marketing, publicity, registration with book tracking agencies, setup of the title with a printer, order processing, royalty distribution, and various other tasks. If a service provider offers marketing, but none of the other services, hence being unable to independently release a book into the marketplace, it is not a publisher. Now for the word “self,” which seems to be self-explanatory, but this is the word that leads to misperception. Obviously, the “self” in question is the author that wants to release a book. But, the myriad of publishing service combinations offered today complicate what constitutes being published by somebody else or publishing yourself.
One major service that even giant publishers hire out is book printing. A book printer costs millions today. Thus, all publishing service providers except for those that can keep this printer running around the clock cannot afford to print in-house. Using giant, industrial, automated printers subtracts the human labor that Virginia Woolf or Galileo had to put in when they used relatively cheap hand presses in their living rooms or studios to print their own books. A press or printer is a company that has a printer that can print books. Frequently, printers also package and ship these books to wholesalers, distributors, bookstores, libraries or other buyers upon the publisher’s request. If a printer not only processes orders, but also sends information about available books in print to buyers, it is also a distributor.
But, to return to the “self.” If CreateSpace offers book cover templates and allows for the upload of simple pdf interior files that can be generated on a home computer; then, it is allowing most writers, without special formatting or design skills, to create electronic book files needed to print and release them into distribution. According to conventional definitions, when somebody releases a book with CreateSpace, he or she is self-publishing because they design their own book and CreateSpace simply prints and distributes it. In contrast, when authors in the nineteenth century used to have their books privately printed, they would pay a printer to typeset and design the book, and possibly also edit it and perform other services for additional fees.
Today, private printing is typically called subsidy publishing, but this is a misnomer. A subsidy is a grant, typically offered by the government or by an academic institution to sponsor a scholarly book, or a book that results from a creative fellowship. If a writer pays a company out-of-pocket for services and book printing, he or she is not offering a grant. Further still, it cannot be called “private printing,” if the paid-for book is distributed through the regular mainstream distributors by the company being paid, as “private” implies that the book is for private consumption to the author’s family and friends. In earlier centuries, the distinction of “private” printing was essential because it allowed a writer to avoid being censored by the Inquisition or a censorship board if the book was not intended for public consumption.
As this study explains, most of the publishers that eventually became the Big Four at some point charged authors for returned books, for review copies mailings and offered paid-for private printing services. A publisher does not stop being a publisher simply because a company is charging authors for its services instead of offering an “advance.” The Big Four popularized the notion that censored books, or those that pass their review process, must be better than books published by authors that choose to avoid censorship by publishing them with publishers that are open to all who can pay the applicable fees or who can setup their own books for free. Historically, the opposite has been the case. “Successful” publishers are typically defined as those that are the most profitable. To maintain their profitability, they create formulas based on the majority of the public’s taste. These tastes have been steadily declining from the nineteenth century through to the present. So that today, most readers prefer to read at the first through fifth grade level, and this is the range used in most popular mystery and romance novels. Therefore, the best or the most linguistically and structurally complex books submitted to the Big Four must be rejected to attain the profit objective. The best, or the most linguistically and structurally complex and innovative books, can only be printed independently by the authors themselves, or by independent publishers who are investing in art, the intellect, or a less risky profit scheme. Of course, the worst books, or those below a first-grade level, are also rejected by the Big Four; and there are many more of these awful books than there are brilliant rejected books that are too complex for the “average” reader.
In the nineteenth century, the lower end of this range would not have had the money to privately print their book, so only the very intelligent or very wealthy writers released books through private or paid-for printing or publishing. CreateSpace has dropped the minimum required salary out of this equation by offering free setup and distribution for anybody that can afford a personal computer. On the other hand, the writers who are paying publishers for design, marketing and other publishing services still mostly belong to this upper class of writers for whom the expense is irrelevant and they are writing for other reasons than the profit motive. The Big Four are aware of this and have their own paid-for service imprints. Obviously, authors, including myself, who cannot afford to pay a publisher and who hope to make a living from writing highbrow books, are rightfully frustrated with this writing marketplace. If we release a book with CreateSpace or another free service, it is automatically disqualified from tenure calculation formulas, from major awards, and major reviewers. CreateSpace occasionally prints their books with Ingram, a top printer of books for academic and small press market, and other international printers, so its printing cannot be discounted as inferior to what “major” publishers offer. While the author enters information into CreateSpace’s templates themselves, he or she would provide this information to one of the Big Four prior to publication as well. All authors also do basic formatting and typesetting for their books today in Word or other word processing programs that would have been the most time-consuming part of publishing a book before computers.
In this sense, all authors, unless somebody else transcribes the book for them, publish themselves today. The boundaries between printer, distributor, publisher and author are blurred, and legal definitions are needed to separate these roles, rather than theoretical ones. If an author performs any of the services that constitutes a publisher, including marketing or publicizing themselves, he or she is self-publishing. In fact, it would be very strange for anybody in the nineteenth century to hear this term as they would think it was a grammatical error. Consider these two sentences: “I published the book.” “I self-published the book.” The second sentence is technically a “fragment” according to Word, and it repeats a variation of the pronoun “I” twice. In other words, it is saying, “I, yes, truly myself, published the book.” Thus, the correct term to describe free setup, distribution and printing of books is… publishing, without private or “self” added to it, as these books are publicly released, and an outside company other than yourself helps to print and distribute it. If a writer pays for publishing services, or profits from an advance is not a matter for reviewers to contemplate because the exchange of funds between an author and the publisher is a private transaction between two consenting contractual parties, and should not be the major factor in disqualifying a book from review and therefore access to readers.
…[I]t comes over me in a kind of rage every now and then, like * * * *, and then, if I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad. As to that regular, uninterrupted love of writing, which you describe in your friend, I do not understand it. I feel it as a torture, which I must get rid of, but never as a pleasure. On the contrary, I think composition a great pain.
—January 2, 1821, Byron to Moore[i]
…[Y]ou can only produce to order works which are no better than works of mere craftsmanship because of their lack of essential conditions of art… a true work of art is the revelation (by laws beyond our grasp) of a new conception of life arising in the artist’s soul, which, when expressed, lights up the path along which humanity progresses.
—Leo Tolstoy, “On Art”[ii]
If we project Leo Tolstoy’s conclusions onto the publishing industry, we can extrapolate that solicited submissions by major publishers from popular authors must be works of “mere craftsmanship” because they lack the three essential elements of art, “importance,” “beauty,” and “sincerity.”[iii] The “traditional” model forces writers to find publishers that will sign multi-book contracts with them or will commission future books based on the sales success of previous titles. Thus, authors are always forced into reproducing formulas from their own and other writers “successful” publications, which leave the modern publishing climate under a pile of crafted reproductions that fail to progress neither the writing art nor humanity. In contrast, canonical writers that started their own publishing businesses have been able to write art that elevated the form and humanity because they wrote what their “soul” or their mind conceived and not what a corporation ordered to fit its business interests. A writer needs money to win the liberty to write from the soul rather than for the wallet, and this liberty comes with the added bonus of literary associations when the writer makes a living from publishing not only themselves but also other writers.
Note: This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, The History of British and American Author-Publishers, which will be given away for free to authors and interns querying Anaphora, just as my Book Production Guide has been. 10,000+ copies of the latter has been downloaded: https://app.box.com/s/de11a4c8fdcca586f7c5.
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 Lord George Gordon Byron. Byron’s Letters and Journals, Volume I-XII. Leslie A. Marchand, Ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press & Belknap Press, 1973-1982), January 2, 1821, Byron to Moore, Vol. VIII, 55.
 Charles Neider, Ed. Essays of the Masters. (New York: First Cooper Square Press, 2000), Leo Tolstoi, “On Art,” 1895-7; 379.
 Ibid., 377.
Anna Faktorovich, Ph.D., is the Founder, Director, Designer and Editor-in-Chief of the Anaphora Literary Press, which has published over 200 titles in non-fiction, fiction and poetry.
[i] Lord George Gordon Byron. Byron’s Letters and Journals, Volume I-XII. Leslie A. Marchand, Ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press & Belknap Press, 1973-1982), January 2, 1821, Byron to Moore, Vol. VIII, 55.
[ii] Charles Neider, Ed. Essays of the Masters. (New York: First Cooper Square Press, 2000), Leo Tolstoi, “On Art,” 1895-7; 379.
[iii] Ibid., 377.