The breakout success this year of E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey may have blown away all kinds of misconceptions about the commercial viability of self-published books (or smut, or fan fiction for that matter), but one thing it won’t do is remove the most basic prejudice against self-publishing: that a book must have been self-published due to its simply not being any good. Because 50 Shades, whatever else you can say about it, isn’t.
Luckily, there’s a venerable tradition of truly excellent writers publishing their own books. Here is a handful of examples to show that even the very best sometimes have to cut out the middleman:
1. Swann’s Way (first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu) by Marcel Proust
Yes, that’s right: the most massive, sweeping, most praised, least read novel of the modern era, adored by critics and anyone else who made it through the seventh book before they died of old age. The first book, Swann’s Way, was turned down by several publishers, until Proust himself had to pay to get it in print. Sacre bleu!
2. Ulysses by James Joyce
The only contemporary competitor to Proust’s cycle in terms of genius, difficulty, and scope would of course be this 1922 masterwork by James Joyce. Beset by obscenity charges and other legal problems throughout the 20th century, the book’s launch was delayed by a more basic problem: no one would print the damn thing. Expatriate American Sylvia Beach ended up printing the famous first edition (now worth a fortune, out of her bookstore Shakespeare & Co. So there you have it, the two most Earth-shaking works of early 20th-century modernist literature, both starting out self-published.
3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Unlike the first two entries on this list, which both feature minor writers hawking difficult manuscripts, this is another kind of self-publishing success story. Mark Twain was already a famous author due to works like “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, to which Huckleberry Finn is of course a sequel. Apparently they didn’t have a good airtight contract on Twain’s intellectual property, because he fled “the foolishness of his publishers” to control his own destiny as well as that of his characters.
So don’t let anybody tell you have to get some suits in New York to approve your book before you can have it printed. “Light out for the territory” like Huck and make a name for yourself!
This guest post is provided by Amelia Wood, who loves to help point people toward medical billing and coding careers through her writing. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.