Self Publishing – then and now

originally written for The Source page on the DreamWorlds Publishing site

The Source is our ‘what we do’ page and covers a few other important things like copyright, skills pooling of editorial services, and technical typesetting thing-umma-bobs, but self-publishing has become so important for the modern independent author that it’s background and revered alumni in classic literature (besides Mark Twain and Stephen King) are always worth bigging up! ;-)

Once upon a time all writers were self-published, mainly because they literally had to write it all down themselves. Then, if they were rich or influential, they got other people to make copies if they needed to distribute it to a wider audience. Which is where writing started to get bastardised, as a distinction came into being between mere scribes, simply processing other people’s original words, and the truly creative author.


Then we got movable type and the genie was well and truly out of the bottle, enabling multiple printing from just one typesetting, using wood or lead, and suddenly a whole industry was spawned almost overnight, getting more and more information, news, ideas and inventions of the hand, the eye and the imagination to an ever more literate population. But still writers had to handle their own publishing arrangements and contribute to funding the presses to roll out their words to an audience prepared to pay to read them.


By the end of the 17th century however, things began to change and the print industry began to flex its business muscles, as publishing houses became more efficient and prosperous and began to call the shots as more and more authors clamoured for their work to go into print. Supply gained the upper hand over demand and suddenly some writers found that their work wasn’t going to get published unless they were prepared to pay over the odds to get it printed on what became known as the ‘vanity’ press. Where books that were not necessarily in demand got assembled in costly, minuscule quantities. Even authors of the calibre of Jane Austen, John Ruskin, Walt Whitman and Marcel Proust had to payroll their writings themselves to get the presses rolling.


And then, whatever you think of the content, we have the now legendary online example of Fifty Shades of Grey… Initially written as fanfic for the Twilight vampire fandom, E. L. James re-drafted her storyline into accessible ‘mommy porn’ and was picked up by virtual Australian publisher, The Writer’s Coffee Shop and published on, then with Vintage Books, and made history as the fastest-selling new novel for 2011. Finally, with its 2 sequels (Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed in 2012), it outsold the Harry Potter series on Amazon worldwide.


Yes we know we said fan fiction was off limits elsewhere, but the Fifty Shades series was vastly re-written so it bore little, or even no resemblance to Stephanie Meyer’s vampire saga. Miss Meyer has said herself “that’s really not my genre, not my thing…”, so what do we know?!

The golden rule with self publishing seems, in the end, to amount to – ‘enjoy, be confident and have faith in your writing’. There’s nothing like the buzz you get from people saying that they like what you’ve written and can they have more please, so – what are you waiting for? Get writing that pesky story that’s been lurking in the back of your mind for years today!

2 thoughts on “Self Publishing – then and now

  1. Thanks for this Jan. I have also enjoyed many compliments for the three local history books I have self published, and perhaps this led me to believe this business is a piece of cake. However, as I look to the future and the initial stream of praise for my books has somewhat faded, I am beginning to take more notice of more experienced authors, and face up to some of the difficulties you write about.


    • Thanks for looking in Geoff! 🙂 I think that by and large the ‘non-fiction’ market is a lot less hit and miss for writers, especially if you can target a reader audience. In your case you have unique content with your photo stock and the added boost from Port Isaac’s recent rise to fame via a capella singers and the gogglebox to help things along and a good local marketing strategy 😉
      I’m actually doing a book signing with my writer friend Sue in Kingsbridge Library in a couple of week’s so was thinking of getting in touch with you soon about maybe trying to do something similar in N. Cornwall as well. Watch this space! 😀


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