Publish Your Own Book: History of Famous Writers Who Self-Published

About several famous writers including Stephen Crane, Zane Grey, and Carl Sandberg who self-published their novels and poetry.

Publish Your Own Book

Commercial publishers concluded that Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets was "too grim" and morally objectionable for 1892 readers. They saw no market for a realistic novel about Crane's neighbors living in poverty on New York's Bowery. So Crane borrowed $700 from his brother and hired an uneasy printer to manufacture several hundred paperback copies. The printer was so nervous that he refused to mention his name anywhere on the book. Crane, fearing the consequences for his job as a newspaper reporter, identified the author as "Johnston Smith."

The public ignored the event. Maggie sold 100 copies. The rest of the edition went into the fire that warmed Crane's room through the winter of 1892. However, review copies reached the attention of Hamlin Garland and, through him, William Dean Howells, paving the way for wide acceptance of The Red Badge of Courage in 1895. After that success, commercial publishers were only too happy to reprint Maggie.

A dentist named Zane Grey deserves brief mention for his start in self-publishing. After moving to New York from Zanesville, O., and hanging out his shingle Dr. Grey found that tooth-drilling was too mundane a chore for his imagination. Using journals of his ancestor and well-known frontiersman Col. Eb Zane, Grey fashioned his 1st novel, Betty Zane. Nobody cared to publish Betty so he did it himself in 1904, to little success. Eight years later Harpers issued Riders of the Purple Sage, and Dr. Grey forgot about the tooth profession.

Carl Sandburg not only created his poems, he set them into type, rolled the presses, hand-pulled the galley proofs, and bound the books. In Reckless Ecstasy, Sandburg's 1st collection of poems, was manufactured by Sandburg with the help of his professor, Philip Green Wright, at Lombard College, Galesburg, Ill., in 1904. In Reckless Ecstasy was printed in the basement of Wright's home on a Gordon press with Caslon face type. The 50-copy, 50-page edition was bound in cardboard and held together with ribbon. A copy is now worth $500.

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