A short history of self-published successes like Michael Winker’s Grimmish

From Beatrix Potter to Marcel Proust, these authors managed to find wide audiences, despite the snubbed noses of publishers.

(Image: Private Media)
(Image: Private Media)

Michael Winkler’s Novel grimmish has become the first self-published book to be shortlisted for Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award. The phrase “self-published novel” has a certain tang of delusion to it, but a look at the best (or at least most successful) self-published efforts shows this isn’t (always) the case.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Beatrix Potter’s winsome illustrated tale of a mischievous rabbit and his family was initially turned down by publishers in 1901, partly due to Potter’s initial opposition to coloring her figures. A revised version, apparently featuring “dreadful didactic verse” from the wonderfully named Hardwicke Rawnsley (he would find fame for, among other things, co-founding the UK’s national trust) fared little better. She privately published a run of 250 copies, which sold out — one copy finding its way into the home of Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame.

Eventually she reneged on her conviction the book should be black and white, and it was published commercially. It sold ten of thousands of copies in its first run and was a pioneer in the tying of merchandising to a character. Potter was resistant to the idea of ​​a Disney adaptation: “They propose to use cartoons; it seems that a succession of figures can be joggled together to give an impression of motion. am not troubling myself about it!” We’re sure she would have been much happier with the 2018 adaptation featuring a CGI Peter voiced by James Corden.

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