I thought it time to revisit this post for several people of late have asked me of Austen and self-publishing.
Novels during the early Regency were geared toward the female reader; therefore, the door opened, if only a crack for the female writer to step through. The female writers of the time assisted Jane Austen in several ways, among them the influence on her writing and building an audience for Austen’s early works.
The early female authors faced something that Austen did not. They faced public criticism, as women of the time, especially those of genteel birth, did not seek employment of any kind. Women were not to pursue fame and a career. They were discouraged by their husbands and families from publishing their works. Austen was fortunate to have a family who encouraged her writing, but even she published anonymously. Austen’s father, the Reverend Austen, even approached a publisher for Jane when she was but two and twenty. Later, Jane’s brother acted as her representative with the publisher under which she served.
Women of the period had limited means at their disposal under which they might see their works come to fruition:
(1) Publishing by subscription – Subscribers signed up to purchase a novel. When enough subscriptions were guaranteed, then the publisher released the book.
(2) Publishing by profit sharing – The publisher released the book at his expense. Copies were sold until a profit was made. Only then did the author received a fee for his work. If no profit was made, the author received nothing, but the pleasure of seeing her name in print.
(3) Publishing by selling the copyright – The author took a chance in selling her copyright to the publisher. She would receive a fee for the sale, but nothing beyond that. If the book made a profit, only the publisher benefited.
(4) Publishing on commission – For this venture, the author paid all the costs for the book’s publication. The publisher acted as the author’s distributor. In the sales, the publisher would earn a 10% fee from the profits. If the book saw no profits, the loss rested on the author’s shoulders alone. This was the method Jane Austen used for her releases. Jane Austen published her first book at the age of four and thirty.
First Edition title page of Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” published in 1811
Austen’s Publishing History:
I thought we might take a quick look at the process of having Austen’s works published. Most of her story lines went through several revisions before the lady knew fruition. She reportedly made extensive changes in both “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice.”
Sense and Sensibility was completed in 1795, but it did not know publication until 1811. (That is a sixteen year span. For authors who think they will write the next best seller and have it immediately caught up by an agent and publisher, this is a very sobering fact.)
Mansfield Park was finished in 1812 and was published two years later in 1814. (With this novel, Austen attempted sentimentality. Unfortunately, “Mansfield Park” does not enjoy the same level of popularity as Austen’s other novels.)
Pride and Prejudice knew a similar fate. Austen wrote the original manuscript in 1796. It was published in 1813. (Seventeen years of rejection. It makes me admire Austen more.)
Austen began Northanger Abbey in 1798; however, the book was published posthumously in 1817. (Nearly two decades passed between the novel’s inception and the final publication.)
Emma was finished in 1814 and published in 1815. Obviously, the success of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice aided Austen in this process.
Finally, Persuasion was completed in 1815 and published posthumously in 1817. We know as Austen readers that this particular novel had a major revision along the way.