The making of Regency Books from the awesome Regency Redingcote.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE reading about the making of books. Back in 2001, when I was still in grad school, I was researching a Regency era author. Here’s a link to an article I wrote for about the price of Romance.

And boy, it probably won’t come as any surprise to authors that publishers in those days took advantage of authors. There wasn’t any need to track royalties because publishers acquired the copyright outright. No license. No advance. No foreign rights. No translation rights. If your book ended up selling lots but you sold the copyright for 5 pounds, you were limited to counting what was left of your 5 pounds because you were never going to see a penny of that sales money. That circumstance might put you in a position to sell your next book for more money. Maybe.

It wasn’t uncommon to pay for publication yourself, if you had the money, or seek a patron. That’s why you can find so many 18th and 19th century books with a lovely dedication to Lord SoandSo, who defrayed or may even have entirely covered the publication costs. I’ve also seen books that were published by subscription, that is, get enough people to buy the book in advance, and voila, you could publish it. Yes, Kickstarter isn’t all that new an idea.

Digital publishing is the first truly significant change to the business of book publishing in centuries, really. For the first time, any author with internet access can put their book into the stream of commerce. Speaking quite literally, it can be done for no money out of pocket, but for time, electricity and possible internet charges. Yes, I know it would be unwise to put out a book with no cover, no editing or proofreading, but it can and has been done.

Authors have always risked anonymity, of course. If you publish a book in the forest of Books and nobody reads it, do the words between the pages actually exist?

For the first time since humans moved away from oral traditions as the primary vehicle for story-telling, ANYONE meeting those minimum requirements (access to a computer and internet) can write and publish a book.

Amazon’s change in percentage paid to the author created a set of conditions where Do-It-Yourself publishing can actually be profitable to the author as well as cheaper for the reader. I am, of course, setting aside all those pesky issues of quality, discoverability and talent, because that’s not quite the point I’m making.

My point is that for centuries publishing has been a business that didn’t change all that much.

And now it has.

So, what would Jane Austen think of publishing today? Would she have self-pubbed Pride and Prejudice?