Fyodor Dostoyevsky – author, publisher, entrepreneur


Authors who publish their own books often comfort themselves with the fact that some of the most famous writers in literary history have published their own books. People whose names are recited include Mark Twain, Louis L’Amour, Alexander Dumas, Thomas Hardy, Beatrix Potter, Stephen King, George Bernard Shaw, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf and Edgar Allan Poe.

According to an article on the Huffington Post, well-known authors who have published their own books can be sorted into five categories: the writer whose self-published book was initially a commercial failure, but who later received wide recognition for it (example: Edgar Allan Poe); already commercially successful writers whose early books were published by commercial publishers, but who later decided to go on their own (example: Mark Twain); the writer who published his own book as part of his professional career (example: Professor of English, William Strunk Jr.); the writer who would later become world-famous who published his own books in his youth (example: Stephen King); the author who published their own obscure books but who would later become commercially successful (example: L. Frank Baum).

I publish my own material – on the internet and in print and electronic books. I have no illusions of commercial success, nor that anyone will ever recognise me while I wander around in some shopping mall. What does irritate me slightly is the common view that if you publish your own books, these books are supposedly of lower quality. Why is this? Primarily because no one whose job it is to make money for a company has read the manuscript and reckoned the company can profit by publishing the book.

Certainly it does not mean your book is any good just because someone else has published it, just as it does not mean your book is of lesser literary value because you decided to take responsibility for publishing it yourself.

Anyways, my intention with this brief article is not to bore anyone with complaints about the snobbery of the establishment publisher nor with a lament about the insecurities of the self-published author. I only wanted to share something I read on Wikipedia, about a legendary writer who – you could probably guess – published his own books:

Back in Russia in July 1871, the family [of Russian author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky] was again in financial trouble and had to sell their remaining possessions. […] Demons [an 1872 anti-nihilistic novel by Dostoyevsky] was finished on 26 November and released in January 1873 by the “Dostoyevsky Publishing Company”, which was founded by Dostoyevsky and his wife. Although they only accepted cash payments and the bookshop was in their own apartment, the business was successful, and they sold around 3,000 copies of Demons. Anna managed the finances.

Dostoyevsky proposed that they establish a new periodical, which would be called A Writer’s Diary and would include a collection of essays, but funds were lacking […].

In early 1876, Dostoyevsky continued work on his Diary. The book includes numerous essays and a few short stories about society, religion, politics and ethics. The collection sold more than twice as many copies as his previous books. Dostoyevsky received more letters from readers than ever before, and people of all ages and occupations visited him.