Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mark Twain not so ahead, Self Publishing Myth #3

This has to be one of the stupider ones used for ‘proof’ – because Clemens lived in a time where it wasn’t all that odd for the writer to carry the expense, but he still almost went bankrupt.

 Samuel Clemens became a printer’s apprentice when he was 12, a year after his father died.  In 1851, he started doing typesetting and contributing articles and sketches to The Hannibal Journal, his brother’s newspaper.

 At 22, he returned to Mississippi, studying to become a riverboat captain, a position which he kept until 1861.

 Twain’s first notable work(so far-as new things come up from time to time), The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, was published in the New York Saturday Press.  Not long after, he was commissioned by the Sacramento Union to write letters about his travels.

There’s a lot more, as Twain was an extremely prolific writer, and I can’t get into all of it in the space of a blog, so we’ll move on to the first of his most well known works.

 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was first published in England by Chatto and Windus, then picked up for US release by American Publishing Company in 1876.  (Innocents Abroad, a travelogue about the Holy Land, was already wildly popular – not only as periodical articles, but as a bound feature – Twain was already well established when he forayed into the land of full length fiction..) 


Hmmm. No self publishing here…


His very first book, The Gilded Age, was a collaboration between himself and Charles Dudley Warner.  Also printed by American Publishing Company in 1873, it met many lukewarm reviews, mostly due to the two halves of the book not meshing well.


No self publishing there, either.


Twain loved technology, and part of the goal for starting his own publishing company was to revolutionize the printing press. He started his own publishing company with his nephew. Called the Charles L. Webster Publishing Company, who’s first printed book was…

 A two volume set of memoirs by Robert E. Lee.

The Huckleberry Finn debate: did Twain’s own company publish the book, or not?  The story seems to go as such:  After a falling out with the American Publishing Company, Twain attempted to publish Huck Finn through his own company, where it (like most of the other works he published) was a whispering flop. 

Unlike most of the self publishing stories, Twain was trying to run his own publishing company, printing far more than his own work.  He nearly went bankrupt as a result, and the company failed completely in 1894.


The complete list of books published through this company can be found here:


It seems pretty clear that Twain’s goal was to become a publisher, not specifically to self publish.  Plus, he had literally hundreds of works under his belt before moving in this direction.  Not too many casual observers even know that he had his own company.


Myth Busted.


  1. fair enough. i guess i shouldn't believe everything i hear, or report everything i believe.

  2. No to the first, possibly to the second. Believing something is great - just make sure it's a conclusion based on at least some facts.
    I will be posting about REAL self published successes, and looking into how those writers did it.