I have written quite a few posts complaining about how hard it is these days for a writer to get a book published in the first place, and then to get people to read it. However, I was thinking this weekend what it must have been like for Mary De Morgan, (1850 – 1907) the Victorian writer whose biography I have written (“Out of the Shadows: The Life and Works of Mary De Morgan”) and who features in my debut novel “The Jewel Garden.”
So I thought I would see how my writing activities compare with Mary’s.
I did most of my research for the biography and novel on-line. If I couldn’t read the article/book on-line, I could at least order it on-line, or worst case be told at which library I could find it.
Mary wrote many articles that were published in journals, such as “The Education of Englishmen”, “Co-operation in England in 1889”, “The Jewish Immigrant in East London” and “The New Trades-Unionism and Socialism in England”. I don’t have any real evidence for this, but based on a short story she wrote, I suspect that she spent many hours in the British Museum Library. Otherwise, how did she get the details about the public schools such as Winchester and Eton, when none of her brothers went there? And the facts and figures included in the other articles can only have been gleaned from reading many reference books. She wrote one article entitled “At the Foot of the Pyrenees” – I have found no reference to Mary making such a visit, so can only assume that she read books on the subject and then wrote an account as if she had actually gone there.
I, of course, wrote everything straight onto my PC, where my spelling and grammar was corrected; I could cut-and-paste sections back and forth until I was happy with its final resting place; I could change the font, size and line spacing at the press of a button; I could send chapters via e-mail for someone to sanity check.
Mary either hand-wrote or used a type-writer. There are some of her short-stories in the De Morgan archives in Senate House, London University (her father was a renowned mathematician, hence the archives) and they are very badly typed, with much crossing-out and changes made by hand. I am sure the type-writer was a great advance, but even so it was still a slow process and once typed, not easy to change.
Having completed the book I then searched for literary agents and/or publishers on-line, filtering by genre or any other relevant criteria. I then sent out the relevant number of chapters to multiple recipients via e-mail, without the need to use 1 sheet of paper or buy 1 postage stamp.
Mary, on the other hand, would have had to make a fair copy and probably hand deliver to a publisher – she lived in London, where I assume most of the UK publishers were. There were no such things as literary agents at the time. I don’t know if she submitted to more than one publisher – if she did, she would have had to write/type the additional copy. I don’t know how hard it was to get published – maybe the fact she had a famous father helped, maybe not. Some of her articles were published in US journals and magazines, so she would have had to post her manuscript and wait for a response by mail.
Having had a book published, I can promote it myself on FaceBook, Twitter etc. I can join multiple on-line sites to request reviewers and reviewers can leave their feedback on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. I can promote myself and my book via Blogs and my own websites. All, without actually having to move out of the chair.
Mary, on the other hand, would not be able to do anything but leave everything in the hands of the publisher. He would do all the advertising, he would get the books printed and distributed, he would arrange for the book to be translated and he would obtain reviews from papers and magazines.
I would just like to share one review for Mary’s second collection of fairy tales, “The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde.” I read these stories today as incisive critiques of Victorian society, but the contemporary reviewers considered then to be mere children’s stories. Maybe because this is how they were promoted?
It is chiefly for children, however, that Christmas books are now produced, and if in them the matter is not often above the old level, there is, as a rule, a most praiseworthy improvement in the style of illustration. The most remarkable portions of Miss De Morgan’s The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde, for instance, are the five-and-twenty dainty illustrations by Mr Walter Crane, though in these days, when the fairytale-telling faculty is but feebly shown, Miss De Morgan’s not too didactic stories are not to be thought meanly of.
Faint praise indeed!
Apparently the review of Mary’s novel “A Choice of Chance” was so bad she never wrote another. I didn’t think it was that bad.
My current novel is priced at £1.99 for the kindle version and £9.99 for the hard-copy. I don’t know yet how many have been sold.
I found the following statement of account for Mary’s first collection of fairy tales, “On a Pincushion”, published in 1870, when Mary was just 20 years old. It was obviously still selling six years later.
(£ s d)
(£ s d)
|Sept 1876||To paper & printing 1500||70||6||6|
|To engraving illustrations||18||5||0|
|To binding 1250 @ 82/6 per 100||57||11||3|
|To binding 250 @ 64/- (for America)||8||0||0|
|To engraving Binders Block||7||7||0|
|To trade expenses 7½% on £206 18 9||15||9||4|
|To profit to Miss De Morgan||14||8||6|
|To profit to W. De Morgan Esq.||14||8||6|
|To profit to Seeley & Co||14||8||6|
|By 47 copies presented|
|By 1203 copies sold as 1155 @ 3/7||206||18||9|
|By 250 copies sold to America for||21||17||6|
You will notice that the author (Mary), the illustrator (Mary’s brother, William) and the publisher (Seeley & Co.) all got the same amount of £14 8s 6d – I think this is the equivalent today of around £1,060
The cost of a book was 3s 7d – interestingly I paid £200 for a copy of this book. Well worth every penny!
Mary certainly never became rich by her writing – she apparently said to her sister-in-law, ““I am so thankful I have only a small income―it is so delightful planning things and deciding what one can afford. It would bore me to death to be rich!”