When Virginia Woolf was around my age, she convinced her husband to buy a dog, a house, and a printing press. (I have to find a husband before I can convince him of such things, but nobody said we had to do this in the same order.) What started out as a hobby, and a way to dodge harsh criticism from mainstream publishers but still put out books, ended up as a legit publishing house that ran for 30 years and published people like TS Eliot and Sigmund Freud. (And of course Virginia herself.)
Leonard Woolf said that one of the reasons for the success of the Hogarth Press was that they had no overheads. The printing was done in their home, they didn’t pay themselves for their time and any profit they made was always reinvested.
Sounds a lot like running a blog, actually.
I saw some of their early products today. They’re not fancy. The later books were, with dust jackets and cleanly-designed covers. But the early ones? They were simply bound with stitches, with covers printed on colored stock or fabric. Some were really tiny, pocket-book sized (pamphlets, really) while others were normal-book sized.
As their confidence grew, the Woolfs started to sell their books by subscription. They compiled two lists of subscribers, group A, those who would buy all the Hogarth Press publications, and group B, who could be notified of new publications and would then select the titles they wanted.
A subscription model you say? Like, I don’t know, an email list? Gee. I don’t have an email list yet, but perhaps it’s time to start.
Certainly I don’t agree with most of the politics of Virginia and Leonard–and I definitely will not pattern my death after her–but I am absolutely delighted to learn about their press and how they grew it from a tiny little baby into something that had legs and made money and published actual legit works.
Lessons we learn
- You absolutely can be an author and publisher at the same time
- It’s okay to start small selling to your friends
- Don’t be afraid to scale up when the time comes
- Always keep track of why you started doing it in the first place