Thursday, April 24, 2014

Charles Dickens and the Publishing World - Then and Now

While reading a biography of Charles Dickens, I came across this marvelous excerpt from a letter the author sent to his friend Forster describing the dispute with his publisher, Bentley. Specifically, Dickens was reluctant to undertake the writing of Barnaby Rudge due to being greatly depressed by the contractually fixed disproportion between his publisher's earnings from his books and his own. In a letter of early 1839, he wrote the following:

The immense profits which Oliver Twist has realised to its publisher, and is still realising; the paltry, wretched, miserable sum it has brought to me (not equal to what is every day paid for a novel that sells fifteen hundred copies at most); the recollection of this, and the consciousness that I have still the slavery and drudgery of another work on the same journeyman-terms; the consciousness that my books are enriching everybody concerned with them but myself, and that I, with such a popularity as I have acquired, am struggling in old toils, and wasting my energies in the very height and freshness of my fame, and the best part of my life, to fill the pockets of others, while for those who are nearest and dearest to me I can realise little more than a genteel subsistence: all this puts me out of heart and spirits...

Of course, the publishing world was an entirely different animal in the early nineteenth century; the proliferation of e-reading apparatus, the ready freedom to self-publish, the global readership to which writers currently market themselves - these would certainly have astonished Dickens if he was granted a glimpse of the publishing world today.

But I wonder whether the financial inequity in regards to royalty revenue (the slimmest of pie-slices that return to the author of the creative work) I wonder whether that would, to Dickens, remain recognizable. When one takes into account the wholesale discount, the cost of printing and distribution, the publisher's slice, as well as that of the literary agent (assuming one goes the traditional route)...the writer is left with a rather piddling portion from the sale of their own literary work.

Regal House Publishing is, of course, subject to these costs as are other publishing houses. We must pay our copyeditors, our acquisition agents, our cover artists, our website designers. We must pay for printing, marketing, and advertising. Like any other business we must maintain a healthy accounting ledger, but our priority remains, now and as long as we are in business, with the writer. We are seeking writers of literary fiction - historical or contemporary - and it is for these individuals, these scribes of our age, that we maintain a profound respect. A respect that is manifested in maximizing the proceeds that accrue to them as a result of their long and dedicated endeavor. Throwing open the publishing doors, so to speak, and accepting submissions directly from writers is our way of achieving this. The Regal House Team  supports and empowers our writers by encouraging and enabling a transparency to the publishing process, and involving them closely in the decision-making process.

A new way of doing business that has, perhaps, short-changed the writer for over one hundred and fifty years. Dickens would have loved Regal, and we, of course, would have simply adored him!


  1. This is what publishers are - or should be - about. Giving literary & creative minds their due...! I think, dear Ladies and Sirs, your approach is highly praiseworthy.

    1. Thank you, Pim. We, at Regal House, are passionate about supporting our writers, and encouraging and disseminating works of contemporary literature.