indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop

BRAG bannerMarley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Those delicious words open the Dickens classic. Prior to the publication of A Christmas Carol, Christmas was still a holiday, but it didn’t have the romantic vibe that it has today. Mr. Dickens and his novel changed all that. And, if he’d waited for his publisher to release the book it may never have happened.

Charles Dickens wrote his masterpiece in six weeks. Somehow he was able to channel the story and get the words on paper (or parchment probably) in less than two months. At that time he was suffering financially. His wife was pregnant with their fifth child and the wolves were closing in on his door. His previous novel had not sold well and when he submitted his new manuscript (after having it beta-read surely), to his publishers they were slow to warm to it. I’m not sure how rejection letters were sent out in 1853 but his publishers indicated that they were not interested in publishing the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s epiphany. Anxious to have the book released by Christmas Dickens went the print-on-demand route and self-published. He hired his own illustrator and contracted his publisher to print the books. And, he did the legwork himself.

Then, in those very, pre-Kindle Countdown days he lowered the price to five shillings – a price that most folks would be able to afford. He wanted his book to be read and perhaps he even thought that readers might enjoy his other works if they liked his Christmas tale.

The book was a success. He sold six thousand copies by Christmas Eve. This was a good return, but because he’d laid out his own money he needed sales to continue. That’s when the pirates showed up. Even back then there were pirates of the sort we deal with today. His book was plagiarized and the pirated copy, although altered in areas, sold well also. Dickens quickly took the culprits to court. The plagiarists argued that they had improved on the story. I was exposed to Mr. Dickens and his marvelous words as early as primary school back in Scotland. I don’t believe his words can be improved on.  The judge agreed and barely stopped short of calling the pirates blasphemers. He ruled that if you rob a man, even if you tell him he is being robbed, it still amounts to robbery. In his verdict he said that the work had been stolen and ordered the pirates to pay Mr. Dickens. The plagiarists swiftly declared bankruptcy and Dickens was responsible for all of the court costs including those of the pirates.

Fortunately, the book continued to sell well and in another canny marketing move, he allowed theatre companies to perform productions of the work without any compensation back to him. By the following Spring A Christmas Carol was in its seventh edition. In the coming years Dickens began readings of his work that took him all over the world. This was not a common occurrence for an author in those days. During those public appearances he usually read from his Christmas masterpiece. And, most of his earnings ended up coming from those same readings. And, as we all know, the joy, mystique, and romanticism of Christmas became an annual occurrence.

So, the next time you’re referred to as a self-published author wear it proudly. Remember Mr. Dickens and how he worked day and night to release his independently published novel before Christmas. And, remember the innovative ways he found to market his work – A Christmas Carol, the self-published masterpiece that redefined Christmas.

Thank you to the great team at B.R.A.G. for allowing me to republish this article as part of the indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop. Next up is R.A.R. Clouston  tomorrow, December 3.



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This Post Has 52 Comments

  1. Geri says:

    Fantastic Martin! I knew none of this about Dickens- what a fascinating story. Dicken’s shows us being clever in marketing, and of course having a great book, may take a bit of time but when your story catches on it too can be a best seller!

  2. Rod Baker says:

    Very timely piece Martin and reminds us all that today’s icons of literature were all unknown authors once. A hundred years ago, Marcel Proust self published his great work “In search of lost time” after failing to find a publisher. Proust wrote to a fellow author. “You must feel as I do, that our actual profession seems easy, but trying to get into print, dealing with publishers, seem to be overwhelming tasks. ”Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme.
    Go indie authors!

    • Martin Crosbie says:

      Wow, I did not know that Rod. Thank you. The more things change the more they stay the same. Merry Christmas to you!

  3. Maggie Pill says:

    What a great reminder! I knew Dickens had done some self-pubbing, but you tell the story well. Too bad he couldn’t get on BookBub 🙂

    • Martin Crosbie says:

      He would have killed it on BookBub. It would have saved him from knocking on lots of doors. Thanks for dropping by Maggie!

  4. Hey, Martin! Such a great post! A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens is one of my favorites! Thank you for sharing this with us and for participating in the indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop.

    • Martin Crosbie says:

      Hi Stephanie, it’s one of my favorite books too. And I love the old Alistair Sim movie. Has to be in black and white, no colorized version. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to participate.

  5. Bob Clouston says:

    As a self-published author and the spouse of the CEO of indieBRAG I most certainly wear the SP title proudly. Thank you for sharing this backstory of Mr. Dickens. Very well said!

  6. You know I always love your writing, Martin, and this story of a Christmas classic is a perfect way to get the Hop going! How ironic and inspiring to know Dickens wrangled with some of the same confounding issues we contemporary indie authors deal with! It seems not much has change, though everything has changed! Being a Dickens fan myself, I intend to take this story to heart and let it spur me on when I’m feeling grumpy about the challenges of the profession!

    Have a great Christmas, Martin, and thank you for always being an inspiration to me! You were one of the very first and for that I’m grateful.


  7. Username* says:

    Thanks – very interesting! Beatrix Potter was ‘self-published’ as well until Warne realised she was onto something good.
    Funny how things change isn’t it? Back then ‘Indie’ was expected, no one sneered at Dickens saying “If it’s good enough to be read it would be mainstream” Maybe a few more people need reminding of this!

    Merry Christmas… without a Bah Humbug in sight!

    • Martin Crosbie says:

      It’s an interesting world, isn’t it. When I go to see an Indie movie I expect to see a great film and I usually do. We’re getting there. The more quality we get out there (thank you BRAG) and the better we become then the stigma will diminish. Thanks for commenting.

    • Martin Crosbie says:

      Yes, it’s all about the words, isn’t it. Great stuff, and he was one of us. Thanks for commenting J.B.

  8. Ha! Next time someone asks me about my writing career, I’ll lean back and say; “Well, you know: just like dear oldf Dickens and Proust I’m going Indie. No reason to change a winning concept.” Fun post – tweeted.

  9. Carrie Beckort says:

    Great post, Martin. It is a shame that the stigma still exists around self-publishing. After all, self-published author is the same as any other entrepreneur or small business owner. As they say, there is strength in numbers – if the Indie community keeps coming together to support each other, then we might be able to shift the perception a little quicker. It’s great to have organizations such as indieBRAG to help us in our efforts.

  10. G j Reilly says:

    Nice one, Martin. A Christmas Carol is one of my favourites. Personally, I look forward to visiting at least three spirits around the festive season, albeit in moderation. 😅
    Admittedly, with only one novel to my credit (don’t worry, I’m not here to plug), it’s rather heartening to know that one of the world’s best known authors started out in similar circumstances. I think it’s more important than ever that indie authors are acknowledged. There are rare gems lurking between the Big Names that, once discovered, will never be forgotten. So raise a glass this Yuletide, to the authors and dreamers that make B.R.A.G what it is and, in the words of Dickens himself, ‘God bless us, every one!’

    • Martin Crosbie says:

      Very nicely said, Gj. Thanks very much for dropping by and you’re welcome to mention the name of your novel. Saves us from looking it up. All the best to you!

  11. What a terrific story, Martin. It’s inspiring to know we Indies are in such great company as Dickens! I’m curious how you learned such interesting information about Dickens’ pursuit and struggles with getting “A Christmas Carol” published. Oh, the agonies and sorrows that must sometimes be endured, even in the nineteenth century, to get one’s stories into readers’ hands. But oh the inspiration to read yet another triumph, in spite of the odds. Write on!

    • Martin Crosbie says:

      The information is out there if you Google. Or, there is a book, “The Man Who Invented Christmas”. I haven’t read it but it’s the story of how Dickens got “A Christmas Carol” to market. Thanks for dropping by Cheri!

  12. Thanks Martin for that amazing inspirational story! I didn’t know the history of A Christmas Carol’s publication. It is truly in the spirit of the book!

    Merry Christmas!


  13. Janet Oakley says:

    Dickens is one of my all time favorites. Knowing that he published Christmas Carole as an indie is inspiring. The tale resonates more than ever today with homelessness, food shortages and et al. Thanks for the post.

    • Martin Crosbie says:

      It really is inspiring, isn’t it. I re-read David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol this year. His work really is timeless. Thanks for commenting Janet.

  14. Rather boring just saying what everyone else has… but it really is a good post and a good reminder that publishers don’t always recognize quality even when it’s handed to them on a silver platter. Publishers don’t made good books — authors do. So let’s all keep doing our best. One day we will (hopefully) be successful–but if not we will know we have done our very best and produced beautiful books.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year to you all!


    • Martin Crosbie says:

      Not boring at all Helena. I appreciate the positive thoughts. Merry Christmas to you and thanks for dropping by.

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