An Early Indie Writer

Helen Beatrix Potter’s Frederick Warne & Co.
Original Edition “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” © 1902

Helen Beatrix Potter (July 28, 1866 – December 22, 1943) was an English author, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist best known for her imaginative children’s books which celebrated the British landscape and country life, featuring animals such as those in the still beloved The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

However, what you might not know, the book, and her black & white illustrations for it, were originally rejected by publishing houses. Not to be dissuaded, Potter published her children’s book privately, at her own expense. In today’s climate of electronic indie publishing it’s not something unheard of … but it was exceedingly rare in 1901.

A family friend, Hardwicke Rawnsley, had great faith in Potter’s simple children’s tale and made the rounds of the London publishing houses with her self-published work to represent her.

It was Frederick Warne & Co., who had previously rejected the tale, who reconsidered and accepted the (as they called it) “bunny book.” Potter agreed to add color to her pen-and-ink illustrations and, on October 2, 1902, The Tale of Peter Rabbit was officially published.

It was an immediate success. Beatrix Potter continued to write, illustrate and design spin-off merchandise based on her children’s books for Warne until she had published a total of twenty-three books.

Potter left almost all the original illustrations for her books to the UK National Trust. The copyright to her stories and merchandise was given to her publisher, Frederick Warne & Co, now a division of the Penguin Group.

Today, 110-years later, Potter’s books continue to sell throughout the world, in multiple languages. Not bad for someone who was originally an indie writer. Perhaps there’s some hope for me yet.

Happy Birthday, Beatrix.

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