7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Early Novels, Authors and the Publishing Industry

In the early days of publishing, our U.S. Articles of Confederation gave no provision for copyright and left the States to address the issue individually. Authors were forced to copyright their work in each state to ensure complete protection of their work. This practice continued until 1790 when Congress finally enacted a national copyright law under the Constitution. The law protected American writers for 28 years, but gave no protection to foreign writers.

Publishing boomed over the next 40 years, and here in America, European books went into piracy on a large scale. Popular novels like Tom Jones and Robinson Crusoe were reprinted and sold many times over in early America without a penny paid to their foreign authors. Philadelphia was the center of publishing, with a dozen or so smaller towns like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, also publishing books.

Susanna Rowson
This left American writers at a significant disadvantage. Foreign books came free to publishers and were generally considered of a higher standard than American works. The runaway bestseller of its day was Charlotte Temple by British author, Susanna Rowson. Young colonial ladies blushed and wept over its tragic, romantic plotline and slept with it under their pillows. First published in America in 1794, the novel ran through 200 editions.

Some American writers did manage to get recognized. Attorney and statesman, William Wirt, of Virginia wrote The Letters of a British Spy, which quickly became a bestseller in 1803 and later went on to write a biography of Founding Father, Patrick Henry. By the late 1820s, Nathaniel Hawthorne had begun jotting his first lines in Salem and Henry David Thoreau was observing nature in Concord, but it was in New York City that American literature first came onto its own with author Washington Irving.

Washington Irving
 In 1809, he wrote the satire, Knickerbocker’s History of New York. The book’s gaiety and charm was not exactly what the editors were anticipating, but it made its mark as early American literature, nonetheless. Washington’s short story, Sleepy Hollow, is still wildly popular today and is one of my all-time favorites, in all its forms, from the original book to movies and television.

Headless Horseman chases Ichabod Crane

Lisa Norato is the multi-published author of Prize of My Heart, an inspirational, seafaring historical from Bethany House, set during the Federal era. A life-long New Englander, Lisa lives in a historic village with homes and churches dating as far back as the eighteenth century.


  1. Hello Lisa. This was a very interesting post. Sad about the publishers just making more and more editions without paying the Editors. I didn't know this had ever happened. Bet our authors would make a big hassel if that were to happen today. With good rights. These places are sure good for learning so much history about this country that I never knew. Thanks to Colonial Quills. Maxie

    1. Welcome, Maxie! Yes, it is sad that foreign authors weren't paid for the sale of their books, esp. considering the time and effort involved in writing a novel. I'm so glad that has changed through the years. And thanks for visiting CQ and reading my post!

  2. Thanks for a very interesting and educational article, Lisa. I didn't know any of this and found it fascinating! It's always good to learn something new, especially about a time period I love.

    1. Blessings, Cynthia! Thanks for reading and I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. Seems like there's always something new to learn about early American times, doesn't there?

    2. Great article, Lisa! Thanks for sharing with us! Love Sleepy Hollow, too!

  3. I really enjoyed this overview of early American publishing, Lisa. How things have changed, for which we authors are certainly grateful!


Thanks for commenting, please check back for our replies!