On December 16th, 1901, 35-year-old Beatrix Potter printed 250 copies of a book that she had written and illustrated herself—a book about a mischievous bunny named Peter Rabbit. (Maybe you’ve heard of it?) Potter had originally written the story for the five-year-old son of her former governess, who suggested that Potter’s drawings and stories might be turned into books for all children.
Potter liked this idea, and expanded the story she had written into a book called The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor’s Garden, complete with black and white illustrations and a colored frontispiece. She submitted it to six publishers, but it was rejected by all of them. “From a book editor’s point of view,” wrote biographer Linda Lear, “her story was too long, her narrative lacked proper pacing, there were no colored illustrations, and the black and white outline pictures were too different from the familiar ones.”
Undeterred (and unwilling to compromise) Potter decided to publish the story herself, ordering 250 copies from Strangeways & Sons, a printer in London, along with 500 copies of the frontispiece. It cost about £11, and soon after, she began distributing the copies to family and friends, and even selling a few—including to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who bought a copy for his grandchildren. By February 1902, she had to print 200 more copies, and these too quickly sold out.
You know who loves books that are already a success? Publishers. In June 1902, the book was officially acquired by Frederick Warne & Co., one of the publishers who had originally rejected it—under the condition that Potter produce some colored illustrations, which she did, despite her reservations about the uninteresting, rabbity colors of her subjects. By Christmas of 1902, according to Lear, the commercial edition had sold 28,000 copies, and a year after its publication, it had sold 56,470. And 120 years later, The Tale of Peter Rabbit continues to delight children everywhere, and Potter herself remains a household name. As good a reminder as any to stay true to your vision and never give up!