10 Self-Published Authors Who Were a Success
It's not easy to get published. That's probably something you already know, but it's a fact that bears repeating. So many writers believe that they have the next great novel, only to find out that publishers don't necessarily agree. Even the likes of Stephen King and J.K. Rowling suffered at the hands of uninterested publishing houses, but King and Rowling also went on to incredible success. The following authors have enjoyed success as well, but they've taken a different route: they all got their start not through publishers, but by putting their books out themselves through self-publishing. These authors took it upon themselves to create their books in print or in e-book form, pounded the pavement to get them sold (with one even selling thousands of copies out of his car trunk), and eventually went on to become bestselling authors, most of them signing deals with major publishing houses. Read on, and we'll take a look at 10 successful authors who made self-publishing work for them.
Beatrix Potter's first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was rejected by several publishers, at least initially. But Potter was so driven to share her children's book, written for the son of her former governess, that she privately printed it starting in 1901. After finding success, Frederick Warne & Co. began printing it as a trade edition in 1902, and multiple reprints were issued in the years following. With more than 45 million copies sold, this self-published book is also one of the best-selling books of all time. The Frederick Warne publishing company went on to publish all of the books in Potter's 23 Tales series.
Amanda Hocking and her wildly successful paranormal novels have made lots of news recently as a threat to the traditional publishing model, although Hocking doesn't see herself that way. Still, at the age of 26, she was selling about 100,000 copies of her book every month and keeping almost all of the profit from them. Previously, she had been publishing stories on her blog. One of her books, The Trylle Trilogy, has been optioned for adaptation as a movie, and she now has three paperback books available through St. Martin's Press despite being previously rejected by several publishing houses.
Edgar Allan Poe's first public work, Tamerlane and Other Poems, was commissioned by the author himself, turned over to a young printer who had previously only printed labels, flyers, and other small jobs. The 40-page book was pamphlet-sized, and it is believed that only 50 copies were printed, although some believe the actual number is as low as 20 or as high as 200. Tamerlane and Other Poems is considered to be one of the rarest first editions in American literature. So rare, in fact, that noted poetry anthologist Rufus Wilmot Griswold believed that it didn't even exist until one was found. It's believed that a total of 12 of these self-published editions still exist today. Poe's next book, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems was picked up by publishers Hatch and Dunning, and Poe considered this to be his first book.
With such an auspicious name, John Locke was bound to do something amazing, and he certainly did: Locke became the first author to sell more than a million e-books without a publishing deal, and he did it in just five months. Perhaps the most amazing part of Locke's success is that he did it all without an agent, publicist, or huge marketing budget. Locke's success is credited to his deep understanding of the audience he writes for, a natural skill for a man whose background is in niche marketing. After finding success and joining the Kindle Million Seller club, Locke signed a deal with Simon & Schuster to have print editions of his books sold and distributed by the publisher. Locke has also written a guide to becoming a successful self-published author: How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!, a title which has done quite well itself, currently ranked in the top 100 of both Kindle's Self Help and Success stores.
You may not recognize Richard Nelson Bolles' name, but you most likely know his popular self-help book, What Color is Your Parachute?, which was self-published by Bolles starting in 1970. Bolles typed the manuscript and pasted in drawings and lithographs, then had his local copy shop print it up about 100 copies at a time with spiral binding, allowing people to order it directly from his office, typically campus ministers who already knew him. He sold 2,000 copies that way, lugging each of them himself to his local post office in an experience that he calls "back breaking." By 1972, a commercial publisher, Ten Speed Press, picked it up, and have since published eight of Bolles' books. Since first being published, the book has been wildly successful, with more than 8 million copies in print. It was on the New York Times best-seller list for 288 weeks, and is now revised annually. For his contribution, Bolles has been called "the most widely read and influential leader in the whole career planning field," and "responsible for the renaissance of the career counseling profession in the US."
Cynics might say that it's easy to get published when your family owns a publishing house, but have no doubt that Paolini and his family put in hard work to self-publish his first book, Eragon. Paolini's parents owned a small, home-based publishing company, Paolini International, and after seeing the potential of their son's work, decided to publish the book. The entire family helped make Eragon a success, promoting the book in schools, libraries, and bookshops with the young Paolini dressed in a medieval costume. Things didn't go very well until the stepson of popular author Carl Hiaasen bought a copy of the book and shared it with his stepfather, who brought it to the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house, who contacted the Paolini family and offered to publish the book commercially. The book was on the New York Times Children's Books Best Seller list for 121 weeks, and was adapted into a feature film. He has since written three more highly acclaimed books.
Would you buy a New Age spirituality book out of the trunk of an author's car? It sounds like a strange thing to do, but 100,000 people did, making James Redfield's The Clandestine Prophecy an incredibly successful book, despite being rejected by mainstream publishing houses. Warner Books eventually agreed to publish it, but not before author Redfield sold copies out of the trunk of his Honda, and not just a few: 100,000 of them. After packing up his bookstore in a trunk, Redfield's book became the No. 1 bestseller in 1996, and spent 165 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. All told, more than 20 million copies of The Clandestine Prophecy have been sold worldwide, and a film adaptation of the book was released in 2006.
Irma Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking is in just about every kitchen you can find, as one of the world's most published cookbooks, in print continuously since 1936. But the cookbook started out as a privately published affair in 1931, with 3,000 copies created by label maker AC Clayton and illustrated by Rombauer's daughter. At the time, Rombauer was struggling emotionally and financial after her husband's suicide, and this was her way to support her family. For an initial investment of $3,000, Rombauer had her 3,000 copies, complete with mailing cartons and stickers, all designed to sell to Depression-era women who needed a book to take the place of professional cooks they couldn't afford anymore. In 1936, Bobb-Merrill picked up The Joy of Cooking, and has now sold more than 18 million copies. The self-published first edition is worth between $500 and $5,000 on the collector's market.
It took JA Konrath's book, Origin, more than ten years to find an audience, after being rejected more than 50 (yes, really, 50) times by every major house in New York. But in September 2011, Konrath noted that he has sold tens of thousands of copies of the book in the Kindle store, where it was ranked #274 at the time. In all, Konrath collected nearly 500 rejection letters for his nine unpublished novels before being picked up by Hyperion. But that didn't happen before Konrath finally found an outlet for his writing through Amazon's self-publishing system. On his blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, Konrath shares his secrets to becoming a successful self-published writer. Hint: it's perseverance, mixed with generous helpings of luck.
Along with his student EB White, Cornell University professor of English William Strunk Jr. wrote and published The Elements of Style as a guide to address elementary rules of usage, principles of composition, and commonly misused and misspelled words and expressions. It was originally designed for in-house use at the university and was known as "the little book," emphasis on the little. But it didn't stay little forever, and the book has since been revised and republished to much success and use. In 2011, Time magazine listed The Elements of Style as one of the 100 best and most influential English language books since 1923, and it is easily recognized as one of the most widely read and used English style manuals. All told, more than ten million copies of this originally self-published book have been sold.