Any writer can tell you that finishing a novel is only half the battle. Getting a publisher to take a chance on you and publish your work is often even tougher than writing the book in the first place. But lucky for writers, the publishing industry is in the middle of a huge shift. E-books are becoming just as popular, if not more, than physical books, meaning it is a lot easier to get your work out there for people to read.Amazon has a self-publishing program, as does Kobo, and there are websites that allow writers to publish their own stories, free of charge (Smashwords, for example). So, what is stopping every aspiring novelist from posting their work online, and skipping the traditional publisher, altogether?
There used to be a stigma against self publishing and literary agents still tend to advise against it, but that is quickly becoming a thing of the past, thanks to the success of a handful of best selling self-published authors. There are writers who have become millionaires just by publishing their own e-books. The traditional publishers have become the ones that have to fight for writers, instead of the other way around. The writer has already accomplished the hardest part - building a fan base. Here is our list of 10 of the biggest authors that started out self-published.
Published in 1989, out of his own basement, David Chilton’s book of financial planning advice, The Wealthy Barber, remains one of Canada’s best selling books of all time. Chilton was pursuing a B.A in Economics when he wrote the book, which was aimed specifically at people with little investment experience. The narrative style of the book made it relatable and easy to follow, making it the go-to advice book for Canadians at the time. In 2008, Chilton wrote a sequel, The Wealthy Barber Returns, and he is now one of the dragons on CBC’s Dragon’s Den.
James Redfield, a former therapist to abused adolescents, self-published his first novel in 1993, to widespread popularity. The Celestine Prophecy follows a narrator as he embarks on a journey to find and understand a series of nine spiritual insights on an ancient manuscript in Peru. Redfield sold the first 100,000 copies of the the trunk of his Honda, before Warner Books agreed to publish it. As of May 2005, the book had sold over 2o million copies worldwide, and spent 165 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list.
This Canadian writer was self publishing her own Y.A stories for a few years before her adult contemporary novel, Ten Tiny Breaths, about a girl trying to start over after a tragic drunk driving accident, was picked up by Atria Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) in January 2013. She was signed on to do a 4 books series based on her already developed characters. Her established fan base and proven success was what attracted the publisher to her work, which probably never would have been noticed had she not been publishing her Y.A fantasy series, Casual Enchantment, on her own. She used Amazon’s self-publishing e-book service for Kindles to get her start.
Although the original, self published version of Micheal J. Sullivan’s debut fantasy/sci-fi series, The Riyria Revelations, is now out of print, he is still one of the most successful self-published Sci-Fi and Fantasy authors of all time. The Riyria Revelations is a six book epic fantasy series that has been translated into 14 different languages. The first book in the series, The Crown Conspirary, was released in 2008, and publishing house Orbit, re-released the six books as three omnibus editions, in 2011. Sullivan created his own small press in order to publish his books, and his entire Revelations series was complete before he signed with Orbit (the fantasy arm of Hachette) to have the books distributed commercially. By that time he had already sold 70 000 copies on his own.
One of the biggest authors for women’s romance right now is none other than H.M Ward, the self-published writer of the Ferro Family saga. Her first book, Damaged, was self published as an e-book on Amazon and became a #1 bestseller in the New Adult genre. She continued with the series, and has sold over 4 million books since her debut in 2011. She is still a self-published author, and has not been signed by any traditional publishers, but she is still considered a New York Times #1 Bestselling Author.
Here is one author who had a successful career in traditional publishing before she decided to start self publishing. If she had already written numerous books for an actual publisher, and had them printed and distributed, why did she wanted to self publish? Freethy says on her website that she chose to start self publishing her back list, because many of them had gone out of print, and she felt they still had an audience out there. She was right. Her chosen genres of romance, and romantic suspense, are one of the fastest growing markets, especially in e-books. She liked the fact that an e-book can exist forever, and doesn’t have a shelf life. She has given up working for a traditional publisher and now all her books are available as ebooks through Amazon, the Apple iBookstore, and Barnes & Noble.
Lisa Genova is a trained neuroscientist whose debut novel, Still Alice, is about a woman with an early onset form of Alzheimer's, who has to learn to cope with the way her life is changing. Genova self-published her book in 2007 with iUniverse, and it was picked up by Simon & Schuster in 2009, and published by Pocket Books. It spent over 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and has been translated into 25 different languages. There is also a film adaptation in the works, starring Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin, and Julianne Moore. Genova’s next two books Left Neglected, and Love Anthony were both published by traditional publishers.
One of the first Y.A self-published novelist to make over $2 million publishing only e-books, Amanda Hocking made headlines in 2011 with her My Blood Approves series, and Trylle Trilogy. At the time, she had sold over a million copies of her nine books, and was averaging 9000 book sales per day. Although she was already very popular and making millions, she decided to sign a conventional publishing contract with St. Martin’s Press in March 2011. Valued at $2 million, the contract included a four book YA paranormal series called Watersong. The Trylle Trilogy has also been optioned for a film adaptation.
Hugh Howey’s dystopian sci-fi trilogy originally started out as a short story. He decided to expand the story and add more installments after publishing the first few through Amazon.com’s Kindle Direct Publishing system to great popularity. His series follows a range of characters who live underground in silos because the outside world is toxic. The original series is broken up into 9 books, but he signed a deal with Simon & Schuster to distribute the books in 2 omnibus editions plus Dust, the stand-alone conclusion to the series. He notably turned down a seven figure deal in favor of mid-six figure sum in order to retain e-book rights to the books.
Arguably the most well known self-publishing successes, E.L James’ 50 Shade of Grey trilogy started out as a fan fiction of the Twilight series. She posted it on fan fiction sites and her own website, and later developed it into an original erotic trilogy. She then self-published the first book as an e-book and print-on-demand paperback through The Writers’ Coffee Shop, a virtual publisher based in Australia. The book spread quickly, emphasizing the growing popularity of erotica in women’s fiction. The trilogy was dubbed “Mommy Porn” and became a worldwide sensation with a movie adaptation on the way. Although the series has been heavily criticized for being poorly written, that clearly didn’t stop millions of people from buying it anyway.