For the past decade, becoming a published author is easier and more accessible through various self-publishing avenues. But some people still remain skeptical of fulfilling your own publications. Sure, in decades past, people used to look at self-publishing as an inferior approach to becoming an author. And, self-publishing was often associated with your weird uncle who had a pallet full of books about his fascination with stamp collecting. However, the opposite is true these days and, in the past, as well. In fact, quite a few famous authors and their popular books were, at one point, self-published. And, that’s what we’re going to talk about today in the 10 famous authors who self-published.
#1 Margaret Atwood
Before Canadian author, Margaret Atwood penned The Handmaid’s Tale, and even longer before Hulu would produce a straight-to-series show, Atwood self-published an award-winning book of poems called Double Persephone. Though she didn’t realize the same success as The Handmaid’s Tale, her poetry book was certainly an earlier victory for Atwood.
#2 EL James
Not many people know EL James wrote her erotic romance series, 50 Shades of Grey, as a fan fiction piece based on Twilight. After changing characters and tweaking the story a bit, James self-published the first part of the trilogy and saw a ton of success in her first year. In fact, within one year, she received a traditional publishing deal, and the rest is history. Fifty Shades of Grey would go onto sell over 100,000,000 copies and become one of the fastest-selling paperbacks in history.
#3 Robert Kiyosaki
Famous American businessman and author, Robert Kiyosaki, had a rough start as an author when he wrote Rich Dad, Poor Dad, in 1997. After being told by numerous publishers, literary agents, and distributors to drop the idea, Kiyosaki decided to self-publish his book. To date, Rich Dad, Poor Dad has sold over 40,000,000 copies in over 50 languages in 109 countries. Not to mention, it was on the NYT bestseller list for over 6 years.
#4 Lisa Genova
Before the 2014 Oscar-winning film adaptation of Still Alice, a haunting story about early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, author Lisa Genova wrote and self-published the novel in 2007. After being rejected too many times by commercial publishers, Genova decided to go it alone. After gaining popularity, Simon & Schuster picked up the book and republished it in 2009.
#5 Wayne Dyer
Famous self-help and motivational speaker, Wayne Dyer, initially did a print run of 4,500 copies of his first book Your Erroneous Zones, then spent the next year traveling the country promoting it. He even admitted to giving out copies just so he could make a difference in people’s lives. Little did he know it would allegedly go on to become one of the top-selling books of all time, having sold over 100,000,000 copies to date.
#6 Irma S. Rombauer
I remember The Joy of Cooking cookbook in my mother’s kitchen, and I’m sure it’s been in millions of other households throughout the world. Initially, Irma Rombauer printed 3,000 copies in 1931. Eventually, the book got picked up by a traditional publishing company in 1936 and would go onto sell over 18,000,000 copies.
#7 Andy Weir
Well before the Oscar-nominated movie, The Martian hit the big screen starring famous actor Matt Damon, Andy Weir sat on his manuscript. He believed traditional publishers would never pick up his novel. Instead of surrendering and facing defeat, Weir launched small portions of his fiction onto a blog where he rapidly grew an interested following. Taking the hint his work was in fact appreciated, Weir self-published The Martian and became a #1 Amazon bestseller. Soon after, Weir signed a lucrative publishing and film rights deal. To date, his book has sold over an estimated 3 million copies, and the film grossed $630,000,000 worldwide.
#8 Beatrix Potter
Being a female author in the early 1900s came with its share of discrimination. Traditional publishers scoffed at Beatrix Potter and her book The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Potter didn’t allow her story to languish in obscurity, so she self-published 250 copies. Within a year, a company that initially rejected Beatrix then signed her to a deal and sold over 20,000 copies in the first year. Peter Rabbit would go on to sell an estimated 45,000,000 to date.
#9 Mark Twain
In 1884, though Mark Twain was already famous and signed to a traditional publishing deal, he’d grown weary of the whole hassle of working with the companies. So, he cut out the middleman, started his own imprint, and launched two highly successful books in the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant and one of his more famous works in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
#10 Stephen King
Okay, admittedly, I have a bit of a soft spot for my favorite author, and this placement is considered a stretch by some industry pundits. But I believe in my heart of hearts when an author sets out to write and share their work with the world without the aid of a large publishing house, then that’s technically self-publishing. And, that’s exactly what the world-famous author Stephen King did at the ripe young age of…15 years old. People, Places, and Things was self-published in 1960 by Stephen King’s own publishing company, Triad & Gaslight Books. The collection of short stories included his teenage school friend, Chris Chelsey. According to King, only one copy of about ten is left – he owns it himself.
Why Self-Publishing is a Great First Step
If there’s one thing we can learn from these 10 famous authors, then it’s how you don’t have to search or wait for a traditional publishing deal. Why not start writing and self-publishing your book now? In fact, I have the best first steps in this free online course here. Also, check out this video series about how to self-publish a book, so you can see if self-publishing is a good fit for you. What are your thoughts about these 10 famous authors who were self-published? Did I miss any you felt were a better fit for this list? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!