9 Self-Published Authors That Made it Big

There is a lot of criticism floating around (like that annoying, sticky yellow pollen that ruins summer for a lot of us) about self-publishing being less legitimate than traditionally published books. Many naysayers (how many of them have published anything, self or traditional?) claim that all self-publishing really means is that your writing wasn’t good enough to be picked up by a “real” publishing company.

As an aspiring writer, I must admit I’ve fallen victim to believing the lies about self-publishing being the kiss of death. I believed it when I’d read (or hear someone say) that self-publishing is a joke. That no traditional publisher would ever touch my work if I started out on this route. That no one would respect my work if it was self-published.

At a certain point in life, we learn valuable lessons like “Don’t throw sand in other kids’ eyes on the playground” and “Don’t eat all of your Halloween candy in one night, or you’ll get sick.” Well, something else we should know is that many critics are critics because of a lack of nerve, and a lack of understanding. Those who can’t do, rip apart those who grab life by the…well, you know where I’m going with this.

The truth is, many self-published authors are thrilled with their decision to go the Indie route! I’ve interviewed a lot of authors (and spoken off-record to many more) and so far no one has said they regret self-publishing their novel. Not one. Whether they’ve experienced wild success or are in the middle of the muck and grind, self-published authors are generally feeling pretty darn good about their choice, saying they enjoy the creative control self-publishing affords them.

Here are 9 Self-Published Authors That Went on to Experience Massive Success

  1. E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey): While everyone on the planet has heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, a lot of us had no idea that E.L. James self-published the book before it took off and became a mega-hit! Originally published as an eBook and print-on-demand, Fifty Shades of Grey was inspired by the Twilight series. It didn’t take long for the book to go viral, and in under a year, the rights were acquired by Vintage Books. E.L. James became a very rich woman, authoring two more books in the series, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed to round out the epic trilogy. To date, the franchise has made $1.32 billion. Pick your jaw up from your desk, and let’s move on to number two.
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  1. Lisa Genova (Still Alice): Lisa Genova spent a year getting one rejection after another for her manuscript, Still Alice. While many of us would give up, Genova took the bull by the horns and self-published her book, never losing faith in her story. You can read more about her journey here, but let’s just say that Still Alice went on to be a best-seller, and a major motion picture that won Julianne Moore a Best Actress Oscar. Guess who got to walk the red carpet? Yep, Lisa Genova.
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  1. Andy Weir (The Martian): Andy Weir considers his story, The Martian, a basic man versus nature tale, saying it’s not all that original. Well, whatever Weir added to the classic trope, he did it with flying colors. Starting as a self-published book, The Martian allowed Weir to quit his day job as a computer programmer, was turned into a blockbuster movie with Matt Damon, and has almost 50,000 reviews on Amazon. The audiobook has about 100,000 reviews, and Weir says he made more on that than he did the movie!
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  1. Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol): Is there a Christmas tale more famous than A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens? I don’t think so. The classic story of a curmudgeon who is visited by a series of ghosts that show him how his miserly actions affected those around him, giving him a chance to turn his life around. Dickens, teetering on bankruptcy, wrote the classic story in 1843, and it is still a Christmas staple in most homes, even now, 175 years later.
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  1. Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad): When no one wanted Robert Kiyosaki’s book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, he printed 1000 copies of the book himself, distributing them at a local car wash. There’s more to the story, which you can read here, but needless to say Kiyosaki’s tenacity paid off. The book is a global success, selling more than 40 million copies to date.
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  1. Beatrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit): Self-publishing is not new. Far from it! In 1901, thirty-five-year old Beatrix Potter printed 250 copies of a book she’d written to entertain a sick child. That book was The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and is considered one of the most beloved children’s stories of all time. The book is responsible for millions of children learning to love reading. You can learn more about the artist and author in this Beatrix Potter Documentary on YouTube.
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  1. Amanda Brown (Legally Blonde): How many of  you knew that Legally Blonde was a book before Reese Witherspoon declared that “Orange is the new pink!”? Amanda Brown, a former law student, wrote humorous letters and stories based on her own experiences at Stanford Law School, turning the writings into a manuscript. She then self-published, and eventually sold the rights to Dutton, a division of Penguin Putnam Publishing. The novel, as we all now know, became a blockbuster film that earned over $147 million.
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  1. William Paul Young (The Shack): William Paul Young wrote The Shack as a Christmas gift for his children to let them know how he felt about God. He wrote it after going bankrupt, and holding down three jobs. He had turned fifty, and his wife, Kim, encouraged him to write a message to their children about how he felt about his faith. Young says, “I made fifteen copies at Office Depot, gave six plus one to Kim and the rest to friends. It never crossed my mind to publish and I went back to work.” The book went on to sell over twenty million copies, and was adapted into a movie with Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, and Tim McGraw.
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  1. Christopher Paolini (Eragon):  Christopher Paolini was fifteen years old when he self-published Eragon with the help of his family. Paolini worked tirelessly to promote the book, sometimes sitting in costume for eight hours at a time to market the novel. He went on to write more books in the series, sold the rights to Alfred A. Knopf, and became a New York Times Children’s best-selling author. Eragon was also adapted into a film starring John Malkovich. To read a more detailed outline of Paolini’s publishing experience, check here.
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I think the most important thing we can take away from this list, is that self-publishing is NOT a stigma! It is not an indication of lesser-quality work. It is not admitting that no one else wants your book. Self-publishing is a respectable way to keep creative control of your story, cover, and promotions. Let’s all respect one another’s process, rather than making excuses for why we haven’t made more of our own writing careers!