Self-publishing has taken off in recent decades with more and more writers turning to self-publishing than going to big publishing houses like Orbit Books or Penguin House. You may be interested to know that publishing houses were not the traditional way to go in the early years of writing and publishing. The idea that to be a successful author requires immediate acceptance by an established publishing house, is not true. It isn’t even true of some of the most celebrated and renowned authors on our bookshelves.
For some reason, self-publishing has an oddly negative connotation. Many people seem to think self-publishers only take the independent route because they weren’t ‘good enough’ for a ‘real’ publisher. Unfortunately, self-publishing is negatively associated with failed female authors in particular and coincides with the options of romance and female-written works being lesser than other genres and educated male authors. But this simply isn’t true. Yes, there is a higher number of female authors who choose to self-publish. But, is this because they were rejected? Or simply because they wanted complete control over their creative works?
If you’re an aspiring writer and are considering self-publishing then I have collected a list of 10 authors you didn’t know self-published to help inspire you to take control.
10 Self-Published Authors
There isn’t a reading household that hasn’t heard the name, Margaret Atwood. Her successful career as an authority on the written word speaks for itself. She has won numerous awards and prizes for her work and is acknowledged as a literary feminist. What you probably didn’t know is that Atwood began her career by self-publishing poetry. At the time, she didn’t even bother looking for someone to represent her and made everything from the contents to the cover design and imagery herself. The book was 16 pages long, contained 7 poems and only about 220 copies at $0.50 each were ever printed. Years later, Atwood still considers it her greatest achievement, “The first poem I ever got published was a real high. All the other things that have happened since then were a thrill, but that was the biggest.”
You may recognise this author from the hit novel-turned-film Eragon. What might surprise you is that Paolini was only a teenager when he wrote the first novel and took it to his parents, who owned a small commercial press that had only published two other books, and asked for it to be printed. Young Paolini then went on to personally promote the book by going into book stores, libraries, book fairs, elementary schools etc. Being before the age of Facebook or other online promotional mediums, Paolini spent his first year after graduating high school focusing on promoting his book in person wherever he went, sometimes in full costume.
Did you know that the novel The Martian began as a self-published book? The Martian was originally published for free in instalments on Andy Weir’s website. Writing simply from his own scientific experience and wanting to create something that reflected real scientific problems, Weir accumulated a steady core group of 3,000 readers online over 10 years of posting. No publisher was interested and no agents wanted to represent him, so he took his story into his own hands and self-published The Martian. Soon after it gained huge notice in the industry with a movie deal being signed before a publishing house even took over rights to sell the novel.
Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility was published and paid for by non-other than Austen herself, guaranteeing the novel would be printed and available for sale, after having a publisher purchase the rights of the story in an earlier draft, then reject publishing it at all. As a sort of ‘eff you’, Austen printed in bold writing PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR on the title page and went on to become one of the most celebrated female authors of all time.
Charles Dickens originally published most of his novels in monthly parts as part of a newsletter. Each month a new chapter would be released to continue on the story until it came to an end and the next story would begin. If you have ever read a Dickens novel pay close attention to the way each chapter is self-contained in a way that many traditional novels are not. These serials were later combined into the novels we know and love today and sparked a new influence for the self-published industry.
Michael J. Sullivan
Many may recognise his name for his Riyria Chronicles, but did you know he published this series with his wife? Sullivan once quit writing altogether after 10 years of rejections from numerous publishers and agents. Then one day he sat down and wrote a new fantasy series and rather than go through the rejection of earlier years, went to his wife who started her own publishing company Ridan Publishing and managed to secure an impressive number of sales. In 2012 he was named the “Most Successful Self-Published Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors.”
Okay, so you may be wondering why this very successful and very well-known name is on this list. It may surprise you (or non of you hardcore fans) that in 1960 King self-published People, Places, and Things through his own publishing company, Triad & Gaslight Books. In 2000, King shocked both fans and his publisher by publishing The Plant electronically without the help or input of Simon & Schuster. This was unheard of for an author to do at the time, and has since led to many authors and platforms, like Amazon, experimenting with electronic self-publishing.
This French author found no takers for his first autobiographical masterwork, with one rejection as discouraging as ‘My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can’t see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep’. Ouch. Proust wasn’t going to let that stop him though and paid for the publication of Swans’ Way himself. Shortly after the first edition made its rounds, Nobel Prize-winning writer and editor Andre Gide, (one who had rejected it initially) realised he made a hasty error and quickly agreed to publish further volumes.
What child didn’t grow up, hearing about, reading, or watching the Tales of Peter Rabbit and Friends at one point or another? It is a staple in young readers’ minds. But, Potter’s naughty little rabbit had been rejected so often by publishers that she decided to publish the stories herself. Writing and illustrating the works herself, Potter printed a modest 250 copies in 1901. But that was enough. Six publishers, who had originally turned it down, approached her to print more. By Christmas, the next year over 20,000 copies had been sold through Fredrick Warne, and the rest is history.
We can’t talk about self-published authors without mentioning the author of the notorious Fifty Shades of Grey. Some of you may know that James originally wrote it as a fan-fiction based on Twilight. After changing characters’ names and tweaking a few things here and there, James self-published her trilogy and within one year received a traditional publishing deal. Selling over 100,000,000 copies, James’ series has gone down in history as one of the fastest-selling paperbacks of all time.
Self-Publishing doesn’t guarantee a traditional publishing deal is right around the corner for you. But it does give you creative freedom and authority over your own work. Look at how many established authors have dipped their toes in the self-publishing game because it allows them to do what they want for themselves, and for their readers. Brandon Sanderson recently broke kickstarter records because he wanted to trial a new and self-controlled way of bringing his fans content. The publishing industry is a constantly changing and evolving entity, meaning there is no one-way in the best way path. There are many roads to take. some may lead to dead-ends, that’s just the way it is. But others may take you on a journey you never could have planned for. Isn’t that exciting?
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