Self Publishing Success Stories…And the Future of Publishing…

Self-publishing has never been easier. Now that e-reader platforms, such as Kindle, have grown in popularity, publishers and writers alike have a whole new way of reaching audiences and testing their ideas before having to commit to costly print runs.

But self-publishing has always been an option for talented authors. Look at this list of very famous writers who began by believing in their own work enough to go to print without the support of a mainstream publisher:

Alexander Pope
Alexandre Dumas
Anaïs Nin
Beatrix Potter
Betty J. Eadie – Embraced by the Light
Carl Sandburg
Christopher Paolini – Eragon
E. Lynn Harris
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Ernest Hemingway
G. P. Taylor Shadowmancer
George Bernard Shaw,
Helen Exley (now Exley Publications)
Henry David Thoreau
Irma S Rombauer – The Joy of Cooking
Jack Canfield  – Chicken Soup for the Soul
James Joyce – Ulysses
James Redfield   – The Celestine Prophecy
Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way.
Lewis Carroll
Louise Hay  (now Hay House)
Marcel Proust
Mark Twain
Richard Nelson Boles – What Color is Your Parachute?
Robert Kiyosaki – Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Rudyard Kipling
Sandra Haldeman Martz – When I Am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple,
Roddy Doyle – The Commitments
Shakti Gawain – Creative Visualization
Thomas Hardy
Upton Sinclair
Viggo Mortensen
Virginia Woolf
Walt  Whitman – Leaves of Grass
Wendy and Richard Pini –  Elfquest
Zane Grey

There are many more, but this list alone should be enough to inspire aspiring authors to not only hold the dream but also to take action by working at their craft, to ask for critical feedback and then to get their work out there when they feel it is ready.

Good presentation, editing and spell-checking are vital of course, as is a focused plan. Are you setting out to attract a publisher or to develop as a publisher in your own right?  Many of the authors in the list above went on to be snapped up by large mainstream publishers.  However Louise Hay became Hay House, now a mainstream publisher in the mind-body-spirit genre with a vibrant and active internet radio channel and series of “We Can do It” conferences and seminars.  Or what about Helen Exley whose first little book of inspiring quotes went on to found Exley Publications? Now in business for 28 years, their website states: “We have sold over 47 million giftbooks in 40 languages worldwide.”  Not bad for a lady who had an idea which she developed at her kitchen table!

From wikipedia here is an interesting account of Marcel Proust’s first journey into the printed word:

Volume 1: Du côté de chez Swann (1913) was rejected by a number of publishers, including Fasquelle, Ollendorf, and the Nouvelle Revue Française (NRF). André Gide famously was given the manuscript to read to advise NRF on publication, and leafing through the seemingly endless collection of memories and philosophizing or melancholic episodes, came across a few minor syntactic errors, which made him decide to turn the work down in his audit. Proust eventually arranged with the publisher Grasset to pay the cost of publication himself. When published it was advertised as the first of a three-volume novel (Bouillaguet and Rogers, 316-7).

In early 1914, André Gide, who had been involved in NRF’s rejection of the book, wrote to Proust to apologize and to offer congratulations on the novel. “For several days I have been unable to put your book down…. The rejection of this book will remain the most serious mistake ever made by the NRF and, since I bear the shame of being very much responsible for it, one of the most stinging and remorseful regrets of my life” (Tadié, 611). Gallimard (the publishing arm of NRF) offered to publish the remaining volumes, but Proust chose to stay with Grasset.

Volume 2: À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (1919), scheduled to be published in 1914, was delayed by the onset of World War I. At the same time, Grasset’s firm was closed down when the publisher went into military service. This freed Proust to move to Gallimard, where all the subsequent volumes were published. Meanwhile, the novel kept growing in length and in conception.

In essence, it is for every writer to decide their own route. Self-publishing is rewarding but also very time consuming as now you are not just an author…’Oh, to be able to take off to an ivory tower and create in peace!’ That luxury is no more for the self published author, as to self publish successfully you must become a salesperson, print buyer, publisher, designer, marketing and advertising expert and more. So it is very understandable that often very successful self published authors choose to accept offers from the mainstream publishing houses. They are not selling out, they are being pragmatic and acknowledging that, for them, time to write is being eroded by time to market what is being written.

However, as the self publishing arena becomes even more saturated it may be that the way of doing business in this field also changes.  It may be more effective for groups of authors to pool skills and talents and work together. If a group can share skills and time then it just might become a win-win situation, where everyone gives time to do a little promotion without  having to lose big chunks of valuable writing time.

Also, if literary agents remain as inaccessible as they currently are, they might find that they are pushing themselves out of business altogether. It would seem that more and more, the mainstream publishers are using the indie sales charts to observe the market and pick their new writers from there. It is more economical after all to take a risk on someone with a proven sales record than it is to effectively bet on an agent’s hunch – however good that agent may be. And, as self-published writers become more experienced, they may also prefer to negotiate direct contracts with the mainstream publishers, further cutting out the middlemen. Why pay 10-15% to an agent after all, when you can negotiate for yourself?

Finally look at the statistics. Self published writers and indie publishers (such as ourselves!) are having a pretty successful time in the charts. Most of the serious self published authors we have looked at are pretty happy with their sales figures. Compare that with a comment from one mainstream publisher we have met who said: “The market is terribly tough at the moment…even well established authors’ books aren’t selling right now.”  This is not the experience of the top ranking self published authors who, after all,  if this market trend is correct, shouldn’t be selling at all considering they are not at all well established!

This just shows that somewhere along the way, many mainstream publishers have lost touch with what the ‘man on the street’ wants to buy, while many of the self published brigade and small indie publishers seem to have their collective fingers on the pulse.

We say it’s time for all sides to work together. It’s time to join forces and recognise that the new breed of self published writers may have something to add to the conversation and if the establishment – namely mainstream publishers and literary agents – want to survive, then it may be time they start to listen to what readers want to buy rather than focusing on what they want to sell to them.

Ultimately it is a story telling business. Sometimes the stories are told with a use of language that is poetic, literary and masterful and sometimes the story is just told as a block-busting page-turner that has no pretensions or aspirations to literary greatness. In that respect, it’s not that different to the movie industry, some will become classics some will just achieve good box office sales. It doesn’t matter which and ultimately the reader will decide. As the reader becomes even more e-reader based, it is without doubt that the market forces will move and change and be further shaped by that trend.

But most importantly, it is up to us, the story tellers to fulfill an ancient role, which is to recognize that what society most wants to is to learn and to experience and to heal. We meet our audience’s needs by exploring, questioning and offering solutions to our greatest dilemmas through the power of story. That maybe why the self publishing industry is doing so well, as it seems to be in touch with this need while the mainstream industry seems to have lost touch with it completely.

Here are some more stories from other sources about self-publishing successes…

How I became a best selling author.

Wall Street Journal article reveals the secrets of author Darcie Chan.

December 2011 by keithogorek

In December 2011, the Wall Street Journal ran a cover story in their Friday Journal section about author Darcie Chan and how she became a best selling author. The reason the Journal gave so much space to the story is Darcie had been rejected by 12 publishers and more than 100 literary agents before she self published and sold more than 400,ooo ebooks. Part of her marketing strategy included pricing very aggressively to gain a following. Here’s the link to the full article in the Journal that tells her story.

via How I became a best selling author. Wall Street Journal article reveals the secrets of author Darcie Chan. « The Indie Book Writers Blog | Self Publishing | Get Published | Author Solutions.

Self publishing writer becomes million seller

An entrepreneur has turned the writing world upside down by becoming the first author to sell more than a million electronic books without a publishing deal.

By , and Richard Alleyne

John Locke, 60, who publishes and promotes his own work, enjoys sales figures close to such literary luminaries as Stieg Larsson, James Patterson and Michael Connelly. In the last year John has had four of the top 10 books on Amazon/Kindle at the same time, including number one and two   Read full story

Self-Publishing Revolution: Man Makes $100,000 in Three Weeks

Self-Publishing on Amazon’s Kindle

“This has now become the best way in the history of mankind for a writer to earn money. It may be one of the greatest ways to ever make money, period.”

It is a great time to be a self-published writer. Joe Konrath, the author of the above quote, should know, he has made $100,000 in three weeks, a record for self-published writers.

At this stage almost everyone knows about Amanda Hocking. But here’s an update on her from the!

Amanda Hocking, the writer who made millions by self-publishing online

A couple of years ago, Amanda Hocking needed to raise a few hundred dollars so, in desperation, made her unpublished novel available on the Kindle. She has since sold over 1.5m books and, in the process, changed publishing forever., Thursday 12 January 2012 20.00 GMT

When historians come to write about the digital transformation currently engulfing the book-publishing world, they will almost certainly refer to Amanda Hocking, writer of paranormal fiction who in the past 18 months has emerged from obscurity to bestselling status entirely under her own self-published steam. What the historians may omit to mention is the crucial role played in her rise by those furry wide-mouthed friends, the Muppets.

Read full story here: