Would it surprise you then to know that many of the bestsellers which fly off bookshelves today, once struggled to find publishers, let alone an audience? Some of the greatest publishing hits of years past were once deemed not good enough to capture a reader’s imagination, or a market. Fortunately, writers are a stubborn lot and many battled great odds to see their books make it to readers’ hands. These are the most successful books to have started out as self-published novels.
Christopher Paolini began writing Eragon at the age of 15. His parents owned a small press, and handled the first printing run of the book, after which Paolini toured the United States for a year promoting the novel. The book was finally discovered by novelist Carl Hiaasen, who pushed for it to be republished with a major publishing house. His bet paid off and the series has since sold over 30 million copies worldwide.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad
A favourite of financial planners and investors, this financial advice book written by American businessman, Robert Kiyosaki, can be found in libraries around the world. But back in 1997, when Kiyosaki was a relatively unknown figure, he had to self-publish the first book in the Rich Dad series. This turned out to be the right move and the book was picked up for commercial publication soon after and quickly went on to become a New York Times bestseller – the perfect conclusion to the story of a previously self-published book which advises its readers to invest in assets.
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The Tale of Peter Rabbit
It’s ridiculous when you think of it now, but one of the most beloved children’s book of all time was originally self-published by Beatrix Potter in 1901. Drawn in black and white, with a coloured frontispiece, the book was turned down by every publishing house she sent it to – rejection which caused Potter to print it herself with the sole intention of gifting it only to family and friends. As fate would have it, one relative loved it so much that he made the rounds of the London publishing houses, resulting in the book being picked up by a firm which had turned it down earlier.
The book was a great success, but the film based on it propelled The Martian to stratospheric levels of fame. And to think that the only way Andy Weir could get people to read it was to get it self-published in 2011. As it turned out, the book went on to become a runaway hit and the surge in downloads of the novel made some traditional publishers take notice. In 2014, Weirs signed the rights to Crown Publishing and, shortly thereafter, the novel debuted on the New York Times bestseller list and praise was heaped on it for being the “best pure sci-fi novel in years”
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Fifty Shades of Grey
Yes, everyone’s favourite tale of BDSM and dysfunctional relationships started off as a self-published novel based on EL James’ Twilight fan fiction. Not to be deterred by the initial objection to the graphic nature of her stories, James re-uploaded the first story to her website, changed the names of her principal characters, and the rest – as they say – is history. Fifty Shades of Grey’s massive popularity lead to a major publishing house picking it up and turning it into a worldwide phenomenon. Dubbed “mommy porn” by some critics and derided for its poor prose, one thing’s for certain – the novels kicked off a resurgence in female erotica.
A Christmas Carol
Plagued by financial troubles, Dickens found himself in the middle of a battle with his publishers to get A Christmas Carol published. Finally, Dickens caved and arranged to pay for the publishing himself, in exchange for a percentage of the profits. His faith in himself paid off and 13 editions the book sold out, going on to become Dickens’ most popular book in the United States. Unfortunately for Dickens, because of the high cost of production that he insisted on, he only made £230 on the first edition, and not the £1,000 he had expected to make.
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