Famous Self-Published Author, or Famous Author Who Self-Published?

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CaoPaux

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One often hears how {Famous!Author} self-published -- with the implication being that not only is s/he famous because s/he self-published, but if you self-publish, you’ll become a Famous Author, too. But just how many of the names tossed around are relevant in this context? Here are some frequently touted examples of Famous Self-Published Authors:

Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744)
Poet. Had already gained fame for his work published in Tonson’s Poetical Miscellanies before he self-published a collection.

Heidi Markoff
Specialized non-fiction. She collaborated with her mother and sisters to self-publish What to Do When You’re Expecting before selling it to Workman.

Beatrix Potter (1866 – 1943)
She submitted The Story of Peter Rabbit to six publishers, who rejected it because it lacked the color illustrations expected for submittals of children's books at the time (unlike today). So she drew color pictures (using her skills as a scientific illustrator) and printed 250 copies on her own. She then sold the book to a commercial publisher. Because her self-published version was wildly popular? No, because she re-submitted it with color illustrations.

Benjamin Franklin (1705 – 1790)
The publishing industry as we know it didn't exist at the time Franklin ran his printshop.

Burt “BS” Levy
Niche fiction (motorsports). He and his wife took out a second mortgage to found his publishing company, Think Fast Ink. Sold some hardcover and ebook rights to St. Martins.

Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)
In 1904, he self-published poems and essays with the financial assistance of his college professor. His work came to public notice when he began selling to Poetry magazine.

Christopher Paolini
Printed Eragon through his parents’ publishing company, and hawked it at school book fairs and classroom signings. Famous for being a teenage author who lucked out in having the son of a Knopf editor recommend it to his father.

D.H. Lawrence (1885 – 1930)
Originally published Lady Chatterley’s Lover in “private editions” due to the obscenity laws of the time.

Deepak Chopra
Specialized nonfiction. This New Age guru vanity-published his first book through the printing arm of the medical center he was working in at the time.

E.E. Cummings (1894 – 1962)
Self-published a volume of poetry in 1935, financed by his mother.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849)
His self-published collections (Tamerlane and Other Poems, et al.) were financial and critical failures. The poem that made him a household name, The Raven, was published by the Evening Mirror in 1845.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875 – 1950)
He founded his own publishing house after he had become the best-selling and richest author in America.

Edward Tufte
Specialized nonfiction re: the art and science of visual design.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861)
Poet. Her father paid for publication of her epic The Battle of Marathon as a gift for her 14th birthday.

E. Lynn Harris
Self-published his first novel, Invisible Life, which he sold through black-owned bookstores and beauty salons before selling it to Anchor Books, which published the trade paperback edition that launched his career.

Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961)
He self-published his first collection, Three Stories and Ten Poems, during his first tour as a journalist in Paris (1923).

Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972)
Began self-publishing his poetry in Venice in 1908.

G.P. Taylor
Niche fiction (Christian YA). Not wanting to weather the submission/rejection process, he sold his motorcycle to self-publish 1,000 copies of Shadowmancer, which was subsequently bought by Faber and Faber (the book, not the motorcycle).

George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)
Playwright. Not only were all five of his novels trade published (or serialized in magazines, then published), but they were … unsuccessful.

Gertrude Stein (1874 – 1946)
Self-published her first book in Paris in 1909. Later works were published with the assistance of her companion, Alice Toklas.

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
Already a published essayist, he self-published Walden in 1854 to little acclaim at the time.

Howard Fast (1914 – 2003)
Already a multi-published author before he was blacklisted for being Communist, he self-published Spartacus until the blacklist broke and the book was reissued by Crown in 1958.

Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hanson
Were already renown motivational speakers before founding Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing -- in response to popular demand from their audiences to put their anecdotes in book form.

James Joyce (1882 – 1941)
Already a published poet and author, Joyce began serializing Ulysses in Ezra Pound’s The Little Review in 1918. After running afoul of obscenity laws, however, he self-published it in book form by collecting money from friends, fellow writers, and art patrons as subscriptions and pre-sales.

James Redfield
Although he received offers for The Celestine Prophecy from the trade publishers he submitted it to, he did not want to wait the year or more it would take for it to hit the shelves. He therefore self-published, and went on to sell thousands of copies from the trunk of his car before selling the reprint rights to Warner.

Jennifer Colt
Self-published three “chick-lit” novels before getting an agent and selling the series to Broadway Books.

John Grisham
Despite popular belief, Grisham's first novel, A Time To Kill, was NOT self-published. To quote the author himself: “Wynwood Press was a new, small unknown publishing company in New York in 1989. Everybody else had passed on A Time to Kill, Wynwood Press took the gamble. Printed 5,000 hardback copies, and we couldn’t give them away. Wynwood later went bankrupt, or out of business.”
-- He then bought the remaining stock to sell on his own, but he did NOT self-publish. (He later founded a magazine to which he sometimes contributes, but long after he became famous.)

Judith Galbraith
Specialized non-fiction. Founded Free Sprit Publishing in 1983 to print self-help books for kids and teens.

Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
Specialized non-fiction, to be sold in conjunction with their leadership seminars.

L. Ron Hubbard (1911 – 1986)
Bridge Publications, an arm of the Scientologists he founded, keeps L. Ron's books in print. They also pay for shelf space to keep them in bookstores, and have devotees buy the books and send them back to the warehouse.

Louis L'Amour (1908 – 1988)
Self-published a book of poetry many years before he gained fame for his westerns.

Marcel Proust (1871 – 1922)
Was already widely published before Remembrance of Things Past.

Matthew Reilly
At age 19, he self-published 1,000 copies of his first novel with money borrowed from his family. After a significant rewrite, he sold it to Pan Macmillan.

Nan McCarthy
For $10,000, she self-published her first novel (a romance written entirely in email format), but could not get it into bookstores. Seeing Dave Barry’s similarly-formatted work Cyberspace everywhere she wanted to be, she promoted herself to Barry's fans and thus sold her original 2,500 print run. After contracting with a computer book publisher to print another 20,000 copies, she sold Chat and its sequels to Pocket Books.

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)
Self-published a book of poetry in 1881.

Richard Nixon
Specialized non-fiction. (And isn’t famous for his writing ….)

Richard Paul Evans
He wrote The Christmas Box for his daughters, and made 20 copies as gifts for friends and family -- who passed them around town so much, bookstores came calling. After selling self-published runs of many thousands, he sold the book and its sequels to Simon & Schuster.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Copyright laws being what they were, he self-published collections of his short stories to counter the “unauthorized” versions on the market. (He also self-published collections of poetry, as was and is usual for poets.)

Samuel Clemens (1835 – 1910)
Most famously known as Mark Twain (he published under several pseudonyms), he was already America's most popular and best-selling author when he self-published an edition of Huckleberry Finn.

Stephen Crane (1871 – 1900)
In 1893, he self-published Maggie due to its controversial subject matter (prostitution). It was both a financial and critical failure. The work which gained him renown, Red Badge of Courage, was serialized by newspapers in 1894 before being published by D. Appleton & Company in 1895.

Stephen King
He self-published short stories while in high school, which he sold to his friends for a quarter. Then there was his short-lived experiment with serialized fiction, sold on the honor system from his website in 2000 – long after he had become a household name.

T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)
Poet. He self-published his first collection of poems, which had already been published in magazines and journals.

Thomas Paine (1736 – 1809)
There was no publishing industry as we know it when he self-published his political and theological pamphlets.

Tom Peters
Specialized nonfiction. In Search of Excellence was self-published to sell on his lecture circuit before he sold it to Warner Books.

Travis Hunter
Niche fiction (urban fiction before it became popular). Self-published his first novel in 2000, which he hawked to publishers at Book Expo America that same year -- where it caught the attention of Random House imprint Striver’s Row/Villard.

Upton Sinclair (1882 – 1941)
Was already established as author and playwright before he wrote The Millennium as a play in 1907. He rewrote it as a novel that was serialized in Appeal to Reason in 1914 before he self-published it in book form in 1924.

Virginia Woolf (1819 – 1892)
Well-placed in literary and social circles, she published her first books in a joint venture with her half-brother, Gerald Duckworth, who owned a publishing company of the same name. Later, she founded Hogarth Press with her husband, which also published other notables of the time (e.g., T.S. Eliot).

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)
Poet. After making his name publishing in newspapers and journals, he self-published 795 copies of his first stand-alone collection Leaves of Grass, which on the praise of contemporary Ralph Waldo Emerson survived the controversy regarding some of its subject matter to be reprinted commercially.

Will Clarke
Niche fiction. After gaining a cult following for the paranormal thriller novels he published through his Middle Finger Press, he sold them to Simon & Schuster.

William Blake (1757 – 1827)
Poet. Largely unrecognized in his lifetime, Blake was also an engraver, painter, and lithographer. For him, his poetry was only one element of the illustrated works of art he created.

William Morris (1834 – 1896)
Was already an established poet, writer, and artist when he founded Kelmscott Press in 1891 in order to publish using 15th-century methods (as part of the Arts and Crafts Movement he instigated).

Zane Grey (1872 – 1939)
He self-published his first novel (a historical romance set during the American Revolution), but no one would know about it if he hadn’t gone on to write westerns -- which were trade published.

-----

I haven’t included Amanda Hocking or J.A. Konrath because there are already separate threads on them. Otherwise, please feel free to offer additional examples of Famous Self-Published Authors so we can determine if they are indeed that.
 

Chris_Wilkins

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One often hears how {Famous!Author} self-published -- with the implication being that not only is s/he famous because s/he self-published, but if you self-publish, you’ll become a Famous Author, too. But just how many of the names tossed around are relevant in this context? Here are some frequently touted examples of Famous Self-Published Authors:

Wow. Awesome compiled list. Thanks for putting it together.
 

thothguard51

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I hope anyone reading this thread, understands what this list really shows...

Good post, CaoPaux...
 

FocusOnEnergy

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William Paul Young (1955 - )
Wrote The Shack as a Christmas gift for his children and friends, had 15 copies printed at Staples at first. Rejected by mainstream publishers "too much Jesus", rejected by Christian publishers "too edgy". Along with some friends founded a publishing company in their garage to keep up with the worldwide demand for copies of the book. (14 million in 40 languages as of 11/1/10 when I interviewed him).
 

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Vince Flynn
Self-published his first political thriller novel, Term Limits, after multiple NYC rejections. As a marketing professional, he used his skills to sell enough copies to attract a publisher, who (as far as I can tell) did not make him rewrite the book. Within three books, Flynn was on the major bestseller lists and still enjoys that status today.
 

indiewordsmith

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Interesting compilation you got here. There are authors I never knew were self-published such as James Joyce.
I must say, James Joyce's short stories are a few of those literary pieces that I find very challenging as I know they're deeper in meaning as what they seem appear in the surface.
 

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William Paul Young (1955 - )
Wrote The Shack as a Christmas gift for his children and friends, had 15 copies printed at Staples at first. Rejected by mainstream publishers "too much Jesus", rejected by Christian publishers "too edgy". Along with some friends founded a publishing company in their garage to keep up with the worldwide demand for copies of the book. (14 million in 40 languages as of 11/1/10 when I interviewed him).

I'd be interested to know how many of those 40 languages and 14 million copies were his original self-published edition, and how many of them were his trade-published editions. Here in the UK he's trade-published, for example, and I am sure that he is in other territories too.
 

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Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

Self-published Tunnels, the first in a MG fantasy series set in London after one of the authors remortgaged their house to raise £100,000. They subsequently sold the book through school events before signing with Rogers, Coleridge and White Literary Agency who obtained a publishing deal for them with Chicken House (a deal that saw Tunnels re-published by them). The series released its 5th book at the beginning of September 2011. Foreign rights have been sold in 40 countries and the authors signed a film adaptation deal at the beginning of 2011.
 

veyles57

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Great Thread

Thanks for posting this. I wonder why so many writers today are afraid of the self publish mantle. It seems to be an honor I think.




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awsome post! I had no idea so many writers self published,and WHY.

See everybody, we're in good company!!!!!

thank's for the inspiration.

I hope you got the point - that most successful self-published books were successful because the author had already made a name for himself or herself before self-publishing (and that most of the other cases on the list were either specialized non-fiction, published in the days before publishing was a regular industry - as in the cases of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine, or in a few cases - such as "Walden" - didn't sell well).
 

Carradee

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It's quite an interesting list, but I look at that list and see perseverance, not "You must make a name for yourself before self-publishing."

Those writers (or their families) believed in their writing, so they kept working at it. (Case in point: Christopher Paolini wasn't a big name before his parents published him, though I could pull other names both from the list and elsewhere.)

And then look how a lot of those folks who self-published before they became big names (or their self publishing wasn't what pushed them to fame). Margaret Atwood is another who I'm surprised isn't on the list.

I do agree that there's a fallacy in implying or assuming "that not only is s/he famous because s/he self-published, but if you self-publish, you’ll become a Famous Author, too."

Success, though, can be a bit more tricky, because different folks define it differently. A well-planned self-published story has a higher profit margin for the author, so fewer copies need be sold if the particular author's definition of "success" is "make a living from this writing." But then, going with a traditional publisher means the author doesn't have to find his/her own cover art or (hopefully!) editor. (Some places don't have editors or proofreaders.)

Thanks for putting the list together, CaoPaux!
 
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Stephen Zimmer

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Self-Publishing and Today

Thanks for posting this. I wonder why so many writers today are afraid of the self publish mantle. It seems to be an honor I think.




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I don't see anything wrong self-publishing, and any stigma is fading fast due to the reality on the ground. The landscape in publishing is changing very, very fast, and self-published authors are going to be a major force in the emerging publishing climate. The emerging publishing climate involves a new model, with new methods, new ways of doing things, and as with all things there will be those resistant to the change. (So you'll probably see some barbs thrown about regarding self-publishing in general).

So while some authors may still be hesitant, the self-publishing route is going to continue to show tremendous success stories and grow as a share of an eBook-centric market.

I just feel that authors who choose to take this route need to approach their project as a publisher would, and apply the same elements along the way (I.E. Secure a professional editor, professional layout/cover art, develop a realistic marketing/publicity strategy, etc.) If the self-published project is treated with the same steps a solid publisher would take, then I think the end result stands to do very well.
 

ZaWolf

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While I agree that the names listed aren't relevant as arguments in favour of self-publishing today, I feel obliged to point out that their reasons for self-publishing (or the individual circumstances surrounding their choices to go that route, however briefly) aren't relevant as arguments against self-publishing either.
The world is a different place today, but qualities that are just as required now as they've ever been are heaps of talent and perseverance, as well as a healthy sprinkling of good luck. This goes for self-published writers as much as those pursuing more 'traditional' routes.
A list like this seems aimed at discrediting self-publishing and disheartening its advocates (I'm sorry if that wasn't the intent). How often do people really list those authors as anything more than an example of why trying out self-publishing needn't be burdened with the stigma of a lack of talent or professionalism?
 

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Hello, ZaWolf. Welcome to AW.

While I agree that the names listed aren't relevant as arguments in favour of self-publishing today, I feel obliged to point out that their reasons for self-publishing (or the individual circumstances surrounding their choices to go that route, however briefly) aren't relevant as arguments against self-publishing either.

This thread was started in an attempt to help writers become better informed about who has and hasn't self-published, not to put writers off from self-publishing if that's what they really want.

The world is a different place today, but qualities that are just as required now as they've ever been are heaps of talent and perseverance, as well as a healthy sprinkling of good luck. This goes for self-published writers as much as those pursuing more 'traditional' routes.

I don't think anyone here has suggested otherwise.

A list like this seems aimed at discrediting self-publishing and disheartening its advocates (I'm sorry if that wasn't the intent).

That definitely wasn't the intent.

The authors on this list are all often claimed as shining examples of writers who have succeeded as self-publishers. Their names are used to motivate people to self-publish, and to imply that trade publishing isn't a good option for writers who really care about their writing and their careers. That's misleading. Because when you look at what really happened you discover that several of the people listed never actually self-published at all, and some of them who did self-publish lost money out of the deal or failed in some other way.

How often do people really list those authors as anything more than an example of why trying out self-publishing needn't be burdened with the stigma of a lack of talent or professionalism?

But they're not examples of self-publishing success. As I said before, many of the writers listed have never self-published; some have experienced huge failures as a direct result of their self-publishing.

It's good to motivate writers to do what's best for them: it's not good to motivate writers by providing them with misleading information.

It's also important to recognise that while some self-publishers are talented writers, and are professional about their work, many are not. We shouldn't pretend otherwise just because it's an uncomfortable truth.
 

Sarah Renee Crane

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This is a really thought provoking discussion.

Personally, I never even considered sending my book to a publishing company. I self published because I see myself as an entrepreneur and not just as an author or illustrator.

Writing seems to be more business than anything else these days. I guess it's just a personal observation but I feel the days when a writer could just focus on writing alone are long long gone.

I am very lucky in the fact that I love graphic and web design as much as I love writing. It also doesn't hurt to be married to an account when you are trying to run a business. ;)

I think that self publishing works best when there is a team of people who essentially become their own publishing company.

P.S. I don't know if it counts since it is a cookbook, but I think that Irma Rombauer self published Joy of Cooking in 1931. The cookbook has now sold over 18 million copies.

I grew up baking with my mom's copy and now I have one of my own. :)
 

ZaWolf

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Hello, ZaWolf. Welcome to AW.

And thank you for having me.


This thread was started in an attempt to help writers become better informed about who has and hasn't self-published, not to put writers off from self-publishing if that's what they really want.

Fair enough. Battling misinformation is almost always a worthwhile cause.


That definitely wasn't the intent.

The authors on this list are all often claimed as shining examples of writers who have succeeded as self-publishers. Their names are used to motivate people to self-publish, and to imply that trade publishing isn't a good option for writers who really care about their writing and their careers. That's misleading. Because when you look at what really happened you discover that several of the people listed never actually self-published at all, and some of them who did self-publish lost money out of the deal or failed in some other way.

I guess my problem here was that I've never really experienced this. I've seen the names thrown around, but more as a knee-jerk saving of face (usually by someone hoping that the person on the other side of the conversation didn't think to just Google the info) than as a source of inspiration.
That may have been a misinterpretation of motivation on my part, which led to a similar mistake regarding the OP :)
In which case, I apologise.

But they're not examples of self-publishing success. As I said before, many of the writers listed have never self-published; some have experienced huge failures as a direct result of their self-publishing.

My point here was not expressed well. I didn't mean to say that they were examples of self-publishing success, I simply meant that if even one literary legend has dipped his or her toes into self-publishing (during a time when more conventional alternatives were available) then it serves as evidence that self-publishing is not necessarily the final recourse of the creatively destitute.

It's good to motivate writers to do what's best for them: it's not good to motivate writers by providing them with misleading information.

It's also important to recognise that while some self-publishers are talented writers, and are professional about their work, many are not. We shouldn't pretend otherwise just because it's an uncomfortable truth.

I agree with all of this.
It was not my intention to ignore uncomfortable truths or to suggest that anyone else do so. Having reread my initial post, I realise I might have gotten a touch defensive (in part due to the widespread impression of self-publishing cultivated by it's more unprofessional proponents) and jumped to all the wrong conclusions.
If that is the case, I again apologise.
 

Medievalist

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P.S. I don't know if it counts since it is a cookbook, but I think that Irma Rombauer self published Joy of Cooking in 1931. The cookbook has now sold over 18 million copies.

She printed 3000 copies with a local printer, and was picked up by Macmillan in 1936.

Cookbooks are one of the niches that can work really really well for self-publishing, especially via Blurb/Lulu etc. using their cookbook templates.

There are printing companies that specialize in cookbooks, but they don't distribute; they tend to be utilized by local organizations who use a compilation cookbook as a fund raiser.
 

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Writing seems to be more business than anything else these days. I guess it's just a personal observation but I feel the days when a writer could just focus on writing alone are long long gone.

I have plenty of writer-friends who do very well on writing alone. And plenty of publishing friends who work with writers who do nothing else. It's still possible.

I think that self publishing works best when there is a team of people who essentially become their own publishing company.

If one hires in outside help to perform specific jobs, such as editing and cover design, then I can see how that's still self-publishing: but if a team of people are working together to publish their own books, and pooling their expertise and resources, is that still self-publishing?

That may have been a misinterpretation of motivation on my part, which led to a similar mistake regarding the OP :)
In which case, I apologise.

There is absolutely no need for you to apologise. Discussions like this make AW the brilliant resource that it is, and you were perfectly respectful. Don't worry one bit. You're fine.
 

HistorySleuth

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Here are a couple more to debate on both sides. Self-published to famous and famous to self-published.

Self-published Novelist Lands University of Chicago Press Book Deal
"In May, the University of Chicago Press will publish A Naked Singularity, a 700-page debut novel that Sergio De La Pava self-published in 2008 through Xlibris."
(Article at GalleyCat website written by Jason Boog Aprl. 2012)
There is a link in the article to the book review by Scott Bryan Wilson from 2010 at The Quarterly Conversation that Levi Stahl of Chicago Press read that set it all in motion.

Stahl says in the Boog article: "Without cheap digital publishing technology, the book would never have existed; without the Web, I would never have heard about it."

I can't seem to find an interview with the author La Pava that isn't a subscription site. It would be interesting to see what he had to say about the process since Xlibris is a vanity press with packages from $499 - $15,249.
_____________________________________

Industry Reaction to Jackie Collins' Self-publishing Experiment
"Collins revealed her plans to self-publish an updated version of her 1979 novel, The Bitch, as an eBook. Collins (pictured, via) will continue working with her traditional publisher for other books."
(Article by Maryann Yin, Jackie Collins interview by Jeff Rivera, both of GalleyCat Apr 2012)

I find the Jackie Collins one interesting as she mentions short stories she wrote that she always wanted to put into a collection for a book, but her publisher wasn't interested. Can you imagine saying no to Jackie Collins?

So two interesting cases. How much $$ did LaPava gamble on self-publishing? In his case it turns out to be a worthwhile investment, BUT a lot had to do with how well it was written (by reviews anyway.) Most self-publishers don't recoup if they invest thousands.

Then we have Jackie Collins, uber famous, whose publisher won't publish her short stories.
 

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This is quite the list! Thank you for asking the question. Very uplifting.
 

lovtowrite

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That's a nice list you have there.
There are plenty of popular self-published authors. I have interviewed some myself on my website (thewritingcorner). I have shared some of their point of view about some popular publishing services like CreateSpace. You can read it here: http://www.thewritingcorner.net/self-publish-a-book.php.

But, I'll share some with you guys here. There is Christy Pinheiro who is a self-published author with CreateSpace and she's very popular as it's literally her living.
 

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