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

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Scott Seldon

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The landscape of publishing is changing (or maybe I should say has changed) in drastic ways. It is no longer feasible to be a midlist author. Publisher's can't afford to keep the midlist authors published. Quite a number of long established authors are turning to self-publishing their back titles and novellas. What the publishers are after are the best sellers and if you aren't one you may be out of a contract even if you manage to land one. The new home of the midlist author is with the self-publishing companies.
 

Old Hack

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...and how is any of that on-topic for this thread, Scott?

I welcome your contribution, but it's better for us all if we don't derail threads. Thanks.
 

Scott Seldon

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It is on topic, I just neglected to specify how it relates, sorry.

It used to be a midlist author would steadily sell books and publishers liked that. From what I've been seeing, that isn't the case any more. Quite a number of writers I like have been turning to self-publishing. They have successful titles through traditional publishing, but now they are self-publishing, either back titles, shorts, or new titles. While not necessarily famous in the general sense, this is a group with established names who are utilizing self-publishing to expand their available titles. Some are moving totally to self-publishing, citing the better royalty rate.

And I know several people who have had great success in self-publishing. The one name that comes to mind is Ruth Cardello. She's been approached by publishers, but turn them down because they can't offer the royalty rate she gets by self-publishing.

I would love such success myself, but I suspect that like so may writers, I will fall in the midlist range. While getting a traditional publishing deal may once have been an option, chances are that unless your book goes viral quickly, you will be dropped. With self-publishing I have a chance to get multiple titles out there, one of the keys to long term success.

While it is great to cite some famous people who have started or turned to self publishing, I think looking at the less famous, but well established writers to see how they are handling and utilizing the new self-publishing tools. David Gerrold is one in this category. While he is famous for Trouble With Tribbles, I don't think his non Star Trek books have risen above midlist. He is now publishing a variety of stories himself, including a few new ones.

And this is a very genre sensitive issue. Some genres haven't been as impacted as others. Some writers are still comfortable and work with their long time publisher. Some still publish full length works through their publisher, but have turned to self-publishing for their back catalog and short stories and novellas. Some have turned entirely to self-publishing (in particular a successful romance writer who used to work for Harlequin... can't remember her name right now).

I think it is important to consider all areas of publishing and look at successful writers, not just famous ones.
 

Old Hack

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Scott, I'm afraid you missed my point and misunderstood the premise of this thread.

This thread discusses whether specific famous authors owe their successes to self- or trade-publishing. It's intended to debunk some of the more common misleading online claims that we often find. Read the very first post carefully, and I hope you'll see what I mean.

This thread is not intended to be a place where we debate the pros, cons or popular rhetoric of self publishing. There are plenty of other threads for that.

Please try harder to stay on topic. Especially when a mod requests that of you. Thank you.
 

GHWard

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Thanks for the information. I never knew that many of the iconic writers on that list actually tried their hands at self publishing. It is certainly encouraging!!!
 

quicklime

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Thanks for the information. I never knew that many of the iconic writers on that list actually tried their hands at self publishing. It is certainly encouraging!!!


pretty basenji.

you might want to re-read though; the point was a great many of the "examples" cited were either already established or did poorly when they were trying to self-pub.

The sticky isn't to dissuade folks from self-pubbing, but to point out a good number of the poster-child examples trotted out are, ummm, a bit fast and loose with the facts.
 

Isabella Amaris

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To be honest, I also found this thread quite encouraging/inspiring... I had no idea so many of them tried self-pubbing out... It's inspiring on an experimental level, even if one sees nothing in it to indicate 'success' or the origination of 'fame' as one might measure it today, whatever that subjective definition might be... Hmmmm, I can't help wondering how they would have done if they'd had the same tools self-pubbers have today (considering the majority on the list are no longer with us). I suppose we'll never know...
 
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Scott Seldon

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pretty basenji.

you might want to re-read though; the point was a great many of the "examples" cited were either already established or did poorly when they were trying to self-pub.

The sticky isn't to dissuade folks from self-pubbing, but to point out a good number of the poster-child examples trotted out are, ummm, a bit fast and loose with the facts.


Also, most prior self-publishing efforts had little in common with the current offerings with ebooks and POD costing nothing and instantly getting fairly wide distribution. Older self-publishing was a costly business (and those services are still available) and the author had to peddle the books themselves. I think it is interesting that several authors on that list self-published a small run and were able to succeed in selling it and turning it into a regular publishing contract. That is not the goal of everyone who self-publishes through ebooks and POD.

The ease of ebook and POD services does pose a problem. It has created a large market with lots of offerings. It is hard to go from obscurity to known, perhaps harder than some off the examples listed had it. They could at least concentrate on a particular region and audience.

I do know of several modern authors who are releasing their own ebooks from their back catalog. That is becoming almost a normal route to get some more life out of books and stories that have reverted to the author. David Gerrold and Jane Yolen are among the ones I am aware of. But then, they have a name and a market and all they really have to do is post it on Facebook, Twitter, or their website and they are guaranteed some sales. That is far different from using self-publishing to start out.

There were a lot of names on that list I was unaware of, but none of them were a great success in self-publishing. The only successes used it as a tool to gain a regular publishing deal.
 

benbradley

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One of the most fascinating cases of self-publication has to be Stephen Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science." It's obvious from his Wikipedia entry that he's a rare genius, and this 1988 article discusses this as well:
PHYSICS WHIZ GOES INTO BIZ At 28, MacArthur Foundation genius Stephen Wolfram may be the most promising physicist to appear in years. But he aims to get rich as a software entrepreneur instead.
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1988/04/11/70404/index.htm
And he did indeed get rich producing and selling the software package Mathematica. THEN he became so fascinated with simple computer/mathematical constructs called "cellular automata" that he started writing a book about them. Here's the Wikipedia article:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Wolfram
Ten years and 1,192 pages later, he self-published (does the book description [Amazon takes this from the publisher] seem a bit overblown and overstated?):
http://www.amazon.com/dp/1579550088/?tag=absowrit-20
The book apparently sold well (I really don't know, but several copies were available in EVERY big-box store - surely he made back his investment) if for no other reason than he had given a few interviews about it and it had been so anticipated for so many years. But the reviews - you must read a few. Many of them are quite mocking and sarcastic, such as "A New Kind of Review."
 

ClarissaWild

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Well, she's not famous, but she does have a lot of success: Jasinda Wilder.

Also, another one is Amanda Hockings. :)
 

mairi

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H.M. Ward is another successful self-pubbed author. :)
 

Literateparakeet

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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.

It is my understanding that the first Chicken Soup for the Soul was published by HCI, a trade publisher (who also published the popular A Child Called It). I wouldn't consider them self-published at all.

Another one we could add to the list. Nathaniel Hawthorne. In the intro to one version of The Scarlet Letter it says that his first book, published at his own expense, was a dismal failure. He tried to get all the copies back. And discouraged by this didn't write again for about 20 yrs. (paraphrased). So sad.
 

Torgo

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Self Publishing gurus keep calling E L James a self publishing success story and.... as I understand it she gave it away for free on a fan fic site which got word of mouth out there, and then they banned her for sexual content, and she put it up on her own website for a while until submitting it to The Writer's Coffee Shop for publication. So I don't know that she really fits a definition of a self publishing story exactly. The Writer's Coffee Shop were the first to actually sell her book I believe? Until demand got too great and a big publisher took it on?

No, I think TWCS qualifies as a publisher. EL James isn't, in my opinion, a self-publishing story.
 

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Omg, it's so long List. I absolutely din't have any idea that there can so many self published famous authors.

You might want to read that list again--the one in the very first post in this thread.

The point is that they didn't all self publish, even though they're often held up as examples of self publishing success.

This means, it a positive sigh to the self-published authors. (so far i was pondering that there were/are very few self-published famous authors) Means, self published authors also can reach the peak position if the writing is up to the mark and they use the right medium to self-published. We can add 'AW' as one medium, right?

No, we can't add AW as one "medium to self-published". This is a discussion board, not a publisher.
 

meangene01

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That's a great list. I think the key is that if you are already famous you/ can self-publish anything and it will sell. Look at all the President's who have written books.
 

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It took me years to overcome my internal stigma against self-publication but I would be defined as that clearly now because I used self-publishing services like CreateSpace and Smashwords. That stigma is evident when I tell people my books are "only self-published." I would love to claim the validation of the modernist giants, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, but I doubt that they belong within a definition of self-publishing.

I take inspiration from Virginia and Leonard Woolf setting up Hogarth Press in order to preserve the creative freedom of the Bloomsbury Circle, as that is basically my reason for self-publishing. Yet I am reluctant to describe Hogarth Press as self-publishing because from the time Virginia set up the printing press in her home her first thought was to print something by someone else (Katherine Mansfield).

I am also unsure about describing Ulysses as ever having been self-published. James Joyce's patron, Sylvia Beach used her Shakespeare & Co. bookshop to print the first edition. I would see that not as self-publishing, but the equivalent of the Joyce-inspired Eimear McBride's Girl is a Half-Formed Thing being published by a bookshop (or the just then established Galley Beggar Press depending on which version of the story you believe).

To wrap the two stories together 4-5 months after the Shakespeare & Co edition Joyce tried to get Hogarth Press to publish Ulysses, but Virginia Woolf refused on the basis of the length of the text. I suspect that she would also have had some issues with the depiction of women in the novel.

It would be wonderful to be able to claim those two giants of modernism for self-publishing, but I think it would be stretching the definition of the term almost to breaking point.
 

Polenth

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It took me years to overcome my internal stigma against self-publication but I would be defined as that clearly now because I used self-publishing services like CreateSpace and Smashwords. That stigma is evident when I tell people my books are "only self-published." I would love to claim the validation of the modernist giants, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, but I doubt that they belong within a definition of self-publishing.

If you're negative about yourself and what you've done, expect people to roll with it. So if you say you're only self-published, as though it's not like being really published, they'll often go with it. You've told them that's how it is.

Much like if you tell people your writing is terrible, they might well say something like you'll get better with practise. They're taking you at your word that you're not very good.

Most people really don't know enough about writing or publishing to have much of a view of it. Most non-writers I know have this vague idea that some famous people self-published and made lots of money (if they've heard of it at all). How it works is a magical mystery. So if I present what I've done in a positive way, they take that as being how it is. You don't need famous examples to do this - just a shift in how you describe it.
 

blacbird

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The OP is a great post, and anybody who cites a writer more than a half-century ago as an inspiring example of self-publication is like citing Triceratops as an inspiring example of a successful big herbivorous animal.

Things have changed.

caw
 

Carradee

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If you're negative about yourself and what you've done, expect people to roll with it. So if you say you're only self-published, as though it's not like being really published, they'll often go with it. You've told them that's how it is.

This. When folks ask if I've anything published, I casually say I'm self-published. If they ask further, I'll admit that I don't have many sales, but my reviews and Wattpad stats are good. (I'm not one of the insanely popular people, but I'm popular enough to be a solid midlister who gets special messages and invites from Wattpad staff.) USUALLY, people answer happily, not caring that it's self-published. Once in a blue moon, someone asks if I have anything not self-published (which I do).

(What I write could be called psychological or literary fantasy. I'm essentially not even trying to publicize it until I have at least 4 books out, preferably 5 or 6.)

Fact is, the average person doesn't know author names—unless, maybe, they read you. Doesn't matter how you're published. I frequently chat with people, and I've tried bringing up authors on both side of the divide in conversation. In my experience, JRR Tolkein, CS Lewis, and JK Rowling are the only ones that most people recognize. Beyond that, it depends on the genre(s) they read and their attitudes about technology in general.

Some folks don't understand or distrust technology in general, even to the point of refusing to shop online or not understanding that information can be sent electronically. (I know people like this.) They only read whatever print books they get at the book store. Other than that…

Most people don't care about publisher, anymore, and I've actually had some prefer that I self-published over having a publisher.
 

ecerberus

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I believe Andy Weir self published the Martian at 0.99 on Amazon. Huge success, movie too! (With Matt Damon no less)
 

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My question is, how many self-published authors are making a living from their self-published books right now?

I stopped self-publishing because it's too expensive and I failed to reach a broad audience. I get a strong positive response from a very small audience (mostly people I meet at conventions, and the people they push my books on later), but that's just a few bucks every month in sales, at best. I'm working with publishers now, but I miss the control of self-publishing.
 

Al X.

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My question is, how many self-published authors are making a living from their self-published books right now?

I stopped self-publishing because it's too expensive and I failed to reach a broad audience. I get a strong positive response from a very small audience (mostly people I meet at conventions, and the people they push my books on later), but that's just a few bucks every month in sales, at best. I'm working with publishers now, but I miss the control of self-publishing.

I feel your pain. I am experiencing the same myself.

I personally know one, a romance novelist, and she has been somewhat of a mentor to me. She was in a position to quit her day job at one point, except that it was during the period when Amazon was on a witch hunt to shut down and ban authors who were suspected of scamming their Select program, and she got caught up in it due to her success, and they banned her.

Her books are back on Amazon now, but she never really did recover from all of that, and the royalties that Amazon stiffed her out of, which was considerable, but not quite enough to be worth hiring an IP attorney to fight it.

If it sounds like I don't like Amazon, it's because I don't. The problem is, like it or not, they are 99% of the market.

Sorry to get off track, but it is interesting to read some of the historical responses on this thread. People back in 2012 were complaining about the noise vs. signal ratio in the POD industry. This is 2019. It's tough. I believe I have published my last self-published book, unless some kind of promo or marketing miracle happens. And I have 11.
 

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