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.