It’s natural to equate being a published writer with being a successful writer. Who doesn’t like the feeling of validation that comes with a professional company believing ‘Your book is going to be the next big thing!” However, history will show us that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Here are some examples of authors who proved you don’t need a publishing house to be a hit. All you need is a good story to be a self-publishing success.
1. The Martian – Andy Weir
The critically-acclaimed Matt Damon blockbuster that grossed $630,000,000 dollars started out as an Amazon eBook that cost 99 cents.
Andy Weir was the son of a particle physicist with a dream of writing a realistic SciFi / Thriller novel. After literary agents rejected him numerous times, Weir decided to publish each chapter as a serial on his website. He later consolidated all of the chapters as one book on Amazon. And before he knew it, the book was a Kindle bestseller.
Crown Publishing acquired rights for The Martian and the self-publishing success landed on The New York Times Bestseller List. The feature film was made by 20th Century Fox and directed by Ridley Scott (Alien) and later won a Golden Globe Award. How’s that for an underdog story?
2. Carnivale – Daniel Knauf
Before he was producing hit shows like Spartacus: Blood and Sand and The Blacklist, Daniel Knauf was an aspiring writer working as a health insurance broker.
Taking inspiration from his disabled father, Knauf churned out a feature-length script called Carnivale and was met with near unanimous rejection. Knauf shelved it for almost a decade.
Tired of working in insurance, Knauf self-published Carnivale on his website and this time as a potential television pilot. The script got the attention of HBO, and turned into one of the cable channel’s most ambitious and expensive shows (this was pre Game of Thrones).
While Carnivale only lasted two seasons, the show launched Knauf’s career in entertainment.
3. John Dies at the End – David Wong (Jason Pargin)
If Stephen King wrote Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you would get something similar to John Dies at the End.
Jason Pargin, writer for popular humor website Cracked, began to write John Dies under the pseudonym David Wong. John Dies began as a serialized story on his website and each chapter read like a self-contained, nail-bitingly suspenseful episode filled with juvenile humor and bone chilling horror.
The John Dies chapters amassed a huge following and Saint Martin’s Press published it. The book was made into a movie, featuring Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown (also in Carnivale), and Doug Jones.
David Wong has continued to write and release novels revolving around the characters from John Dies, as well as his SciFi book Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits.
It’s encouraging to remember that self-publishing success is not exclusive to the internet age. In ye olde year of 1900, Beatrix Potter tried to submit The Tale of Peter Rabbit to numerous publishers and they all turned her down.
They thought Potter’s black and white illustrations were too old fashioned,and didn’t like her style in general. Potter self-published 250 copies of the book, one of which reached her friend and poet Hardwick Rawnsley. Rawnsley forwarded the manuscript to publishing house Frederick Warne & Co.
Warne’s chief condition was that Beatrix allow them to color her illustrations, which she resisted. Eventually she agreed and Peter Rabbit received a second run, then another, and another, until it became a timeless children’s book classic.