Self-publishing success stories

Adapted from The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 5th Edition by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier

Self-publishing has proven especially practical for authors, professionals, entrepreneurs, associations, corporations—anyone with specialized knowledge to sell. Many bestsellers were given life by their own authors, who elected to go the self-publishing route.

Can self-publishing be an “Open Sesame” to fame and fortune? You bet it can! To learn how you can jump on this bandwagon, and be added to these self-publishing success stories, contact Self-Publishing Resources at 720-344-4388 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              720-344-4388      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              720-344-4388      end_of_the_skype_highlighting for a free initial consultation!

Here are but a few of the self-publishing success stories:

A twenty-two-year-old recent college grad, Ben Kaplan, published How to Go to College Almost for Free in early 2000 and sold fifteen thousand copies the first few months it was out. Furthermore, he convinced Sallie Mae (no not a Southern belle but rather the organization best known for helping students fund college) to invest $250,000 in a twenty-city scholarship coaching tour, during which Kaplan also aggressively promoted his book. The second edition of this title is ranked on Amazon.com as the number-one college and education cost book and the number-one financial aid book.

Still Alice, written by Lisa Genova, is a novel about a fifty-year-old Harvard professor’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. After spending more than a year searching for a literary agent and being turned down by several publishers, Genova decided to take a different route: self-publishing. When she informed one of her literary agents of her decision, his discouraging response was that she would kill her writing career before it even started. But she decided to press forward. After receiving positive reviews on Amazon.com and a favorable review in the Boston Globe, Genova’s book was picked up by Simon & Shuster, complete with a half-million-dollar advance. In January 2009, Still Alice made its debut on The New York Times Best-Seller List at number five.

When it comes to self-publishing success stories, children’s books have had their share.  Christopher Paolini’s Eragon was originally self-published by the then-teenage author’s family; the book and its sequels are now huge bestsellers for Knopf. Michael Stadther’s self-published novel/treasure hunt, A Treasure’s Trove, which offered $1 million in prizes to those who solved its riddles, rode a major publicity wave to a deal with Simon & Shuster.

Nancy Tillman’s On the Night You Were Born was self-published in 2005. Tillman, a greeting card designer, sold thirty-five thousand copies initially—primarily through the gift market. In spring 2006, in a three-book deal, it became the first Feiwel & Friends title at Holtzbrinck (now Macmillan) later that year. To date, the book has sold more than 400,000 copies and has hit several best-seller lists.

Inner-city Los Angeles English teacher Alan Lawrence Sitomer self-published The Hoopster in 2002. The book revolves around a high school student who is injured in a racist attack. The Disney Book Group took notice, signing Sitomer to a three-book deal in 2004. Sitomer has stayed busy in both academic and literary circles ever since. Named California Teacher of the Year in 2007, Disney published his fourth book that same year. 

Camping & Wilderness Survival by Paul Tawrell has sales figures of well over 320,000 copies. This is a 352-page tome with over 3,600 illustrations, which took him five years to write. Tawrell believed so much in his book that he sold his house and paid a Canadian printer $125,000 for 35,000 copies. At a retail price of $24.95, that gutsy move proved brilliant.

Let That Be the Reason, a gritty hip-hop novel by Vickie Stringer absolutely turned this woman’s life around. Taking the traditional route, she submitted the manuscript to publishers. In 2001, 26 rejections later, family and friends donated $5,000 to her self-publishing cause. She, and Triple Crown Publications, were on their way. The book sold 1,000 copies in the first three weeks from the trunk of her car. Street buzz began and by 2005 her estimated sales leaped to 1.8 million! Vicki now publishes 16 other authors. Furthermore, she has a six-figure, two-book deal with Atria Books.

Rich Dad Poor Dad offers a whole new slant on family values in finance. Written and published by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon L. Lechter—who started out with a mere 1,000 copies in 1997, it has topped the one million mark in sales and landed on most of the bestseller lists. Last time we looked it had been on Publishers Weekly’s list for no less than 150 weeks. This book became the linchpin of a self-publishing empire. Rich Dad Poor Dad is now at the center of Cash Flow Technologies’ line of educational products that encompasses several more books, board games, videos and audio tapes.

Red Sky in Mourning, by Tami Oldham Ashcroft, centers around her story of surviving Hurricane Raymond. While many personal experience stories flounder, hers created a whirlwind of interest. After selling 8,000 copies of her own edition, a literary agent discovered the book and sold reprint rights to Hyperion for a cool half-a-million dollars.

Wall Street Meat was written by a Wall Street analyst and offers fun stories about working with the suddenly infamous Jack Grubman, Frank Quattrone, and Mary Meeker. When author Andy Kessler approached his agent with an early draft, she informed him publishers couldn’t turn the book around with any speed, that the subject was “too topical.” What could be more appropriate for an entrepreneurial soul who can turn and burn? So Kessler finished writing it on January 31, 2003, and had it selling on Amazon.com March 17, 2003. While the traditional media shunned him, he got copies out to old contacts at newspapers, business magazines and TV…and started a strong word of mouth buzz, receiving mentions in articles and on the Internet. Barnes & Noble ordered 10,000 copies and he was off and running. Then over that summer, he sold paperback rights to HarperCollins.

God’s Debris was originally self-published as an e-book by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip and book series. He took this approach to test the waters. Apparently, the surf was high as he was able to get an “unusually good deal” from his regular publisher when he sold them the book rights.

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay captured the number two spot on Publishers Weekly’s Bestseller List, had a 12-week stint on the New York Times Bestseller List, and lead to the establishment of a small press with more than 150 books and 350 audiotapes by many authors whose names are household words.

How to Get Happily Published was birthed by Judith Appelbaum as a self-published book before selling rights to HarperCollins. More than a half-million copies have been sold in several editions and the book has led to a successful publishing consultancy as well.

What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles is hot again, 30 plus years after its debut. It had an incredible stint of 288 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List originally. Written and published by an Episcopal clergyman, then ultimately sold to Ten Speed Press, this career counseling handbook is updated and revised each year — and repeatedly lands on bestseller lists.

The Celestine Prophecy, originally self-published in 1993 by James Redfield, leads you on a spiritual and self-discovery adventure. Acquired by Warner books for $800,000, it sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, was translated into 34 languages and spawned many spinoff products in the human potential movement. The initial success of the book is credited to Redfield and his rigorous lecture schedule. It held the record for being the longest-running hardcover fiction bestseller ever on the national charts.

The Christmas Box, a little story about a struggling young family and a wealthy widow who lost an infant daughter, brought the unheard of advance of $4.125 million for a self-published title. Author Richard Paul Evans made publishing history with that huge financial vote of confidence from Simon & Schuster. Following the trend of most best-selling authors, Evans has authored many subsequent bestsellers.

ZAPP! The Lightning of Empowerment, created by Bill Byham, is a dynamic bestseller written for managers about empowering employees and heralded by the Wall Street Journal as the book that “Redefined the genre of business books.” It was so successful, that employees clamored for their own copies! 275,000 copies sold before commercial publication, then Ballentine, picked up the rights and the last we heard it had sold with more than 1.5 million.

How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive was the creation of John Muir. The book was in its 19th edition with sales way over 2 million copies when it led to establishing a publishing company that quickly outgrew self-publishing status. John Muir Publications produced scores of books on travel, automotive, parenting, and how-to subjects. The entire company was recently acquired by a major publisher and the 30th-anniversary of the original VW book pushed sales close to the 3 million mark.

The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches was the brainchild of Joe Karbo. Using full-page ads in newspapers, this advertising genius attracted sales from all over the world. Joe’s investment was less than $3,000. He sold a whopping $9 million worth—and it was never in a bookstore!

The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson is another intriguing success story. The authors self-published this book for their seminars, perfecting it based on feedback from seminar participants. After sales of 20,000 copies, they allowed a trade publishing company to turn the book into a bestseller. The book truly “launched” both their careers. Johnson’s parable Who Ate My Cheese was on Publishers Weekly’s bestseller list for more than 64 weeks in the original hardcover version, then landed there again when the paperback edition arrived.

Feed Me, I’m Yours is a collection of kid-tested recipes. It was rejected by 49 publishers before author Vicky Lansky decided to self-publish. It sold 300,000 copies in the self-published version. Bantam took it over and merchandized a whopping 8 million more! Vicky now has a total of more than 30 books to her credit and a very successful small press operation.

Bernard B. Kamoroff, CPA, having retired from his accounting practice, found himself seeking something to boost his self-esteem. He put together what has turned out to be the most popular small business guidebook ever published. Small Time Business Operator: How to Start Your Own Business, Keep Your Books, Pay Your Taxes, and Stay Out of Trouble! has sold well over 650,000 copies. This little beauty grossed its owner $300,000 the first four years it was out. And it’s an ideal ongoing moneymaker. Kamoroff updates it regularly—it’s now in its 10th edition—and has an extensive chain of distributors.

The Elements of Style, that timeless little book most writers adore, was originally self-published by William Strunk, Jr. for his classes at Cornell University. It is a living example of “find a need and fill it” and continues to sell well today.

Mary Ellen’s Best of Helpful Hints was created by Mary Ellen Pinkham. At one time she had 50,000 spiral bound books stored in her basement. With a goal to sell 500 a day, she developed gift shop accounts across the nation. When Warner bought the rights she retained these accounts—which were buying 30,000 copies a month! Mary Ellen has authored several more bestsellers.

The Personal Computer Book, revised and updated by author Peter McWilliams, is one of a series he privately published with over 1.6 million copies sold. McWilliams also had other books on the bestseller list and sold 3.5 million copies of his self-published poetry books. (Yes, you read right.) Before he died, he was rumored to have refused a $1 million offer for his publishing company.

Butter Busters, a health reference/cookbook title by Pam Mycoskie, has sold over 400,000 copies from her one-woman company located in Dallas. After she sold the rights to Warner, the book captured a spot on PW’s bestseller list.

Mutant Message Down Under was written by Marlo Morgan and sold to HarperCollins publishing company for a cool $1.7 million. This supposed fictional account of a woman’s trek through the Australian outback has captured millions of literary hearts with the message of a life unencumbered with “material things.”

Addicted, an erotic suspense thriller by a woman known only as Zane, sold 50,000 copies in the first six months. With that kind of record, it wasn’t hard for an agent to convince Pocket Books to offer the author a lucrative two-book deal. Once again, an author uses self-publishing to broker a profitable traditional publishing deal.

9 Responses to “Self-publishing success stories”


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  3. Thank you for a very clear and helpful post. I am definitely a violator of many of these rules. I often find myself conflicted when writing a blog post because I see myself writing more than people want to read, but I feel that I have to do the subject matter justice by thoroughly covering it. I feel that by following some of these rules I end up cutting out important aspects to the discussion. I guess you have to find a balance.


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  5. I have self published 2 books..’My Life as a weed and WEEDS (words) to live by” and my second book ” Whatever..I’m Still Here”..both are reflections on life with family,friends,society and questioning choices and decisions we make in life..both books are written with tongue in cheek humor and are based on true experiences…My main goal is to help people realize there are many things in life that we can lose, temper,weight,hair,car keys..etc..BUT never lose your sense of humor..
    My hope for success is that my words can help others deal with life…I live as a weed by choice…my books explain …enjoyed this site immensely


  6. Thank you for sharing these author success stories. Self publishing is indeed come to stay, and we will taker it to greater heights. My 131-page book, my sixth published book, The Purpose and Power of Identity: Exploring the Realities and Possibilities of Our Being, originally published by Xlibris, UK has been picked up by a leading traditional publisher and 5,000 copies printed in China for Nigeria. I self promoted and marketed the book to get it to this level through personal contacts, word of mouth, radio and newspaper interviews in Abuja, Nigeria. I have more success stories and tips to share. Keep on the good work. Inspire and encourage!


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