Famous Authors Who Got Their Start in Self-Publishing


In the last few years, sites such as Amazon and Nook have made it possible for anyone to publish their own eBooks, with very little previous knowledge other than basic computer smarts. The recent glut of self-published eBook manuscripts has created a stigma for writers who go this route, because many of these self-published works are rushed into production with very little editing, causing the general public to be wary of the quality of any book not vetted by a known publishing company.

Contrary to popular opinion, self-publishing is not all vanity presses and uneducated ramblings. There is a fine tradition of authors publishing good works when the powers-that-be in the publishing world have declined to offer a contract. Sometimes the publishers are wrong and the authors are right, and these examples show just how right they can be.

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn

Twain’s classic work couldn’t find a publisher willing to take on the story of the young boy in the Deep South. He published it himself published it himself, starting a long and illustrious career as a novelist.

John Grisham, A Time to Kill

Grisham’s emotional story of a black man in the 1960s South taking revenge on the white men who raped his child was possibly too strong for earlier publishers to handle. Grisham encountered a number of rejections from publishing houses after shopping his manuscript around. Though a small New York company, Wynwood Press, initially published 5,000 copies of Grisham’s novel, Grisham bought many of the copies himself and lead his own book tour.

A Time to Kill was “rediscovered” after Grisham had made a name for himself, and was reissued, later being turned into a blockbuster movie starring Matthew McConnaughey and Sandra Bullock.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Long a favorite of Presidents and English teachers throughout the country, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass could not find a publisher when it was first offered. Whitman’s first edition was self-published in 1855. It has since been accepted as one of the great American works of poetry of the last century.

Beatrix Potter, the Peter Rabbit stories and others

Beatrix Potter wrote Peter Rabbit and about a dozen other children’s books in the 19th century, and had to resort to publishing them herself. These children’s classics continue to sell to this day, in the form of books, movies, television shows, stuffed animals and many other children’s belongings.

Arthur Agatston, The South Beach Diet

Agatston began his book by publishing small pamphlets outlining his diet theories and handing them out to his patients. The diet plan became so popular that he sold the rights several years later, and it has sold over 23 million copies since then. It has spawned a diet industry including classes, books and a line of diet foods.

These famous self-published authors paved the way for younger writers in subsequent years; today, self-publishing is a rapidly growing part of the literature industry. With an increasing amount of resources, self-publishing is becoming a more easily accessible publishing method, and is granting aspiring authors the opportunity to have their voices heard.  

Author Byline: Anna Graham is part of the book printing team at America’s Press.

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One thought on “Famous Authors Who Got Their Start in Self-Publishing

  1. Pingback: Vanity vs. Self-Publishing: Is There a Difference? | Writing Is Hard Work

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