Guest Post: “5 Bestselling Authors You Didn’t Know Were Self-Published” by Lucia Tang

Meet Lucia Tang.

Lucia Tang is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. Reedsy also provides tools to help authors write and format their books, as well as free learning courses and webinars to help them learn more about writing and publishing.



The Guest Post.

5 Bestselling Authors You Didn’t Know Were Self-Published

After five books and three movies centered on a certain sadomasochistic businessman, E.L. James has finally moved on from Fifty Shades of Grey. Her first foray outside the bestselling series was published by Random House earlier this year. A more vanilla take on the romance genre, The Mister is James’ only work to be released by a traditional publisher right out of the gate: the self-published Fifty Shades series famously got its start through print-on-demand. Back then, James was a remarkably productive Twilight fan who wanted to make her novel-length fanfic available to paying readers. After tweaking a few names and details for legal reasons, she’s become one of the UK’s wealthiest authors.

James might be one of self-publishing’s splashiest success stories in recent years, but she’s in good company. A number of bestselling authors have gotten their start through self-publishing, and no matter how you measure literary success, they’ve made it. Some of them have seen their characters brought to life onscreen, while others are enshrined on lists of literary classics. As these five authors prove, self-publishing has a history that’s long, illustrious, and rich — in both senses of the term.

Luke Jennings
Maybe you haven’t heard of him, but you probably do know the name of his most famous character. Thanks to Luke Jennings, Villanelle isn’t just a verse form anymore — she’s now TV’s most beloved hitwoman. A Russian orphan with a knack for languages, murder, and flouncing around in couture, she appears in Killing Eve, one of the season’s buzziest shows. It’s been a critical and audience darling since its debut thanks to a darkly funny, psychosexually charged script. But we wouldn’t have any of that without Codename Villanelle, the novella series Jennings put out through Kindle. And Jennings’ wheelhouse isn’t just limited to spy thrillers — he’s also had his traditionally published lit fic on the Booker nomination list. Yet it’s Jennings’ self-published stuff that’s really made his fortune.

Lisa Genova
Another self-published author whose work ended up onscreen, Harvard-educated neuroscientist Lisa Genova drew on her research experience to write Still Alice. A family drama about a psychologist with early onset Alzheimer’s, it languished on slush piles, prompting Genova to take it to press herself. Fast forward a few years, and she’s resold it to a Big Five publisher and spent almost 60 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. She also snapped up a movie deal for a flick that would come to not only star Julianne Moore, but net her an Oscar. These days, Genova continues to mine her scientific background for writing as she crafts stories about the human cost of medical conditions, from brain trauma to Huntington’s. She’s got four more books under her belt — three of them also bestsellers.

Margaret Atwood
The Canadian queen of speculative fiction is best known for The Handmaid’s Tale. A decades-old dystopian classic it’s rocketed back into public awareness with a vengeance thanks to the Hulu adaptation. With her Booker Prize, Nebula Award, and a host of other accolades, Atwood seems to have won everything that a writer can win short of a Nobel (at least for now). But all that was still to come when, as a Toronto undergrad, she self-published a poetry chapbook called Double Persephone. Unlike today’s indie authors, with their access to digital formats, Atwood did this the old-fashioned way. She typeset her poems by hand and printed off a small run of 220 copies — it was the 60’s — really putting the “self” in “self-publishing.”

Beatrix Potter
An avid storyteller and illustrator since her teens, beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter knew that her work was strong — even if trade publishers failed to take notice. When she sent off her manuscript for the Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901, she got back a stream of rejections. So Potter decided to get the book printed herself. Maybe she had an inkling that, more than a century later, her adorable, feel-good story would be one of the undisputed classics of children’s lit, spawning its share of tie-ins too — from the obvious fluffy toys to a commemorative 50p coin that sold for £1500 on eBay. And that’s saying nothing of the movie adaptations, and the generations of fans who grew up alongside her feisty, cotton-tailed trickster.

Virginia Woolf
The genius behind “A Room of One’s Own” also had a press of her own. Alongside her husband Leonard, Woolf operated Hogarth Press out of her London home. In 1917, the couple snapped up a handpress for £19 and installed it in their dining room. That single purchase went on to print enough literary classics to keep a college English class busy all term. Besides Woolf’s own work, Hogarth Press published many of the writers in their social circle — big names like T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, and Gertrude Stein. It was never a huge moneymaker. But English lit fans can all be grateful for the Woolfs’ labor of love.

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