Self-Publishing Success Stories You Need to Hear About

Learn more about these indie authors and how they are re-writing the rules of publishing.

Ramona Tanay |

It goes without saying that the ebook market is evolving and this trend brought along another interesting phenomenon in the digital publishing industry named self-publishing.

However, this is not a new thing but rather the technology that has changed over the years. Publishing their own ebooks has never been easier for authors. Self-publishing has become a vital part of the publishing industry and has proven to give many writers a jump start in their career. There are quite a few successful self-published authors out there who actually can make a living off doing that.

Indie publishing lets authors achieve a much greater earning potential and allows them to write whatever they want, finding niche audiences with their books. This article shares PublishDrive’s own self-publishing success stories as well as popular writers who’ve truly made it.

PublishDrive’s own self-publishing success story

Fantasy author Joseph Malik has been writing for decades before he turned to self-publishing. After 15 years of rejection letters, he self-published the Dragon’s Trail, which rose to the bestseller lists -- read our whole interview with him here.

While self-publishing is mostly present in the anglophone market, there are some authors who are able to be internationally successful. Romance writer Jean Joachim publishes translations of her books in Spanish and Italian. Self-publishing made it possible for her to achieve international success without giving up her rights. Read our interview with her here.

Self-publishing made it possible for non-fiction authors to aim big as well. PublishDrive author Kendall Harrison has shared her experience with us regarding writing cookbooks, which you can read about here.

It is a mystery that children’s books work well only as traditionally published books. Darcy Pattison runs her own small indie publishing house to self-publish children’s books. Read here about her experience.

Authors who were rejected and then became successful self-publishers

Many self-published authors got rather successful after they were turned down by a traditional publisher. Michael J. Sullivan’s story was just like. He wrote for ten years in a variety of genres, but no publisher was interested to publish his books. A few years later he wrote a fantasy series and self-published it, achieving a ton of success.

Amanda Hocking’s success story is also interesting and worth knowing: She wrote 17 novels while working at a full-time job. She self-published them all as ebooks selling more than a million copies.

Ashwin Sanghi, the author of bestselling novels such as The Rozabal Line, has also turned to self-publishing after being rejected by dozens of publishers. Unwilling to give up on his dream, he decided to go embark on self-publishing way, eventually finding success as a best-seller.

And the list can continue with many more examples of authors becoming successful self-publishers. And they all have one thing in common: they are confident in their work and agree that indie-publishing is the future.

The stats tell us everything we need to know: 40% of all ebook revenue is going to indie authors. Self-published books accounted for 31% of all ebook sales in the Kindle Store in 2014. According to the trends in 2016, indie books represent 27% of books on Amazon’s ebook bestseller list.

According to the trends in 2016, indie books represent 27% of books on Amazon’s ebook bestseller list.

Three authors who made millions by self-publishing

In the following, we collected three writers who have become not only successful but also got quite wealthy after turning to self-publishing.

Amanda Hocking is a writer of paranormal fiction who started her writing career as an unknown author and has now become a bestseller after deciding to self-publish on Amazon Kindle.

But the road to success wasn’t easy: she had a day job caring for disabled people to make ends meet and a night job when she was writing until dawn. By 2010 she had a total of 17 unpublished novels all of which have been rejected by book agents and publishers. At that time she was out of money and frustrated having spent years trying to interest traditional publishers in her work.

Amanda Hocking, a writer of paranormal fiction who started her writing career as an unknown author and has become a bestseller when deciding on self-publishing on Amazon Kindle.

A few days after publishing her vampire novel, My Blood Approves, on Amazon’s website, she started selling nine copies a day. A few weeks later she published three further books to the series. Sales went up to more than $4,000 followed by $6,000 in pure profit, so she ended up quitting her job.

Being a self-published author and her own boss allowed her to set the prices of her books. She decided to sell the first book of the series for 99 cents to attract readers and then she increased the price to $2,99 for each sequel.

However, this is still much lower than the $10 charged for printed books she was able to keep a much bigger royalty. That’s 30% for the 99-cent books and 70% for the $2,99 editions versus the 10-15% publishing houses would pay her. Later on, she decided to sign a deal with two publishers in the US and UK which proves that traditional and self-publishing can live in harmony.

Rob Dirks self-published his first science fiction novel, Where the Hell is Tesla? He sold 10,000 copies in the first twelve months after being rejected by publishers. He claims it wasn’t luck and gives us five things he learned from it:

  1. Write your best book: give it a time, do your homework, hire professionals if you need help and make it exceptional.
  2. Build your platform: connect with readers, use social media, and build up your audience with an email list. Website: if you are going to self-publish a book, you will need a website where your readers will be able to contact you. Having a website is also a great way to spread the word about your work and connect with fans. Here is his website: RobDircks.com

Social media: his advice is not to overdo it, just stick with the ones you think is necessary and you feel right for you. If you have a graphic novel that is very visual, use Facebook and Pinterest; if it is a non-fiction use Twitter. For example, John Scalzi (@scalzi) is a successful sci-fi writer with a huge Twitter fan base.

Amazon author and book pages: if you decide to self-publish on Amazon, use everything they have. Put keywords list on your book sales page on Amazon, use key phrases in your book description. In one word: take advantage of simple features that can help your books get discovered. Email list: grow your email list by starting blogging, posting, tweeting and use a software like MailChimp to manage your email list and build campaigns.

  1. Book reviews and exposure: he looked up reviewers on Amazon, Goodreads and reached out to provide a review in exchange for a complimentary copy of the book.
  2. Promote your book: he used paid advertising such as Facebook/Instagram ads, Google Ads, Amazon ads. He ran paid ebook promotions through book promotion sites that send out daily emails to their subscribers, e.g. BookGorilla, FussyLibrarian, BargainBooksy, Booksends, and Ereader News Today.
  3. Record an audiobook: according to Rob, there are lots of options for getting narrators and producers to help you record an audiobook. Audiobooks continue to be on the rise with 148% sales growth from 2010 to 2015. Don’t miss out on audiobooks as a significant percentage of your sales.

Arguably the most well-known self-publishing success story is E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. She self-published the first book in 2011 as an ebook and print (on demand paperback) through an independent publisher. What began as Twilight fan-fiction, soon became a world-known bestseller.

EL James: self-publishing success story with 50 Shades of Grey

Despite the mixed critical responses, Fifty Shades of Grey alone has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. The book holds the record for the fastest-selling paperback, making her the richest of award-winning self-published authors.

She promoted the book on FanFiction.net by publishing episodic pieces based on the Twilight series. Another thing that has helped the book became world known is how accessible it is. Erotic novels are popular, and commercial books have a good chance at finding a readership.

She already established a following of fans by offering her writing for free on websites. She had readers who wanted to read more, so she wrote more. Remember, you need to build a reader base and to get that you need to give away some writing for free and then publish.

As you can see by now, authors have different reasons to self-publish their books. Some turn to self-publishing after being rejected from traditional publishing houses, others decide to sidestep the judgment of traditional publishers and self-publish. Whatever you choose it is good to keep in mind that if traditional publishers accept your manuscript, they will dictate the terms.

When you self-publish and sell books, you get to decide everything related to your book and publishing process. From editing, through designing and formatting all the way to promoting and distributing, you’re the boss.

Remember: all the hard work will be worth it when your self-published book is finished, and you’re an official published author.