6 Inspiring Self-Publishing Success Stories (That Aren’t ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’)


Carson Mell’s Saguaro may well be the best originally self-published title to come out this year. Thanks to the folks at Electric Literature, the book finally has a more traditional publisher, and is available now for your reading pleasure.

We invited Mell to give us a rundown of his favorite titles that were originally self-published — and asked him to please leave out Fifty Shades of Grey if at all possible.

Here’s how he responded:

When I finished writing my first novel, Saguaro in 2006, I was proud of it. I was happy with it, and I wanted more than anything to share it with the world. I even managed to find a literary agent. But no one wanted to publish it. Here I was, having finally written something that I liked, but was told I wouldn’t be sharing it with the world, at least by traditional means. So I self-published it. I found a cheap printer, printed up 250 copies, and sold them over the course of a year. Lots and lots of trips to the post office. But it was worth it. Some of the people who bought the book — strangers — wrote me emails telling me they liked it, that it’d touched them. Those emails made me, for lack of a better word, feel like a “real” writer. I didn’t make much of a profit, but enough to print more copies. I sold out of those as well, and eventually found a publisher to work with to make the book available to a larger audience. But the priceless confidence I gained from printing the book, and hearing back from people who enjoyed it, I owe to self-publishing. When I finished my second novel, The Blue Bourbon Orchestra, I had a bigger, more respected lit agent. We sent it out to every major publisher. Again, nobody wanted to publish it. So I self-published again.

I’m at work on a third novel, and I would have no problem whatsoever if I have to self-publish it again. It’s almost become a part of my artistic process. Below are six awesome self-published works that wouldn’t have reached their audience had their creators not taken that final step to get the work to their readers.

The Tales of Momsin Cloud, Grant Falardeau

This hard-to-find book by Grant Falardeau is one of the funniest I’ve ever read. Reading this book inspired me in a lot of ways, but finding out that the author was only 19 and brave enough to not only finish a book, but self-publish it, was one of the most inspiring things about it.

Found Magazine, Davy Rothbart

Though it’s technically not a book, dynamo Davy Rothbart has been self-publishing his Found for over a decade now at a fixed price. I’m pretty sure he prints it at a loss these days, but such is Davy’s passion for sharing the found notes and other personal debris he and his loyal readers find in the gutters of America.

Acme Novelty Library, Chris Ware

Chris Ware is one of the top indie comic artists working today, so he self-publishes not out of necessity, but to have total control over maniacally detailed work. More than anything else about Ware’s work, I appreciate his craft, and his willingness to self-publish to make sure that craft is delivered to his audience exactly as he wants it to be.

Various Works by John Fahey

Before Drag City collected John Fahey’s writing into How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life, it was available only in the stapled booklets that Fahey mailed to friends and fans. Thank God Fahey put this work out enough for it to be discovered, because it’s some of the best stuff I’ve ever read. There is such braveness in the surreal and candid retelling of his childhood that it makes for harrowing and hilarious reading. This book reads like music.

Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

I read Huckleberry Finn for the first time quite recently, and I remember thinking to myself, “Publishers were so much braver back in those olden days.” But no. Turns out he published it himself.

Tamerlane and Other Poems, Edgar Allen Poe

Though I’m more of a general fan of Poe than I am a fan of this book, this was Poe’s first published work, and he put it out himself. It is now one of the rarest first editions in American literature, and one copy recently went for over half a million dollars at auction. Another testament to the powers of self-publishing.