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5 Bestsellers You Didn’t Know Were Self-Published Books

March 23, 2020 (Last Updated January 19, 2021)

Marcy G.

Next time someone questions the readership of self-published books, you can confidently respond with these successes!


The Martian by Andy Weir


This sci-fi debut by Weir was released in 2011 and was originally self-published. It wasn’t until 2014 that the book was picked up by Crown Publishing and re-released. The book follows astronaut Mark Watney, who becomes stranded on Mars in the year 2035 and has to learn to cultivate his own crops to survive in space. The Martian was made into a film adaptation in 2015 and gained more popularity. The film starred Matt Damon and was directed by Ridley Scott.



Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James


Originally Twilight fan fiction, Fifty Shades of Grey was originally self-published in 2011 as an eBook and available for print-on-demand. The series tells the story of a relationship between a recent graduate and her attraction to a business mogul with a “risqué” theme and plot. The book was re-released in 2012 by Vintage Publishing.  James went on to write 4 more books in the series. The film adaptations followed in 2015 and received poor reviews. Despite this, both the book series and films gathered a huge following.



The Shack by William Paul Young


The Shack was self-published in 2007 and went on to sell a million copies by 2008, landing the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestsellers list for two years (2008-2010). Young partnered with Hatchette Book Group and went on to sell over 10 million copies. The story follows Mack, a mourning father whose daughter was murdered by a serial killer while on a family camping trip. The shack refers to the location in the woods where her clothes were found. Mack goes on a journey to find his daughter’s body while struggling with his own livelihood along the way. A film adaptation was made in 2017 and is considered a “Christian drama”.



Eragon by Christopher Paolini


Paolini wrote the first Eragon book when he was still a teenager. When the book was finished in 2001, Paolini self-published it under his own name and spent a year traveling to promote it. A publisher discovered the book a re-published it in 2003. The young adult fantasy follows a farm boy named Eragon who finds a mystical stone in the mountains, which later turns out to be a dragon egg that hatches. This coveted dragon sends Eragon on numerous adventures with dangers along the way. A film adaptation was released in 2006 to little critical acclaim.



Still Alice by Lisa Genova


Genova self-published Still Alice in 2007. It was acquired by Simon & Schuster in 2009 and spent 40 weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list. The book follows a 50-year-old psychology professor named Alice Howland who struggles with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Julianne Moore won an Academy Award playing Alice in the 2014 movie adaptation.



Want to turn your book into the next bestseller? Learn more about self-publishing by downloading our free resource, the Ultimate Guide to a 48 Hour Book.



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