New Self-Publishing Success Stories

New success stories in the news: this comes from an article in Publisher’s Weekly about new self-published writers who have hit the big time.  Note: these are all either non-fiction or youth-related books, though fiction for the adult market can have success as well, as noted in the review of Futureproof by N. Frank Daniels.

On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman

This book is the exception, not the rule, as Nancy Tillman was able to sell 35,000 copies (not a typo) of her book before finding a publisher.  Getting a publisher was a virtual inevitability.  The book is expertly designed, as Tillman is an experienced gift-card illustrator.  There is nothing to differentiate this book from children’s books released by major publishers.  The book was marketed through the gift market (her field), so she had a ready-made marketing platform to sell the book.  Tillman has since gotten a three-book deal with Macmillan.

The Hoopster by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

Kind of a young-adult series in the model of the movie, “Hoop Dreams.”  The first book in the series was bought in 2002 and has led to a trilogy and spin-offs – published by Hyperion, a division of Disney.  A California teacher, the book spread through the California school system, leading to its popularity. Like Nancy Tillman listed above, the author’s own profession played a part in how the book was distributed and its eventual success.

The Land of Elyon: The Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman

It is unsurprising if Harry Potter-type books become self-published success stories, just as Da Vinci Code type books (The Didymus Contingency by Jeremy Robinson has sold 5000 copies and counting) have also been very popular.  When a book becomes a phenomenon it’s easier to market a book to a prospective market.  What makes Jeremy Robinson’s books and The Elyon series similar is the quality of the book design.  As the editor who bought the book said, “You never would have known that it was self-published.”  Of course, the book has to be good to catch on, but this is a vital component.  The first book was picked up by Scholastic and the series has now sold over a million copies.

The book, Erec Rex, followed a similar pattern – a Harry-Potter-style book that was listed as a Border’s Original Voices pick.  The book was picked up by Simon and Schuster for an eight-book series.

Beowulf by Gareth Hinds

This is an interesting case because you have to be careful of copyright issues when using another writer’s source material.  The success of this book is proof of how getting press coverage for a book is vital – and why sending press releases is a vital part of book marketing.  Here’s an example of how using book press releases could have aided this book.  The story is that a teacher was using Hinds’ Beowulf to teach the text to students: an interesting story and something a journalist might want to cover.  So it’s not enough to just release a press release saying, “This book has been released,” but any unique stories surrounding the book’s publication.

Unlike these other books, which were submitted to publishers, the comic-rendering of Beowulf was discovered via an article in the Boston Globe.  So there is more to book marketing to just getting reviews, as articles of this type can be just as useful, if not more so.

Meanwhile by Jason Shiga is another comic-based self-publishing success story – a Choose Your Own Adventure-type comic.  Comics are more expensive to print, but they do have a better time finding readers, as they do not have the self-publishing stigma of other genres.

The Unusual Mind of Vincent Shadow by Tim Kehoe, illus. by Mike Wohnoutka

Again, the success of this book shows how the author’s profile is enormously important to marketing a book.  Book marketing isn’t just about the words within the pages of the cover, but about how marketable the author is as well.  This story about a child toy-inventor has greater credibility because the author is a toy inventor himself.  That gives the book a story beyond the story and a way for the book to get press.  “Write what you know” isn’t just a component of writing fiction, but it helps in book marketing as well.  The mainstream re-release of the book will come out in 2009.