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Self-Publishing Success Stories—E. Lynn Harris and Lisa Genova

New York Times Bestsellers Self-Started Their Novel Successes


book jacket of Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Originally self-published, Still Alice by Lisa Genova became a New York Times bestseller

Pocket Books
At times in their respective careers, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were self-published. But what's the difference between being a successful self-published author and someone with a pile of books in their attic? The careers of Amanda Hocking and of the following bestselling authors reveal hints to their success.

Successful self-published author E. Lynn Harris:
A storyteller creates very visible book sales

In the days before the DIY-publishing business boomed with options, the late E. Lynn Harris self-published his first book. An IBM employee based in Atlanta, he wrote a novel like he himself wanted to read, about a gay, African American man much like himself in a vibrant, young, middle class social circle, "a body of diverse characters, a group of friends and family members who admirably demonstrate a continuity of love and support." (Library Journal)

Unable to find a traditional publisher, but believing in his own power as a storyteller, Harris had copies of the book, Invisible Life printed through a vanity press, sold them himself to local bookstores and marketed them in an ingenious way.

Harris brought copies to beauty parlors in and around Atlanta that were frequented by African American women, who he deemed as his target audience. He made it clear that these copies were not to leave the beauty parlors, and his strategy worked: the captive audience of women got so hooked on his novel that they left the beauty parlors and went right into the bookstores that stocked his book so they could finish reading the story.

Harris had sold 10,000 of Invisible Life when a sales representative from Bantam Doubleday Dell heard about his book. As a result, Anchor Books published Harris's next book, Just As I Am as an original and reprinted Invisible Life as a trade paperback.

Harris went on to become a New York Times bestselling novelist many times over.

Successful self-published author Lisa Genova:
Deep passion for and knowledge about her subject matter

Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, was inspired by the decline of her smart, capable, beloved grandmother to find out what it felt like to get Alzheimer's disease. A neuroscientist, she was motivated not only by personal connection, but also by professional curiosity to drill deeply into the devastating toll of the disease.

But a novel about Alzheimer's didn't seem to be on any publisher's must-acquire fiction list, and failing to secure a traditional publishing deal, Genova self-published. Her goal, according to her self-publishing service (iUniverse), was to “get an enthusiastic and sizable audience for Still Alice.

Genova's research on the book stood her in good stead, as she'd made many connections to those organizations, professionals, patients and their families who were indeed interested in reading about the subject and they supported her efforts to get the word out.

Self-published authors can follow her lead (most of it applies to traditionally-published books, as well): “Get a website. Network online. Write your own press release and post it free at www.pr.com. If you can start to feel the vibration of a buzz and you have the money, you might want to consider hiring a book publicist to assist you in your efforts. Say yes whenever possible. Be tenacious. This is likely to be a marathon, not a sprint. Be sincerely grateful to everyone who helps you on your journey, because it will take a village to raise a self-published book. And remember to enjoy it all!

After ten months of building awareness of her book and generating sales, Genova secured an agent and a traditional book publishing deal. She said, "I think the attention and readership the book was able to attain as a self-published title only added to its value when Pocket Books and other houses were considering its acquisition. Still Alice would not be on the New York Times Bestseller List today if I had not first self published it... It might just be sitting in a drawer instead."

For more insights on self-publishing success, check out Jared Koch's self-publishing success story, and more insights from self-published authors.

Should you self-publish? Read this to help you decide.

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