As I read this recent New York Times article it brought to mind a number of self-published books that became surprisingly successful . The subject of this particular NY Times article is the cult classic novel Youth in Revolt, by C. D. Payne.
Rejected by publishers, the author went ahead and had 3,000 copies printed by Aivia Press in 1993 and distributed them to libraries and book stores around Berkeley, California.
Although he wasn’t terribly successful in generating sales, a copy found its way to an editor’s desk at Doubleday who thought it was hilarious and wonderful; they published a hardcover edition in 1995 which became popular enough to be considered for a television series.
The original self-published version of this comedic book about teenage angst has become quite collectible, and is currently priced in the $250-400 range at several book sites.
A motion picture based on the book was released early this month, and the film has already reached 15 million in ticket sales and been well reviewed by critics. It is again under consideration for a possible TV series, so there is bound to be another resurgence of interest in this book.
If you saw the wonderful foodie movie Julie & Julia based on the book by Julie Powell, you may have picked up on the fact that Irma Rombauer, contemporary of Julia Child and author of The Joy of Cooking, had to publish that classic American cookbook on her own.
She had 3,000 copies printed by A. C. Clayton in 1931; they had never even published a book before. The illustrations were done by Rombauer’s daughter.
Her books sold like hotcakes, and soon publisher Bobbs-Merrill decided her book was a winner and published it in 1936. They issued several revised editions right up until 1975.
It was picked up by Scribner in 1997 and published in its Sixth Revised form. The 75th Anniversary edition was issued in 2006 by Simon & Schuster/Scribner. Rombauer’s book became the icon of American cooking, and there have been eight editions instructing us in kitchens across America from the Depression Era to the present.
Visit the online home of “Joy of Cooking” for photos of each edition at http://www.thejoykitchen.com/about.lasso Rare copies of the self-published first edition of Joy of Cooking can sell for up to $4000 and beyond.
Another best seller which began as a self-published run was Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield.
He had 3,000 copies printed in softcover by Satori Publishing in 1993 and began selling them out of the trunk of his car. The mystical story of a journey to discover and understand nine spiritual insights which appeared on an ancient manuscript in Peru, the story captivated readers.
After becoming hugely successful by word of mouth, it was picked up by Warner Books, published in hardcover in 1995, and became America’s number one bestseller in 1996. Copies of the first printing Satori softcover edition are currently priced on-line from $500-$2500, and more if they are signed, so if you bought one out of Redfield’s trunk, or have come across one of those early signed copies since, you are in luck!
There are many more writers who found success through printing their own work that publishing houses didn’t like or were afraid to print, including such famous authors as Upton Sinclair, D. H. Lawrence, and Walt Whitman.
So if you come across a writer selling books out of the car boot, you may want to take a second look …it could turn out to be a rare success, and a rare original edition of the next big hit.