Five famous books you probably didn’t know were self-published and the visionary authors who created them. 

There’s an old myth that sometimes still goes around about self-published books. It says that self-published books aren’t as good as books that were published by a traditional publishing house. However, I am here to tell you that that is not true. The true worth of a book lies in the quality of the book and the effect that it has on its reading audience—not who published it. In fact, some of our culture’s most popular books were originally self-published. 

Let me introduce you to five successful self-published authors and their very famous books.

The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer

American author Irma S. Rombauer spent her married years as a housewife and hostess, but she began work on her book as a way to cope with the loss of her husband from suicide and to provide an income for herself. 

A year later, in 1931, she self-published The Joy of Cooking: A Compilation of Reliable Recipes with a Casual Culinary Chat, containing recipes and her thoughts on cooking, as well as illustrations created by her daughter. The book, later shortened to Joy of Cooking, turned her into a national celebrity and allowed her and her children to live comfortably. 

Joy of Cooking has had eight editions, sold more than 18 million copies and, all these years later, is still the most popular cookbook in the United States.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

American poet, journalist and government clerk Walt Whitman wrote the poetry collection Leaves of Grass and self-published it in 1855.

After Whitman’s boss read Leaves of Grass, he was fired from his government job, which forced him to return to journalism for a time. The poetry collection was also labeled by many critics as sensual and obscene, which caused it to be banned in a number of places, including the city of Boston and Wanamaker’s department store. However, the poetry collection sold well.

Originally containing 12 poems spanning 95 pages, Leaves of Grass had more than six editions during Whitman’s lifetime. This last edition contained nearly 400 poems. 

Today, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is considered one of the most important and influential collections of American poetry ever written. 

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

English author and conservationist Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated one of the most beloved children’s books of all time, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Recounting young Peter Rabbit’s adventures in Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden, Potter originally self-published the book in 1901.

Throughout her life, Beatrix Potter wrote 30 books, including her 23 popular children’s books; however, she also understood the power of merchandising. She designed toys, board games, wallpaper, baby blankets and other items for sale based on her books.  

Since its publication in 1901, The Tale of Peter Rabbit has sold 45 million copies, been translated into 36 languages and been adored by generations of children. 

What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles

American author, speaker and clergyman Richard N. Bolles originally self-published the career advice book What Color Is Your Parachute? in 1970. The book appeared on the The New York Times bestseller list for more than a decade and became a must-have for generations of jobseekers and career changers.

For decades, Bolles updated the book once a year. He also produced spinoff What Color Is Your Parachute? books on different topics and for various audiences. However, there was no topping the original. 

What Color Is Your Parachute? has sold more than 10 million copies and been translated into 22 languages.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

British author and former TV executive E. L. James was so enamored of the Twilight series that she began to write fan fiction she posted online. But after rewriting the material as original work, which allowed her the right to the characters, she self-published her work as the erotic romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey in 2011. 

Fifty Shades of Grey was turned into a movie of the same name with Universal Pictures, which grossed $571 million at the box office and went on to have two sequels.

To date, E. L. James has sold more than 125 million copies of her books worldwide. 

Self-Published Authors Today

If you’d like to share your writing with the world, there’s nothing that can hold you back. Today, some self-published authors choose to publish their books and retain complete control over them now and forever, while others choose to self-publish their books first before looking for another publisher to broaden their audience down the line. Either way, self-publishing works!

Dudley Court Press

Dudley Court Press works with writers like you every day. As a full-service, hybrid publishing house, we help thoughtful people write their books and become successful published authors. 

Are you interested in Self-Publishing, but could use some assistance. Check out our Assisted Self-Publishing Program

Also, if you have self-published your book and wonder if you’ve got it right, ask us about our Self-Published Book Assessment. For more information, including about DCP’s programs for writers including Writers’ Sprint, Memoir Writing Made Easy and Aspiring Author to Published Pro, please get in touch at