What is your opinion of self-published books? Have you ever read one?
Don’t confuse the books on this list with the unedited, grammatically challenged, poor imitations of other books.
This list is the best of the best, the Greatest Self-Published Books of All Time. This list will change your mind forever on self-publishing. Chances are that you have already read a self-published book without knowing it.
And you will be reading many more in the future. According to Bowker, the official source of International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) in the United States, more than one million books were published in 2017. Two-thirds of them were self-published.
This year as many as 500,000 people will participate in National Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and hundreds of these book projects will end up on Amazon. You’ll buy them for your Kindle.
Why These Books
While I am convinced that there are unpublished masterpieces languishing in total anonymity, a reader can’t fall in love a book they can’t find.
I have been fascinated with the self-publishing model for over 10 years. I have found these books on 4Chan, Reddit, Smashwords, and forums around the internet. These have been shoved to the top through clever marketing, strong fan bases, dumb luck, and simple dogged stubbornness.
I measure the success of these books by number of readers, sales, societal impact, entering the meta of a generation, and my opinion of their merit.
Your responses to this book list will proceed in an orderly manner from “Wow! I didn’t know that was self published” to “Really? You put that on the list? It only has 2 Amazon reviews and one of them is yours!”
A Reason to Read Self-Published Authors
Self-published writers are accessible. I have corresponded with a number of authors on this list. They write back. They are approachable. If you ask questions, they will answer.
Next time you read a self-published book, shoot an email to the author. Tell them that you loved their book. Then leave a review on Amazon. It really helps them bring you more reading material.
Beatrix Potter loved Peter Rabbit but she couldn’t get any publishers interested at first in her “bunny books,” so she published 500 copies of Peter Rabbit in black and white. The rest is history and we are better for it.
The BBC brought these delightful stories to life in the Beatrix Potter Collection.
This narrated animated series follows the books closely and the sound track will have you running the videos in the background just to hear the music. Your kids and grand kids will love them, and so will you.
I first heard of The Martian when it was still a blog, and geeks and nerds like me were talking about the science of “Could this really happen?” Then Weir published the book himself and The Martian started getting a wider audience.
Next thing you know, Matt Damon is Mark Watney and everybody knows about The Martian.
You get extra credit points if you heard about The Martian on Science Friday, or Quirks and Quarks for our Canadian friends.
Fifty Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fan fiction under the title Master of the Universe. James used the pen name Snowqueens Icedragon. Doesn’t that sound like fan fiction?
There are several fan sites with games where the visitor must decide if a particular quote is from Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey.
By the way, Fifty Shades of Grey has 73,000 reviews on Amazon!
Still Alice is the powerful story of a woman falling into early onset Alzheimer’s and her struggle to maintain her self-identity.
The book will leave you emotionally wiped as you suffer with Alice. So far, I have lacked the courage to watch the movie.
Bet you didn’t know this was originally a self-published book with 1st Books Library, which later became AuthorHouse. Maybe you didn’t know it was a book before it was a movie.
The back story on Legally Blonde is a riot. Amanda Brown went to Stanford Law and started writing letters to friends about her observations of the “law school species.“
If you think of Legally Blonde as Brown did, as an “anthropological study,” it will be even funnier.
People are rough on The Celestine Prophecy because there are Mayans at Machu Pichu. Since when do we require accuracy of our grand adventures?
The Celestine Prophecy mixes adventure, philosophy, and a little religion in just the right proportions to make the reader feel “enlightened” afterward.
The book’s nine insights should get you to do a good self-evaluation.
When this book went viral, I was teaching middle school English. My students came to me. “Mr. C., have you seen this book?” they asked.
Every teenager in the country was consumed by Eragon. Why? Because Christopher Paolini was 15 when he wrote this. It is an entertaining read.
If you are of a certain age, you received at least one of these as a wedding gift.
For years, it was one of my go-to cookbooks. Its flourless gingerbread recipe made the house smell wonderful. And for 15 minutes it tasted fabulous. Corn starch will let you down in that regard.
The Joy of Cooking used to be famous for incomplete recipes. Key ingredients like flour would be missing. People used to make errata to fix the recipes.
This book was self-published in 1997 before it was picked up by a commercial publisher.
Kiyosaki has hit the rounds of the TV talk shows. He has even been on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He’s a fascinating guest, but he is not without controversy.
The One You Love is a fast-paced suspense mystery that seems short at about 300 pages. If you like your mysteries with a British London twist, you ought to try this one out.
McGuire self-published Beautiful Disaster. She thought of it as “fluff,” but readers loved it, and it sold. Atria, a division of Simon and Schuster, offered her a two book deal that she couldn’t refuse. Then she went back to self-publishing.
Michael J. Sullivan has a complicated publication history. He began with a small publisher that fell on hard times during the Great Recession. He bought his rights back and then self-published. He had success and was picked up by another publisher, and then another, and then self-published again. Complicated.
Sullivan is a tireless supporter of the self-published writer. You can find him all over the sub-reddit “r/fantasy’ (/u/ michaeljsullivan) where he has a Post Karma of 21.2k and a Comment Karma of 51.8k. Like I said he is active.
Wool was originally self-published before being picked up by Simon and Schuster. Wool was also optioned by 20th Century Fox with Ridley Scott as a producer, but so far nothing has come of that. AMC may be developing Wool into a TV Series.
The Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels mysteries are good reading because Jack is fun and funny, but don’t mix up Whiskey Sour with a sweet, cozy mystery. The bad guy, The Gingerbread Man, dismembers his victims and dumps the bodies.
Did I mention that he intends to make Jack a victim?
This is the least traditional “book” on this list. It is a web serial. It is 1.6M words long. Worm is ranked 152,674 in Global Internet Engagement with the average user staying 5 minutes. His current serial, Ward, is doing even better.
He has 1374 Patreon supporters and it is the barest Patreon page that I have ever seen. No video. No tiers. No extras.
Why is Worm so compelling? Because Wildbow creates the most immersive world ever!!! I am a binge reader.
E.E. Cummings, or should I say e e cummings, made the way poetry looked on the page part of the poem.
When he shopped his poetry around, no one wanted anything to do with the bizarre-looking stuff so he published No Thanks himself and dedicated the book to the 14 publishers who had turned the book down.
The Swann’s Way may be my favorite book on this list. It is the story of Charles Swann’s courtship of Odette de Crecy.
Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham considered Proust the greatest novelist of all time.
Don’t forget the new graphic novel, In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way.
This book went completely viral and stirred up a whirlwind of controversy in its wake. If you can get around the non-standard version of the Christian Trinity, the book is shockingly compelling.
The book’s narrator, Mack, brought his children camping 4 years before the events of The Shack. While rescuing a son from drowning, his daughter Missy goes missing.
Mack finds the Shack as he revisits the scene of his pain and you need to read the rest. There is a twist at the end that leaves you wondering about how “real” the experiences in the Shack were.
I love the how My Blood Approves got published.
Amanda had shopped her books to a lot of agents with no luck. She was short on money, needed to pay the rent, and wanted to go to the Jim Henson Muppet exhibit in Chicago.
So she put My Blood Approves on Smashwords hoping it might make her $300. She made $20k and got a publisher and a multi-book deal.
Upton Sinclair was a pot stirrer. He went after the corrupt business practices of his day with a vengeance.
In The Jungle, he exposed the labor and sanitary practices of the meat-packing industry.
But he saved his best for the journalists of his day. The Brass Check was a powerful indictment of “yellow journalism.“
He wanted to make sure that everyone heard about the “free press,” so he published The Brass Check without a copyright and encouraged people to make copies and spread excerpts around.
Within 4 years, we had our first code of ethics for journalists. If you are interested in the history of the United States, you need to read his books.
The recent movie, The Man Who Saved Christmas, showed perfectly why Dickens had to pay the costs to publish A Christmas Carol himself.
Nicholas Nickelby and the Old Curiosity Shop had been flops and his publisher wasn’t sure that Dickens still had it in him.
He began A Christmas Carol in October 1843, had it published on the 19th of December, and it was sold out by Christmas Eve.
Most of his best books follow A Christmas Carol. It may have saved his career.
When you are an ambitious young Julius Caesar and you have set your eyes on being the first emperor, you need a good PR team.
Caesar wrote the Gallic Wars to remind the Roman people of what a successful general he was and how much loot he sent down to Rome.
He crossed the Rubicon and the rest is “veni, vidi, vici.“
John Milton published Paradise Lost by subscription, which is like a 17th Century version of Kickstarter. He ran ads in local papers describing his project. When the book was published, he included the names of the more than 500 people who subscribed to the book.
Paradise Lost is a contender for my favorite. I own a beautiful “Pocket Edition” that was sold by subscription and printed in 1789. They had larger pockets than we have today.
Rather than linking to the her book, the link provided is to a biography of her that contains many of her illustrations. The book would be a good addition for a homeschooler.
Related: Best Books for Homeschooling Parents
Merian began drawing butterflies in 1660 when she was 13. Then in 1699 she traveled to Surinam with her daughter to study tropical insects. Her art was used by the scientists of Europe, including Linneaus, to classify insects.
Today her art and prints hang in the museums of the world.
This may be the most unique book on the list and it won’t be to everyone’s taste. The Asylum is an interactive novel filled with clues and puzzles to extra content and music.
These books have the best covers. That is the only reason that I downloaded them the first time.
The first one in the series, Nikolas and Company Book 1: The Merman and The Moon Forgotten: A Middle Grade Fantasy Adventure, is free, but buy the set. It costs less than $5.
Nikolas is a super genius kid with a ragtag group of friends. Your kids will find someone to identify with in the group.
Nikolas is working on a invention when he discovers that he is really from the past. He is the new protector of the merfolk and the lunar city Huron.
Renegade is a classic space opera. The characters are beautifully real. The narrative is well-paced. Even the aliens are well-developed.
The book begins with the court-martial and murder of Captain Pantillo, a hero from a long war of survival. His deputy is framed. Then the plot gets rolling with political intrigues and the truth is revealed.
Don’t start this book too late in the day because you will definitely have one of those “I can’t believe its 3 AM. I got to go to bed” situations.
This book needs to be better known. Begin your experience by reading Madson’s bio on her author page. You will immediately like her.
We Ride the Storm follows three characters in very different circumstances as the Kisian Empire falls.
As I read We Ride the Storm, I found myself wondering about the choices that I would have made under the circumstances.
The best part of the book is how the magic system operates. Magic is very subtle and powerful. This is not a world where magic is thrown around carelessly with a “swish and flick.” This is a deeper magic that needs to be experienced.
This is an example of a deep sleeper in the self-publishing world.
When I found this book several months ago, it had been languishing on Amazon for 3 years. I would never have found it if Fairbairn hadn’t released it on Smashwords in January.
I regularly look at the recent releases on Smashwords. They make it easy and there aren’t so many new books that they sink into the abyss, like on Amazon.
I liked the cover so I tried it. I loved it.
The setting is a future where humanity has been exploring space for decades and have found nothing. Nothing, until a space liner jumps through a wormhole and comes across a religious, militaristic society that will seem familiar.
As the plot unfolds, the reader begins to realize that there are multiple time lines that pile up on one another (instead of the more usual alternate timelines) creating depth. These timeline hints give character insights that will leave the reader wanting more of this series.
Sandovici’s Dogs With Bagels is a book that deserves a wider audience.
The Main Character, Illiana, is a disappointment to her immigrant parents. Illiana wants the luxury that she sees around her in New York City.
Her mother, Maria, will not accept help from anyone, especially her husband. Maria is nostalgic for her past in Romania, which she never wanted to leave.
This is the story of broken people coping with life in the best way that they know. Read it.