The 35 Best-Selling Self-Published Books of All Time

Sarah Rexford
December 08, 2023 | 8 mins

Did you know that some of the best-selling self-published books entered the scene as early as the 1600s? John Milton’s famous book, Paradise Lost, started as close to a self-published book as was possible in those days. 

Today, there are many best-selling, self-published books. If you follow the right steps, your next manuscript could land on this list.

Bonus: when you choose to self-publish, you can majorly speed up the publishing process, not to mention increase your author salary

So, what kind of self-published books sell well? Romance, science fiction, and fantasy stand as some of the best-selling self-published books of all time. 

That said, some self-published authors, such as Kim Michele Richardson and Adam Wallace, made it onto the New York Times bestseller list for genres outside of the typical bestsellers. 

Ready to learn from some of the best-selling self-published books and level-up your own writing? Read this list of the best-selling self-published books of all time. 

35 Best-selling self-published books

Let’s dive straight into it! 

1. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Best Self-Published Books - The Book Woman Of Troublesome Creek

This book follows Cussy Mary on her journey to help lovingly educate the Appalachian community.

Genre: Historical Fiction 
Author: Kim Michele Richardson
Year published: 2019

2. Sense and Sensibility

Best Self-Published Books - Sense And Sensibility

Jane Austen took her debut novel into her own hands, paving the way for future authors to as well. 

Genre: Historical Fiction 
Author: Jane Austen
Year published: 1811

3. How To Catch A Unicorn

Best Self-Published Books - How To Catch A Unicorn

This fantasy children’s picture book spent 20 weeks on the bestseller list.

Genre: Picture Book, Children’s
Author: Adam Wallace
Year published: 2019

4. The Tale of Peter Rabbit 

Best Self-Published Books - The Tale Of Peter Rabbit

Rather than sell her creative rights, Potter chose to self-publish her now best-selling book.

Genre: Children’s 
Author: Beatrix Potter
Year published: 1901

5. Legally Blonde

Best Self-Published Books - Legally Blonde

This work belongs in the list of best-selling self-published books. While Brown began writing it while at Stanford Law School, she had no idea just how much audiences would love it.

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Author: Amanda Brown
Year published: 2021

6. The Martian

Best Self-Published Books - The Martian

Now a major motion picture, this novel started as a blog starring Mark Watney, a man who had to learn how to survive while stranded on Mars.

Genre: Science Fiction
Author: Andy Weir
Year published: 2011

7. The Cleaner

Best Self-Published Books - The Cleaner

The Cleaner started as a traditionally published book. When Dawson decided to take matters into his own hands, his novel expanded into a thrilling crime series.

Genre: Crime
Author: Mark Dawson
Year published: 2013

8. Until I Met Her

Best Self-Published Books - Until I Met Her

This famous crime novel is about a famous crime novelist…feel a bit like Inception yet? Keep turning pages until the very end and prepare to stay on the edge of your seat.

Genre: Physiological Thriller
Author: Natalie Barelli
Year published: 2017

9. Eragon

Best Self-Published Books - Eragon

This beloved book, which needs no introduction, is named after its young protagonist. Known as one of the best-selling self-published books, its hero and the exciting adventures of the dragon keep readers returning to the story again and again. 

Genre: YA fantasy 
Author: Christopher Paolini 
Year published: 2002

10. Humankind: Changing the World One Small Act At a Time

Best Self-Published Books - Humankind

Based on Brad’s story walking his wife, Mia, through leukemia, this book highlights the selflessness in humankind.

Genre: Motivational Self-Help 
Author: Brad Aronson
Year published: 2020

11. Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Best Self-Published Books - Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Kiyosaki self-published his breakthrough finance book. To date, it is said to have sold over 32 million copies. 

Genre: Business, Finance 
Author: Robert Kiyosaki
Year published: 1997

12. A Naked Singularity

Best Self-Published Books - A Naked Singularity

Rejected one too many times, this debut novel went down the self-publishing road. Today, it stands among the best-selling self-published books and even landed on the screen, starring John Boyega, Olivia Cooke, and Bill Skarsgård.

Genre: Legal Thriller 
Author: Sergio De La Pava
Year published: 2008

13. The Joy of Cooking

Best Self-Published Books - The Joy Of Cooking

This cookbook is loved by so many that it continues to be released in new editions nearly a century after its first publication. 

Genre: Cookbooks 
Author: Irma Rombauer
Year published: 1931

14. Still Alice

Best Self-Published Books - Still Alice

This debut novel covers the fictional story of a 50-year-woman battling early onset Alzheimer's as a Harvard professor. 

Genre: Medical Fiction 
Author: Lisa Genova 
Year published: 2007

15. Building a Winning Career 

Best Self-Published Books - Building A Winning Career

Cowan shares strategies to find success and avoid pitfalls for upper-level professionals seeking new jobs.

Genre: Business 
Author: William Cowan
Year published: 2021

16. Someone Has To Be The Most Expensive, Why Not Make It You?

Best Self-Published Books - Someone Has To Be The Most Expensive, Why Not Make It You

Griffiths distills 35 years of his journey as an entrepreneur into his best seller. It is one of the best-selling self-published books on business. Be sure to add this one to your list.

Genre: Business, Small Business
Author: Andrew Griffiths
Year published: 2020

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17. The Shack

Best Self-Published Books - The Shack

Young’s novel shares the story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips as he walks through the aftermath of his daughter’s abduction. 

Genre: Literary Fiction
Author: William P. Young
Year published: 2007

18. No Thanks

Best Self-Published Books - No Thanks

After 14 rejections, Cummings and his mother decided to self-publish. Now recognized as one of the classic writers for his experimentation and writing prowess, it's just too bad those 14 publishers said no.

Genre: Poetry
Author: E. E. Cummings
Year published: 1935

19. Paradise Lost

Best Self-Published Books - Paradise Lost

Beloved for over three centuries, readers still study Paradise Lost today.

Genre: Poem
Author: John Milton
Year published: 1667

20. Wool

Best Self-Published Books - Wool

Howey’s dystopia takes place in a silo but ironically, is incredibly gripping. He self-published the novel but it garnered so much attention that Simon & Schuster offered him a traditional book deal. Now it’s a series on Apple TV+ starring Rebecca Ferguson as his protagonist, Juliette Nichols. 

Genre: Dystopia  
Author: Hugh Howey
Year published: 2011

21. Fifty Shades of Grey

Best Self-Published Books - Fifty Shades Of Grey

James self-published in 2011, used Facebook to connect with her fans, and later landed a traditional book deal. Her story covers the relationship between literature student Anastasia Steele and entrepreneur Christian Grey.

Genre: Erotica 
Author: E.L. James
Year published: 2011

22. The One You Love

Best Self-Published Books - The One You Love

Pilkington’s bestseller includes a bloodied body, a stalker, and a horrific secret. 

Genre: Suspense, Thriller  
Author: Paul Pilkington
Year published: 2011

23. The One You Fear

Best Self-Published Books - The One You Fear

Just one year later, Pilkington released the second book in his series. This sequel continues the story of his protagonist, Emma Holden. Also a bestseller, his entire series belongs among the best-selling self-published books.

Genre: Suspense, Thriller  
Author: Paul Pilkington
Year published: 2012

24. Beautiful Disaster

Best Self-Published Books - Beautiful Disaster

Young college girl, Abby Abernathy, meets her opposite in every way: tattooed Travis Maddox. This young adult contemporary fiction is now a major motion picture. 

Genre: YA Fiction 
Author: Jamie McGuire
Year published: 2011

25. A Christmas Carol

Best Self-Published Books - A Christmas Carol

This classic story stood the test of time and it's safe to say that it's still a Christmas favorite.

Genre: Holiday Fiction
Author: Charles Dickens
Year published: 1843

26. A Lume Spento

Best Self-Published Books - A Lume Spento

Ezra Pound committed much of the little money he had to publishing his poems.

Genre: Poetry
Author: Ezra Pound
Year published: 1908

27. Insects of Surinam

Best Self-Published Books - Insects Of Surinam

Maria Sibylla Merian self-funded her entire book, and her daughters helped on the massive project: detailed illustrations of the metamorphosis of a butterfly.

Genre: Nonfiction, academic
Author: Maria Sibylla Merian
Year published: 1705

28. The Brass Check

Best Self-Published Books - The Brass Check

Sinclair's journalistic work inspired new laws protecting factory workers. However, he published The Brass Check with no copyright to encourage the message to spread and bring awareness.

Genre: Journalism
Author: Upton Sinclair
Year published: 1919

29. Leaves of Grass

Best Self-Published Books - Leaves Of Grass

Whitman devoted himself to the overall aesthetic of his book, including: binding, the design of his poetry on the page, and all the other details he could.

Genre: Poetry
Author: Walt Whitman
Year published: 1855

30. People, Places, and Things

Best Self-Published Books - People, Places, And Things

Published by Stephen King's brother's very own printing press on New Year's Day, 1960, this is a collection of short stories. Since it never made it to the big press, there are only a few copies today.

Genre: Short story
Authors: Stephen King and Chris Chesley
Year published: 1960

31. What Color Is Your Parachute?

Best Self-Published Books - What Color Is Your Parachute

Bolles originally self-published his book of advice for job-seekers. To date, it has sold over 10 million copies.

Genre: Self-Help
Author: Richard N. Bolles
Year published: 1970, commercially published in 1972

32. Swann’s Way

Best Self-Published Books - Swann'S Way

Not to be deterred by rejections, Proust took the financial investment upon himself in order to publish his book. It's a good thing he didn't give up, because this novel established him as one of the top voices of the 1900s.

Genre: Classic Literature, Fiction
Author: Marcel Proust
Year published: 1913

33. Mrs Dalloway 

Best Self-Published Books - Mrs. Dalloway

Known as Woolf's best novel, she published the story by starting her very own press (now an imprint of Penguin Random House).

Genre: Literary Fiction
Author: Virginia Woolf
Year published: 1925

34. Theft of Swords

Best Self-Published Books - Theft Of Swords

Hundreds of rejections in, Sullivan finally gave up his traditional publishing dream. Instead, he wrote without the pressure of seeking representation. He went on to self-publish and then signed a six-figure traditional publishing contract.

Genre: Fantasy
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Year published: 2011

35. Double Persephone

Best Self-Published Books - Double Persephone

Long before Atwood made a name for herself, she chose to self-publish a collection of poetry. While most readers still associate Margaret Atwood with The Handmaid's Tale, Double Persephone won the E.J. Pratt medal.

Genre: Poetry
Author: Margaret Atwood
Year published: 1961

What is the average book sales for a self-published author?

The truth is, there is no average number.

If you conduct a quick Google search on the above question, you'll find that average sales fall to about 250 books per self-published author. However, it's crucial to take into account that self-published authors earn much higher royalties than traditionally published authors.

For help building a standout marketing plan and creating a good estimate on your projected book sales, check out our book royalties calculator and 11 book launch ideas.

These ideas will help you market your book to the best audience. Our royalties calculator will help you estimate how much you'll earn as a writer!

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