At some point in our lives, we’ve all been told to give up on our dreams. Whether by a well-meaning family member or a spiteful high school bully, the message is always the same: you’re not good enough, and you’ll never amount to anything. But what if I told you that people out there have made their wildest dreams come true, despite being told they never would? Let me introduce you to 5 world-famous authors who started as unknown self-published authors but are now with big mainstream publishing companies.
- J.K. Rowling
We all know her as the author of the Harry Potter series, one of the most successful book franchises of all time. But before she was a household name, Rowling was a struggling single mother on welfare living in Edinburgh, Scotland. She spent evenings writing the first Harry Potter book to make ends meet while her young daughter slept beside her. When she was finally finished, Rowling submitted her manuscript to 12 different publishers and was rejected by each. Undeterred, she persisted and found a small independent publisher willing to take a chance on her novel. The rest, as they say, is history.
- Stephen King
Nowadays, Stephen King is one of the most recognizable names in horror fiction. But when he first wrote Carrie—a story about a girl with telekinetic powers who exacts revenge on her bullies—he couldn’t find a single publisher interested in it. So he did what any determined writer would do: he bought some blank paper and published it himself under the pen name Richard Bachman. Carrie sold more than 400,000 copies and was made into a movie starring Sissy Spacek and John Travolta. Not too shabby for a self-published book!
- Mark Twain
Most people know Mark Twain as the author of beloved classics like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But Twain got his start as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River before eventually turning to writing as a full-time professional. His first two books—The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and The Adventures of Captain Stern Knowledge—were commercial flops and earned him very little money. Undeterred, Twain persevered and became one of the most celebrated authors in American history.
- Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath is best known for her novel The Bell Jar, which chronicles the descent into the mental illness of its protagonist, Esther Greenwood. But before she succeeded with that book, Plath published her first novel, The Colossus, under a pseudonym because she didn’t think it was good enough to be published under her name. It wasn’t until after her death that The Colossus was republished under Plath’s real name and became widely available to readers. Today, it’s considered an essential work of 20th-century literature.
- Anne Rice
Anne Rice is best known for writing Interview with the Vampire, which tells the story of Louis de Pointe du Lac, an 18th-century Vampire aristocrat. Before she wrote that novel, Rice had already published two other commercial failures. Determined to make it as an author, Rice kept writing, eventually finding success with Interview with the Vampire. She has published over 30 novels since then, many of which have been adapted into movies or television shows.
As you can see from these examples, never giving up on your dreams can lead to amazing things–even if it doesn’t happen overnight. So if you’re feeling discouraged because your goal seems out of reach, remember these five authors who started just like you–unknown and without any prospects–and went on to change the literary world forever. Who knows? Maybe one day, your name will be added to this list too!