Self-Publishing Success Stories: Christopher Paolini

Christopher Paolini’s best-selling fantasy series came to a conclusion earlier this month with the release of its fourth and final installment, Inheritance, from Alfred A. Knopf. The series, which has sold more than 25 million copies, began as a self-publishing venture when Paolini was still in his teens.

Paolini wrote Eragon at age fifteen and spent the next two years revising and editing it. Paolini’s parents, who ran a small commercial publishing business, decided to throw their entire enterprise behind the book. They printed up several thousand copies and set up a massive book tour during which Paolini gave presentations at schools and bookstores while wearing a medieval storyteller’s costume.

In a 2004 interview with the Guardian, Paolini said of those early days of self-promotion: “I would stand behind a table in my costume talking all day without a break – and would sell maybe 40 books in eight hours if I did really well.”

Now, more than a decade after self-publishing the first Eragon book, Christopher Paolini has made what seems to be a very happy transition to traditional publishing.

So what’s next for Christopher Paolini? In a recent interview in the Washington Post, he said: “I have 20 or 30 books completely plotted out in my mind — mysteries, thrillers, horror, romance, science fiction. You name it.”

Not bad for a kid who started out with a small run of a self-published novel.

Here are some of the factors that contributed to Paolini’s self-publishing success:

Creativity: Paolini dressed up in an attention-grabbing medieval costume when he did appearances and book signings.

Nichecraft: In addition to schools and bookstores, Paolini sold his book at Renaissance Faires—a fantasy-lover’s paradise.

Luck:  Author Carl Hiaasen showed the self-published version of Eragon to his publisher after his stepson found it in a Montana bookstore, read it and loved it.

Hard work: Paolini toured the country tirelessly to promote Eragon, learning the ups and downs of book promotion at a young age.

Strong networks: Paolini’s family gave him their full support, making Eragon a full-time family business before it ever became popular.

A great story: No amount of family support or medieval theatrics could have made Eragon a success if it didn’t resonate with readers. Paolini worked on Eragon for three years before self-publishing, learning the craft of novel writing.

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