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From car trunks to store shelves to Amazon

The greatest self-publishing phenomenon in recent Canadian history is undoubtedly The Wealthy Barber, which financial consultant David Chilton began selling out of the trunk of his car 20 years ago. Still a fixture on Canadian bestseller lists, the book has sold three million copies in Canada and the United States for Chilton's company, Financial Awareness Corp. of Kitchener, Ont.

More out of desperation than choice, author Terry Fallis decided to self-publish his first novel, The Best Laid Plans , after failing to interest any literary agents. Achieving modest success distributing it for free in the form of podcasts, Fallis ultimately made out a $4,000 (U.S.) cheque to the print-on-demand service iUniverse in Bloomington, Ind., to produce bound copies. The breakthrough came when The Best Laid Plans was nominated for the 2008 Leacock Medal for Humour, which it went on to win.

This year's international self-published darling is Lisa Genova, a Harvard-educated neuroscientist who went the in-demand route after a failed campaign to interest any agents or publishers in Still Alice , an Alzheimer's-themed novel. Deciding to publish with iUniverse, she marketed it through social networks, including the Alzheimer's Association, earning respectable sales on Amazon. Ultimately picked up by Simon & Schuster, it was officially published this January and spent 14 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.

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