If you self-publish, and do a proper job of marketing, your book may not only achieve success in its own right, but may be picked up by a major publishing house. (Ironically, it may even be published by one of the houses that has previously sent you a rejection slip.)
All of these books have one thing in common - their authors did not simply publish and then lean back and enjoy their success. They marketed, pitched, and sold the heck out of their books.
And they continued to write.
Here are a few best-selling books whose authors did not give up on them.
Eragon is a young adult fantasy series written by Christopher Paolini, who began writing it at the age of 15. Paolini's parents published the book (they owned a small press), after which Paolini spent a year traveling around the United States promoting his novel. The book was discovered by Carl Hiaasen, who got it re-published by Alfred A. Knopf. The re-published version was released on August 26, 2003. Eragon was an instant hit, selling over a million copies within the first five months. The series has sold 33.5 million copies worldwide.
The Celestine Prophecy was self-published by James Redfield after being repeatedly rejected by publishers. He sold 100,000 copies of the novel out of the trunk of his Honda before Warner Books agreed to publish it. In spite of drawing fire for its historical absurdities (Mayas in Peru, writing in Aramaic?), the book has sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
After 10 years of rejections, Michael J. Sullivan quit writing altogether. Then, one day, he sat down and wrote the Riyria Revelation fantasy series. He still couldn't find a publisher, so Sullivan self-published through Ridan Publishing, a company started by his wife. His sales were so impressive that he re-solicited mainstream publishers, and this time received several offers. The Riyria Revelations has now been translated into fourteen languages. In 2012 io9 named him one of the "Most Successful Self-Published Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors."