Lisa Genova is a success story of a kind that’s likely to become much more common, said Lev Grossman in Time. The 38-year-old Harvard Ph.D. didn’t listen two years ago when an agent told her she would be committing career suicide if she self-published her first novel. Genova had spent two years researching and writing a first-person fictional account of a highly educated woman’s experience with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Every agent and editor she’d contacted had told her its appeal was limited. But she knew that families wrestling with the disease needed the story told. She paid $450 to have the first copies printed, and watched as the word spread. A major publisher soon came calling, and last week, Still Alice became a New York Times best-seller.

Genova had long been interested in memory loss, said Charity Vogel in The Buffalo News. The year she earned her doctorate in neuroscience, her own grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and began declining before her eyes. “It was heartbreaking to watch this disease steal piece after piece of my Nana. But it was also fascinating. There were still pieces of her I could recognize.” Genova chose to create a much younger narrator because the long declines that some victims experience are rarely written about. Sometimes it takes an outsider to reveal an audience where the book industry sees none. “This time last year,” Genova says, “I was selling the book out of the trunk of my car.”