Amanda Hocking's story isn't just interesting because, at 26 years old, she's a millionaire from selling eBooks. Her tale is also fascinating because it remains a work in progress. Success brings new challenges, one of which is often defending that success. Something Hocking is having to do.
Hocking, a self-proclaimed unicorn enthusiast and Muppet activist, writes about vampires, zombies, and yes, romance. According to reports, just one year ago, the Minnesota-based writer was "impoverished," "living paycheck to paycheck," and the manuscripts she sent out were rejected by publishers all over New York. Like many authors, Hocking turned to self-publishing, creating a store on Amazon. She set the prices of her work relatively low — 99¢ to $2.99 — and for every $2.99 book she sells, she keeps 70%. Hocking tells USA Today: "To me, that was a price point that made sense for what I would be willing to spend on an e-book… I use iTunes a lot, and it's 99 cents and $1.29 a song."
Between her blog, Twitter, Facebook and word of mouth, Hocking's stories caught on; she sold 100,000 of her works in December, and over 10 months she's sold more than 900,000. She's about to buy a house, she's getting a lot of press, and Elle magazine is going to profile her. Cue the inevitable backlash.
Eli James of Novelr, a blog dedicated to Internet fiction, writes,
I'm surprised by the number of people who — after getting used to the idea that Amanda Hocking is making a bucketload of money via the Kindle store — come around to complain that her writing is lousy. Or that she needs an editor. Or that she needs ‘more work'.
Interesting, since she was rejected by major publishers, and even last year, Amazon reviewers were saying things like her work is "rough around the edges" and that her plots are "annoyingly simple." Still, something is working — even though one paper called her a failed author, she's clearly not; and it's strange that just because she's a popular writer, folks are expecting her to be an excellent writer. Is Britney Spears an excellent singer? Is Jersey Shore an excellent show? It doesn't matter. People like what they like, and Hocking knows that her experience is not a typical one for self-published authors. In a blog post dated yesterday, she writes:
…Just because I sell a million books self-publishing, it doesn't mean everybody will. In fact, more people will sell less than 100 copies of their books self-publishing than will sell 10,000 books. I don't mean that to be mean, and just because a book doesn't sell well doesn't mean it's a bad book. It's just the nature of the business.
By all accounts, [another writer] has done the same things I did, even writing in the same genre and pricing the books low. And he's even a better writer than I am. So why am I selling more books than he is? I don't know.
That's the truth of it. Nobody knows what makes one book a bestseller. Publishers and agents like to pretend they do, but if they did, they would only publish best sellers, and they don't.
It's ridiculous, to some extent, that Hocking has to admit her success is unusual. What does it matter? She created something people liked, the end. The questions of why and how seem to insinuate that there must be some magic formula, since a young! woman! from Minnesota! isn't "supposed" to be successful. Of course, some of the media attention probably is related to the fact that she is young, and a woman, and writes about paranormal things, since the world would love to find the "next" JK Rowling/Stephenie Meyer. (Hocking just might be the one: Her trilogy was optioned for a film.)
And so Hocking's story is not about a rejected writer "terrifying" the big publishing houses, or how writing on the internet can maybe make you rich. It's a story about one woman's persistence and well-earned success, and whether she can sustain her winning streak or hit new heights is a chapter yet to be written. But as Eli James puts it:
People are buying Amanda Hocking ebooks because they're cheap, they're easy, and they're good enough to read. And that's the metric that matters, really, because that's how disruption works: it almost always begins with ‘good enough.‘
Mega Success Story: How An Unknown 'Indie' Authoress Made Millions From eBooks [Daily Mail]
Self-Published Author Amanda Hocking Makes Millions From eBook Sales [HuffPo]
Good Enough Is How Disruption Happens [Novelr]
Authors Catch Fire With Self-Published e-Books [USA Today]
My Blood Approves [Amanda Hocking's Blog]