Tuesday June 19, 2012
Amanda Hocking: A success story
By ELIZABETH TAI
A new survey reveals that most self-publishing writers don’t earn much. So how did Amanda Hocking earn millions?
TO MOST self-publishing e-book authors, Amanda Hocking is a hero. The 27-year-old’s meteoric rise from an unknown, struggling author to bestselling millionaire writer courted by big publishing houses is well documented on the Internet.
In 2010, Hocking uploaded her first e-book – My Blood Approves – to Amazon.com, and then later to Smashwords.com and Barnes and Nobles. She started selling a few copies on the first day, but by January the next year, she had sold over 100,000 e-books. She hadn’t expected that success at all since she was new to the e-publishing phenomenon.
“I was ecstatic. At first, I was taking screen shots of my Amazon.com sales page if I sold, like, 30 books in a day. I slowly started selling more and more books each day, and things got pretty crazy. It was fun,” says Hocking, who is based in Minnesota, US, via e-mail.
Big publishers paid attention. Hocking ended up signing with St Martin’s Press, for a US$2mil (RM6.4mil) four-book deal. The first book of the Watersong series, Wake, will be released in August. St Martin’s Press and Pan Macmillian also bought her three-book Trylle Trilogy, which she had previously self-published. The trilogy, which was recently released in print, reached the USA Today and The New York Times bestseller lists, and was also optioned for a film by Media Rights Capital. Apparently, District 9 screenwriter Terri Tatchell may be adapting the books for the silver screen.
As an author, Hocking has made it beyond her wildest dreams.
But when asked about the secret to her success, Hocking says that she has no idea.
“I try to write books that I think people will enjoy, and be entertained by. I think that’s the best anyone can do,” she says.
Although she may be in the dark about why she ended up selling millions of e-books, one thing is obvious: Hocking is a savvy businesswoman. Much was made about how she turned down a higher advance from Amazon.com to ink a deal with St Martin’s Press. In various interviews, Hocking has said that she believed that St Martin’s Press would do a better job of getting get her books into brick and plaster bookstores.
“For me to be a billion-dollar author, I need to have people buying my books at (ubiquitous American department store chain) Wal-Mart,” she said in an interview with The New York Times (Storyseller, June 17, 2011).
She is thus a rare author who can pick and choose who to publish with in a field where thousands – if not tens of thousands – of authors are clamouring for attention.
Reactions to her “going traditional” were mixed, but Hocking believes that most were excited for her.
“I know there were a few self-published authors who thought I was making a mistake, and that I was a ‘sell-out’ but I never said that I would only be a self-published author, and I think I made the best choice for me and my career,” she says.
After all, it was a lot of work publishing your own work, says Hocking. “I knew that going with a traditional publisher I would have a whole team of people to help me, and to be along with me for the ride. I also wanted to get my books out to people who don’t have e-readers.”
Hocking says that she started writing stories as soon as she learned how to write: “I spent the majority of my childhood sitting in my room writing stories, telling stories, or acting out stories in my backyard. I think it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
She was quite disciplined at it too – setting up a daily writing schedule and writing whether she felt like it or not. By the time she was 17, Hocking had written her first novel.
She began sending query letters to literary agents immediately, but all she received were rejections. Yet today, Hocking is rather matter-of-fact about the whole thing.
“I realise that the book I wrote when I was 17 was pretty horrible, and the agents were right for not accepting it,” she says.
But still, she did not give up. Hocking juggled her day job at a group home for mentally disabled people with her writing schedule and often kept punishing hours to do so. “My job was usually from about 3pm to 10pm, so when I got home I would just go to my office and write until 8am or 9am, go to bed, get up, work and do it again.”
By 2010, Hocking had written 17 unpublished novels. She sent out query letters to agents for all of them but got nothing but rejection slips in return.
“There were a couple days when I was, like, ‘I’m giving up. This is horrible. I’m never going to be able to do it,’” said Hocking in The New York Times article.
But in April 2010, after receiving yet another rejection letter, Hocking decided to upload her novel to Amazon.com. “I had heard about some people having success with selling their books for e-readers. So I thought I would give it a shot,” she says.
According to an article in the Britain’s The Guardian (Amanda Hocking, the writer who made millions by self-publishing online, Jan 12, 2012), Hocking, who was in tight financial straits then, wanted to raise money (about US$300, or RM960) to visit an exhibition on the work of puppeteer Jim Henson in Chicago.
And as the reader knows by now, not only did she raise the money for that trip, she ended up with quite a few extra zeroes in the bank too.
“I think the thing I’m most grateful for is having an audience,” says Hocking, who is currently working on the last book of the Waterson series.
“Like I said, I’ve always told stories, but it was mostly to myself, or my mum. To have people actually interested in my books, and to actually pay money to read them, is a huge honour,” she says.