The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 18, 2012

Lee Duran: Self-publishing brings success to twenty-something

By Lee Duran
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — I love a success story, especially the rags-to-riches kind. Unfortunately, there aren’t many, especially in the wonderful world of books.

I doubt there’s any to top that of Amanda Hocking. Considering that she’s only in her mid-20s, she’s come a long way from the days of rejection by agents and publishing houses and go-nowhere jobs.

In something that sounds like desperation, she started putting those rejected books up on Amazon as e-books about 18 months ago. She says she didn’t have a lot of hope invested in her e-books but she sure does now. She’s made millions from independently publishing her paranormal books, which have sold 1.5 million.

She has, in the words of The Guardian, a British newspaper, “changed publishing forever.”

She worked hard to foment that revolution in global publishing. Holding down a day job, she wrote at night, finishing a novel in two or three weeks.

Two or three weeks? That’s what she says and I believe her. Mostly. By the start of 2010, she had 17 unpublished novels, all rejected by the gatekeepers of publishing.

Readers cannot possibly understand what it’s like to persevere in the face of this massive rejection. Writers doubtless will, because there’s not much more personal than the words we write. I’ve never known a writer to stand up to that kind of smack down, to write 17 books and not get a nibble on a single one of them.

Hocking did. She received her last rejection letter in February 2010, a “thanks-but-no-thanks” from a literary agent in the UK. On April 15, 2010, she took the only road left open for her -- she put up her first e-book, about vampires, on Amazon.

That first book began selling a few copies a day and she added more of her rejected books. Sales rose -- by June she’d sold more than 4,000 books. In July, she made more than $6,000 and in August she quit her day job.

By January 2011 she was selling more than 100,000 books a month. For $2.99 editions, she received a 70 percent royalty, a number completely unknown to traditional publishers.Ê

In November 2011, Hocking’s sales hit a million and she entered the Kindle Million Club, all on the strength of her self-published e-books. She’s there alongside James Patterson, Stieg Larsson and Nora Roberts, to name a few.

The speed of her ascent has astonished Hocking more than anyone. She was so excited by her first check from Amazon, for $15.75, that she still hasn’t cashed it.

Can you imagine that kind of validation, not to mention soaring income, to a young woman working all on her own? It boggles my mind, but also reminds me that this story could not have happened 10 years ago, before the age of electronic publishing.

She was also fortunate in that her books of choice Ñ vampires and paranormal Ñ happen to be among the most popular genres at the moment. Everything came together in a perfect circle. I call it “struck by lightning,” an inexplicable convergence which changes everything.

Self-published books used to be called “vanity” projects and everyone assumed they weren’t good enough for traditional publishing. No more. The book blog Novelr found that of the top 25 bestselling indie authors on Kindle, only six had ever had print deals with the big book publishers.

E-book sales of $878 million in the U.S. in 2010 was almost four times that of the previous year. At last count, 30 indie authors have sold more than 100,000 copies of self-pubbed e-books.

But back to Hocking: writing the book isn’t the only thing a self-pub must attend. For the preceding nine years, she edited her books, created her own covers, blogged to spread the word, and dealt with technical problems with Kindle. All that has changed.

She called the process “exhausting, and hard to do. And it starts to wear on you emotionally. I know that sounds weird and whiny, but it’s true.”

Her solution: a $2.1 million deal with St. Martin’s Press in the U.S. and Pan Macmillan in the U.K. First comes paperback versions of one of her self-pubbed series starting with “Switched,” a “fast-paced romance featuring changeling trolls called Trylle who are switched at birth with human babies.” It’s aimed at young adults.

Following will be “Watersong,” a new series of four novels about sisters caught up with sirens. Movie rights for her books have also been optioned.

Hocking is now busy publicizing the books here and in other countries.I suspect she’s also holding her breath. Other successful e-pubs have signed on with the big publishers with disappointing results. She’ll just have to wait and see how it goes.

I don’t suppose she needs any luck at this point but I wish it for her nonetheless. She worked hard for her success and I hope she has time to enjoy it. She’s an inspiration to all writers everywhere.

Sources for the above report: Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, The Guardian, and umpteen other Web postings. Most important is Hocking’s own Web site, where she’s been quite open about her journey.