Writing: Amanda Hocking an indie author goes viral

You start reading about somebody and your eyes just start getting bigger as your lips form the words, "Good Lord!" The Huffington Post used the word "wunderkind" and at the age of 26, this literary dynamo seems to be very much deserving of such an appellation.
Amanda was born in 1984, just your normal girl from Austin, Minnesota. However, over the years, she has apparently written over a dozen novels, all unpublished. She got the idea of self-publishing her work and started in April 2010. Huffington quotes Amanda as saying, "As of Tuesday, January 04, 2011 at 9 PM, I’ve sold over 185,000 books since April 15, 2010." She states that she started with Kindle in April 2010 and has not sold less than 1,000 copies per month since May 2010. The newspaper USA Today, Feb 9/2011, states that in January 2011 alone, Amanda’s 9 published titles sold 450,000 copies, 99% of which were eBooks.

What!?!

While Amanda has apparently gotten some deals about print, all of these sales are eBooks done mostly through Amazon and their Kindle program. USA Today details the math:

For every $2.99 book she sells, she keeps 70%, with the rest going to the online bookseller. For every 99-cent book she sells, she keeps 30%.

She apparently worked until August 2010, the first time she earned enough from writing so that she didn’t need to work anymore. In Huffington, Amanda explained how she worked full-time in group homes for people with disabilities for the past five and a half years; the majority of her writing being done then. I look at the USA Today number of 450,000 for January 2011 and calculate with the low number of 99 cents per copy with her keeping 30%. That works out to be $133,650 in one month!!! Has your jaw dropped? Mine sure has!

What is she writing about?
Just what could be so popular? USA Today used the expression "young-adult paranormal" novels. The Austin Daily Herald added that Amanda writes about anything from vampires to trolls to witches and zombies. Ah, so that’s what "paranormal" means. Her Amazon profile classifies her as writing "young adult urban fantasy and paranormal romance" and mentioning "her vampire series" and a book Hollowland, "an urban fantasy with zombies and a hint of romance". Obviously I’m completely out of touch with the marketplace. I know that Twilight is hot stuff and all things vampire-ish so it seems that Ms. Hocking has tapped into – excuse my little joke – whatever thirst there is for this sort of subject matter.

Editing
Being an indie, an independent writer and publisher means that you have to do everything yourself. Unfortunately, that also means you don’t get the benefit of another set of eyes. How many times have I read my own stuff and not seen a typo, a grammatical error or a sentence structure which is so convoluted I can’t imagine how anybody would get what I was trying to say? Yes, another set of eyes can reveal things any author would miss.

Huffington asks Amanda how she handles editing her own work.

I’ll be honest – when I first started publishing in April, I thought my editing was fine. The first book I published – My Blood Approves – had been read by me about fifty times and also read and edited by about twenty other people. So I thought that all the grammar errors would be taken care of. But I was wrong.
Since then, I’ve tried to utilize beta readers and hire people. But so far, people are still finding errors. It’s not from lack of effort on my part, though.

I am now looking for a professional editor – as in the kind I would get if my book were to go through a publishing house. What I find most frustrating about editing and being indie is that everything else I can do myself. Writing, covers, marketing, etc. But I cannot edit properly myself. It’s just not possible.

Do it yourself means you can by-pass all the normal channels. While I’m sure this is good for those creative wunderkinds out there, what about for the rest of us mere mortals? In cruising around the Net and checking out various web sites dedicated to some sort of self-publication (see my blog Writing: authonomy.com), the majority of writers do not get published. Amanda Hocking seems to be an exception to the rule. Amanda Leduc, a published author herself, talks about Hocking and wonders about the absence of an editor in the publishing process as being a good thing in the long run. Her talk of a lack of editor echoes John Barber of the Globe and Mail who looks over the Canadian publishing scene and makes notes of the changes in how editing is or is not done.

Ms. Leduc writes:
Years ago, in one of my university classes, we had a discussion about a prominent Indian novelist and how the quality of his writing had decreased with his fame.  “He doesn’t listen to his editors as much now,” my instructor said, “because his name is enough to sell the books.”  This has also, apparently, been the case with Anne Rice in recent years.  Or so sayeth Amazon.  “I fought a great battle to achieve a status where I did not have to put up with editors making demands on me, and I will never relinquish that status.”  End quote, merci beaucoup Ms. Rice. 

The point:  editors are an important part of the writing process.  I don’t care what anybody says.  Writing starts as a solitary activity, but if you’re writing for publication sooner or later that activity becomes collaborative.  Sooner or later, you have to take into account what your editors are saying.  Because if you don’t, the chances are very good that your book will end up being not quite as fantastic as it could be, the authors showcased above being a pressing case in point.

Indie Authors: the alternate way of publishing
USA Today gives other examples of successful indie authors:

H.P. Mallory, another self-published paranormal e-novelist, has sold 70,000 copies of her e-books since July. Her success caught the attention of traditional publisher Random House, with whom she just signed a three-book contract. "Selling e-books on Kindle and Barnesandnoble.com basically changed my life," Mallory says. "I never would have gotten where I am today if I hadn’t."

Novelist J.A. Konrath, who has sold more than 100,000 self-published e-books, gets more than 1 million hits a year on his blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing (jakonrath.blogspot.com). His novel, Shaken, hit No. 9 on the Kindle list last year.

Final Word
Is Amanda Hocking a good writer or a bad one? Are her books a quality product or not? With sales numbers like she’s having, who cares? In my blog Writing: James Patterson, I quote a Time article of July 2010, 10 Questions for James Patterson:

Q: What do you say to critics like author Stephen King who say you are not a great prose stylist?

A: I am not a great prose stylist. I’m a storyteller. There are thousands of people who don’t like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do.

I have to chuckle. No matter what anybody says about Amanda Hocking, you can’t argue with her success. Yes, I suppose it’s a fluke – after all, not everybody succeeds at writing – but she has managed to tap into some vein of popular culture and good for her.

But the final point here is that Amanda writes. She wrote her books and when the time came to publish, she had a book; she had several books to publish. Admittedly, her books just happened to tap into this popular taste for all things vampire, zombie and things which go bump in the night, however the point is that she was prepared when the opportunity came a knockin’.

Lucky? Yes, Ms. Hocking is lucky. But also, I would direct you to Luck: Preparation meets opportunity. You have to write. You have to write a lot. Then you should probably write some more. Then when the moment arrives; when you get your chance to publish, you’ll be ready: you’ll have a book.

Click HERE to read more from William Belle

References

Amanda Hocking on KTTC- eBook eVolution – Feb 4/2011
Amanda Hocking discusses her success.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qWOy4p4MvM

Wikipedia: Amanda Hocking

official web site: Amanda Hocking
If you’re a publisher or interested in talking about foreign, film, audio rights and what not, you can contact my agent Steven Axelrod at the Axelrod Agency.

Twitter: Amanda Hocking
Amanda Hocking
@amanda_hocking Austin, Minnesota
Obsessive tweeter. John Hughes mourner. Unicorn enthusiast. Fraggin Aarvarks guitarist. Muppet activist. Author of the Trylle Trilogy & My Blood Approves series

The Huffington Post – Jan 5/2011
Meet Mega Bestselling Indie Heroine Amanda Hocking by Tonya Plank

NovelR – Feb 27/2011
The Very Rich Indie Writer
Amanda Hocking is 26 years old. She has 9 self-published books to her name, and sells 100,000+ copies of those ebooks per month. She has never been traditionally published. This is her blog. And it’s no stretch to say – at $3 per book1/70% per sale for the Kindle store – that she makes a lot of money from her monthly book sales. (Perhaps more importantly: a publisher on the private Reading2.0 mailing list has said, to effect: there is no traditional publisher in the world right now that can offer Amanda Hocking terms that are better than what she’s currently getting, right now on the Kindle store, all on her own.)

Amanda Leduc – March 1/2011
The Anchovy Who Made Millions

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