She speaks the truth

If you’re the type to read publishing news, and you no doubt are if you’re here, then I’m sure you’ve heard all about Amanda Hocking’s phenomenal success as a self-published author.  She’s a 26-year-old millionaire, in fact, which I can’t say I don’t envy.

Much has been said about this by anyone remotely interested in publishing, and now Amanda herself has weighed in with an honest and surprisingly objective look at the realities of publishing and self-publishing that give a hint as to the sort of business savvy that has made this work for her.  I think Amanda’s words speak for themselves on so many of the topics at hand here, so I’ll just pick out the thing I think is most important for people to keep in mind, but I’d encourage you to hop over to her blog to read it in full:

Everybody seems really excited about what I’m doing and how I’ve been so successful, and from what I’ve been able to understand, it’s because a lot of people think that they can replicate my success and what I’ve done. And while I do think I will not be the only one to do this – others will be as successful as I’ve been, some even more so – I don’t think it will happen that often.

Traditional publishing and indie publishing aren’t all that different, and I don’t think people realize that. Some books and authors are best sellers, but most aren’t. It may be easier to self-publish than it is to traditionally publish, but in all honesty, it’s harder to be a best seller self-publishing than it is with a house.

As an agency, we’re pretty bullish about the digital future of publishing (even if many of us are also really, really, really attached to books as objects and unwilling to believe we could ever abandon them entirely in favor of our Kindles).  We work with some wonderful authors who keep pushing out the edge of the digital frontier.  We also talk about where things are headed and how to help our clients in this transition on a near daily basis, and we’ve been putting in the work to make sure that whatever happens, our authors won’t get left behind in the dust.

But that said, it’s a mistake, as it always has been, to think that self-publishing is as simple as bypassing the gatekeepers who wouldn’t know a good book from a hole in the ground to go straight to the masses of consumers.  Certainly amazing books are missed by the traditional publishing industry for myriad reasons—some of them simply human, others institutional flaws—and don’t think that agents and editors, who go to bat daily for books that won’t always make it on the shelves, aren’t keenly aware of that.  But publishing a book isn’t a one man job, however simple the upload tools might make it seem.  Editing, copyediting, cover design, marketing, distribution, and many more issues exist beyond the writing of the book (no easy task!) that need time and care and energy and experience.  Self-publishing is easier than ever before from a technical sense, but succeeding at it, like succeeding at just about anything in life, takes a tremendous amount of hard work, a willingness to get (and pay for) the work you can’t do yourself, and at least a little bit of luck.

Congratulations to Amanda and others like her who were told no and found a different path to success.  And congratulations are due also to those authors who the HuffPo won’t be calling millionaires any time soon, but who, through hard work and ingenuity, have found an audience for their books.

Of course, all this makes me curious about Amanda’s books, which I haven’t read yet but plan to check out.  With the number of copies she’s sold and the amount of press she’s had in the last week, some of you must have read her, right?  Any recommendations?  Any thoughts as to why she’s gotten where she has?

6 Responses to She speaks the truth

  1. josin says:

    I haven’t read any of her books, but I have been reading her blog. I think one thing that gives her a leg-up on 99% of the people who just toss something up on Kindle or Amazon and hope for the best (and yes, I’ve heard people describe their process that way) is that Switched was in good, and likely commercially viable shape when she published it.

    She’d already gone the query route and had requests for fulls with major agencies, so her writing is obviously above par. If a manuscript went that far, it has to be fairly clean and error-free.

    She also went for a little known (Scandinavian, IIRC)mythology with that one instead of the more commonly used systems.

    She’s also – very – prolific. 9 books published in about a year. (That’s not saying she wrote them that quickly, but they went on sale that fast.) People who liked one book were able to buy several of her other titles at once.

  2. LupLun says:

    I think a lot of authors are going the self-publishing route because the system is so random. This isn’t the fault of anyone, it’s just the nature of the beast. Noone knows what makes a bestseller, nor does anyone know why one well-written book succeeds and another doesn’t. It’s pretty much all gambling in the end. To get a book to print you’ve got to convince first yourself, than an agent, then a publisher, then the critics, then the readers, that it’s a good bet. However, when you e-publish it goes to the readers first. This is significant because in both scenarios, the readers alone decide — via buying the book — which bets are winners and which are losers.

    Which raises the interesting possibility that in the future, every debut novel will be self-published. I mean, think about it from a publisher’s perspective: they’re looking for the safest possible bet. If an author demonstrates on the indie scene that he’s already got the skills, determination, and business savvy to make a go of it, that makes him a very attractive prospect next to the guy with 80,000 words that may or may not sell.

    Hmm…

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks for joining the conversation, LupLun! I’m sure you’re right about the apparent randomness of the system, but agents, publishers, and critics aren’t just throwing darts at a dartboard. Though sometimes faulty, they’re making educated guesses. It’s rare for a book to hit the bestseller list that wasn’t anticipated to succeed. TWILIGHT might be a runaway success on a near unimaginable level, but it sold in an 8 publisher auction, was repped by Writers House, and Little, Brown paid $750K for three books. It’s not entirely random.

      I certainly see the appeal you describe for authors of cutting out the middle man, but I don’t know that that appeal translates to the readers.

      Obviously, as an agent, I have an investment in the gatekeeping structure, but I do as a reader as well. I don’t think readers can effectively function as gatekeepers in a market flooded with cheap, unedited books, published primarily by people who don’t understand the market and haven’t put in all the work that books normally entail. Maybe, theoretically, the cream rises to the top, but the more people that self-publish, the harder it becomes to sift through, especially because the people who do it precisely because the bar for entry in terms of time and money is lowering are the least likely to be willing to make an investment of time and money.

      My fear of your future scenario is that readers turn away from first novels entirely, the market contracts more than ever to concentrate success in the hands of franchise authors, and many people turn away from books to other forms of entertainment that are increasingly accessible, narrative driven, and inexpensive. Fortunately, while publishers will always want to jump on a good bandwagon, I also see plenty of evidence that they’re eager to buy debut fiction. Despite all the negativity one can find if they look, publishing is absolutely bursting at the seams with people who LOVE books, LOVE authors, and dream of making their dreams come true.

      I don’t agree that publishers are inherently looking for the SAFEST possible bet. Safe bets tend not to yield the best rewards. What publishing is looking for is the BEST bet, and sometimes that will be going after someone with a platform, but other times that involves pulling someone unknown out of slush. Here’s hoping that continues to be the case!

  3. Rebecca says:

    Amanda’s books are great!
    She has published at a time when there is high interest in YA fiction and supernatural themes in particular.
    She has a fresh and original take, reinventing trolls as good-looking humans with supernatural abilities, and throws her main character into a complicated life – changeling, rejected and almost by her stepmother, a problem child, etc.
    With a volume of work behind her and no apparent ‘in’ to being published in the mainstream, Amanda took the reins and self-published her nine books.
    I can’t tell you how great that is when you start a trilogy or any other kind of lengthy reading commitment. Nothing worse than waiting around for the next book (I’m talking about YOU JK Rowling *grin*).
    And better yet, when I’ve finished the Trylle trilogy I know there are still more books to keep me sated while Amanda gets busy behind the keyboard expanding her publishing empire.
    To be fair, her books could do with a rigorous edit (and she’s aware of it – one of the perils of self-publishing is the lack of editing/drafting etc that goes on). I’m certain future books will be much more polished.
    A brilliant self-marketer, Amanda has also put herself out there to drum up attention about her books – she blogs and has a presence on the most popular social media outlets, she’s approachable, and she obviously enjoys what she does.
    She has exploited all of the avenues open to the keen self-publisher – POD technology, Photoshop, social media, a personal website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account etc – which have obviously paid dividends.
    Nobody should be under the delusion they too can become a millionaire this way – there are just too many factors at play – but Amanda’s experience is certainly an educational case study for anyone looking to sidestep the publishing slush pile and have a go at running their own show.

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