The article had me at ‘self-publishing’ for ‘Muppets’. It refers not to self-publishers being muppets as in the derogatory term, but rather a cash-strapped wannabe writer who self-published some books on Amazon in the hope of scraping together the cash to go see the Muppets. The rest, as they write, is JK Rowling-worthy history.
Amanda Hocking’s is the kind of story that simultaneously draws derision from those in the industry and raises the hopes of those who aren’t but want to be. I have to say that I think the truth is somewhere in between.
Reading this Guardian article I realised Hocking might have been unpublished, but she wasn’t unpracticed or unpolished (if those terms make any sense). She had written a bunch of novels over a nine-year period and, in the process, honed her skills.
She’d approached a stack of publishing houses and been rejected by them all. More importantly, she filed the rejection letters, quashed any discouragement, and kept writing and investigating ways to get her work out there.
With traditional publishers not opening their doors, Hocking went the non-traditional route. She posted her book online with the short-term goal of selling some copies to families and friends over a six-month period in order to raise the $300 she needed for the Muppets trip.
She achieved a bit more than that, selling 150,000 copies of her books and making around $20,000 in that time. She’s now surpassed 1.5 million book sales and $2.5 million in profits (and I consider them profits because she published with largely free online tools and is not having to share the spoils with any agents or publishers. Well, apart from the chunk Amazon carves off).
Those are the stats people are generally interested in. I’m actually more interested in the work she put in to get there. I see it as less rags-to-riches than hard-work-pays-off (with a little luck thrown in, admittedly, because in this industry there’s always a touch of right-place-right-time luck required).
From what the article shows, Hocking’s always been a huge reader and writer so has put in the hard yards to reach those magic 10,000 hours of practice. As in the magic number of hours that unlock the key to perfection we hear about from the likes of authors like Malcolm Gladwell. Speaking of Gladwell, he’s been quiet of late—surely he’s due another book soon?
Anyway, back to Hocking. My point is that despite the fairytale angel we’d like to hope for, she’s not an example of a publishing miracle the equivalent of winning the lottery on your first try. It’s something she’s also clearly keenly aware of: ‘People built me up as a two-dimensional icon for something I was not. Self-publishing is great, but I don’t want to be an icon for it, or anything else. I would rather people talk about the books than how I publish them,’ she told the Guardian. That is, she wants to be judged for the quality of the work, not how she got rich quick through what most deem amateur, low-brow means.
Hocking obviously has some writing and marketing talent. Bad books are quickly found out. Were she a poor writer, she might have sold a few. But she wouldn’t be into the millions of sales if the books weren’t gripping and well told (please refrain from sending me the emails saying ‘Um, but Twilight’s into the millions and it’s terribly written. True, but quibble about its writing quality however you will, it’s definitely gripping.)
Utilising new and social media channels to effectively promote her work—that is, blogs, websites, Facebook, Twitter, and the like—have clearly been key (even if they’re something the article, perhaps subconsciously in line with the old-world newspaper publication it’s part of, skims over). In fact, that’s what I’ve taken away from this story: Hocking’s success is less about striking it lucky and more about hard work and creating her own opportunities. Of course, the Muppets as catalyst is a fantastic hook too…