What can we learn from Amanda Hocking?

I haven’t been blogging much lately. I haven’t been Tweeting, and my Facebook activity has been diminished. I’m pleased to say this is partly because I’ve been writing. The rest is because of life – things are busy at work right now (which is good), I’m running my first full marathon in (checking calendar, feeling pit open in my stomach) nine days, and there have been various other life-related things happening, most of which I’m happy about. But I am going to try to get back in the habit of posting here a couple of times a week, at least, because I do care about this blog and I do care about my readers (reader?).

This week, the online literary community was all atwitter (see what I did there?) about Amanda Hocking, self-published millionaire. The discussion was interesting, especially because I’d never before heard of Ms. Hocking. In a nutshell, she’s earned millions by self-publishing her work on the Kindle, and as Nathan Bransford explained quite nicely, she keeps a much larger share of the sale of each eBook than a conventionally published author would.

The conversation around Ms. Hocking’s success, and the success of other successful self-published authors, took predictable turns. Agents and publishers wondered whether her success is one of the early indications that the electronic publishing revolution has arrived, or if she is an anomaly. Self-publishing saw her rise as a trumpet breaking the sixth seal on the death of conventional publishing. My favorite analysis of Amanda Hocking’s success, surprisingly, came from Amanda Hocking herself, who is quite pleasantly (and unexpectedly, at least to my thinking) not a conventional-publishing hater.

I just don’t understand writers animosity against publishers. So much of what I’ve been reading lately has made me out to be Dorothy taking down the Wicked Witch.

Publishers have done really great things for a really long time. They aren’t some big bad evil entity trying to kill literature or writers. They are companies, trying to make money in a bad economy with a lot of top-heavy business practices.

Super refreshing. If Ms. Hocking took the “conventional publishing is evil” position, there’s a good chance she could command an unholy army of self-published authors.

I mentioned the story to a couple of colleagues, one a published author and another a former bookseller, and we discussed the pros and cons of being a self-published millionaire. The author is responsible for his or her own covers, editing, promotion, and so on. It’s all hard work, and without a publisher backing you, it all falls on the back of the author to be sure it’s being done and done well. Without an agent, it will be harder (if not impossible) to market film rights or make money overseas.

Once again, Amanda Hocking is refreshingly candid about her career and what it means in terms of workload.

This is literally years of work you’re seeing. And hours and hours of work each day. The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn’t writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.

I also have this tremendous sense of urgency, like if I don’t get everything out nowand do everything now, while the iron is hot, everything I’ve worked for will just fall away. For the first time, I truly understand why workaholics are workaholics. You can’t stop working, because if you do, it unravels all the work you’ve already done. You have to keep going, or you’ll die.

All this says to me: I don’t want to be Amanda Hocking. My personal goal has been, and remains, to make enough money from my writing that I don’t need to do anything else for a living, and can live a comfortable (though not lavish) lifestyle. As tempting as it is to think that I could put some work out on Kindle and on a long shot earn a cool million dollars, I don’t want the life Amanda Hocking is living right now.  I would rather put my energy into the craft of writing, and spend my time on the product rather than the promotion. Would I be willing to spend a few years doing what Ms. Hocking is doing, if it meant building a career that would allow me to live my dreams in the long run? Absolutely. But I still think those years are better spent producing as many quality novels and short stories as possible, so that if and when one of them does sell to an agent or publisher, I have an inventory. It’s too early to declare the eBook revolution is over, and too early to gamble years of work on the chance that my own abilities at promotion might be enough to jump-start a million-dollar career.

Part of me actually wonders why Amanda Hocking has not used her self-publishing success to transition to a traditional publishing career. If she’s moving more than 100,000 eBooks a month, as some estimates say, I can’t imagine there is a literary agent or publisher in her genre who wouldn’t seize the opportunity to take that platform and make it into something even bigger.

None of this is to say that the story of Amanda Hocking hasn’t inspired me to consider revising my career strategy. I’ve become  an eBook reader, and perhaps I need to start thinking of myself as an eBook writer. At the very least, I need to ask what part electronic publishing will play in a conventional publishing career. For the time being, I will watch her approach from afar, thank her for her candor and perspective, and hope that I can one day count her as a contemporary.

1 COMMENT

  1. Newsflash: She signed a 2 million dollar contract with St. Martin’s Press probably at the very moment you were writing this blog post.

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