Sunday, January 29, 2012

EBOOKS AND PUBLISHING: Amanda Hocking’s e-books may change face of publishing and Some Reasons for Her Success

Amanda Hocking’s stories about witches and vampires falling in love may be changing the face of publishing.
The college dropout from Austin, Minn, had no connection to other writers or the publishing industry when she resorted to self-publishing just over a year ago after rejections from many publishers.
First the Muppets fan just posted her books for anyone to read, then she started selling them, at low prices of 99 cents to $2.99. By late last year she was in Kindle’s million-seller e-book club along with Stieg Larsson and Janet Evanovich.
The 28-year-old signed a $1 million deal with St. Martin’s Press and is currently on a European tour promoting her books. There’s a movie option on her Trylle Trilogy and a comic book is in the works.
Has the paranormal romance writer written a new chapter in publishing?
British businessman Nicholas Read studied Hocking’s winning formula and decided he’d also make his own publishing success. His book Endworlds: Echoes of Worlds Past is sold in three instalments for $7 each. Launched in December on many e-book sites, including Kindle and iTunes, the science fiction series has more than 49,000 fans on Facebook.
Sales figures won’t be known until the first quarter report, but Read “couldn’t be happier. The bloggers and social media response has been great,” he said in an interview.
“We struck the chord we were hoping to strike.”
Read, who formed Read Publishing to handle the online enterprise, says talks have begun with a print publisher.
The editing, printing, distribution, publicity and other skills print publishers provide are still extremely valuable, says Geoffrey Taylor, director of Authors at Harbourfront Centre and the International Festival of Authors.
E-books are still relatively new on the scene, he says, adding that “five years ago it was a fringe thing; now every publisher has e-books.” Most publishers, though, sell only works that have already been published online.
The publishing world is full of stories of wonderful books that had trouble getting published — J.K. Rowling had a hard time getting anyone to take on Harry Potter — and Taylor can see why frustrated authors turn to e-publishing.
It’s cheaper and accessible to more people, whether or not they can write, like a “YouTube for books.”
As for Hocking’s success, Taylor calls it a “Cinderella” story. “It’s quite miraculous.
“This is not the death of publishing, it is a whole new chapter,” he adds. “There is not just one example of how to do it.”
Cheerleading magazine editor Brittany Geragotelis ( may be another Hocking. She gave away her writing online, chapter by chapter, before self-publishing Life’s a Witch. She published both online and in paperback at the insistence of her millions of social media readers who wanted to give friends a copy of the book.
Given wide exposure on WATTPAD — a Toronto social media site for book lovers and authors that just won an award for Best Canadian Startup of 2011 — Geragotelis’s paranormal drama has attracted offers from publishers as well as movie and TV producers.
In this way, self-published ebooks are like a “minor league” from which publishers pick their future writers.
Kim McArthur, president of McArthur and Associates Publishing, says ebooks will probably settle at 15 per cent of the business.
Although she admits to being “totally biased,” McArthur says many self-published e-books are poorly written.
Print publishing allows extensive copy editing and “still there are mistakes caught by vigilant readers,” she said. What about the book just “thrown online,” she wonders. Who’s making sure they’re not riddled with errors or even plagiarized?
Sarah MacLachlan, president of House of Anansi Press, echoes that.
“There’s no quality, policing and control,” she says, adding that paper and binding cover only 10 per cent of the cost of a book: the rest is editing, marketing and “more than spellcheck.”
McArthur has published only one e-book that wasn’t first published on paper, Gordon Ferris’s The Hanging Shed, which sold 150,000 e-copies. However, he was already a well-established author.
McArthur says Hocking “hit pay dirt. I’m all for it. But she is the exception.”
MacLachlan also applauds Hocking’s success, saying, “She was just completely dedicated to making her books. It’s quite an exceptional story.”
But not one she expects to see replicated often.

If you pay much attention to eBook success stories, you’ve probably heard of Amanda Hocking, who began self-publishing her young adult contemporary dark fantasy/romance novels for the Kindle about a year ago and has since made more than two million dollars from them. The burning questions this brings up are: Why her? What has she done right? and Can other writers somehow follow in her footsteps?
I’m only an interested observer, but I have a few thoughts I hope you may find useful based on digging up industry statistics, learning what Ms. Hocking has had to say about her own work, and reading the beginning of her Trylle Trilogy.
Feeding a need
The heart of the matter, if you ask me, is that Ms. Hocking is successfully providing something that a huge number of readers want. Her Trylle books feature a slightly misanthropic, beautiful teenage girl who discovers she is a troll changeling princess when she returns to the troll enclave where she was born. The premise has some obvious similarities to Stephanie Meyer’s
Twilight books, which are about a disgruntled, beautiful teenage girl who discovers she has unusual status among a small, benign group of vampires. Both series feature a tension between the paranormal world and the normal world, multiple potential boyfriends, family conflicts, life-or-death obstacles to love, paranormal creatures who are more beautiful than ordinary humans, and dramatic, no-holds-barred romances that become literally more important than life to the main characters.
At the same time, Hocking doesn’t seem to have just traced Meyer’s books and filled in the outlines with her own ideas: the Trylle Trilogy seems very much the same kind of thing as Twilight, et al, without being a revamp. Hocking’s plots and premise have enough of her own invention to set them apart from Meyer’s work while still appealing strongly to the same kinds of readers. I think Hocking benefits enormously from Twilight’s audience being a large, book-hungry, self-aware group. Now that they’ve read Meyer’s books, they know what they want and are looking for more of it. Hocking appears to be deeply in tune with these readers and to intuitively want to deliver the right mix of danger, romance, strangeness, and angst. Anyway, that’s my theory.
Mistakes that don’t matter?
What’s very interesting to me, too, is what Hocking
doesn’t do well. Her grammar is not great. She uses “alright”–a colloquialism that nearly any editor in New York would rapidly correct to “all right”–in narration, along with many other similarly dubious constructions. There are places in her books where a key word or phrase has accidentally been left out. She makes a huge number of small-scale writerly “infelicities,” and there are very often several grammatical and writerly issues on a single page.
In other words, she sorely needs a copy editor–or at least, that was my reaction when I saw her work. But apparently more than a million readers don’t necessarily agree, because poor copyediting has not gotten in the way of her tremendous success. What surprises me is that after she started bringing in all that money–and presumably started hearing about errors in the books–she wasn’t interested in engaging a copyeditor to spend a little time cleaning them up. With eBooks, cleaning up the current edition is simply a matter of doing the edits and uploading them. Admittedly, Hocking must have a lot going on at this point–for instance, a new, 2 million dollar, 4-book deal with St. Martin’s Press–but would this have been so hard?
Then again, a lot of major publishing houses put out eBooks plagued with formatting problems. I guess this is what happens in the Wild West phase of a new business environment.
But in a way I’m grateful she hasn’t done this cleanup work, because it demonstrates something very basic and very important about writing: it’s about delivering a story people care about, and if it does that, it can succeed regardless of trappings, presentation, or the opinions of pundits. It doesn’t matter what people who don’t buy her books think about them if she has a large enough audience of people who do buy her books, and it doesn’t matter much if the people who do buy her books notice errors if they still enjoy the story.
Books for teenage girls that aren’t for teenage girls
One more surprising thing about Hocking’s success is that it’s happening on the Kindle. The reason I say that this is surprising is that the official target market of her books seems to be teenaged girls, yet according to a recent Nielsen poll, only 12% of Kindle users are under the age of 18, and users are about equally balanced between males and females. Were the majority of those one million plus book sales to the 6% of Kindle readers who are female and under age 18? Probably not. Harry Potter and the Twilight series had huge adult audiences, and the people reading about teenage paranormal romance in this case seem to be mainly adults, and presumably mostly female. This begins to shed more light on both Hocking’s and Meyer’s success, because to the best of my knowledge, English-speaking, adult, female romance fans are the most prolific readers on the planet. It’s a damn nice audience if you have the kind of imagination that naturally taps into it.
So what can we other writers learn from Hocking if we want to see success in finding an eBook audience? Well, a few things come to mind: Find your natural demographic. Write a lot. Get your work out there. Work tirelessly. Make your story yours even if it taps into an existing readership. Worry more about connecting with a good story than about publishing method, presentation, or promotion.
For what it’s worth, the authors I know personally who have done fairly well with eBook novel sales are also people who seem to be following these kinds of approaches, except that in the cases I’ve seen they are much more polished in their presentation than is Hocking.
That’s about it for light I can shed on the subject at the moment, but there’s probably much more we can learn from Hocking, and links to posts that delve into that would be welcome in comments.

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