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Amanda Hocking, eBook Sensation

June 8, 2011

Note: I have expanded my posts here to include writing about writing.

I am planning to self-publish my books and have been testing the waters. These three articles describe self-published authors who have made serious money selling their e-Books:
http://paidcontent.org/article/419-meet-the-a-list-authors-of-self-publishing/
http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2011-02-09-ebooks09_ST_N.htm
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703838004576274813963609784.html

These articles are mostly concerned with business – the threat self-publishing poses to traditional houses.

What I was curious about was what are these writers writing? I decided to check out the most prominent one, Amanda Hocking. She’s a 26-year old who a year ago had an income of $12,000. Since then she’s become a millionaire selling eBooks.

She writes in the Young Adult (YA) genre, not one I’ve ever had reason to read. They didn’t have YA books back when I was a “young adult.” (A term which has me sniggering at the notion that there might have been anything adult about me at the age of 14.) I got along fine with Jules Verne, John Steinbeck and Ray Bradbury.

Ms. Hocking is known for her vampire romances. I like my vampires straight up, old-school. Just plain scary and evil, with maybe a touch of forbidden sex, but certainly no romance.

She also does zombies. That sounded more up my alley. Her Hollowland has a grabber of a first sentence:
“This is the way the world ends – not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door.”
So I read on. Judging from the first chapter it’s all action.. Your basic zombie apocalypse, running down hallways and stairways with the sounds of gunfire and the awful groaning of the undead. Lots of blood, human and zombie, the latter quite yucky.
Thing is I’ve enjoyed playing a number of zombie video games, like “Resident Evil 4” (highly recommended if that’s your thing.) It’s a lot more fun killing zombies than reading about it. Though Amanda does do it quite well.
I visited her blog: http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/. Her posts are informative, pleasantly self-revealing and generous. Many of her fans are aspiring writers. She details for them exactly how she outlines, including facsimiles of her work. She answers the many questions she’s been getting since she became famous with a video that she shares with her best friend Eric, who she’s at pains to explain is a “platonic friend.” My, I hadn’t heard that term since the 1960s. She and Eric are a couple of unabashed nerds. In all the blog is a good study in how to put yourself out there in a friendly manner while remaining honest about who you are.
She apologizes to her fans for not publishing, as promised, Lost Without You. She’d started it 7 years ago (when she was 19) and as she tried to finish it realized that it “sucked.” She decided to publish instead Virtue, a fairy tale. I was impressed that with her books flying off the virtual shelves it would have been very easy to just throw a piece of crap out there, but she didn’t.
Now I have always loved traditional fairy tales, so much so that I am wary of the contemporary variety. But I tried the first free chapter of Virtue. I was pleased to find a very tight piece of writing. In one short chapter she succeeds in: A. Setting place – a castle. B. Introducing the main characters – Lux, a fairy tale playboy, Lily, the innocent heroine, and her step-mother, who happens to be evil (duh). C. Setting up the dramatic conflict of the story. D. Most important – getting me to want to turn the page to find out how that conflict would play out. That got me to buy the book for $2.99.
Her prose is the kind that is often described condescendingly as “workmanlike.” Her descriptions can be clichéd. They never reach the level of poetry that takes your breath away or offers some new insight. But I prefer workmanlike any day to the tangles of false erudition that spoil so much Literary Fiction for me.
I have no problem with workmanlike prose. It means the author is getting the job done, which is telling the story. Far more important than fancy description is the right amount of description. Amanda measures that perfectly. Just enough to tell you where you are and who the characters are then let your imagination fill in the rest. Not so much that you lose the thread of the story and get bored.
The characters in Virtue are not terribly nuanced – then again, it’s a freakin fairy tale. I don’t remember Jack and his mother, let alone that cow being particularly finely drawn. And I was pleased by how Amanda gradually reveals that her characters have an allegorical significance tied in with the theme (and title) of the book.
Though her fantasy world has many familiar elements – a palace fallen to ruin, an evil forest hiding a witch’s bungalow and an eviler swamp –she has added value with some nice imaginative touches. A glutton who gorges on barbecued goblin wings. Piranha-like fish in the evil swamp who lure their victims by crying like babies.
Virtue, apparently like all her books, suffers from shoddy copy-editing. Auto spell check has often returned the wrong word. It’s annoying, but not bad enough to wreck the story.
Amanda no longer is publishing herself. She has signed with St. Martin’s press so that she can devote more time to writing and less to all that self-publishing entails, including hours a day of self-promotion. But she’s still working at that blog.
————
What’s my take away? I am very happy that eBook success is coming to a
I am planning to self-publish my books and have been testing the waters. These three articles describe self-published authors who have made serious money selling their e-Books:
http://paidcontent.org/article/419-meet-the-a-list-authors-of-self-publishing/
http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2011-02-09-ebooks09_ST_N.htm
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703838004576274813963609784.html

These articles are mostly concerned with business – the threat self-publishing poses to traditional houses.

What I was curious about was what are these writers writing? I decided to check out the most prominent one, Amanda Hocking. She’s a 26-year old who a year ago had an income of $12,000. Since then she’s become a millionaire selling eBooks.

She writes in the Young Adult (YA) genre, not one I’ve ever had reason to read. They didn’t have YA books back when I was a “young adult.” (A term which has me sniggering at the notion that there might have been anything adult about me at the age of 14.) I got along fine with Jules Verne, John Steinbeck and Ray Bradbury.

Ms. Hocking is known for her vampire romances. I like my vampires straight up, old-school. Just plain scary and evil, with maybe a touch of forbidden sex, but certainly no romance.

She also does zombies. That sounded more up my alley. Her Hollowland has a grabber of a first sentence:
“This is the way the world ends – not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door.”
So I read on. Judging from the first chapter it’s all action.. Your basic zombie apocalypse, running down hallways and stairways with the sounds of gunfire and the awful groaning of the undead. Lots of blood, human and zombie, the latter quite yucky.
Thing is I’ve enjoyed playing a number of zombie video games, like “Resident Evil 4” (highly recommended if that’s your thing.) It’s a lot more fun killing zombies than reading about it. Though Amanda does do it quite well.
I visited her blog: http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/. Her posts are informative, pleasantly self-revealing and generous. Many of her fans are aspiring writers. She details for them exactly how she outlines, including facsimiles of her work. She answers the many questions she’s been getting since she became famous with a video that she shares with her best friend Eric, who she’s at pains to explain is a “platonic friend.” My, I hadn’t heard that term since the 1960s. She and Eric are a couple of unabashed nerds. In all the blog is a good study in how to put yourself out there in a friendly manner while remaining honest about who you are.
She apologizes to her fans for not publishing, as promised, Lost Without You. She’d started it 7 years ago (when she was 19) and as she tried to finish it realized that it “sucked.” She decided to publish instead Virtue, a fairy tale. I was impressed that with her books flying off the virtual shelves it would have been very easy to just throw a piece of crap out there, but she didn’t.
Now I have always loved traditional fairy tales, so much so that I am wary of the contemporary variety. But I tried the first free chapter of Virtue. I was pleased to find a very tight piece of writing. In one short chapter she succeeds in: A. Setting place – a castle. B. Introducing the main characters – Lux, a fairy tale playboy, Lily, the innocent heroine, and her step-mother, who happens to be evil (duh). C. Setting up the dramatic conflict of the story. D. Most important – getting me to want to turn the page to find out how that conflict would play out. That got me to buy the book for $2.99.
Her prose is the kind that is often described condescendingly as “workmanlike.” Her descriptions can be clichéd. They never reach the level of poetry that takes your breath away or offers some new insight. But I prefer workmanlike any day to the tangles of false erudition that spoil so much Literary Fiction for me.
I have no problem with workmanlike prose. It means the author is getting the job done, which is telling the story. Far more important than fancy description is the right amount of description. Amanda measures that perfectly. Just enough to tell you where you are and who the characters are then let your imagination fill in the rest. Not so much that you lose the thread of the story and get bored.
The characters in Virtue are not terribly nuanced – then again, it’s a freakin fairy tale. I don’t remember Jack and his mother, let alone that cow being particularly finely drawn. And I was pleased by how Amanda gradually reveals that her characters have an allegorical significance tied in with the theme (and title) of the book.
Though her fantasy world has many familiar elements – a palace fallen to ruin, an evil forest hiding a witch’s bungalow and an eviler swamp –she has added value with some nice imaginative touches. A glutton who gorges on barbecued goblin wings. Piranha-like fish in the evil swamp who lure their victims by crying like babies.
Virtue, apparently like all her books, suffers from shoddy copy-editing. Auto spell check has often returned the wrong word. It’s annoying, but not bad enough to wreck the story.
Amanda no longer is publishing herself. She has signed with St. Martin’s press so that she can devote more time to writing and less to all that self-publishing entails, including hours a day of self-promotion. But she’s still working at that blog.
————
What’s my take away? I am very happy that eBook success is coming to a talented, hard working writer and not some hack. Virtue gives the girls whom I am assuming are its primary readers a hopeful message: that one day one of those louts in school will transform into Prince Charming. Though I hope they’re not hold their breaths.
One of the lessons I’ve learned from Ms. Hocking is that you can tell a complete and satisfying tale in only 150 pages of small word count. How? By cutting out most of the fat. That includes excessive description and dialog. And by cutting the products of authorial self-indulgence. Virtue contains no thinly veiled author editorials, and no writer’s “darlings” – she’s dispatched them all as effectively as she slays dragons, ogres and wicked witches.
No need to get overly excited here. Virtue is not great literature. But Amanda Hocking is young and hopefully will get there.
Next up: a woman who did.

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From → Writing

2 Comments
  1. Carolyn permalink

    Sounds like it would be just that much better if she’d hired a good editor, especially when she was her own publisher. I hope that you’ll take that away, too; not that I see great deficiencies in your writing, but wouldn’t it be nice not to shock the reader with mistakes you just can’t catch on your own?

    • Carolyn,

      Amanda actually hires SEVERAL editors for each book. She is aware of the problem.

      I hope my piece above wasn’t too bad in that regard – my editor is away for two weeks. I just can’t seem to catch everything myself.

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