Friday, March 4, 2011

A reply to Jezebel's story about Amanda Hocking

I you like the cruise the interwebs, you may have already heard about Amanda Hocking's pretty rocking rise to the top. I'd heard a little about it, but no details until I read the article below from Jezebel.

26-Year-Old Writer Makes Millions On eBooks — But How, And Why?

It's a short write up, but as this is my turf, so to speak, I felt I should comment. However, comments aren't working on Jezebel at the moment, so, perhaps more wisely, I'm posting my comment here. Enjoy and feel free to leave a comment of your own!

Dear Jezebel,

I'm a published fantasy author with 3 books in print, and I gotta tell you, I'm 1/2 overjoyed, 1/2 sobbing about this story.

You can believe me when I say that the industry knows that stupid shit sells. The trouble is no one knows which stupid shit will sell and which won't. Every year sure-fire hits fizzle while unknowns rocket to the top. There are several stories of authors who were rejected by publishing houses and sold millions, Paollini is one, Hocking's another. But then again we have Stephenie Mayer who woke up one day and decided to write a book, wrote it in 6 months, got an agent with her first query letter, and had an enormous publishing deal by the end of the year.

The book market is no more fair or predictable or controllable than any market that makes its living catering to people's imaginations. For every Amanda Hocking out there buying a house with her ebook money, there's millions of authors whose ebooks never clear the friends and family threshold. That's why I'm so happy to hear that Hocking made it. That is a feat, and you better bet she worked her ass off for her success, both for writing books that, whatever faults they may have, must have made a lot of people happy to get sales numbers like that, and for the obvious effort she put into promoting her books online.

The part that makes me sad is how people who will dismiss her obvious achievement, forgetting all the work we don't see, the novels that didn't work, the insane risk of betting your family's future on words, and treat this story as some kind of phony sea change. "She made millions from home, now you can too! Screw New York and Big Publishing, publish your novel on Kindle and retire early!" So while I'm ecstatically happy for and, yes, a little envious of her phenomenal success (I would LOVE to sell 100,000 books, let me tell you), I'm also sad that, no matter how much she says "Even I don't know how I did this," scammers and people who prey on the writing dreams of others are going to be using her rise as a pitch for over priced "publishing services" for years and years to come.

And on another note: To the commenter who pointed out there are books on torrent sites. Chica, I feed my kid off book sales. Please don't support pirates. It's the authors who lose, not the publishing houses, and we're not all millionaires.

- Rachel Aaron


Kate @ Candlemark said...

My main issue with everyone trumpeting Hocking's triumph is not that she had it, or that her writing is poor, or what-have-you. It's the issue I have with JA Konrath trumpeting his own success, and every other outlier of publishing. Hocking said it herself: More authors are likely to have 100 sales than to have 1,000, or 10,000, let alone 100,000.

How something becomes a hit, becomes popular, makes just don't know. Marketing is such an imprecise science - you can have an amazingly well-written book, but you have to make people aware of it and willing to shell out for it. When something magical happens and suddenly everyone's talking about your work, you get to not-quite-Hocking levels. But getting that attention? Nearly impossible.

Ask me how I know, and watch me dissolve into frustrated tears, hah.

Rachel Aaron said...

I think my biggest sad face about this whole thing is how people are blaming the publishing industry. "This is what you get for high ebook prices! Long live the revolution! Die fat cat book printers!"

And I just want to scream "Do you know how much the people who work in this industry love the books they work on?! Do you understand how much work by how many people goes in to every professionally produced book?"

Drives me batty, it really does.

And you're totally right. Internet promotion can feel like screaming into the void. I gotta find out what dark god those "internet phenomenon" people are sacrificing to so I can go ahead and place my goat order.

Bone Machine said...

People liked it, apparently, and people bought. So it must have had some quality that folks liked enough to pay $3 for - I've paid $3 for less, for sure.

I think it's interesting to consider art in the era of mass-production. This story really highlights it - the medium is purely digital. It is infinitely reproducible. The act of creation, and the intent behind it, happened once... probably in a digital format as well. And Amazon and the Kindle and Intellectual property laws have commodified it.

I think that Hocking making millions could qualify as art, in that it operates outside the normal publishing industry... and subsequently evokes a massive reaction from those vested in it. That's the beauty of the work - it has forced everyone to reconsider what is possible through writing, as much of a fluke as she is.

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