JUNE 8, 2011 8:18AM

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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:





 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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these stories never cease to amaze me, good for her!

(though I wished zombies had the courtesy of knocking the door, instead, that'll be a story, The Elegant Zombie)
Very interesting! I didn't know about Amanda Hocking. You also bring up some intriguing and conversation-worthy ideas about what is important for readers, or not. I agree that I like my stories to have plot and characters vividly depicted, more than overblown language and descriptions...on the other hand, your "young adult" fave John Steinbeck does both, in my opinion - "The Grapes of Wrath" is glorious for its characterization, plot, AND its stunning descriptive and poetic language. For me that is what a writer should strive towards. On the other hand, a little harmless entertainment from time to time never hurt anyone.... Thanks also for the links. I will definitely be checking those out! Great post!
very intersting, informative piece of work, LM. i'd heard of her but am glad to get the scoop the easy way - you doing the research and writing it up for me. it's a brave new writing/publishing world, isn't it?
I just read a book by a mystery/suspense author billed as a best-selling Kindle author, an assertion supported by the numbers. Now I'm a big mystery fan and I don't require the highest of brows either. This book read like a poor man's Stuart Woods; that is, workmanlike prose, neither evocative nor taut; characters whose looks, dialogue and behavior borders on parody. But Woods' knows his locales and his characters are likeable. Not so in my humble opinion in this case. But he's making the bucks and I suppose in this particular genre, the bar can reach as high or as low as the reader wishes.

All of which is to say: it boils down to both aggressive marketing and hitting the sweet spot.
I have to remind you about Stephenie Meyers from the Twilght series.
The worst edited books I have ever seen yes they made zillions.
Teen business is where it is at.
rated with hugs
I think if you're a writer and more interested in selling books than in the process of writing, the direction to go is the young adult market. Granted, there are great books being written in that genre, but for the most part, this is where the commercial books are going these days. I was having a conversation with a number of writers about this phenomenon a couple of years back, and the consensus is that the United States reading public has really turned childish, almost to the point of where a commercial writer (of adult fiction) is seriously challenged in trying to create a career. As such, if you're a commercial writer in the US, who doesn't feel like writing young adult fiction, then you might even be better served with finding your market overseas.

As an adult novelist, I've actually discovered my ebooks are starting to sell in England far more than they are selling in the US. So I'm starting to believe it. Our circles in the states have become way too juvenile, or focused on celebrities.
I take my hat off to any writer who can find an audience and earn a living with their stories. It's hard work. After 20 years of writing, I am very happy with my career, even though my tax bill is significantly smaller than Amanda's. I do not envy her - I applaud her. And the e-book format that allows creative folks to publish their work to an International audience so quickly and inexpensively. 

Good for her! May she find real joy in her work, and her life.
Good for her too. With self publishing marketing is the key.
I think it's great. The ebook is a great place to publish. You have to had a lot of friends to start with, I've read, but once they read it and it goes viral, you are now a successful writer, even if you are still a little,ruff 'round the edges. Great Post Muse~
Very interesting. i had not heard of her but I will check out the links. thanks for this.
Thanks so much for this...Will check her out.
Very interesting. Kind of an investigative piece really.

I have no problem at all with workmanlike prose either. I confess, though, that every once in a while I take a break from it to read some tangles of false erudition.
Thanks for passing this along. I have heard that e-booking is the way to go!

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