Paranormal romance writer Amanda Hocking scored with e-books
By Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY (Original Article — click here)
AUSTIN, Minn. – Amid the Arctic flatness of the Minnesota prairie on a bleak December afternoon, author Amanda Hocking‘s new brick house seems a snug nest of Midwestern warmth.
By Dawn Villella, for USA TODAY
Writing rebel: Amanda Hocking’s paranormal romances are self-published e-book sensations. They’re hitting bookstores under St. Martin’s Press.
About 100 miles south of Minneapolis, Austin is most famous as the birthplace of Spam, the canned meat product.
Hocking’s mother herds a gaggle of pint-sized, present-laden relatives out the door. Hocking’s roommate, Eric Goldman, cleans up, stuffing crumpled wrapping paper into a garbage can. The canine lord of the manor, a regal miniature schnauzer named Elroy, dominates the foyer, resplendent in a Christmas get-up.
But the real star of the house and its chatelaine stands back, a pale, quiet 27-year-old woman wearing small glasses and comfortable jeans. Without a college degree or even a hint of celebrity, Amanda Hocking has overturned the world of publishing with the young-adult paranormal romance e-books she published on her own.
In April 2010, Hocking released My Blood Approves— the story of a vampire love triangle — through Kindle. Suddenly her novels, priced from 99 cents to $2.99, were taking off.
By February 2011, Hocking had seven self-published e-books, including her “Trylle Trilogy,” starring trolls, on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list, where they would stay for 50 weeks. She has earned an estimated $2 million selling 1.5 million copies of her e-books.
The traditional publishing world that once rejected her took notice, and consequently, Hocking’s empire (and bank account) has grown even bigger.
After a headline-making auction in March, Hocking signed a multimillion-dollar deal with the traditional print publisher St. Martin’s Press. The deal gives St. Martin’s the right to release Hocking’s “Trylle Trilogy” in trade paperback and as e-book editions.
The first novel, Switched (St. Martin’s Griffin, $8.99), hits stores today with a first printing of 250,000 print copies. The St. Martin’s e-book edition also is $8.99. (The sequels, Tornand Ascend, are due Feb. 28 and April 24.) Meanwhile, the Trylle (pronounced “Trill”) film rights have been optioned by Media Capital Rights. Screenwriter Terri Tatchell, Academy Award nominee for District 9, has completed the first draft, Hocking says.
And on Aug. 21, St. Martin’s Press will publish Wake, the first novel in Hocking’s brand-new hardcover quartet,Watersong. The publisher paid Hocking $2 million for the print and e-book rights. It’s the tale of female siren sisters who are “strong and funny, good and bad,” Hocking says.
The author will head to Manhattan soon for intensive media training to prepare for a tour through the USA,U.K., Spain, Italy and Ireland. Her website (worldofamandahocking.com) has been polished to a high gloss and her photos glamourized.
Back in Austin, as the lights blink away on a massive silver Christmas tree, Hocking seems anxious and unnerved by the prospect of real-world world fame in lieu of superstardom on the Web, where she can connect intimately but at a digital distance with her fans via her blog and self-published fiction.
“I feel guilty when people tell me I’m their inspiration,” says Hocking, who is besieged by online queries about how she achieved such success at such an early age. “I’m worried I’m going to let people down.”
In a galaxy of ambitious literary media types, all glitter and MFAs, Hocking is different; she’s more the person you’d trust to babysit your kid in a pinch. Before she hit it big with her novels, Hocking spent 5½ years working with residents in group homes for the severely disabled.
Wasn’t that … difficult?
“Oh no. I really liked working there,” she says. “If I’d been paid more money, I probably wouldn’t have worked so hard on my books.” (Her salary before she quit was $12,000 a year.)
But being the poster girl for the self-published or “indie” e-book revolution has gotten tiresome. “I would prefer to talk less about the money or the format and more about the writing,” she says.
So let’s talk trolls. Yes, trolls. Stifle your astonishment. Hocking’s “Trylle Trilogy” is a young-adult paranormal romance about trolls. But not trolls as in anonymous losers posting online from the dank confines of their parents’ basements. Nor is she writing about those 12-foot beasts with tiny IQs from Harry Potter.
With Trylle, Hocking draws upon Scandinavian folklore where certain tribes of studly full-sized male trolls and smoldering russet-haired lady trolls have long enchanted humans and each other.
Although her own ancestry is mostly English, Hocking says that growing up in Minnesota with its deep Swedish and Norwegian roots influenced her.
The trilogy tells the tale of a girl named Wendy. A misfit whose mother tried to stab her to death at age 6, Wendy has never fit in. Finally in high school, Wendy discovers why: She is a highborn troll princess with an endangered kingdom to save from ruthless enemies.
Hocking wanted to play on the Cinderella theme but with a twist. “The kingdom is a magical world, but it’s not wonderful,” she says. “To be a princess, there has to be peasants and a lower class.” One of Wendy’s love interests is the low-born but lovely-to-look-at Finn. The other is sexy bad boy Loki.
Though often compared to Stephenie Meyer‘s mega-selling Twilight vampire series (116 million copies sold worldwide), Hocking’s trilogy is funnier, à la Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. In both, a young girl discovers she has special powers that must be honed so she can fulfill her destiny. Helping her are teen pals struggling with issues from sexual identity to learning problems to lust.
Like writers from time immemorial, Hocking’s motivation to create a fantasy world stemmed from harsh reality.
“I grew up poor. I was an only child,” says Hocking, whose parents divorced when she was 11. “We lived out in the woods. We couldn’t afford cable.”
A rocky adolescence followed. “I was really unhappy … really depressed. Me and my mom fought constantly.”
Three things saved her: the computer her parents gave her for Christmas when she was 11. The day her mother told an eighth-grade counselor to stop nagging her daughter to find other activities besides writing.
And, most of all, Hocking’s DNA-based compulsion to write fiction.
Driven to write
Hocking’s loving acknowledgment in Switched to her mother and stepmother make it clear those door-slamming teen battles are over. “Both of them are caring, intelligent, strong women who have always had my back and loved me even when I didn’t deserve it,” she writes.
Had the e-book not been invented, Hocking today might still be unpublished. And not for lack of trying. She completed her first novel at 17, wrote constantly, took writing classes at local colleges and regularly queried agents and publishers, only to be rejected until she was already a self-made millionaire.
One expert in young-adult paranormal romance who is impressed by Hocking’s imaginative powers and ferocious work ethic is Rebecca Housel. (Hocking says she wrote Switched in one week fueled by Red Bull, Sweet Tarts and ravioli. “The story was already in my head,” she says.)
But Housel, who co-edited 2009’s Twilight and Philosophy, an examination of the Meyer series, also believes Hocking could improve her fiction significantly if she enrolled somewhere like the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Reviewers haven’t always been on board. Publishers Weekly said of Switched: “While Hocking grabs readers early on, thinly drawn, enigmatic characters with deliberately poor communication and a flair for high school-style drama stall the story’s momentum. The plotting recovers, but the last chapter simply sets up the sequel, Torn.”
Hocking herself appreciates professional editing. It’s one reason she signed with St. Martin’s Press. Other motivations included the $2 million paycheck (it helped her buy her new house in Austin) and the chance to reach readers who do not have e-readers, perhaps a contrarian notion in a world that’s becoming increasingly digital.
Plus, running one’s own publishing enterprise is exhausting. “I wanted more time to write,” Hocking says. She says she enjoyed working with St. Martin’s editor Rose Hilliard and took her advice about some characters for the paperback edition.
Hilliard, for her part, says she is excited to help get Hocking’s books into the hands of more readers.
“I first discovered Amanda’s work when I ordered the self-published edition of Switched, which had just started getting some buzz online,” she says. “From the moment I started reading, I knew I had something very special in my hands. There was something uncommonly good about her work — it was unputdownable, haunting, intensely romantic and incredibly entertaining.”
So now that she has a big-name publisher, will Hocking buy a fashionable brownstone in, say, Brooklyn, so she can hang with her fellow literary stars?
“I’m staying here in Austin,” Hocking says of the town where she has lived almost all her life. “Everyone already knows me — they still even misspell my name.”
Chances are, not for long.
Hocking by the numbers
1984: The year Amanda Hocking was born.
17: Age she completed her first novel.
22: Number of novels Hocking has written (published and unpublished).
$2 million: Hocking’s contract with St. Martin’s Press for Watersong quartet.
$1,000: Amount that Hocking made a month working with the disabled.
$15.72: First royalty check Hocking received from Amazon for her writing.
250,000 copies: First printing for St. Martin’s Press paperback edition of Switched, the first book in the Trylle trilogy (Torn and Ascendare the sequels).
$8.99: Price of paperback edition of Switched.
$2.99: Original price of self-published e-book version of Switched.
7: Days spent writing Switched.
$7,000: Cost of the Star Wars Han Solo replica in Hocking’s basement.