In today’s The Guardian there was a profile of Amanda Hocking, the writer who made millions by self-publishing online, and its a story that does give hope to all aspiring writers who are building up an expansive collection of rejection slips and reasons why although their writing has potential they don’t have ‘hook’ to be marketable.
The child Hocking began telling her own stories before she could walk. She was forever inventing make-believe worlds…
Haven’t we all done that? So many stories that they blend in the real life of the writer…
At 12 she had already begun to describe herself as a writer and by the end of high school she estimates she had written 50 short stories and started countless novels. The first that she actually completed, Dreams I Can’t Remember, was written when she was 17. She was very excited by the accomplishment, and printed it out for friends and family, as well as sending it to several publishers.
“I got rejection letters back from all of them. I don’t blame them – it wasn’t very good,” Hocking says.
Ruins of the Old would be my ‘early work’ I guess. At the time I was really proud of it, and looking back there’s some interesting, original ideas in there, but its completely unpublishable. Flyht too, I have a soft spot for the Peter Pan-inspired tale of a Regency girl in a 21st century world with the gift of flyht – its the story that got a very nice, genuine, rejection from the publisher’s of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials that showed that they had read it, and liked it, but that it wasn’t for them. Its a letter I still have, and made me see that I do have something, but I can completely understand now why they couldn’t take it.
When I began to read back The End of All Worlds, after almost two years, I thought that I might feel the same way as I do now about Flyht, but aside from the present tense thing (which is now resolved), I don’t feel like that. The book still has something. And this is good.
On that day, Hocking made her book available to Kindle readers on Amazon’s website in her bid to raise the cash for the Muppets trip. Following tips she’d gleaned from the blog of JA Konrath, an internet self-publishing pioneer, she also uploaded to Smashwords to gain access to the Nook, Sony eReader and iBook markets. It wasn’t that difficult. A couple of hours of formatting, and it was done.
I’ve made a few eBooks now, and I concur its not that hard, although I would say its more than just a few hours work. It’s also a process that makes you realise how bad some of the ebooks that are available are. For instance, its really not that hard to put table of contents and chapters in. I know. I’ve done it. So why can’t they? I’m going to have to look into this Smashwords site as it would be good to get the book onto other devices not just the Kindle (I am a bit concerned though that on first investigation you might have to just upload a Word file and not an ePub – that’s not good!), and also have a read of Konrath’s blog.
And what about the hours and hours that she’s spent since April 2010 dealing with technical glitches on Kindle, creating her own book covers, editing her own copy, writing a blog, going on Twitter and Facebook to spread the word, responding to emails and tweets from her army of readers? Just the editing process alone has been a source of deep frustration, because although she has employed own freelance editors and invited her readers to alert her to spelling and grammatical errors, she thinks her ebooks are riddled with mistakes. “It drove me nuts, because I tried really hard to get things right and I just couldn’t. It’s exhausting, and hard to do. And it starts to wear on you emotionally. I know that sounds weird and whiny, but it’s true.”
In the end, Hocking became so burned out by the stress of solo publishing that she has turned for help to the same traditional book world that previously rejected her and which she was seen as attacking.
I don’t see self-ePublishing and, as they call it in this article, legacy publishing as mutually exclusive. What self-ePublishing does do is do for writers what MP3s have done for musicians. In the face of an ever more competitive world, where publishers only take safe bets, it allows authors to try the market and get readers, get a following, and for publishers to realise what new writing there is out there. And yes, for writers who make that decision it is hard work. Writers want to write, they don’t want to the production, the marketing and finance, but like all those musicians and bands before them, increasing numbers of them – of us – are prepared to get their work read.
Hocking’s editors on both sides of the Atlantic point to the deal as evidence that traditional and solo digital publishing can live in harmony. “There’s a lot of talk about publishers being left out of the loop,” says Jeremy Trevathan, Macmillan’s fiction editor. “But this whole thing is an opportunity for writers and publishers to find each other.” Or as Matthew Shear, publisher of St Martin’s Press, puts it: “It’s always been the same since the days when people self-published from the back of their car – cream will rise to the top.”
I do find it a bit disingenuous for publisher’s to talk like this. It does strike me that a publisher’s job is to recognise good books and to publish them, and that this is a new, and lazy, approach to publishing. They carry on with safe-bets and they wait for writers to establish readerships before picking them up. It shouldn’t be this way. Publishers used to be braver, and they should continue to braver. Yes, they can still pay massive advances to celebrity authors if they like, but maybe not-quite-so-massive advances so that there’s room to publish short runs of lots of new writers in the knowledge that some of them will fly.
If The End of All Worlds does sell, and yes it is an if, will I take up a subsequent offer from Penquin, or Bloomsbury, Fouth Estate or some other publisher to be published by them, or will I think, hey that’s validation that I can do this and get a print run of paper books out there? That, is a question, that only time can answer…
In the meantime, I have now been through The End of All Worlds to mark up all the final corrections to the manuscript. That is, with a little help from my friends… Hrmm… :-\