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I learned two things today:

1. Bristol Palin's memoir has a title and release date. Not Afraid of Life will be released by William Morrow this summer and is an intimate behind-the-scenes look at her life for the first time, from growing up in Alaska to coming of age amid the media and political frenzy surrounding her mother's political rise; from becoming a single mother while still a teenager to coping as her relationship with her baby's father crumbled publicly—not once, but twice.

There is also the prerequisite (for a Palin book) shout out to religion and plain spoken-ness that makes its way into the description and some embracing of victimhood about being attacked while on Dancing with the Stars.

2. Andrew Sullivan linked to an article about Amanda Hocking who self-publishes her novels (primarily in e-book form) and currently has sold over 900,000 copies. He headlined his link "the death of publishing" and is apparently suggesting that if you can do it yourself, like Hocking, then why care about the industry at all? I was intrigued so I followed the link to Hocking's website where I learned that she does have an agent now, has released some of her books in pb and charges between .99 for e-book up to $9.99 for paperback. And she credits her massive sales to book bloggers.

Oh - and did I mention that she released her first book last April? And then eight more followed?

Unlike Bristol Palin, Hocking has some sample chapters up at her site. I read a bit. It's paranormal romance which is pretty obvious from the very beginning of SWITCHED. The young female protagonist is a student who is able to control people with her mind and finds mysterious new fellow student Finn Holmes oddly compelling. We get all this in the first page. We also get some rather stilted dialogue and repetition. In other words this is not greatness. I have no idea why so many people are reading her books when there are some really fine paranormal romance writers out there (read The Iron Duke, people!!). It's not so much that .99 isn't much to pay for a pedestrian book - it's that who wants to spend their time reading a pedestrian book?

Er - now might be a good time to reflect again on the book deal I mentioned in item 1.

I'm baffled by all this. I'm baffled by a book deal given to someone that everyone on the planet knows is not writing her book and really has nothing interesting to say. And I'm baffled by hundreds of thousands of people buying books that the author herself notes are in need of editing. I understand why Bristol Palin and Amanda Hocking are doing this - it's because they can. Bristol is riding this money train as far and fast as she can because the options available to most high school graduates without any marketable skills are not all that great. And Hocking has pointed out that she has always wanted to be a writer and when she couldn't get an agent to take her on, she just went with the option that allowed her to get her books out there. And clearly she has fans.

But knowing the how and the why makes none of this any less baffling.

It's almost like publishers have become addicted to bringing celebrity books out to the masses (which means supplying those celebs with ghostwriters and doing all the marketing for them) while unknown writers who can't get publishers or agents are just releasing their stuff direct to the masses for cheap and everyone sees this as a victory over the industry model. Commenters at Hocking's blog make a point of telling her again and again that she doesn't need an agent or editor - she's doing just fine on her own and from a dollar perspective I agree with them. The girl is pulling in five figures a month.

A MONTH.

And who knows how massive Bristol Palin's advance is but I think we can be sure it's six figures. Not nearly as high as her mother's but still, stratospheric compared to everyone else.

It is very hard for me to maintain perspective right now, to think about the slow build of a career, to embrace the notion of the mid-list with dreams of steady publication in the future, when I think about these two girls. (And they are girls - both are in their mid-twenties.) I don't know where I'm going with this post but I had to write it. I can't be the only one confused by this reality or disturbed by idea that all of it has somehow passed me by. I don't want to be rich and famous for writing something forgettable but it almost seems like those are quickly becoming the only options for writers, period.

Pardon me while I go embrace some Hemingway tonight. I think I need to be reminded of who a writer used to be.

PS. Saw the preliminary design on my book cover a few days ago. I was asked to weigh in with my thoughts and my suggestions were accepted. I didn't have much complaining though - the designer really hit it out of the park. It's wonderful.

comments

Kristopher Reisz

It's not so much that .99 isn't much to pay for a pedestrian book - it's that who wants to spend their time reading a pedestrian book?

Arrgh, I know! I think this every time somebody tells me, "Yeah, I don't even like this series anymore. But I just keep reading them out of habit."

There's so many truly great books out there, and I have so little time to read these days. Sometimes it almost makes me cry. How can anybody waste time on a book that's just okay?

I agree, Kris - and maybe it's because her books are mostly marketed to teens who just stay with a series until the bitter end? (I can't believe how many forgettable books I read in high school...)

Huffington Post picked up the story with an interview Hocking did and the comments are unreal. Everyone loves that she doesn't need "the gatekeepers" and the "power is with the people now" and how great it is that she has won after "suffering so much rejection".

I don't think she had ten rejections and that is suffering? Really? Man. I'm all for getting in there with the least pain possible but there was a reason I was rejected - my writing was not that good. But I guess working on the craft is overrated these days. Or at least that's the lesson to be taken from both Palin and Hocking who are a hella lot richer than I am, that's for sure.

SIGH.

Huf Post link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/01/self-published-author-amada-hocking_n_829906.html

It's all very baffling and rather sad - the point of the so-called gatekeepers used to be that they checked for quality. Now the word is almost always denigratory.

You're not the only one wondering about this and the state of the literary world, Colleen. I had similar thoughts when news of Justin Bieber's memoir was announced. The advances that are given for these books - while there are so very many talented writers and worthy books out there - is truly mind-boggling.

Sigh. Just sigh. Maybe I'm crazy, but I won't release a story just for the sake of getting it out there. I have too much respect for the writing process, the story, and for my future readers. But it's painful to read items like the Palin memoir and the financial success of someone self-publishing like Hocking. I can't help feeling as if the golden opportunity is passing me by while I plod along word by word, story by story.

I keep focusing on writers I respect and on exquisite books I read over and over because they're just that good. And I get back to the keyboard to hone my craft so I can be worthy of those stories.

My understanding is that it's a lot about media opportunities.

A book deal is given to a celebrity and big money put into marketing in large part because they can get onto "The Today Show" or "The Tonight Show" or...some other show named after a time of day. And each spot can sell tens of thousands of copies.

Newspaper ink these days is considered gold, occasionally does go to authors who're writers first, and is always greatly appreciated. But the same numbers potential isn't there.

Speaking personally, it's hard for me to imagine going it without my editors, their assistants, the copy editors, the design teams. They push me to take it to the next level. The work will never be perfect, but it's heart and soul and sacrifice the best we as a team can offer right now.

I've found Hocking's story pretty interesting. I began querying my project around the same time that she did. A year later, I'm on my third manuscript/query attempt. Of course, I have a great critique group, and each manuscript is better than the last. But it's still exhausting, tiring. Beth Revis queried ten manuscripts before nabbing her agent. Is that supposed to represent the dream for authors? Because seven manuscripts from now, I could see turning to self publishing if I'm in the same place. Though as it is right now, I believe in my writing and am still aiming for the prestige and legitimacy of mainstream publishing. Still, depressing to know that I might stand a better chance of making a living out of ebook publishing.

As an eReader owner, I really suspect that in Hocking's case, it's large an issue of simple economics. Her books are well-positioned in the Nook bookstore, at a price that's right, in a popular genre. At a dollar or three a pop, no one is going to complain too much about editing. They have pretty, professional looking covers (and she designed most of them herself!).

With developments like the HC deal with libraries, the big publishers are getting farther and farther away from making content easily accessible and affordable. I think that's a mistake. I think to compete in an eBook market, emphasis should be on volume, availability (make your products available in all formats, at all eBook stores) and a low price point. I realize that that's scary--publishing is a big industry that must pay a lot of people. But is it a model that's economically feasible longterm, when there are people out there who can do it all themselves--maybe not well, but well enough--for cheaper? I'm not so sure.

It's interesting to read Hocking's own posts about her success. She seems to believe that indie/self-publishing will be for authors who aren't big blockbusters in the future, and that traditional publishing will be reserved for the Bristol Palins of the world.

Phoebe - interesting thoughts on e-books and traditional publishing. I agree that HC has dealt us all a blow with their recent deal and I wish someone could tell me who on earth thought that had any sort of big picture intelligence behind it.

Of course the fact that HC is also behind the Palins just makes me start to wonder if there isn't some sort of really sinister "Star Chamberish" bit to all of this.

The most interesting thing to me has been how Amanda Hocking and her fans view all this. I understand how she would love the financial success and I don't begrudge her that (or Bristol Palin for that matter); they wouldn't be selling this stuff if folks weren't so happy to buy it. But seeing it all as the wave of the future and a logical next step in model misses such a huge point of what agents and publishers do. Yes, they are gatekeepers but without them do we really want those gates flooded?

Seriously?

Hang in there - it was THREE years from the point I signed with my agent until I got the first sale...and years before that while I struggled to get the agent. It's never wasted time when the writing is getting better. (I hated hearing this when I was in your boat, but it was true!!!)

Celeb memoirs are rather the past & present & will hopefully stay that way.

Self publishing IS the future and that's a very good thing. Goodbye oppressive and trite old system.

I'll embrace self-publishing when I cease to see so many poorly edited books that are full of mistakes. I think the publishing industry could use a swift kick in the pants but doing it with books that have been written in 15 days is not the model I'd follow.

J

Is this the first you're hearing of Amanda Hocking? Because her story has been making the rounds on the internet for months. She's one of the people who have been able to make a good living from self-e-pubbing. However, when she started getting interviewed about her success doing this, her story took on a life of its own. I keep seeing articles about her all over the media, and I can't help thinking that each such article must bring her more sales. There is now a hype around her that most authors--whether traditional or self-published, print or electronic--can't even dream of.

It's great for her. But I can't help thinking that this is not a model that can be duplicated by a whole lot of people, because not everyone is going to get this kind of attention.

The B. Palin book is a celebrity book; there's nothing new about those. But while celebrity may equal big advance, it doesn't necessarily equal big sales. I've heard that Snooki's book is not doing well, for example. I think celebrity books will always be around, as they always have been.

This is the first time I've heard about Hocking - largely because she made it to the USA Today list I imagine. What I saw between the two of them though was that Bristol Palin is being paid not to write really - she's lending her name to the book but the work will be someone else's and Hocking is earning money cranking out stories (15 days for one, 21 for another) that are received and praised on a level I can't understand.

While I agree that celebrity books don't always make money it doesn't change the fact that the authors are paid a ton of money. High dollars are spent by publishers for a formulaic title in that case and in the self-pubbed case, low dollars are spent for formulaic writing. This is fast food literature and I'm just puzzled why people reach for it, why they want to spend time (let alone any amount of money) on it.

Anjelica Huston has signed for a memoir and I think that will likely be quite good - but it's not due until 2013 because, crazy enough, she needs time to WRITE IT. So I'm not against celebrity books, I'm just against cheap. And in both cases that's what I see here - cheap writing that nonetheless is costing (or generating) big bucks.

I believe all the celebrity books that get the red carpet PR treatment do make money.

Hopefully the publishers are at least investing some of the profit into not so famous authors.

If Hocking's fans want to buy her novels even after she admits they need more editing more power to her.

I love Anjelica Houston.


Celebrity bios have nothing to do with the literary world. They do have something to do with the business of publishing, though. But they have no real effect on our careers or likely paths (unless we get that famous!). It's a business.

As for Amanda Hocking - y'all didn't like the books. That's fine. Clearly enough people DO like them, for whatever reason. Saying the books should sell is basically calling them all "wrong" for buying. I disagree. They like it, and that's good enough. Could they buy books that are "better"? Well, you could say that about almost every book I like, too. Probably every book you like... since it's just a value judgment.

We all write for different reasons and with different goals. We read that way, too. Now we have the ability to sell that way and reach an audience that meets us where we are. I can't see the negative in this arrangement.

Errr. I deleted six characters in my above comment as I edited. The fourth sentence, second paragraph sentence should read:

Saying the books shouldn't sell well is basically calling them all "wrong" for buying.

That's clearer, I hope!

But that's the thing about Hocking's books - it's not like I don't enjoy that genre. I've read plenty of paranormal romance for teens and adults and I've liked plenty. Hell, I was with Laurell K Hamilton way back in the beginning before loving vamps was something anyone had even heard of. So I don't at all want to suggest this is about good vs bad in terms of genre, subject etc.

What I'm saying is, in the kindest way possible, these books are not well written. These are books churned out in a few days that are not just formulaic but with typos - by the author's own admission. These are books that at the very least need copy editing in a serious way. What I don't understand is why people celebrate the fact that self publishing means you can be pedestrian, you can have mistakes, you can be unexceptional all because you are doing it without the "gatekeepers". She might have the makings of a really good writer in her but after less than a dozen rejections from agents she quit because that was too hard. And her readers are thrilled to pieces with books that are just okay because they are cheap.

There is a ton of paranormal romance out there that is exceptional - it just costs you around $6 or $7 for a MM paperback. There are that many people who would rather buy pedestrian for cheap than well written for a wee bit more (or go to the library for free?)

Really?

What I'm saying is readers should ask more from their writers than this. They should not accept typos in exchange for cheap prices. They should ask for time and care in the product they are going to purchase and spend their time reading.

That's why I think it's fast food literature and why I think it applies to Bristol Palin as well. People are accepting far less than they should and obviously valuing their own time at a minimum price.

All the comments I've read on other stories about Hocking celebrate the fact that she doesn't need an editor or pub because she is making $$ just fine on her own. What I haven't seen is anyone mentioning how she could benefit from an editor to become a better writer. It's like improvement is not just an after thought but a non thought and that's really sad.

But then again, Bristol is going to be a published author without even writing anything at all which is even more amazing when you think about it.

PS. Anjelica Huston totally rocks, doesn't she Doret?!

I'm not sure sales, in this instance, equals readers. I think some people who have been frustrated in there own publishing efforts buy her book as a "donation" to the cause of sticking it to the man. And why not? It's a buck.

If I was going this route, I'd take out a small business loan and buy 10,000 copies of my own ebook. No worry about wasting paper or storing actual books right? The jump in sales would attract attention and draw some buys. If I was getting 70 cents on the dollar for my book I'd invest half of my profit in buying more copies of my own book. Because big sales gets media attention, which fuels buys, which eventually draws a few genuine fans, and gives me more capital with which to buy more copies of my own book.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that this is the tactic this particular writer is using, only that it could work. What is newsworthy about these books is not the words, it's the numbers, and numbers are more easily generated than great literature--particularly when no physical book is being created. So just because the sales are there, doesn't mean much in terms of readership.

Here's how I keep from blowing a gasket about this. Book are not like cars where you buy one and then don't want another for 5 or 10 years. If someone reads a book and likes it, even if it's not my book, they are more likely to buy another book soon, and then another, and hopefully somewhere along the line one of those books will be mine--or yours. or Greg's, or Cynthia's. Because once you develop a taste for the good stuff, it's hard to go back. :-)

There are a lot of people in the self-publishing and so-called weblit communities that either 1) see Hocking as their guiding light; or 2) are envious of her success (or both). Here you can read some interesting comments on the phenomenon:

http://www.novelr.com/2011/02/27/rich-indie-writer

Though I'm committed to self-publishing, primarily online, I'm well aware of my failings and am trying to work slowly towards better writing. I believe - or at least hope - that there will be a future for self-published fiction with, for want of a better term, literary leanings. What disturbs me most about most of the favourable views of Hocking's success is of how little importance craft seems to be.

You guys have all made such excellent comments here - thanks so much! Rebecca, I never thought of buying the books yourself but you're right and even thought Hocking completely may not have done this there is no way to know and further, it's a model that would be pretty darn smart for other writers.

And Lee, yes! The one really frustrating thing in all this is that the message is not become the best writer you can but rather, get the book out there and get one over on the industry. Very frustrating.

It will be interesting to see where all this goes as we move forward. I don't see it as the end of traditional publishing because good books always rise to the top and the others, always, no matter how big the flash in the pan, get forgotten.

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