Thursday, December 16, 2010

Interview with Amanda Hocking


This interview with Amanda Hocking was conducted via email over a span of three days. Amanda is the author of seven books and is one of the highest-volume independent booksellers. To read more about Amanda, her books, and her life, visit her website, My Blood Approves.


Journal of Always: Hello, Amanda, and thank you for taking some time out of your obviously packed schedule to spend some time with us. Let's get started, shall we?

You've had great success self-publishing your books (currently seven books out there right now, soon to be more). My question is, how did you approach marketing your writing before you decided to go it on your own, and what was the final straw that caused you to forgo the traditional route?

Amanda Hocking: It was a bit of luck, actually. I think it was a tweet from DA of Chester French, who I’ve said for a long time is the smartest man on Twitter. He’d posted a link to an article about self-publishing, and it mentioned Joe Konrath and his success with it. After years of hearing horror stories about self-publishing, vanity presses, and Publish America, I was wary of the idea at first.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had nothing to lose. I had done everything I could think to get published traditionally.

Besides that, I had an absurd goal to be published by the time I was 26 because that’s how old Stephen King was when he first published, so I knew had to do something to get going.

I didn’t do much marketing before I uploaded my first book. I mentioned it on Twitter and my blog, but I didn’t have any real followers there. When I’d had them on sale for a few weeks, I made an announcement at Kindleboards, and I mentioned them a few places on the Amazon forums. That was about it for promotion.

JOA: Can you give us a brief overview as to your sales progress? Did they start slow, or simply take off immediately?

AH: What I didn’t realize then and do now is that my sales were always a little above average, and I have no explanation for this. The first day I think I sold 1 or 2 books, and I’ve never sold any less than that. I was averaging 3 sales a day after the first two weeks they’d been out.

My sales really began to take off in June, and I think that was in large part because I began contacting book bloggers in May, asking if they would want to review my book. A few of them did, and that has been tremendously helpful. I went from averaging 20 sales a day in May to 137 sales a day in June.

My sales continued to grow each month, but not super dramatically from that. In October, I actually sold fewer books than I did in September. But then in November, for reasons I don’t really know, my sales exploded. They jumped from 157 a day in October to 704 per day in November.

JOA: Has your success changed the way you look at yourself as a writer? How has it altered your lifestyle?

AH: I think, in a really weird way, I actually had more conviction in my writing ability before I was published than I do now. And that opinion hasn’t changed because of negative reviews or anything. It’s because I realized that people are actually paying to read what I have to say, and it makes me more aware of how good the story needs to be to entertain them.

Before, I was my only audience, and I always entertained myself. So it was easier to believe that what I did was good.

My lifestyle hasn’t really changed, other than the fact that I don’t have a day job anymore. This has all happened so fast, it hasn’t had much of a chance to change. My bills are all caught up for the first time in about three or four years, though. So that’s nice.

JOA: Do you in any way worry that your distinctive voice could be tainted by the need to remain a top seller?

AH: Not really. I think anything I write sounds like me, if that makes sense. If you give me any topic to write about – be it Nazi’s or aliens – I would still write it the way I write. My stuff tends be character driven with a lot of dialogue and pop culture references. So even if I do follow trends to stay on top, I’ll still be writing an Amanda Hocking book that sounds like me.

JOA: Your success has brought about a lot of attention, as well. Your name constantly pops up in blog articles, and in a way you are looked at as an icon in the independent community. How do you feel about this? Is it in any way uncomfortable for you?

AH: It’s a little strange.

JOA: Of all the books you've written, which is your favorite? Why?

AH: My favorite to write is probably Ascend, the third book in the Trylle Trilogy. And I’m not just saying that because it’s coming out soon. The Trylle Trilogy is something I really believe in. I had a lot of fun writing it.

The best book I’ve written, though, I think is Hollowland. That was actually the hardest for me to write.

JOA: As you well know, I read and thoroughly loved Hollowland. Why do you say it was the hardest to write?

AH: Having a female lead that strong was difficult. Remy is really tough, like super bad ass, and I juxtaposed her with a male lead who is less so. That dynamic was hard to write. Usually, even if you have a strong female, the male is at worst as strong as her, and he’s often stronger. But Remy had to be hard and world weary without being a bitch or cold, and her suitor had to soften her and humanize her, but he couldn’t be weak. Finding that balance was very hard.

It really made me think about stereotypes and roles of men and women in general. It was kind of eye opening in the way I thought them, and the way I feel like society thinks about them.

JOA: It's interesting that you should mention stereotypes. Not to get too far away from the subject of writing, but what is your opinion on the state of women's rights in this country? Personally, I see trends backsliding, as if people have forgotten what the purpose of feminism was in the first place. This scares me. Do you see this, as well?

AH: What drives me nuts about feminism is the idea that women have to be certain things or they’re not strong. That certain types of strengths and abilities are exalted and others are frowned upon.

My mom only ever wanted to get married and have kids. That’s it. But sometimes people treat that like it’s a bad thing. Like, “Oh, that’s all you wanted to do with your life?” Raising kids is hella hard. That’s why I don’t have any. And I don’t have a husband, either. I’d rather focus on my career than a family. But I don’t see either choice as being less than the other.

The idea of feminism is that women are equals and free to do things as they choose. And they should be, but it’s not fair to take away half of a choice because it’s stereotypically feminine.

I’ve never thought I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl. And no girl should. If you want to go out an save the world, more power to you. If you want to get married and be a secretary, equal power to you. That’s what it should be about.

But in all honesty, I think equality in general has taken a massive back slide.

JOA: There’s so much I could ask in response to this, but I think that would make this interview stretch into eternity, so let’s keep with the writing theme.

The majority of your work falls under the umbrella of paranormal romance. What is it about this sub-genre that appeals to you?

AH: I saw Dark Crystal for the first time when I was two, and it scared the hell out of me. Like nightmares terrified. Even some of the goblins in Labyrinth scare me, even as an adult. And yet this is my favorite stuff.

Well-done fantasy should scare you. You’re not afraid if you don’t believe in it, and it’s the belief that gives fantasy it’s magic. Fear and wonder are separated by a very thin line.

Romance, I think, is the other side of fantasy. You don’t fall in love if you don’t believe, and that’s all part of the same wonder as fantasy. I’m equally as in love with Jareth as I am frightened by the goblins in Labyrinth.

Good fantasy should scare you and make you fall in love. That’s all paranormal romance is, the blatant combination of the best parts of make believe.

JOA: Speaking of romance, do you see a difference in the ways male and female writers depict intimacy? If you do, what kind of things can we learn from the opposite sex by exploring these contrasting aspects more deeply?

AH: I don’t read a lot of romance by male authors, which I just realized, so it’s hard for me to get a clear comparison. Books by male authors I read tend to be satirical and political, like Kurt Vonnegut and Chuck Palahniuk. They don’t address intimacy in a big way, and if they do, it’s more clinical and blunt. In the case of someone like Bret Easton Ellis, it can be downright graphic and violent.

Books I read by female authors are more romance, like Richelle Mead and Claudia Gray. Their YA intimacy is very nuanced and subtle, but Mead’s Succubus books are very graphic, and frequent.

The differences I can see from men and women, from that random sampling, is that the men wright about it more instructionally, as in, “We had sex,” and the women right about it more emotionally, “It felt amazing when we had sex.”

But I am comparing books that are written in two very different styles. In general, the men’s books are written that way. It’s more “This happened,” and with women, it’s more “How I felt when this happened.”

So that’s my really long answer.

JOA: Your work (especially the My Blood Approves series) has been compared to Stephanie Myers' series. How are your books different?

AH: The My Blood Approves series does have similarities to Twilight. I knew that going in. I think it branches way off in its own, especially as the series goes on.

The biggest differences I think from her books in mine is that I wanted my characters to have fun, at least sometimes. Yes, there’s peril and heart ache and all that. But I wanted flawed characters who made mistakes and laughed and were sometimes silly and sometimes immature, but they were real. They were what people are, not ideals of what people should be. Some people don’t like that, and that’s fair. They are reading fantasy.

But it’s important to me that a seventeen-year-old girl acts like a seventeen-year-old girl. Like many (but not all), teenagers, she thinks she knows more than she does, that she doesn’t need high school, and the first time she falls in love, it consumes her. I’m not saying she should be a role model, but she was never intended be. She was simply supposed to be real.

My other books I don’t think are like Twilight. The Trylle Trilogy still gets compared to it, though, which doesn’t make much sense to me. Yes, there is romance and it is paranormal, but it’s much more similar to Labyrinth and The Princess Diaries than Twilight, but nobody has made those comparisons.

So I think part of that is because she’s become the definition of this genre now. Regardless of what books came before her with similar themes.

JOA: What are you reading now? What new authors out there excite you?

AH: Right now I am reading Third World America by Arianna Huffington and Palo Alto by James Franco. Arianna’s book is very interesting. It’s about the decline of the American dream. Palo Alto is a collection of somewhat bizarre stories by actor James Franco.

I recently Land of Ash, which I really dug. It’s gotten me into shorty story collections. I like reading, but my mind’s always on about thirty things at once, so short stories are working really well for my attention span right now. I also really loved JL Bryan’s Jenny Pox.

But honestly, lately, I haven’t been reading that many new books. I’ve just been reading books I’ve read before. I’ve worked my way through most of Vonnegut’s stuff this year, and I reread Survivor and Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahnuk recently. I really want to reread Good Omens but it’s not available on the Kindle, so I’m pretty bummed. 

JOA: What does the future hold for you? Are there any exciting events or new releases on the horizon? Inquiring minds want to know.

AH: I can’t even begin to speculate what the future holds. My life feels so bizarre right now, and I have no idea what’s going to happen next.

As for future projects, I have two more books coming out in the next couple weeks. The final book in the Trylle Trilogy Ascend, and a novella spinoff from the My Blood Approves series.

JOA: Thank you for spending some time with me over the last few days, Amanda. I rather enjoyed myself, and I hope others will find this interview informative and entertaining. Good luck to you, and we'll chat soon.

AH: Thank you for having me. And I enjoyed myself too. :)


Edie Ramer said...

Great interview! Amanda, it's good to know that you used book reviewers to get the word out, because that's my strategy.

You are so prolific. Do you think that helped contribute to your popularity?

Robin Sullivan said...

Very nice interview. I'm very interested in that November things really started taking off as I saw something similar with My husband's The Riyria Revelations Series. He went from 1,000 books a month in September to 7,800 books in November and 10,000 books in December. I'm not sure if it is the start of a trend or just the Xmas bump.

In any case, I'm so happy for Amanda it is quite a testiment to the quality of her work.