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So Let’s Go Home And Draw the Curtain

Amanda Hocking: ‘A lot of authors tend to over market’

By Maryann Yin on March 29, 2012 3:07 PM

GalleyCat contributor Jeff Rivera interviewed self-publishing success story Amanda Hocking for mediabistro.com’s So What Do You Do? feature.

When asked about why most writers who self-publish are not able to achieve what she has, she replied:

A lot of authors tend to over market or they don’t take criticisms very well. They think that their book is perfect. They don’t want to get bogged down with editing or covers, because they think their book is so good. Or they market too hard. All they do is talk about their book and nobody wants to hear, ‘Buy my book.’ They want to have a conversation with you … Also, new writers respond to negative reviews and have great catastrophic meltdowns. You can’t respond to reviews at all except to say ‘thank you for reading the book.’ That’s the best you can do; otherwise, you’re just going to look bad even if the reviewer is totally out of line.

Follow this link to read the rest of Hocking’s interview.

I’m posting this article from Media Bistro because I have been obsessed with the question of HOW these internet phenoms get so big. Lots of people publish their books on-line. How do you get to be McDonald’s? I want to know because I’m curious. I also want to know because I secretly burn to grow this blog. What I learned from the interview is that I have to be prepared to do a lot more than I’ve done or continue to do. Sending one or two paragraphs of smoke up the internet’s derriere every night is not going to cut it. Or getting chummy with some bloggers who will remain nameless. I haven’t read Amanda Hocking’s novels, but damn I respect her work ethic. When I was her age I could barely cross the room to look for rolling papers.

Honestly, how hard do you work at growing your business?

51 Responses

  1. I prefer to blow smoke up the internet’s butt and hope that someday I will be interviewed and can explain how I made it big ignoring all the “rules” – thank you very much.

  2. I find it hard to believe you don’t have more followers than you do. Your missives hit a nerve every time. To answer the question: Very hard. I teach, write, research, envy, applaud, read, mark, tweet, post, comment, talk, lecture, submit, schmooze, present, edit, network, gab and strategize almost every day. Don’t we all?

  3. I tweet, and hit hot buttons, mostly by accident. This last week I’ve been getting a ton of hits because I whined about the lack of sex in The Hunger Games. Who knew so many people were thinking the same thing?

    I wouldn’t have a clue.

  4. “Honestly, how hard do you work at growing your business?”

    Honestly, I don’t know. Often I fear not hard enough, but fear is a treacherous counselor.

    And what do these terms mean? In the question, “How hard do you work at growing your business,” what do those terms mean? What is “hard work” to a writer? What is a writer’s “business”? How does it “grow”?

    I’m not bullshitting here. These issues are important to any dedicated writer who seeks the broadest possible readership.

    All I know to do is my best possible work writing what I write best. This is the foundation. Upon this foundation, which I continually seek to fortify through study and practice, I further seek to build an edifice of worldly success through having work published in ways that I think will matter; that is, in forums where my work will appear with other work I respect and enjoy, and where it will be read, I should hope, by people who likewise respect and enjoy similar work.

    None of this is really answering your questions or mine, Betsy, because beyond what I just wrote, I don’t have a shit’s clue. The best thing that comes to mind right now is this: I live in a desert area. When the thunderstorms come in the summer rainy season, they don’t rain everywhere. Even where they rain, the amounts vary widely. And the lightning strikes are the same way. If I could get a million people to do this, I would have them stand in the same place every day during the rainy season, each one of them in their own spot with maybe ten meters between each person. They would go out to their spot every day, without fail–imagine the discipline, the dedication–and we would see at the end of the season who got rained on and when and how much and who got stuck by lightning and whose nerves got rattled by the thunder of near-misses.

    Who gets the publicity and who doesn’t, who becomes a phenom and who gets passed over with varying degrees of lesser success, these issues seem to me to be a lot like the million people scattered across the desert, waiting for a storm they have no greater ability to summon than by simply being there. Some–very few–will get struck by lightning, some will get drenched, some will get lesser amounts of rain, and many won’t get any rain at all. There’s nothing to be done for it but be there.

    And no, I am not stoned.

    • I like this, Tetman. I also feel I don’t work hard enough. I mean, between the work a day world and child raising, I don’t feel I’m putting enough into my writing. And that’s just to get the fucker finished, nevermind the marketing. There’s a lot to learn, one step at a time.

  5. Okay, I see this post and I go, “Who the fuck jacked Betsy’s blog?”

    But my second thought is, “Betsy is so good at reading my mind. And that’s why I can’t even go to bed at night without checking in on her interweb ass smoke signals.”

    You are prescient and wise, as usual, with this Amanda Hocking prescriptive. Indeed, my writers’ roundtable discussion du jour was composed precisely of these very questions that entertain social media strategies and whatnot.

    How hard do I work to grow my business? Here’s the thing. If we’re talking about selling my work, I think I’m working pretty hard. I write, I rewrite, I send it off to the agent. I blog, I tweet, I send love notes. But, alas, no published book. Which makes me wonder who I have to blow, and if, indeed, blowing is now out of style. There goes my business model!

    But, oddly, my hired pen biz is thriving. My prose therapist side job has a waiting list. And it makes me seriously question if my gift is, indeed, supporting writers more than being a writer. Which sends me into a spiral of anxiety, depression and self-loathing.

  6. I love this post today because this very question has recently crow-barred me out of my usual haunt (the fiction section) and into the business books (and self help/psychology) section of my local B&N. Because if (when??) my agent sells my MS, or if (when??) I attempt to go the way of the self, it’s not going to be enough to just lie alone naked in a cheep hotel bed waiting for customers. I need to learn to stick out my sickly white atrophied writer’s leg and hike up the ol bath robe. (in the most tasteful non obnoxious ego salvaging way, of course.) The best I can come up with is that Ms. Hocking is exactly right. When it comes to successful self promotion, nothing much has changed. You’ve got to get out there, shake hands, and really listen (and respond) to what people are saying. You are a politician on a campaign trail that must refuse to utilize auto dialing recorded messages.

    No small order for a population of socially stunted introverts.

  7. The promo is the biggest pain. I do the regular stuff, tweet, BookBlogs, GoodReads, but can’t get into the word of mouth mill. This, I know is a personality problem. I had actually thrown in the towel and formatted a new plan for myself but got a nice ass-kicking today from someone on a “PAID” best seller list who likes my work and I am back to the races. Have to anyway cuz my brain is a-boil. Just keep swimming. Gonna make the aquarium a little bigger then on to the ocean.

  8. A few weeks ago I decided I can’t think, at all, about the business side until I Finish This Fucker. Period. No sense thinking about the prom when I have no date and no dress.

  9. Call me a farmer: I’m trying to grow two: First, the Day Job. My 35 year investment of education, certifications, on-going CEUs and an SBA loan in order to allow me the credibility to post an occupational license, hang a certification issued by a State Board, network, hand out business cards, accept invitations to speak to college students, bid on work against larger firms and occasionally get the project. Second, Writing. Presently a learning curve of daily writing goals interspersed with workshops, forums, crit groups, joining several literary organizations, following this blog and mentally dissecting every book, poem and article I read to gain more insight. I’m bartering nice lunches and Day Job advice for a PR expert to network me into certain groups; I’m volunteering at literary events to “see how it works” and carefully listening to all that is said – and not. Thankfully, I’m one of those people who need 6-or-less hours of sleep every night to keep all this going.

    So long as the Day Job is paying the bills, I’m willing to follow this path until a manuscript catches the eye of someone besides me. As a farmer, I know there will eventually be a harvest.

    • Corny old Neil Young once sang, “In the field of opportunity, it’s plowing time again.” I hope you keep planting the seeds and tending the fields, Karen.

    • It’s a great approach.

    • Farming is the perfect metaphor for how to live, no matter what one does. (That’s an idea I got from–damn, can’t remember her name–Alice Munro, I think it was. And I’m not sure she was so explicit, but she was raised in a farming family and wrote about it and that’s what I got from it. Those eggs have to be gathered and cows milked every day. And when the crop is ripe, it has to be gathered (that’s why there’s a Harvest Moon). And other stuff, too, but I’m a city lad so I won’t pretend to know. All I know–or believe–is that life is like farming, no matter what you do. Time to go hoe a row.)

  10. I’m not trying at all right now, but I can’t help but think about it. My editor, who often tells me things more than once, has told me to finish the book, then worry about the marketing.

    I have a bit of an advantage, in that there is an established following, T-shirts and hoodies (“Tour de Frank”) are out there, and an outlet through the magazine’s bookstore is in place.

  11. Quite timely for me, and Amanda Hocking’s interview shows what it’s really about. I have been reaching out in a manic way, doing tie-in article pitches and guest posts and giveaway. No t-shirts however.

    Somehow it feels as though it will never be enough and today I would prefer to be doing some gardening.

    • What -what’s- really about? She can’t write. Who cares how well she promotes or how hard she works? Or even, really, how much she sells? I mean, other than to fuel the jealous hope that she dies of a septic colon. But other than that, good for her. I’m sure some other lovely young person is making a fortune designing dishware, and that has as much to do with my business as Hocking. I can’t do what she does. Read the excerpts. I wish I could, but I can’t. I can’t write 50 Shades of Vanilla, either. I can’t write for people who can read more than five pages of it. The only overlap between her business and mine is that she proves publishing is for suckers. If you’re ever in need of a greatest fool, first check St. Martin’s. She wrote ‘almost’ fifteen books and sold 1.5 million copies, at a price of between nothing and three bucks? At two million dollars for four books, St. Martin’s thinks they’re going to sell how many book, at what price point? I suspect half those numbers are bullshit–every person involved at every step of this story has an incentive to lie–but what the fuck do I know? If you’re ever in need of a guy who makes even a greater fool look smart, first check me. All I want is to write something that’ll sell, and I’ll try anything to make that happen except writing something that’ll sell.

      There are ten thousand people out there this week trying to understand why their scheme for picking the winning MegaMillions number didn’t work. What’s the secret? Why did some other gagging fuckface get the winning ticket? Are the winners more deserving? Did they crack the code? Does Jesus love them more? I don’t know. Who’s the bigger asshole, the guy selling ‘How to Pick Winning Lottery Tickers’ or the guy buying it?

      • I lost track of what you’re trying to say here because you’re tripping all over yourself with rage. From what I’m able to process, it’s a fucked up business and nobody knows what the fuck they’re doing, blind luck being the order of the day. I have not read any of Amanda Hocking’s books, but somehow she’s doing quite well. Must be some entertainment value there. At the end of the day though, when I’m so tired I’m falling asleep in the Easy chair, when I pick up a book that is well written and excites me enough that I don’t want to go to sleep, I’m reminded of why I like to read, why I like to write. Write something that will blow the reader away. That’s all.

        About the lottery – I thought the money was supposed to go toward education yet schools are facing cuts and teachers are losing their jobs every day. The people spending a few dollars hoping to make many millions aren’t the only ones losing out..

      • August what earning money from writing is all about. I’ve tried lottery tickets, physics translations. I’m not going to waitress at forty and ruin my legs. I want a plane ticket to Sydney and my car is falling to bits.

      • Here, here. The readership of my blog surged after a photo I posted went crazy on Tumbler. I wasted hours rethinking my strategy because I wanted to keep upping the numbers. Then I asked myself, why? Are these people really my audience? After the success of other books I went through a phase of writing in some paranormal aspects. Then I realized it wasn’t what I want. Contrived does not work for me. I’m willing to talk to anyone about the history, culture and stories I heard while writing my novel. How I felt a connection with an 80 year old mother and how our tales intertwined and drove the idea for the book. How I cried for her. But I’m not ready to write about genetically engineered Soviet werewolves in Lapland. Yet.

      • Thank you, August. Iwas in a room where two adult males were discussing the Hunger Games which they had read. The whole series. I had to walk out and I’m not even an MFA. I actually write fluff, but if I heard two adult males discussing it, I’d throw up a little. Entertainment value. . .

  12. What business? This is a business; I thought it was an addiction.
    This is going to be long, sorry, but Betsy and a few folks here need to read this.
    Straight talk now: I’m in a hurry so sorry for the fuck-ups.
    So you want to grow this blog, want it big, I mean want it BIG. I’m going to throw some of your own words back-at-cha; your book, pages, 22 to 25, I think, your ‘form’ honey. Is this blog your ‘form’?
    Working hard to achieve is where it’s at. Really working HARD and doing everything you can conceivably think of is how it’s done BUT as I tell my, now grown and very successful kids, when your eyes are swollen from banging your head against the cinderblocks in your path maybe it’s time to walk around them and find another way.
    I have two novels I have been querying, they are really good, written well and one is an amazing story; but enough about me. After two years of doing everything in my power to get someone in the business to read them, I read this quote by Joseph Campbell:
    “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to live the life that is waiting for us.”
    After reading that, I set aside the novels and went back to essays. That’s what I do best, that’s what I love. One day later I sent out a piece, it got accepted and 24 hours after that I was asked to become a columnist for a local paper. Writing 101 you said…essays don’t sell; well mine do.
    Betsy, honey, what’s your fucking form. If the key doesn’t start the BMW maybe it fits the Mercedes, or the Ford Focus. Just stick the thing in the ‘write’ slot.
    Like you said, and I’m paraphrasing, look at your scraps?
    As far as I can tell this blog is an enormously successful hundred-acre wheat field of a front lawn. We must all struggle, that’s what makes success so sweet, but what’s successful for Amanda may not work for Tetman and what’s successful for Tetman may not work Sisi and like Christi says you hit a nerve every time.
    Here’s something to think about Betsy, something for all of us to think about, is it the number of hits you want for this ballgame or is it the one home-run like no other, which makes writing history, that you want? One of us, here, today, this morning, may be the amazing player who hits the fucking ball so far, you and the rest of us see the world like Amanda does. Maybe it’s Tetman at bat or sisi or me or you. It won’t be conventional, Amanda can attest to that, but it will be amazing. Like Campbell said, let go of the plan and let life happen.
    Okay, shower time, off to fucking work. I sure as hell would like to let go of that.

  13. I’m trying to shut up (not working too well) and write. You can’t edit and write at the same time, so you can’t fucking market and write (the same project) at the same time either. Nose to grindstone; see y’all later.

  14. What they said.
    Yeah.
    I mean, this blog has the liveliest, best, most interesting community I’ve experienced. Maybe other blogs get more hits. Maybe other blogs get more comments. But what happens here is a conversation, and I haven’t seen that anywhere else.

    On the other side of the neurosis, however, I understand. I, too, wish my blog would “make it big.” And maybe it will. It’s getting bigger.

    Shrug. Don’t know.

  15. What about Lady Luck? You can work your arse off for 50 years and get nowhere, then the dame down the road clicks her fingers and makes a million. There’s more to this thing than platforms and blogs and Twitters and Facebooks. There’s more to it than writing and querying in just the right way because we’re told to do things a certain way (no paper clips only elastic bands please) ~ or synopsising (?) or whatever. If luck ain’t on your side you won’t even open the curtains let alone break the door down!

  16. Honestly, I don’t have the skill, skin or desire for self promotion. I do what I do because not doing it would be a slow and painful death, because the doing is the only way I stay alive. My work speaks for itself and by putting it out there I’m already building an audience. It’s like the voice in Field of Dreams tells Kevin Costner, If you build it, [they] will come. That’s certainly a comfort but it’s by no means a motivation.

    • Good point, MSB.

      And a good first step, too—if we don’t put out work out there, there’s not much for our potential audiences to look at . . .

  17. According to Franz Kafka, “Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin, impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.”

    This blog will grow to be huge. If blogs were rated on the basis of the loyalty of their followers, I would bet my firstborn this one would be in the top ten. I’ve been coming here (and only here) daily for over two years and seeing the same names pop up consistently over that span of time. Smart people with busy lives and careers taking the time to construct thoughtful responses. You don’t build that sort of loyal and quality following with bullshit.

    This blog started out as a place for writers and wannabe writers to come seeking publishing enlightenment. But the message is infinitely wider and deeper. It’s a how-to guide for living in the modern world. I have to believe that a crack in the blogosphere will open and the word will leak out to the masses.

  18. This one has me scratching myself because it hits a nerve. I have a day job raising money for a special needs school, a 1950’s ranch physically falling apart at about the same rate as I am, a partner who doesn’t read, 2 kids, one a junior in high school seriously stressed and shut down and the other an over-parentified 6th grader. I have a half-assed blog, a quarter of a novel, and eighth of another, and a bunch of short stories growing mold. I’ve never sent anything out, and go to writing workshops hoping to be told my writing is shit. I go to a writing group where everyone practically licks my writing and leave feeling like a cheap monstrous fraud. I read like an addict but write like a stingy dried up hag. I want a work ethic but am too damn comfortable with sabotage and self-doubt. And yet, no matter how pathetic I feel, I keep at it. I’m like that dorky kid hanging out around the cool crowd praying for a 1980’s John Hughes ending. I’m even embarrassed hanging out in this blog.

    So how hard do I grow my business? I choke the living shit out of it and hope it survives.

    • This set of circumstances is more run-of-the-mill for writers than you may think. And good for you. This is how it’s done. Except the chicken part. Get out there. Take the hits. They don’t kill, but they do make you stronger.

  19. “Rust never sleeps.”

  20. i don’t expect to be successful. i expect i’ll write to the best of my abilities, over time, and i’ll send my work out into the world and maybe someone will read it and go “huh”. that’saboutit.

    • Well, you’re sending, so you want it. Fortunately for you, a writer’s intentions mean naught once that text starts going around. Mooning about one’s anticipated fame and wealth don’t make them more likely, either.

  21. If I really wanted to grow my business I’d find a way to hire a short-term, high end publicist. And I’ll do just that if my agent, Miss Black Hole Abyss, sells the novels. Until then, I keep to myself.

  22. Does the person jumping up and down on the center median, while holding a sign and wearing a chicken costume, ever direct you to the quality product? If its art you’re after I’d say no.

  23. Stephen Siciliano reads from his novel “Vedette” to the flamenco stylings of guitarist Omar Torrez at the Cooper Store, Spring St. Downtown Art Walk, April 12, 8 p.m. Tapas and wine are complimentary. The books are not. Show up, sit down, and listen.

    (my novel is self-published)

  24. I work like crazy on the writing and I work almost as hard at the publicity. The frustrating (and sometimes glorious) reality is that when something hits, it’s either due to coincidence, factors beyond my control, or the fingers of the internet gods. My blog post today is getting awesome traffic because I wrote about the fact that the NYC DoE banned the word “dinosaur” from their state testing. People like dinosaurs, so that pissed them off and so that piece is making the rounds on the internet. Sometimes I write stuff that I think will hit, and then it falls flat. I can’t predict most of the time.

    I just keep writing and figure my writing stock, through a sort of dollar-cost-average investing plan, will eventually rise. My blog stats look kind of like the S&P, come to think of it.

  25. Betsy, may I call you “Our Lady of the Sharp Stick”?

    You’ve poked us again, judging from the number and intensity of the responses.

    Thinking about your questions, I recalled that I’ve never put advancement first. Getting it right, doing it right, working toward some end has always been more important than making the big bucks or being really popular. I guess I’ve been successful, because I have enough money, but not too much, and I’m not really popular.

    There’s a satisfaction in the right word, phrase, or paragraph that nearly matches a taught sail on a clear day, and that’s enough. What we do as writers is solitary and personal, self promotion quite different. It is also a bit complicated, since few people know who B. Frank Franklin really is.

    What I do promote is the magazine, where a number of talented people share their work, including Marlin Bree, Richard Herman, Tom Pamperin, Dylan Winter, and Howard Rice. This is a niche, and these guys fill it well: Marlin has several books out, Dick Herman has a dozen or so, and Howard, who sailed a folding kayak around Cape Horn both ways, has spent the last several years working on the first world park in Micronesia. Being in the same publication with them is humbling, and drives me to be better.

  26. Unfortunately, the promotion step is a couple ahead of where I’m at. Best I can aspire to at this juncture is the first one: my sweet agents finally sells a damn book. Until then, I’ll worry about promotion another day. After all, there’s always tomorrow. But by gum as I live and breath I will never be hungry again…oops. Got a little off track there.

  27. Throughout these comments is a familiar writerly meme that has one manning the keyboard until the bitter end, come what may (which is likely nothing) because the writing is all the matters.

    There are exceptions, of course, but writing is a public endeavor. You seek to impose your words and thoughts upon people you don’t even know. For that you have to show your self.

    From Twain to Dos Passos, Buckley and Gore Vidal, the public face of the writer has been a boon to literature, book sales and free thought.

    Writing is most of it, but people need a reason to read your book. There are so very many.

    “Self-promotion,” is just telling people why your story’s good and interesting.

    There is an episode from the first season of “Mad Men,” called “The Carrousel.” It is a perfect dramatization of how the pitch can be raised to the level of poetry and be all convincing.

    It is worth watching.

  28. Bullshit Betsy.
    If you actually burned to grow this blog you’d put actual work into it, instead of keeping it in the back of your mind each day until something comes up that’ll work as a blog post, going Tick, that’ll do, posting a short piece then maybe reading the comments.
    Your choice of material for blog posts is usually good as far as giving us something worth thinking about, but not so good for attracting new followers.
    You just don’t do stuff that attracts new followers, or keeps people coming back if they come here once, including the most obvious one.
    Interacting.
    People that want to grow their blogs at least bother to interact with the people who comment.
    You write your post then ignore those who speak back to you.
    I like your blog, I always read it, as do most of your followers, but to suggest that you’re actually attempting to grow this blog is to insult our intelligence.

  29. Give the people what they want, but make them pay.

  30. I created a Kickstarter account to publish my book.

    Take a look and if you want to contribute, please do do.

    I’m reaching out to whoever can help. It’s, um, loosely based on an eight-year abusive marriage I was in. Seeing it published would be extremely cathartc.

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