On Amanda Hocking and Self-Publishing
(Here’s to hoping I don’t regret posting this, but at the same time, I do enjoy a good debate!)
I was involved in a discussion a couple of days ago on the Indie Writers United! group on Facebook regarding Amanda Hocking’s writing, and I came out of it so incensed that I had to stop and take the time to write this post. Pardon me if I step on anyone’s toes or if any of this doesn’t make total sense, but I am making a point, I promise! (And I swear I’ll try to keep this short.)
First, I’d like to state that I am in no way envious of Amanda Hocking and her success. I applaud her for doing what she feels is best for her. This is nothing to do with her personally; this has all to do with her writing itself. Please remember the key rule of any author: criticism of the writing does not equal criticism of the writer.
That said, a little history for those of you who don’t know the story of Amanda Hocking (since it seems there are still people who haven’t even heard of her):
Amanda Hocking is a “mega bestselling indie heroine” who has, somehow, managed to sell thousands and thousands of copies of her self-published books on Amazon and B&N and has made hundreds of thousands of dollars doing so. She’s been signed to traditional publisher St. Martin’s Press for a purported $2mil advance to write a series of four YA paranormal romance novels. This is, by all accounts, the epitome of success in the indie publishing world.
It all started a few days ago when fellow indie author Ben White (of the excellent novel The Undying Apathy Of Imogen Shroud) posted to his blog an article entited, “Is it Laziness or Efficiency? Baby It’s Both: Good Writing vs Good Promotion” (go read the whole thing; it’s pretty much my thoughts put down a little more eloquently), in which he puts forward the idea that Amanda Hocking, while a “success,” is not a good writer. To quote White:
I don’t begrudge A[manda] H[ocking] her success or wish her ill or anything like that, and I’m certainly not envious of her position. When I say ‘she’s not a good writer’ I mean her sentences are clumsy, she often uses the wrong word, her characters are flat, her dialogue is cliched, she head-hops a lot and so on. … Additionally, her books are poorly formatted and in serious need of editing; just reading the sample for Hollowland I picked up dozens of basic errors.
To be quite frank about it, I agree with White. Hocking is not that great of a writer. Or perhaps I should say I don’t take her as seriously as I should as a writer, because her editing or lack thereof smacks of unprofessionalism. This segues into my point about indie publishing, though, and it’s something that I feel really needs to be said. There’s no other way to put it either, so here goes:
Just because Amanda Hocking does it, doesn’t mean you should do it.
Amanda Hocking is the exception to the rule, not the rule itself.
You as an indie author will likely never see the sales that Amanda Hocking has seen. She is a perfect case of luck and the “right place, right time” lottery. While I’m sure she has compelling storylines, I found it incredibly difficult to get through even a chapter of either of the two novels I tried to read by her, because every typo, every misspelled word, every missing word yanked me right out of the story as I stumbled to try to figure out just what she meant to say. It made it difficult to get into the story to begin with, and I found my attention drifting away from the book more often than not, rather than having it focused solely on the page in front of me and the characters and their adventures.
From the perspective of both reader and writer, this is something that should never happen.
As an indie author, you are playing the game of writer, editor, publisher, marketer, and every other -er in the business. You are your own employer, and you are your only employee. You are the only one to blame when something goes wrong with your manuscript or your sales or your marketing techniques. You can’t just say, “Oh, my editor fell down on the job,” or “Oh, my publisher isn’t marketing my book like I want them to,” or “Oh, the market just isn’t there for this kind of book right now.” You are the publisher. You are the marketer. You are the editor. And as editor, it is your responsibility to make sure your manuscript is up to snuff.
There’s a lot of talk in the indie/self-publishing world about how indie authors and indie publishers are going to take down the “traditional” publishing houses (such as, for example, Random House, Scholastic, etc.). There’s talk of the abolishment of physical books, of millions of dollars to be made and of having full control over your own manuscript and not having to worry about those pesky editors screwing with your book without permission (never mind that you are required contractually to approve of each and every change to your manuscript, even wayward commas, and if there’s a change that can’t be made, all you have to do is state your case and they’ll roll with it, because, contrary to belief, ultimately, you are the boss of your manuscript).
I’m sorry, but indie authors will never be able to “take down” the traditional publishers with the attitude that some have that “grammar isn’t important if you’re able to tell a good, compelling story” or that “typos are okay.” (While they do happen, and someone will invariably find one somewhere in this post, that doesn’t make them okay.) The traditional publishers, contrary to the belief of indie writers, do not have any reason to take most indie authors seriously with this type of attitude, because all you’re doing is putting out work that enforces the mindset of self-publishing equals sub-par. I actually had someone tell me yesterday that it’s okay to have poor editing in a book that someone only paid $0.99 or $1.99 or $2.99 for! This is incredibly unprofessional and incredibly disrespectful to the reader (you know, the person who’s actually buying your books) and a serious disservice to yourself and your fellow indie authors.
If you want to compete with the big boys, you have to offer a product that actually competes with the big boys. No ands, ifs, or buts about it.
Self-publishing a successful book, even a moderately successful one, requires a combination of creative skills and technical skills: creative in that you can tell a fantastic story with amazing three-dimensional characters and vivid settings that emotionally connect with the reader; and technical in that you can be grammatically and structurally correct, both on the high-level and low-level, throughout the entire novel. There’s no way around this. You can’t have one or the other. You have to have both, and if you call yourself a professional indie author, then this is non-negotiable.
With the attitude I’ve had thrown at me that grammar and great editing aren’t important, and with the apparent reinforcing of said attitude by high-profile, poorly-edited self-published authors like Amanda Hocking, I can honestly say that I can’t see indie authors being able to compete with the traditional publishers anytime in the foreseeable future.
I’m open to debate. Lay it on me! lol