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Vampire writer becomes millionaire

26-year-old author Amanda Hocking signs a book contract worth more than $2 million


Amanda Hocking, a 26-year-old author in Austin, Minnesota who’s considered the biggest e-book seller in the world, has signed with an ink-and-paper publisher for a book contract reportedly worth more than $2 million. The four-book deal was confirmed Thursday by Hector DeJean, a spokesman for St. Martin’s Press.

“I always said if the deal was good I would take it, and if it isn’t, I don’t really lose anything,” Hocking said in an interview last week.

That St. Martin’s payday will represent the second and third millions Hocking has earned from her books since last spring, when she bypassed traditional publishers and began uploading her paranormal romances to digital sites that support e-readers such as Kindles and Nooks. Her books began getting noticed on blogs and Websites, and, primarily through word of mouth, sales began to climb. Her 99-cent price point didn’t hurt, either.

Since last April, Hocking has sold more than 900,000 copies of her nine books about trolls, vampires and zombies ― more than 400,000 in January alone.

She found herself a reluctant folk hero among writers irked by what they saw as the elitism of traditional publishing. But Hocking says she has no quarrel with publishers. And while some will note the St. Martin’s deal as evidence that self-published authors, however successful, will always give in when the bigwigs come calling, Hocking says she just wants a break from doing everything herself.

“I want to be a writer,” she wrote last week in her blog, Amandahocking.blogspot.com. “I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full-time corporation.”

In person and on her blog, Hocking comes across as genuinely kind ― even, despite the dramatic author photo on her books, as the “happy, fluffy person” that she considers herself to be.

She is known for her Trylle Trilogy (“Switched,” “Torn” and “Ascend”) and a four-book series about vampires that begins with “My Blood Approves.” As a teenager, she submitted her manuscripts to agents and publishers without getting a nibble. Then, as an avid user of iTunes, she saw the possibilities in making her books similarly available for downloading.

She priced the first digital book in each series at 99 cents, and subsequent books at $2.99. Paperbacks, published as needed through CreateSpace, are $8.99. Amazon’s Kindle model lets her keep 70 percent of the price, while Barnes & Noble’s Nook plan offers 40 percent for 99-cent books, and more as the price rises.

She was on to something. While U.S. book sales faltered in 2009, e-book sales rose almost 180 percent to $313 million, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Fans applaud her “against the odds” life story, but she also sounds a little like one of her heroines, with whom devotees of paranormal romances identify. Consider:

Hocking isn’t especially imposing. With a wry look, she told about stopping recently at her old high school to deliver a check to support an arts organization there, and how none of the teachers remembered her. Chalk it up to never fitting in.
Amanda Hocking works on her laptop at a coffee shop on Austin’s Main Street. (MCT)
Amanda Hocking works on her laptop at a coffee shop on Austin’s Main Street. (MCT)

Her parents divorced when she was 11, although she saw them both every day while growing up. Her mom is a medical transcriptionist and her father a truck driver. Her stepmother is an administrative assistant at Hormel, and her stepfather a computer technician for Mower County. Chalk it up to working-class realities.

She attended Riverland Community College in Austin ― a couple of times, actually, but never finished. She’s worked as a dishwasher, at ShopKo, and mostly recently in group homes with people with disabilities. Chalk it up to doing whatever it takes.

And then she made a million dollars and still takes time to blog and e-mail and be nice and make wisecracks. Chalk it up to how we would act ― no, really! ― under the same circumstances.

Hocking regularly contributes to blogs and discussion boards, touting favorite authors. She recently noted on her own blog how, given the recent wave of publicity, her distinctively embellished laptop has been in lots of photos and she thought that the company that makes such decals, Gelaskins.com, should get a shout-out.

Fellow bloggers are key to her success. “I am fortunate enough to write in a genre where they work very hard for you if they like you,” she said. “Once they liked me, they really worked on talking about (her work) on their blogs, and having interviews and giveaways.”

Among Amazon’s top 100 paid books for Kindle, seven are by Hocking. Hewing to genre, however, doesn’t mean that the books are easily written, an assumption that riles her.

“I outline a lot,” she said. “It takes me three or four weeks to sit down and write.” She edits and rewrites books that run to about 300 pages. When she’s on a roll, she can write 10,000 words a day, maybe more, depending on her Red Bull consumption.

“I feel like I always have to be putting out more and doing more,” she said, sitting cross-legged on the couch of her turquoise-and-pink living room amid Muppet figures ― huge Jim Henson fan ― and Batman characters. “It scares me that if I stop doing this it will go away, especially now that I have some notoriety.”

Hocking is an outlier in indie publishing, but not for long. Crime writer John Locke has sold more than 350,000 Kindle downloads of his latest book, “Saving Rachel,” for 99 cents ― since January. Such numbers defy conventional wisdom, but Locke has said it all comes down to 99 cents being the magic number, especially if mainstream e-books are priced higher: “And so the buyer pauses, and it is in this pause ― this golden, sweet-scented pause ― that we independent authors gain the advantage, because we offer incredible value.”

When Hocking began writing, “I wanted to write something that was really profound, like ‘Slaughterhouse Five.’ Meaningful. I was forcing myself to be something I’m not.”

Yet she fights the sense that she’s not a credible writer ― a sense partly fueled by traditional media’s resistance to reviewing books that are genre-based or self-published. “If I was writing some big novel about racism or oppression, maybe I would feel more legitimate,” she said.

The St. Martin’s Press deal is for a four-book series called “Watersong.” The first, “Wake,” is to be released in fall 2012. As of Thursday afternoon, 79 people on goodreads.com had marked it as “to read.”

By Kim Ode

(Star Tribune (Minneapolis))

(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)
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