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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

a bit of reality check...

I wrote a blog a couple days in hopes that I had said everything I could possibly say about publishing, and then I would have one nice big blog that I could point everyone back to when they had questions. (And if you want to check it out, here it is: Pretty Much Everything I Have to Say About How I Do What I Do). But with the recent influx of emails in my inbox and some of the buzz I'm hearing on the interweb, I feel like I have something more I need to say.

Self-publishing is NOT is the easy way out. If you simply want to be published, and do not care if everyone reads or enjoys your work, then yes, self-publishing is easy. If you want to be sucessful and make a living as a writer, then it is hard work. In a lot of ways, I suspect it is harder than being traditionally published.

I'm just under the impression that a lot of people are now looking at this as a Get Rich Quick scheme, and this is no such thing. 

So much of what people are saying about me is, "Look what Amanda Hocking accomplished in a year," when they really should be saying is, "Look what Amanda Hocking accomplished in twenty years." Because that's how long I've been writing, that's how long I've been working towards this goal.

Most of my life has been spent in front of a keyboard or with a pen and paper. I have spent more of my life writing than I have on any other singular activity (with the exception of sleeping). I easily work over forty hours a week, just on writing, editing, networking, reading, etc.

Other ewriters that I know that are doing well - like David Dalglish and HP Mallory, among others - are doing as well as they are for the same reasons. They treat their writing like a career, something they they work hard for every day. If you do not have the time to devote to working at your writer the same way you would a full time job, then the sad truth is that self-publishing probably isn't the right fit for you.

Another thing I'm hearing a lot is that a writer is finishing writing their first novel today and planning to publish it next week. There is no way a first time novelist can have it completed, edited, and formatted properly in a week. That writer may be a fantastic novelist, like truly fantastic, but rushing a product out will only hurt them.

There is a common misconception that I published the first novel I ever wrote, and that is not true. The first book I ever published was My Blood Approves, and that was the eighth novel I'd written.

Here's a list of all the books I've written, in the order they were written:
  1. Dreams I Can’t Remember
  2. House I Grew Up In
  3. Mistakes
  4. Lost Without You
  5. Violet 1996
  6. Paper Doll
  7. Clandestine
  8. My Blood Approves
  9. Rejection
  10. Fate
  11. Switched
  12. Flutter
  13. Hollowland
  14. Honalee
  15. Virtue
  16. Torn
  17. Wisdom
  18. Ascend
  19. Letters to Elise

The books that have been struck through are books that will never be published, because they're just not very good. The ones that are purple are ones that I think with some editing and time will get to a publishable level. But of the nineteen books I've written, only nine have been published.

Readers are asking for more of my books. So why don't I just throw out any of the books? Because they are not ready yet. And if I put out books that are not ready, I risk alienating readers. I have worked hard to establish a style and a name for myself that readers recognize and enjoy. I would never want to sully that or irritate fans by just throwing out something.

The point is that if you want to be successful with this and have a career as a writer, you need to do all the same work you would do if you were traditionally published. You just need to do it all yourself. The goal of being a professional writer is to produce a quality product, and that product should be indistinguishable from self-published and traditionally published.

I still think self-publishing is great for writers. But writers have to be careful not to shoot themselves in the foot. That means polishing your work and acting professional in the blogosphere.

Another thing people keep asking me is - how do you self-promote? The answer: I don't. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, Facebook, and my blog, but with the exception of my blog, I hardly talk about my books or writing. My blog I do more so because if you came here, I figure you want to know about them, at least sometimes. I mostly talk about whatever I find interesting and entertaining. If I have a book coming out, of course I mention it, but it can't just be a long infomercial.

My tips for marketing online: just be present, be funny, and be kind. Try not to say anything offensive to about anyone. You never know who's reading or if/when it'll come back to bite you.

Also, someone commented on my blog with this:

"I googled you after your name came up in a discussion on Absolute Write (a writer's board). The discussion came about after someone posted about "augmenting" his own sales on Amazon by buying copies of his own book to make it seem like he was a best seller.

The person in question seems to think this is how your books rose in the ranks and that it's the normal operating procedure for self-published authors.

I'm not suggesting argument, but maybe some facts from someone who's actually had success with legitimate self-publishing could help him ou

I couldn't find the thread about this, but the reason I'm mentioning it here is because this is NOT standard practice among legitimate self-published authors. I have never done this. I have heard of people doing this, but every successful self-published author I know has not done this. Which means that it does not really work. You might get a temporary boost in rankings, but unless you get the reviews and word-of-mouth to go along with it, it doesn't really matter. Word-of-mouth is the best way to sell books, and it is something you cannot fake.

There are no tricks or schemes with self-publishing. It's just about writing a good book, polishing it really well, getting a good cover, pricing it right, and putting it out there. There are no short cuts. If you want to be successful at this, you have to do the work.


  1. Brilliantly said Amanda, as usual and you're 100% right. There are too many writer's who are publishing before they're really ready. Good work takes time and dedication and being able to accept and incorporate constructive criticism. Some of us may think our work is ready sooner than others but your point about professionalism is extremely well made.

  2. I think either route would take a tremendous amount of work. Going the traditional road: it takes work to find an agent, and that work sometimes doesn't amount to anything. Self-publishing is work for a number of reasons, but I think the main thing a self-published author doesn't have is a professional company standing behind them saying "Your work is good enough to be on the shelf!" Self-published authors have to believe in themselves with no reassurances, which takes guts, in my opinion. I agree with the fact that people should not just do it in the hopes that they can get rich or be successful. If a person is serious about being published, they will do what they will work hard to reach their goals.

  3. Oh man, if anyone things selp-publishing is a get rich quick way of going about things, they are sooo wrong... Be prepared to sweat blood over every penny you earn...

  4. All true. Work is work. Writing is work. I respect your work as well as love the stories and characters. You have worked hard to get where you are, and I find that a huge inspiration. The truth is, the good stuff always rises to the top, no matter which market. There are traditionally published books that fail, just as there are self-published books that succeed. It's all about the dedication, the drive, and above all, the Passion for doing what you love. Congrats on all your success! You have definitely earned it!

  5. I truly believe that you will be a really well-known author in the big time and for a long time. It is incredible the amount of insight you have already gleaned in regard to writing. You certainly have boatloads of talent and it shows. You hit many nails on the head and I really hate it when I read something I have published and find those annoying little errors that were overlooked. Best wishes for your continuing success.

  6. I think the same people who think self-publishing is a 'get rich quick scheme' probably think it's 'easy' to write a book!

  7. Agreed Kaily. I can't believe how many people think writing is something you can while waiting in line or while your baking cupcakes or something. Few can understand the dedication and time such things take. Amanda, thank you for posting this! I appreciate all your blogs. Keep doing good things.

  8. I completely agree with you. People don't realize that the hardest part of publishing is actually having good work and writing. You're super talented and it shows in your work. I guess I don't care how an author is published, I'm just grateful to have access to the great books. Have an e-reader (nook) has really blessed me with this work of self published authors who are writing stories I want to read that Random House is just not publishing. I think self publishing is a great avenue to go with but, but good God, look how hard you work with bloggers, your own blog, social networking, and total self promotion. You earn every penny and you're working twice as hard. I think the people who think that self publishing is a get rich quick scheme are in for a surprise.

    Love your books, especially the My Blood Approves Series-I’m reading it for the second time because I devoured it in seventy-two hours. I love all the characters, but especially Peter. The novella you wrote about him is great, I love the letter/journal style. It also brings a lot of depth to Peter and I hope to see he gets a happy ending, or at least to know what happens to him.

    You’re very talented and reading your stories is a great vacation for me. Thank you for writing and bringing us your stories.

  9. I think what makes you unique is your willingness to share with people the process of how you got from point A to point B. There will always be people who jump on the bandwagon thinking they can make a quick buck but I wouldn't worry too much about them. They will soon realize that nothing comes easy. As someone else posted, the cream always rises to the top. Keep being open about things b/c it makes you very accessible to your readers. It also makes people feel more motivated to support your work. I just finished reading Switched and I downloaded several of your other books to my Kindle . I'm going to buy a printed copy for my daughter who is 14 and let her read it. She will probably loan it out to her bevy of teen friends and hopefully it will catch fire!

  10. It is interesting to see the order you wrote your books. I had assumed Hollowland was written earlier because of when you published it. But that would explain the good quality of writing that is found in the book since you wrote it after many other well written books (I hope that makes sense).

    Thanks for the post and keep up the good work.

    Josie Wade

  11. Amanda:

    I agree that self-publishing is hard work. And I certainly caution folks against just throwing a first book out there. My first book got edited about twice before I tossed out the first draft and re-wrote it. Then it got put away in a drawer and edited again after a couple of months.

    Yet I do think that self-publishing is the way to go for lots of folks. It's an achievable dream. Writers just need to put out the best work they can.

    It's sort of like my Fortune Cookie said this morning on Facebook: "Success is a journey, not a destination." Could a FB fortune cookie ever be wrong? (grin)

    Once you've achieved the dream by publishing, then selling enough to be self-supporting becomes a goal. I think it can be reached through a lot of hard work, studying the paths of others (like Amanda, like Konrath) who've made it and taking to heart the wisdom they've been kind enough to share.

    I'm still on the journey. I have more marketing to do. I'm on FB and I've got a blog, but I'm not on Twitter yet. I'm thinking about doing that this weekend but Twitter scares me a little. Why is Twitter the scariest of all social marketing/contact? I wonder if what makes it scary is what makes it great - the interactive nature.

    I think people shouldn't see writing as a career path. Writing is something you do when you can't not do it. If writing doesn't engage your heart and your spirit and make you happy, then I think you should look for what does and pursue that.

    Anyway, great post.

    Quacking Alone

  12. Just as I suspected, hard work pays dividends. Glad you set the record straight.

  13. You've sometimes mentioned that you're hesitant to write about the business of writing, but I am so grateful when you do. I went back and read your blog from the beginning and it is incredibly inspiring to watch your journey as a writer--I have a somewhat similar story (several unpublished novels, rusting away) but I haven't mustered the drive to do something about it until now. Having a background in sole proprietorship may be helpful when approaching self-publishing, it seems, because it is a business...that one person does all the work for. So your success is broader and more multi-faceted than writing, if you don't mind a stranger saying so, and the process of watching a writer become successful at the business side is just as inspiring and necessary.

    Thank you very much for all the work you've done--I certainly understand how much time you spend writing. You are helping a lot of people.

    J. S. Mclean

  14. So true, Amanda. Self-publishing is hard work. It's a one-woman enterprise and takes up all your waking hours. I regularly work over 40 hours a week, and there's rarely a weekend when I don't respond to emails, do a little writing or editing, critiquing for my partners, or some marketing. Being a writer and author can't be turned off. You just ARE. Whether it's Monday, Friday or Sunday.

    Self-published author Tina Folsom

  15. I wouldn't advise self-publishing until you've given the traditional route a thorough flogging. If you've got a manuscript rejected by tons of agents, chances are you've got a good query blurb, you've written a synopsis, and you've edited it to death.

    Plus, sad as it sounds, I know of very few authors whose first novel they consider publishable quality. (I know mine was really bad.)

  16. One word sums everything up that you wrote here: True.

  17. Augmenting? Who the heck has the money to buy 500,000 copies of their own book?

  18. I'm sorry the link I gave you didn't work, but thank you for posting this. If the person I mentioned comes back to Absolute Write, I'll point him to this post so he can read the specifics for himself.

  19. I'm not even sure how you *could* buy multiple copies of your own ebook because Amazon only lets you buy one per account. You'd have to make a buttload of accounts with a buttload of email addresses and a buttload of BS information that'd probably be easy for them to track down since it all came from the same IP address... Sounds like a good way to get banned. *head scratch*

    Anyhoo, congratulations on your success. It's great that you're still over here answering everyone's questions. :)

    If anything, it seems like e-publishing is a harder route to fame, since you have to do *everything* yourself. Nobody's going to stumble across your book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, hah.

    Keep up the great work, and congratulations on the film option dealie. :)

  20. Another valuable insight into the world of self-publishing!
    I chose this route for a non-fiction book and I can't complain - sales have been great considering I published in a very niche area on an offbeat topic.
    I'd echo what Amanda has to say about artificially inflating your numbers - I'm not sure who could afford to do that, especially on top of paying for a physical print run in addition to selling via Madness! Sounds like the claims of a green-eyed monster to me :-)
    Amanda, your route might not be for everyone, but you've certainly laid out a clear case of the pros and cons of the self-publishing sphere.
    Writer beware - but if you're brave enough to take it on, it can be satisfying in more ways than just getting your name and work in print.
    And as many have already discovered, self-publishing can be yet another (albeit unusual) route to the traditional publisher's door. Looking forward to hearing more about your writing journey.

  21. Well done, Amanda!

    If only all self-published writers would take your advice about editing and proofreading, we'd all earn a better reputation.

    Keep it up!

  22. If only you took your own advice about editing and proofreading!!

  23. Well said! :-) I think there are many people out there who seem to think self-publishing is the easy way out.

    I've been writing for a long time, and I'm only now working through writing, rewriting, editing and editing some more (and then times that all by a squillion) a novel that I think is worth publishing. I'm still young, so I'm not in a rush. I don't want to turn something out that isn't good. I've also been blogging for a super long time, and you're right - if you turn out what you're passionate about, and you are yourself, people will read it.

    Keep up the good work and the good advice! It is being read, and it is being appreciated!

  24. I think this was a great idea for a post, because, writing is a lot of work, and it's not easy. I'm not even a published author, and I know that. My first story, was a short story that I turned into my eigth grade writing class, and my teacher let me revise as much as I needed, and basically mentored me with it, beyond the normal assignment, and I believe I made several revised copies, and it was finally a grade B paper lol. It was not easy, but it was one good story in the end. I think people who have never truly writen, believe they can pull something out of their butt, and sell it. And I dont respect people who do something solely for profit, and not for pleasure. And just because you can write without grammar mistakes, DOES NOT make a story good, nor sellable. Thanks for putting this up! I think it needed to be said! Bravo!

  25. Amanda, thank you for this day's post. I have sent a link to it to 3 writers' groups. You are unique. Instead of bragging how much $ you're making, you're communicating the Real Story.

    I do have one question about this fantastic "revelation":

    "Another thing people keep asking me is - how do you self-promote? The answer: I don't. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, Facebook, and my blog, but with the exception of my blog, I hardly talk about my books or writing."

    When you say "I spend A LOT of TIME..." could you help this former math major out with a number or two, like "I spend 2 - 3 hours/90 minutes/whatever a DAY on T, FB, & BLOG."

    If you wish this to not be repeated, please e-mail me:

    Chuck Emerson, 3 blocks from Johnson Space Center, Houston.

  26. Great article, one EVERY author should read when thinking about self publishing. I'm thinking about self publishing and a friend played devil's advocate with me to help me figure out if that was really the way I wanted to go. I told him, it was a business venture and if I wanted to do it I had to be willing to take a leap and shell out the cash. Then I had to expect to wait and not expect that money to roll in.

    I think the best advice anyone can take out of this is self publishing isn't a get rich scheme. You're doing the work yourself and you have to do it well!

  27. I read this earlier today and have re-read it. Thanks for sharing the insight.

  28. Excellently put. I myself have been writing seriously for the past 11 years, had an agent, lost agent, but am still out there trying! It is a lot of hard, hard, work, and anyone who thinks it is easy has a rude awakening in store.

  29. You are absolutely right! Self-published authors DO have to work harder than traditionally published ones. Well, they don't have to... but then they won't be very successful.

    The get rich scheme thing just kills me. People who don't get it are either jealous or ignorant or both.

    Keep working hard! I know you do!

  30. I'm really glad you posted this because, as a veteran self-publisher of 7 years, and a traditional publisher of other people's books for around as long, I'm happy that you've stepped up and said self-publishing is hard work.

    It is, and a lot of the eBook hype out there seems to be pointing in the other direction of just "upload and go," which is something I've taken a stand against ever since eBooks have grown in popularity. (And this is coming from someone who's been making money with eBooks for 7 years.)

    Self-publishing--properly--isn't a get-rich-quick scheme, as Amanda's pointed out. There isn't a secret formula to success as a self-publisher. The hardest truth about publishing that most writers don't want to hear--but the veterans will admit to--is that it is a big crapshoot to a large degree. Some books hit, some don't. Some make no money, some make okay money, and others make tons of it. Why? If anyone knew the answer, they'd be cranking out bestsellers all the time and have an empire unlike anything the world's ever seen. And, no, James Patterson and his endless output of books don't count. He's not doing it. There's a whole whack of people working that empire.

    Self-publishing, as is my experience, 10% creative, 90% business. But if you're willing to put in the hours and work like a dog, you will find success. Sometimes it'll happen quickly, other times years. That's the nature of the game.

    Is self-publishing for everybody? Absolutely not. Those saying it's the best way to go are either the victims of freak success or are too new at it to say so with authority. Publishing, whether self- or traditional, is about finding what works for YOU and running with it. Some projects are better off indie, others are better off going under someone else's imprint.

    I can say the above with certainty because as a publisher I've faced choices about selling books to a mass market press or keeping things under my imprint. It's about where you'd get the better mileage, and the only way to know that is to experiment and see what works, and what, historically, has been accomplished.

    I can rant on this for pages so I'll leave it at the above for now, but thanks again, Amanda, for bringing this up.

  31. Should also add that I agree that buying one's own book to boost rankings IS NOT standard practice for self-publishers. To me, that's just as bad as getting everyone to buy your book on the same day and time to "make it a bestseller."

    Cheating is cheating.

    Real bestsellers are bestsellers without gimmicks.

  32. Somebody could afford to buy enough copies of their own books to turn it into a best seller? Seriously? I know I can't. I'm doing a bit of self-promoting and giving away copies to bloggers, and hoping they like the book. The odds of me getting rich off of it are slightly higher than me winning the lottery. In the meantime, I'll keep writing as much as I can, working - and learning a huge amount from blogs like this one.

  33. Wow, this post is awesome! I was afraid if I self-published I would be considered a wimp. I can see this from another point of view and hope to publish a piece of art- not junk. Thanks, Amanda!

  34. This is an outstanding presentation of a point of view that makes a lot of sense. There are so many of us who are trying to figure out what step to take next. It's good to hear from those who have taken that step so we can gain from that experience.

    Tossing It Out and the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2011

  35. This is a great piece, Amanda. It tells it like it is and explains to those who don't know, just how difficult it is to self publish with any success. Keep writing and feeding the hunger of your readers.

  36. This was interesting. I've heard horror stories about self-published books with slow beginnings & spelling errors. I'm sure your experience and advice will help a lot of people decide if this is the right path for them.

  37. Amanda - I am completely with you. I have no idea how to tweak numbers to make u seem like more than u r. I just write every day, read stuff other really good authors put out there and try to get more readers to read my stuff. I love what I do. I think I'm really good at what I do and it's taken me a bit of time to say that..enuf said!

  38. I've published both traditionally and self-pubbed, and it is much more difficult to self-pub.

    And, thanks for pointing out that a book shouldn't be self-pubbed unless it is absolutely ready.

    Also, I've never heard of authors buying their own books to get higher ratings.

    Thanks for sharing.

  39. I am a thirty five year old writer and have been at it since age 15. I self published too...hard work and lots of editing and time and money. I too don't really self promote but am visible online. I haven't sold nearly the amount of books you have (but written about the same!). I just want to tell you that your blog entry is brilliant and you are brave and courageous. I can't wait to watch your star keep rising!

  40. Thanks for the post, Amanda. Yesterday, I kept reading tweets about your success and was immediately curious. I have to say that I am really happy for your success, and hope that your sales continue to sore.

  41. You should publish this blog (with comments.) One thing is certain: you could always count on having the next one in the series ready in a year or so.


  42. Very timely post Amanda. It's been fun watching your success. It's also great to get a glimpse of the time and hard work that went into it.


  43. You spoke volumes to this topic. I have been writing since the age of 12 and I am just now getting ready to self publish my first book, "Journey To Destiny; Traveling Through Infertility". Like you said, I write like it is my second 9-5 and a real author/writer/blogger have NO gimmicks. I pride myself one presenting to the world a blog that is honorable, educational, witty, entertaining, and real. Thank you for being one of the geniune voices of writers and you have found a fan in me! Keep up the good work and quality work.

  44. Maybe people think they can self publish and get rich quick with their own story because they're reading stories that aren't as polished as the writer thinks it is. Sometimes it's called "a fluke". There are a lot of writers that have good stories to tell with mediocre writing and when they read published stories that's no different than their own, they do wonder "why not me".

    There will be those that are young and those that don't have years of experience in writing that will see it through foggy glasses, thinking they can end up a fluke as well. But then there are those that's been writing for ages that will never see the success their writing has earned. Because it's just not going to happen for them. They weren't "in the right place, at the right time" in the grand scheme of things.

    There are plenty of beautifully written stories that do see the light of publishing, but don't become "the latest thing". Those writers will not make a lot of money, even after publishing a few books, because what they're writing just isn't the "it" thing. So even if you do get published, there's no guarantee you're going to become rich and or famous.

    Work ethics do have something to do with it, and sometimes more than how "polished" the story really is. If you're a go getter, your story might get published, even if it seems like it hasn't seen enough rewrites as it should have.

    I am currently reading Switched. I'm headed for the 10th chapter. I will wait until I've finished it before giving it a full review.

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