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Amanda Hocking, John Locke: poster children for self-publishing success?

The surprising careers of self-published writers like Amanda Hocking and John Locke may raise as many questions as answers.

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But the ease of self-publishing is simply the frosting on the cake, writes Leland, of The Huffington Post. “Oddly enough, the easiest part of eBook publishing is getting the finished product up and running for distribution.”

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And now even Hocking, who certainly owes her early success to self-publishing, is looking to traditional publishing houses for help with the heavy lifting – administrative work, marketing, and credibility – and to give a further boost to her fan base.

So let’s not underestimate the traditional route.

“Though self-publishing has a great indie, renegade spirit to it, and accounts for a thriving and valuable part of the market, being a major house’s author gives a writer an instant credibility that those who self-publish have to work harder to achieve,” young-adult author, Nina LaCour, told Forbes. Publishing is built on credibility and reputation and there’s no faster, surer way to get it than with the rock-solid authority of a traditional publishing house behind you.

Traditional publishers are, after all, the pros, people who’ve made it their business to sell books. Most writers are not natural salesman and are more than happy to leave the marketing to the experts. “It provides a huge team of allies and advocates, people whose professional purpose is to bring books to the world and make sure those books reach as many readers as they can,” said LaCour. Added Michael Bourret, vice president of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management: “By bringing on a traditional publisher, she’s getting the editorial help she wanted, along with marketing, publicity and sales teams that will get her work even further attention.”

And then, of course, there’s Hocking’s own reasoning: Traditional publishing houses take on the (creatively exhausting and time-consuming) grunt work so that writers can concentrate on, well, writing.

But questions – and caveats remain. Will readers buy Hocking’s new books at a higher price? How much of her success is owed to the low, low prices of her e-books, many downloaded for as little as $0.99? (Locke also prices his Donovan Creed mystery novels at $0.99 – and earns as little as 35 cents per Kindle e-book.)

Will Hocking's success, built in the youth-friendly blogosphere and social media world of Facebook and Twitter, translate to the more traditional world of print? Who will get the better end of the deal in this self-publishing versus traditional publishing experiment? Will Hocking earn her $2-million advance? Will she gain more readers and fans or will she lose an increasing percentage of her sales to St. Martin’s Press?

Hocking’s story presents a fascinating, real-world experiment in publishing and we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out. But even in this rapidly changing industry, there’s one thing that’s constant: It’s the writing, not the means, that earns attention, accolades, and yes, sales. Self-publishing (or traditional) in and of itself is not the means to literary success. Readers ultimately separate the wheat from the chaff.

So we’ll see how Part 2 of Hocking’s publishing experiment unfolds. But for now, maybe the real news is that there is an actual debate going on about the merits of self-publishing versus the more traditional route. Today's writers, it seems, do have a choice.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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