'Switched' Author Amanda Hocking On Self-Publishing, Writing For Teens And Literary Fame
If the self-publishing revolution is looking for its Che Guevara, Amanda Hocking doesn’t want to be it.
The quiet, slightly nervy 27-year-old has little appetite for fame, let alone being the figure head for anything.
“I’m not really comfortable that with that,” she says.
“I don’t mind people looking at my career for advice or as a model to follow. But I don’t want to be the leader of any movement – at least not this one.”
But for now, whether she likes it or not, Amanda Hocking’s name is synonymous with the way the internet is revolutionising publishing.
In 2011, after nine years of solid writing and endless rejection letters, she decided to self-publish her Trylle Trilogy on Kindle eBooks. A little over a year later she’d sold more than a million copies and pocketed $2m.
And so, just as The Arctic Monkeys spent the first year of their success never seeing their name without the words ‘MySpace’ and ‘internet sensation’ written next to it, ‘self-publishing’ and ‘eBooks’ will accompany Hocking for the time being.
“People view it as a battle between self-publishing and traditional publishing, but I don’t feel that way, and nor do a lot of writers,” she tells me in the foyer of an expensive central London hotel.
“We should be working together. The goal as a writer is to get our work to readers. Publishing is a means to an end, not what it’s all about.”
Amanda is here to promote Switched, the first novel in her fantasy series about trolls - though in fairness, they resemble traditional trolls about as much as the cast of Twilight resemble Count Dracula.
It’s a process she admits she finds painful – “it’s weird talking about myself all day” – but acknowledges it’s a necessary evil to make sure more people read her books.
Polite, soft-spoken and occasionally unsure of herself (except where her work is concerned), Amanda is classically bookish. It’s that, you suspect, that makes her new-found literary fame a bit of a chore; rather than too much ego, she doesn’t seem to have any.
“Writing has always felt like a compulsion. Even at high school there’d be times when people would ask me if I wanted to go and hang out and I’d sit home and write instead. I spend a long time in my own head thinking about my stories,” she explains.
Talking to journalists aside, she is enjoying her success. She likes travelling and has been able to buy herself a house. She is financially secure and, with a film version of Switched in the works, her fame and fortunes appear in no danger of disappearing.
Otherwise, she says, her days are spent as they always were – lost in writing. But why write fiction for young adults?
“It’s more fun. Teenagers get to do everything for the first time: falling in love, learning to drive, graduating – all these big exciting moments. At the same time there is none of the responsibility, no kids or marriage. Even though I give my characters responsibilities, it’s always a fun drama, not a real problem.
Does that mean she thinks our teenage years are generally the best time in our lives?
“The weird thing is that it’s the worst period when you’re going through it, then you spend the rest of your life looking back on it thinking it was the best. That’s why I have a lot of adult readers and why it appeals to them so much – in retrospect those years seem awesome.”
Amanda’s books – which the New York Times described as “literature as candy: a mash-up of creativity and commerce” – attract a sizable and lucrative adult following, just like Harry Potter before it.
So if that’s the reason for writing for teenagers, why on earth write about trolls?
“I live in Southern Minnesota where a lot of people are from Sweden or Norway. The folklore the books are based on is Scandinavian. Also when I was a kid I was terrified of trolls, so writing the books was kind of cathartic!”
Amanda is happy to discuss the next Trylle novels, in which, she promises, she “ups the ante” to include more action, more danger and of course – more romance. She says her personal favourite authors are Judie Blume and Stephen King (“I feel like I’m a mash up of the two...”), her all-time favourite book is Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut and, if she could meet any other writer, it would have been Dr Seuss.
But inevitably, for the time being, conversation with Amanda comes back to eBooks, self-publishing and her extraordinary, fairytale success.
“My family are really excited and supportive. A lot of them didn’t understand exactly what had happened at first, but they get it now.
“The prospect of getting more famous excites me and scares the hell out of me at the same time. I don’t want to be famous per se, but I want to write books for as long as I can. And I plan on writing a lot.”