Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On Diversicon and the Success of Amanda Hocking

So a couple of writing groups, a senior editor at Tor, and a bunch of writing enthusiasts go to a con…

No, that isn't the start of a really poor joke, that's what happened at Diversicon last weekend. The Scribblerati were there, as were some of the Wyrdsmiths and several others. We, The Scribblerati, hosted a panel on writing groups and then we attended several other of the sessions. It was our first con and we’re all glad we went, but now that we have dipped our toes into the great pool of con-dom (get your mind out of the gutter) we’re ready for more. I think Wiscon or Convergence might be in our future. Stay tuned!

Among the many things I heard at Diversicon, one offhand comment really caught my attention. The comment was made about self-publishing and was made in a rather disdainful in tone. It went something like this, “there's a clear difference in quality of self published books.”

The Diversicon comment wasn't the first time I've heard that opinion about the quality of self published books. I've done a lot of research on self-publishing because, as longtime readers of this blog know, I have been thinking long and hard about self-publishing my WIP, To Kill the Goddess. But one thing I hadn't done (until recently) is actually buy a self published book and read it. So, a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to check out some of the competition. Who better to start with then someone who has turned themselves into a millionaire by self-publishing?

I chose Switched (Tryelle Trilogy, book 1) by Amanda Hocking.

At this point I've only read about half of Switched. The story is put together well and the technical/grammatical editing is actually pretty good (although not as good as what I'm used to seeing in print) but there is, IMHO, room for improvement. In fact, there are things in this book that would be called out in a Scribblerati critique session. And speaking of the Scribblerati, I’m willing to go on the record as saying that everything we are currently turning out is just as technically well written, if not better, than Switched.

So maybe the person at Diversicon who made that comment was somewhat right, at least in this case, but I think they are missing the point. Amanda Hocking may not have written the best book I've ever read, but neither was it the worst and, if you ask me, I think Amanda Hocking is brilliant. She has made a boatload of money off the Tryelle Trilogy and I don't care how you slice it, that is nothing if not brilliant.

It's also, in my opinion, not terribly surprising.

One thing I think that we writers are is perfectionists. I mean, we are artists and artists tend to be highly critical of their own work. I'm no different. We tend to look at our art and say we need to make it the absolute best it can be and while that's great, the lesson that Amanda Hocking's success is giving us is that it's not necessary to be great.

I think this is something that people in the movie and music business have known for a long time. You and I both know a lot of money has been made off less than perfect songs and movies. Similarly, Amanda Hocking is telling us that we writers don't need to write War and Peace in order to be hugely successful. We just need to write something that's “good enough.”

If you stop and think about it, this notion of “good enough,” combined with our ability to self-publish something that falls into that category, is actually quite a revelation. Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not advocating a new world order where books are full of spelling errors, poor grammar, and disconnected plot threads. But maybe we writers should take a look at Amanda Hocking’s success and think about “good enough” the next time we’re staring down the face of a contract that pays a fraction of what we could earn by self-publishing.

After all, I imagine that after Amanda Hocking reads reviews that call into question the quality of her work, she laughs all the way to the bank.


UPDATE 8-13-2011

I like to maintain a positive attitude toward self-publishing, which can be challenging given how many people out there bagging on it. But today I am bummed out because just had a brief yet interesting twitter exchange with @jane_l regarding a HORRIBLE self-pubbed book (you can find the review here, but I don't recommend it because of the subject matter involved).

I think it's one thing to self-pub a novel with a few grammatical errors, or one that may not be as polished as it could be, but it's another thing entirely to self-pub something that's just awful.

As someone who would like to self-pub someday, that makes me mad. What is the likelihood that someone would take a chance on my self published novel after reading something as horrible as the book mentioned above?

Clearly, self-publishing, should I choose to go that route, will be challenging.


Jon said...

Diversicon was a lot of fun.

Good blog. I think it's also about satisfying yourself and allowing yourself to be satisfied.

Honesty helps too. I think some people confuse "difficult changes/doing the work" with "good enough" and maybe that's where some of self publsihing gets its rep. Hopefully that will change in the future.

Shawn Enderlin said...

Agreed. Self publishing will only be a good opportunity for as long as there is enough "good enough" stuff out there. If not, nobody will be willing to take a chance on it. And then I'll be screwed!

Jon said...


"I think it's one thing to self-pub a novel with a few grammatical errors, or one that may not be as polished as it could be, but it's another thing entirely to self-pub something that's just awful."

See, I think that's the rub, Shawn. This is what I’ve found to be the inherent problem with the majority of the people self-publishing: They just aren't honest/talented/smart enough to be able to identify these problems beforehand. They're too busy blaming “the evil gatekeepers who don't understand their remarkable vision and amazing talent.” There's no choke built into the self-publishing process and it desperately needs one, desperately, especially since the e-book wave has wiped out the need to produce any physical stock.

Admittedly, I haven't read tons and tons of self-published books, (at this point though, it’s mostly because I’ve learned my lesson) but I've sampled... oh, like a dozen plus or so and I can honestly say that not a single one was well done, grammar being just the tip of the iceberg. Several of them I couldn't even finish. Just bad, bad, bad. First draft bad, forget "no editor", they didn't even have a non-spouse/parent read the god damn thing before hitting “post”.

I think you are right to be worried about the perception of self-publishing. We all should be, it's a very possible future (as you well know) for all of us, and the majority of these people are quite simply terrible. Terrible. Like “waiting for Guffman” in real life terrible. Some of them might make some money, but I have yet to find one that is putting out anything of quality.

Why aren’t they concerned about their spelling? Why? Why is it that bad reviews are the things that inform EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM that this is an important thing? Seriously, it’s like it’s mandatory for them all to post at some point: “I know some of the grammar isn’t the best, so I will be putting out a new volume after hiring a professional editor, doop-a-doop-do nerp.” What the hell?

And the worst part? If any of us ever self-publish and things stay as they are, we’ll all be forced to stand there in a big crowd with these people, which means every consumer who comes along will automatically assume we’re all the same.

The barbarians are in the city, my friend, and they are burying everything good under their massive pile of crap.

And that sucks.

Anonymous said...


Ae you finished ranting about self published books yet? Wow, what an awul, boring rant you put out there, though I'm sure you thought it was good and worth reading. Why not put it in ebook format and put it on kindle and see if anyone is interested enough to buy it?

Jon said...

You spelled my name wrong.