Unless you’ve been living in a cave since Xmas (and there’s nothing wrong with that – I’m not judging. OK, maybe I am, but what the hell are you doing living in a cave, anyway?) you have by now heard about the meteoric rise of indie author Colleen Hoover, whose latest novel Hopeless is selling faster than tequila in Tijuana, breaking records all over the place, and has occupied the #1 spot on Amazon most of the time since Christmas. That’s many thousands of books a day, folks. Some days, tens of thousands. And as if that wasn’t enough, she just inked a deal with Simon & Schuster for the paperback rights to Hopeless – retaining all ebook rights, which is only the third time I’ve heard of that happening (Bella Andre with Harlequin, and Hugh Howey with Wool). Remarkable for a seasoned veteran, to be sure, but how about for someone who released her first book on Amazon a year ago?
So who is this masked woman with the strength of ten indie authors? Where did she come from? Whose shirts does she wear (when she wears anything at all)? What’s her secret? How does she do that crazy thing she does? It was with these and other burning questions in mind that I hunted her down and forced her to respond to my interrogatives by pretending to be from The New Yorker, or at least from New York or some place over on that coast with an accent. I think she was so dazed from her recent Nightline appearance (see all the details at her blog) that she answered before checking to see what that release she signed actually said, and thus my latest Author Spotlight, and the first of 2013, was born.
So without any further ado, ladies and gentlemen, a remarkable success story and a very nice, down to earth lady…Colleen Hoover!
RB: Your first two novels since beginning to self-publish in 2012 were hits, and your latest, Hopeless, is a blockbuster – a huge sensation. To what do you attribute its success, and what was your journey as a writer?
CH: Obviously, the success of the books lies in the people who have read it. Word of mouth was a huge proponent in the sales of the books. I never paid for advertising, so I believe it’s a combination of finding your market. And a lot of luck.
CH: I saw a very small increase on a weekly basis the first couple of months. By the third month, readers were recommending the book to bloggers. Once the bloggers began releasing reviews on it, I saw a huge increase in sales. Especially when a blogger with a large following would review it. I think it helps that the books are contemporary romance, which has a huge fan-base. It also helps that before writing my first book, I had never read a contemporary romance, so SLAMMED doesn’t fit the mold. I think it was just different enough that people were recommending it because it was different.
RB: You’ve been selling a gazillion books a week ever since Hopeless started booking orders in December. Besides just being slathered in awesome sauce, can you put your finger on why this one took off like it did? Word of mouth? Big pent up demand from your last ones? Something special with marketing?
CH: I wasn’t sure how this book would do. I was very nervous about it. When I wrote my first two books, I didn’t think anyone would read them, so I didn’t feel the pressure I felt writing Hopeless. I eventually just had to tell myself that I didn’t have to publish this one if I didn’t like it, so it became fun to write. I didn’t release the title or the cover of the book while writing, because again, I didn’t want to feel pressure to put it out there. I also didn’t tell anyone when it would be released, so the day I announced that it was available there was a huge rush of buyers. It broke Amazon rankings a few hours later at #6, which was a complete shock. I wasn’t sure if it would stick or not. I think the cover has a lot to do with the initial success.
So as far as marketing, I did absolutely zero marketing of this book before it was completed. Readers knew I was working on a book, they just didn’t know what it was about. So, again…I really can’t put my finger on what has made this book do as well as it has. It could have gone either way, really.
RB: If you had to summarize what you do as a writer to a reader new to your work, how would you present it? What’s the Colleen Hoover difference?
CH: I love plot twists and shockers. It is really difficult to explain what my books are about to new readers, because until you dive into it, I don’t really WANT people to know what they’re about. The fact that we are required to write a blurb is my least favorite part of books. If it were up to me, the reader would go into my books not knowing a single thing about them. I think they’re more fun that way.
And that’s essentially how I write them. I can’t do outlines, they never work out. I sit down and begin writing, not knowing what to expect from the characters or how the book is going to end. It’s a lot more fun that way.
RB: Let’s talk process. Do you outline, plot and structure, or do you just sit down and write? How long between when a book idea comes to you, and when it’s ready to be written?
CH: It’s different with every book. With Slammed, I had ZERO idea what that book would be about. It unfolded with each sentence. With HOPELESS, I had an idea and even wrote an outline, but every page of that outline was thrown out once the characters started veering away from it.
I have a few books I’ve started that didn’t pan out, so it doesn’t happen every time. I just know once I get to a certain point in my writing when the characters actions start pissing me off, that’s when I know it will be a book that will be finished.
RB: Do you have a set schedule for writing? What’s your typical writer’s day like?
CH: I have absolutely no schedule. I write when I’m inspired. Sometimes I write fourteen hours straight for days in a row. With Hopeless, I hit a huge block after the first few chapters and actually went an entire three months without writing. Then when I passed the roadblock, I picked it up and wrote every day until it was finished. I am extremely disorganized and cannot go by a schedule for anything, especially writing. This is why I don’t give myself deadlines or tell readers what I’m publishing next.
RB: Do you have monthly or annual word goals? How is your discipline?
CH: I have no goals. The only goal I have is to continue to enjoy what I do. If I put three books out a year or one book out in the next ten years, I want it to be because I chose to do so. Not because I’m on a publisher deadline or a personal deadline. Otherwise, it would feel like work.
RB: How long have you been writing? And what prompted you to go indie versus trad pub in 2012?
CH: I have always loved to write, but I’ve never attempted a novel until I started writing SLAMMED. I had no intentions of publishing a book because I didn’t think I had the talent, to be honest. Or the patience. So I put it on Amazon so people I know could read it. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that book would turn into a career for me. I think if I had any idea that so many people would be reading it, I would have chickened out and never finished it.
RB: How do you come up with your characters? Based on real people, pure invention, or a combo?
CH: I don’t use real people. I just write until they are fleshed out.
RB: Do you ever have issues with motivation? Writer’s block? If so, how do you move past it?
CH: I do. I try not to think about it too much when it happens. I just wait until I get a new idea that inspires me. As long as I never give myself a deadline, I don’t feel the pressure once writer’s block occurs.
RB: Describe your work environment. Quiet? Music? A special space? What is it like?
CH: Quiet. I need absolute quiet. I have a small building that is detached from my house so that I can’t hear children. I also make it a point not to bring negative energy out there. I don’t pay bills or do “work” where I write, because I want it to remain an inspiring place to go.
RB: How many times do you polish before your manuscript is ready for edit – how many drafts?
CH: Several. I mostly edit as I go. I can’t continue on to another chapter until I’ve re-read and edited the previous chapters several times.
RB: You just did a deal with Simon and Schuster where you held your e-book rights. That’s the second deal like it, both with S&S, I’ve heard of. I see it as tremendously positive for authors. What can you tell us about it?
CH: I was very happy with my choice to self-publish HOPELESS. However, I also have been very happy with the deal I made through S&S with my first two novels. I had turned down a trad offer for Hopeless before its release, but once I self-published and it began doing well, I accepted the offer for print rights. I did this because I did not want to give up e-book rights, but trad publishers have the ability to do things with print rights that a self-published author is unable to do on their own. To me, it’s a win-win.
RB: I am convinced there has never been a better time to be an author. Stories like yours reinforce that conviction. Movie deals, landmark book deals…how does it all feel for you? Have you changed in any way that you feel is significant?
CH: It has been incredible. I honestly believe that 99.9% of my success has been timing and luck. If this had been two years ago, my manuscript would have collected dust and I never would have submitted it to anyone other than my mother. So yes, this is definitely the time to be an author. And I like to think I haven’t changed in any way. I’m much busier, that’s for sure. Other than that, I still wear my pajama pants to Wal-Mart when I run out of milk.
RB: What counsel would you offer a newbie who was interested in pursuing the author’s path? Is there anything you feel you have done that is primarily responsible for your remarkable success?
CH: I get this question a lot and I hate that I don’t have a good answer. I have NO idea why my books have done as well as they have. I don’t have any secrets or magic potions to share. I write because I love to write and I hope it will remain that way. Everything that has happened since publishing my first book has been incredible, but I have no idea what sets one book apart from another.
RB: What’s your biggest writing regret? The one thing you wish you could do over, or differently?
CH: I don’t believe in regrets. In fact, when I sign SLAMMED, the one thing I write in every book is, “Never Regret.” J
RB: Whose work most influenced you, and why?
CH: I don’t know that I was influenced by one particular author. I’ve just always loved to read and feel that’s where my love for writing began.
RB: Are you working on anything you can talk about?
CH: I am always working on something. But I’ll never talk about it before it’s ready to be released. 😉
RB: You’ve been extremely gracious sharing your time and views. What advice would you leave budding authors with, if you only had thirty seconds to impart it?
CH: Don’t set out to write the next bestseller. Write because you love to write. Readers can tell the difference.
Colleen, thanks so much for stopping in and giving the world a peek into your process and your thinking. Every author is different, although I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who holes up for 14 hours a day when writing, or wears PJs to WalMart – and yes, there’s a long restraining order story in that, but one which I’ll save for another day.
Everyone, go check out Hopeless and see why it’s taking America by storm, and while you’re at it, check out JET, which is free right now, and which has been associated with miraculous healing episodes all over the world, and which I will also soon be redoing with a picture of a fluffy kitty on the cover, or a puppy wearing a bandit mask – not that I would ever pander, but still…
Everybody that follows me knows that my new action thriller series JET has been wildly successful, far surpassing my expectations in its first 90 days of release. It’s gotten about 145 reviews during that time, the overwhelming number of which have been enthusiastically positive (and which I didn’t even have to pay for!), and not a day goes by now when I don’t get an e-mail from a reader asking me when the hell I’m going to stop slacking and write JET V.
JET, for those who aren’t familiar with the tale, is the story of an ex-Mossad operative who fakes her own death to get out of the game, but gets sucked back in when her past comes back to haunt her. It’s written in a breakneck style – I wanted to write the fastest-paced action thriller I’d ever heard of; something that launched from the first pages and kept accelerating right through to the end. I sort of envisioned a kind of literary equivalent to the TV show 24 – except with a female Jack Bauer, a cross between Bourne and Kill Bill, with some Lisbeth Salander seasoning and with a little Bond (shaken, not stirred) twist. In other words, a female main character with a whole lotta kick ass who can take names and deal with business.
NEWS: Great new interview at Free Kindle Books and Tips with, well, you know who. Worth a look!
NEWS: An awesome new interview from Cellardoorians on my craft and creations. A classic. Sort of.
I also wanted all the books to be big books that moved from exotic locale to exotic locale – as did the Bond books. I can honestly say that when I came up with the rough idea, I had no sense that I would be penning the fifth installment within as many months, and be eagerly looking forward to doing so. But there it is. That Jet. She kinda grows on you.
Some have said that JET is my best work. It’s certainly sold enough – 20K copies in 90 days – so why the hell would I ever want to give it away for free? I mean, it’s a real novel – almost 90K words, not some teaser. A book that earns substantial revenue. So what, have I lost my mind? Do I just hate money? Have I gone altruistic on your ass? Am I swearing off all worldly reward?
Not hardly. The way I see it, 2013 is the year where I need to broaden my audience, and increase my visibility – my reach. My novels have found acceptance with a decent sized crowd, for which I am grateful, and I believe that if more people knew about them, they would do even better. But how to gain broad market visibility absent Random House coming in, offering me a whopping contract, and then spending millions advertising them? Simple. Give one of my best books away.
My confidence in the work is such that I’m betting that most who read JET will want to read more, if only to see whether the writing and pacing was a fluke. My second bet is that once they finish with the series and realize that it’s not a fluke, they’ll move to my other series (the Assassin series), which begins with King of Swords. And then once they devour that, they’ll give my stand-alone novels a whirl.
And hopefully, tell a friend or two.
I also want to have 2013 be the year where my sales on platforms other than Amazon take off, and by keeping the JET series available across all vendors, I believe I can begin to really see some movement in the Apple, Kobo, Sony and B&N stores. Time will tell whether this was a good strategy – as of this writing, my giving away JET equates to investing about $250 a day in making it free. That seems like a lot, and I man have second thoughts after a month, but for now, I’m going to give it a whirl. My thinking is I’ll need to give away 250K copies to get 10K new readers. I’ve already given away 75K from promos, so I’m almost halfway there. Frankly, I’d just as soon have a million copies of JET out there, as I’m not as interested in sales as I am in getting readers. A sale is a one-time event. A reader is a relationship.
And I want that relationship.
If you haven’t picked up JET yet on Amazon, or on B&N or Apple or Smashwords, to see what all the fuss is about, please do, with my compliments. And here’s to hoping 2013 is as good as 2012 was. So far, so good.
It’s been nagging at me. Every year, I resolve to create resolutions that will empower me, and then I lose motivation and don’t. But this time is going to be different. Really. I’ve turned over a new leaf, seen the error of my ways, and now that I’m a name in the indie publishing industry, I’ve decided that I need to step up and serve as a good example, if nothing else, for the children.
To that end, I’ve come up with some desperately needed steps I shall take, without delay, in order to improve, not just as an author, but as a human being. So without further preamble, here’s my list:
BREAKING NEW: Bestselling action thriller sensation JET is now FREE for a limited time! Get it while you can!
UPDATE: JET was voted the must read book of the month at Goodreads! So if you haven’t read it, all your dreams will die, for good reason.
NEWS: An awesome new interview from Cellardoorians on my craft and creations. Because it’s all about me in my head, 24/7.
1) Get a bitchin’ moniker. If you want to be well known, you have to have a moniker, and I don’t mean some wussy nickname that has eyes rolling. I’m talking something with major league, awe-inspiring, I’ll pimp-slap-you-if-you-so-much-as-look-at-me-wrong heft. To that end, I’ve decided that I’ll refer to myself by the moniker…Silk. I shall also take to affecting wide brim hats and an alpaca coat, and carrying a bejeweled walking stick. Alternatively, my lime-green man thong and an ermine cape. But either way, the hat stays. With the sun down here in Mexico, you don’t want to take chances. I shall also wear at least four ostentatious nugget jewelry rings, including two panky rings, and respond to all comments and inquiries with the eloquently-simple rejoinder, “Word.”
2) Surround myself with suck-ups. A coterie of yes-man quislings is a must for any emerging talent, and I recognize that you’re only as good as your entourage. To that end, I intend to enlist a racially and sexually diverse group of hangers-on to celebrate my every utterance. I’m still debating the idea of midgets dressed as cherubs tossing rose petals before me as I walk to the liquor store or into the local watering hole for a few pops. I have to check to find out about labor laws here, and whether there are any ordinances against that sort of thing. I doubt it, and certainly hope not, as I believe that if you wish to be taken seriously, you need to show that you can open up a big can of ‘check my shit out, biatch’ and sling it with the best of them.
3) Pepper my interviews with off-color remarks and my pet philosophical beliefs. Everyone loves a colorful character, and I intend to raise the bar for eyebrow cocking quips and ‘what the hell is he talking about’ inscrutability. Any publicity is good publicity, and by tackling topic others are afraid to, like the looming danger of world takeover by clowns, I shall establish myself as a credible source of wisdom. I shall further that foothold by making obscure references and using indecipherable similes and metaphors at every opportunity, like a swarm of honey badgers all the way down. I think fans require depth in their icons, and I can deliver on that front. Nobody does it like Silk. Word.
4) Drink more tequila. This was so obvious, it was right in front of me. Not that I don’t already enjoy a regular, if not cordial, relationship with the agave nectar, but I think I should be looking at increasing my alcohol intake commensurate with any success I attain. And my body is telling me this is the right step. I invariably feel younger, smarter, richer and sexier when I’ve had a half liter of meanstreak, but can feel moody and out of sorts the next morning. The solution is simple. Incorporate a disciplined plan to start earlier, like with my cereal. Or better yet, skip the cereal part. Silk don’t need no extra calories. Word.
5) Support the government in these difficult times. Whatever the hell it is that we’re over in those God-forsaken hellholes fighting for, defending our way of life and spreading the good news of consumption or democracy or whatever by killing hundreds of thousands of the citizens we’re freeing (or defending – I always get those confused, but enjoy the bombing footage on Youtube nonetheless), I intend to be respectful and unquestioning in the need to ruthlessly butcher anyone the bureaucrats that tell me what I can and can’t do declare that I’m threatened by. I don’t have time to research this crap, so I’ll take their word for it. They’ve done such a good job with the postal service and Amtrak and the DMV and the economy and protecting the rights of the American Indian, I see no reason to think they might not be completely truthful about why we shouldn’t strike first and hard at any real or imagined threats. ‘Just in case’ is as good a reason as I can think of, so don’t be an ass hat. Anyone who doesn’t believe that all those foreigners hate us for our freedoms (and not because we routinely invade their countries, support oppressive regimes that favor our corporate interests, declare neutrality before supporting the side we like best, etc.), is a traitor, and should be waterboarded with the oil from a boxcar worth of ‘freedom fries’ for raising divisive doubts. We have been in a necessary state of emergency for twelve years because of the actions of Afghani and Iraqi (and I think Iranian, too) terrorists, and if it takes fifty years more of emergency measures where we ‘temporarily’ abrogate the Constitution and trample the Bill of Rights so we can be safe, and another two or three trillion dollars of emergency funding for undeclared wars against oil and heroin producing countries to make the world a better place for us and our banks, I’m all for it. Kill ’em all, and let the 72 virgins sort em out. Silk will be creating bumper stickers to that effect. We can ‘give peace a chance’ after we’ve won the wars we need to fight so we can have peace – and if we need to nuke anyone who’s against peace, we’ll do it – don’t forget who the only country to use nukes was, not once, but twice, against the bloodthirsty civilian populations of…oh, never mind. All of this was explained to me as being like spending your way out of debt or drinking your way to sobriety, and while I don’t remember all the details, I support freedom. If you can’t see why we’re on a prudent course, you’re probably an insurgent, or traitorous. Or a clown. Which is probably worse.
6) Avoid controversy, and never say anything that will force people to view things differently or question their views. Part of the job of being widely read is to reinforce social conventions and moral choices while pretending to be controversial and edgy. I’m all for freedom of speech and all that shit, as long as you don’t take it too far and say things I don’t agree with – you know, cross the line (brave patriots like McCarthy understood that). In that spirit, I intend to stop introducing plausible alternative explanations for seemingly nonsensical policies in my books that would cause readers to question anything, and instead create straw man arguments that pretend to be controversial, and then collapse them by the time the pat denouement unfolds to satisfied nods, where the status quo is reinforced and everyone goes away happy and vindicated. Give people what they want, is my philosophy. I’m not in this to enlighten, I’m in it for the chicks and the cash. I intend to stick with facile bromides that would make the most cloying Hallmark sentiments seem mild.
7) Promote love and harmony. I want to be loved. I want to love others. Sometimes, in order to do that, you have to get all liquored up and use the home-made napalm you cooked up on passers-by you believe to be the agents of the marauding clown hordes. And sometimes you can best express love when spewing toxic obscenities at your enemies, wishing them a lonely, painful death, cold and alone in a drainage ditch, mourned by nobody and reviled by all. It’s a kind of tough love. That’s all I’m saying. Don’t twist this and make it ugly. The world’s ugly enough.
8) Include more ponies and adorable mewling kitties and playful puppies in my work. When I’m trying to conjure up a realistic action thriller, like my next one, Blood Orgy – Slaughterfest, I’ve been told that I can broaden my audience by including scenes where a sympathetic animal is included. I’ve experimented with honey badgers (not in real life, you sick bastards), but reaction has been inconclusive to date. I’ve also toyed with cannibal pandas, or ninja beavers, but it’s hard to work them into novels that are basically about ex-CIA hit men for whom this time it’s really, really, really personal. So I will commit to gratuitously including in each novel at least one cat, from whom we all learn something of value about ourselves by the final pages, or alternatively, some puppies who teach us important life lessons, or ponies, which won’t teach us anything but will be there strictly to appease my editor, who has no cats but wishes she did, and loves ponies, including the gratuitous mention thereof in action/adventure thrillers.
9) Be a role model. Kids. Don’t snort the bath salts, or try drugs – your parents never did, and you shouldn’t, either. And other authors. You can do it! In fact, I’m so convinced you can I’m working on a “how to get ‘republican rich’ by writing” course so all million or so would-be authors on Amazon can be successful, regardless of talent, drive, abilities, willingness to invest time or money, or even the ability to read or frame a coherent thought. That’s right. In it I will lay out a mindbogglingly easy way to ascend to the highest levels of literary success – and I’ll tell you how to do it for only $4.99 – and I’ll even make it available as an audio books in case you can’t read! I’ll also be offering seminars for those who really want to turbo-charge their success, for only $129 per person, special, which will make a Tony Robbins firewalk seem like a bridge game at a nursing home. And I’ll share this treasure of tips and secrets, not to make a boatload of easy cash because my book revenues aren’t sufficient, but because I’m trying to help. I’ll also offer incredible social media hints and show you how to sell more books than the Beatles using chat rooms, e-mail and Twitter. The seminar will be titled, “I rote a gud buk and maid fat staks & so can u!” If I can do it, you can too! Whooohooo!!!
10) Be an advocate for quilting. I will confess that my home is filled with quilting paraphernalia, as well as the product of my craft. I see no reason that quilting should be vilified. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. So I am coming out, right now, publicly. I’m just sick to death of the hypocrisy. If you can’t be a quilter and hold your head high with a sense of respect, what is life really worth? I hope that I can serve as an example with this long-overdue admission. There. I said it. Wow. It’s like a weight, suddenly lifted. Or like being really drunk. Never mind.
So there it is. Quite a list, and all worth pursuing. I hope this increases my popularity and the cash starts rolling in, because some of them, like the tequila or the ring/hat/cane/coat/cape one, could get resource intensive, and the booze isn’t going to pay for itself.
Now go buy some of my books. It goes to a good cause. Mainly me. Which is my favorite charity…