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…