The quiet life of publishing sensation Amanda Hockingby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Amanda Hocking makes her living — and a very good living at that — writing about trolls, vampires, and murderous mermaids.
The native of Austin, Minn., became an Internet sensation when her self-published e-books for young adults sold over a million copies. Now, she's making the leap to print.
For a writer who spends a lot of time thinking up fantastical storylines, Hocking is blunt about her own tale.
"I still don't think of myself as that interesting," she said. "So when people want to talk about it, I'm like, 'I don't know. My life isn't that exciting.' "
Some might disagree with Hocking's interpretation of what's happened to her over the last couple of years. While she has always been a writer, when she published her first novel two years ago she had a pretty simple goal: take a trip from Austin to Chicago with her roommate.
"And we wanted to go to an exhibit to see Jim Henson in Chicago. And I figured a couple of hundred bucks would get us to drive there and a hotel," she said. "That was all I wanted to do — was make enough money for that."
So Hocking wrote a novel. And then a few more.
"I write very quickly," she said. "It's usually a couple of weeks to write a book."
There was a series about vampires and then the Trylle novels, about trolls passing themselves of as human. Sales started slowly.
"You know six a day, and I think it was a couple of hundred books a month I was selling in the beginning. But by the end of the summer I was selling like 6,000 a month, and then this was in 2010," Hocking said. "Then in January of 2011, I think in one month I sold like over 400, 000 books or something like that. Or over 100,000. It was something crazy."
Hocking admits it's all a blur. She suspected there was something wrong with the sales reporting system. But the money poured in.
She did get to see that Jim Henson show, and even had a couple of million bucks left over. St. Martin's Press offered her a multi-book deal, both to publish the Trylle novels and her latest creation, the Watersong series.
In the first book, called "Wake," a high school swimming star called Gemma is pursued by a trio of young women who have come to live in her seaside town for the summer. They're not what they seem — they are sirens, the enticing creatures of Greek mythology whose beautiful songs would lure sailors to their deaths.
"The one thing that always struck me about sirens was they were actually described as cannibals. They were humans eating other humans was the way they were described," Hocking said. "I think that was particularly horrific."
Hocking admits she first heard about sirens from a "Duck Tales" cartoon, but she was already a fan of ancient myths and quickly turned to the original stories. In the book, Gemma is torn between the demands of the supernatural trio and protecting her family and her romance with the boy next door.
While Hocking's novels all have a supernatural aspect to them, she said they are really about the emotional traumas of growing up.
"And I think that a lot of ways that's how I use the paranormal element, is really trying to express the teenage experience with a physical form," she said.
There's another physical element important to Hocking with the new novels — that is being in print. While she may be a poster child for digital literature, she realizes it's still a limited audience.
"As good as self-publishing is and as good as digital publishing is, there is still a vast number of people who read paperbacks and don't have an e-reader," she said.
Hocking will be using e-reader tactics in the print world. "Wake" hit the bookstores yesterday. However, fans won't have long to wait for the other three Watersong books.
"They were originally going to be every six months, but then I already have the first three books written," she said. "So they decided to get them out every three months so people won't have to wait as long."
St. Martin's Press expects big things of "Wake," with a first publishing run of half-a-million copies. After reading at the Central Park Amphitheater in Woodbury at 7 p.m. tonight, Hocking embarks on a nationwide tour. Afterwards she heads back to Austin to write the series' last book.
Becoming a publishing powerhouse might go to a person's head, and Hocking said she has had to take a little time to adjust to her new reality, but she insists she is still the same person she was a couple of years ago trying to raise money to see a Muppet exhibit.