Self-publishing star Amanda Hocking has said she turned down a higher advance from Amazon in order to strike her publishing deal with the 'legacy' publisher, St Martin's Press, because she was concerned about the giant internet company's ability to get the printed books into shops.
Amazon was one of a number of bidders for Hocking's new four-book series Watersong, but, to the delight of many and consternation of some, it did not win the auction. "Amazon actually was [the highest bidder] but I did not necessarily think they could get the books into the stores," says Hocking. "I knew they could do good promotions for e-books, but what I really wanted was a publisher who could get the paperbacks into stores, and I didn't think they quite had the influence."
Instead Hocking plumped for Macmillan imprint St Martin's Press — "pretty much the highest bidder, and who I thought could get the books in the store the best". Hocking signed the reported '$2m' deal in spring 2011 and the first title Wake is to be published this autumn. The publisher later picked up the backlist series The Trylle Trilogy in a separate deal, the first book of which Switched has just been published in print form for the first time by St Martin's Press in the US and by Pan Macmillan in the UK.
So far, the relationship seems to be working out. "Everything they are doing has improved what I was doing," she says, speaking to me while on a short promotional tour in the UK. "I don't enjoy the publishing process that much: what I did well was the marketing and building a connection with an audience". Having sold 1.5m e-books but just 1,500 printed editions (published via POD), there is clearly an area of opportunity for her publisher. Switched has already hit the New York Times children's bestseller lists, while in the UK the paperback débuted in 8th position in the "Heatseekers" chart on release, then graduated into the Official UK Top 50 (in 46th place) the following week (ending 14th Jan).
Hocking's trajectory from indie star to publishing champion has been well played-out on the internet, and in particular on her own blog, where in the wake of the publishing deal she was forced to defend the switch. But Hocking says she never set out to become a poster-girl for indie authors, for her the end-game was always about getting to as many readers as possible, and this meant getting into print, and most importantly being displayed in bookshops.
"Most of my readers have supported my decision, but other writers who wanted me to be a kind of indie hero were the ones who were the most angry, and I never wanted to be an indie hero, so I don't mind that they are angry. I don't believe there is a war, everyone is trying to write books and sell books, and I think we are all kind of on the same team."
But is she now an advert for traditional publishing? Not quite yet, though she is happy to talk about where they have added value. "It's hard doing everything, there were always lots of silly little things I was wasting my time on, and which were getting in the way of writing, and the number one thing a writer should be doing is writing. It's good to have other people now getting bogged down in the details." Perhaps more importantly, she was able with her editor Rose Hilliard at St Martin's Press to develop and change aspects of the story about which she was uncertain. "There were things I didn't feel confident about doing before my editor got involved," she says. The freelance editors she'd employed previously had been "more cautious" in their approach, she adds. In the UK Pan Macmillan has produced two separate editions of Switched, one with orange butterflies on the cover for adults and one with pink butterflies for the youth, after research indicated the colours appealed to different demographics. There is also a new publisher-run website, The World of Amanda Hocking.
But the transition will not come without compromises: in particular around how you establish a new price-point for the e-books previously marketed at self-publishing prices. Hocking says that her publisher is obliged to "consult" with her over the e-book pricing, but concedes that you cannot sell an e-book at a dollar when the print book costs ten. "I knew the e-book prices would have to be a little higher if I wanted the books to be in stores, which was kind of the goal, so I understand why they have to do it, and I understand why some readers don't get it. They are on the lower end of e-book prices."
Having sold 1.5m e-books, she is coy about how she will measure the success of the print editions. "Right now my book is selling out in places, so that is doing pretty well, but beyond that I haven't really set a bar." But she knows that her publishers have a very strong incentive in getting it right. "I am in a really unique position where the publisher is going to try and make an example of what they can do for an author -- which is great for me. I am getting the best they have, and I know they haven't always been able to offer the best."
Unlike most authors, Hocking also possesses the ultimate threat: rejection, in this case not just of an individual publisher but of a whole industry. "I will never say never to going back [to self-publishing] or not going back. There are definitely scenarios where I would go back, but it would have to be where the publishers really dropped the ball, but so far they haven't."
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