October 10, 2022

"She holds six of the top 10 spots on The New York Times’s paperback fiction best-seller list, a stunning number of simultaneous best sellers from a single author...."

"When she self-published her first young adult novel, 'Slammed,' in January of 2012, Hoover was making $9 an hour as a social worker, living in a single-wide trailer with her husband, a long-distance truck driver, and their three sons. She was elated when she made $30 in royalties. It was enough to pay the water bill. Hoover, 42, didn’t have a publisher, an agent or any of the usual marketing machinery that goes into engineering a best seller: the six-figure marketing campaigns, the talk-show and podcast tours, the speaking gigs and literary awards, the glowing reviews from mainstream book critics.... Her success has happened largely on her terms, led by readers who act as her evangelists, driving sales through ecstatic online reviews and viral reaction videos...."

From "How Colleen Hoover Rose to Rule the Best-Seller List/With legions of devoted fans and a knack for high-voltage emotional drama, Hoover has sold more than 20 million books. And she’s done it her way" (NYT).

"Most blockbuster authors break out because of a popular series, like 'Twilight' or 'Harry Potter,' or build a brand by writing in a recognizable genre.... She’s written romances, a steamy psychological thriller, a ghost story, harrowing novels about domestic violence, drug abuse, homelessness and poverty.... 'I kept being told that authors need to brand themselves as one thing. And I was like, well, why can’t I brand myself as everything?' Hoover said. 'Why can’t I just brand myself as Colleen Hoover?.... Fame has come as a shock to Hoover, who is almost painfully introverted, and dislikes being in the spotlight... She still shops at Walmart in her pajamas, and lives on the same 100-acre plot of land where her family’s farm used to be. Her uncle still harvests hay for his cattle on the property. In 2015, with profits from her books, her family demolished the old dairy barn and built a spacious but homey single story ranch house..." 

I had never noticed this author. I stopped looking at best-seller lists a long time ago. They don't seem to be a source of what's worth reading. Hoover is a very interesting phenomenon though. Some publishing analyst quoted in the article said "She’s defying the laws of how the market works." That's just a way to say she figured something out about how the market works these days.

The old gatekeepers are not in charge, and a person with a product people want can break through. That's very cool, I think, even though I have zero interest in reading Hoover's books. The last novel I read was "Slaughterhouse-Five."

ADDED: Hoover's popularity is massively boosted by TikTok. Her fans promote her. I selected this example because it shows the kind of promotion and also the kind of writing that is inspiring this level of fandom:
@bookquotes03 This book is sooo good @colleenhoover #booktok #reading #remindersofhim #colleenhoover ♬ original sound - CharlottešŸ¹
I watched that video without sound before I embedded it, and I coolly appraised it. After I published, I hit play and got it with sound. It gave me chills, repeated with each line, in spite of my conscious opinion that writing like this is unsophisticated — Hallmark-y.


tim maguire said...

Like the story yesterday that tried too hard to make the fairly normal background of a Nobel prize winner an extraordinary tale of overcoming odds, this woman lived in a single-wide trailer…on her family’s 100 acre farm (former farm, we’re first told, despite later being told it’s a working farm).

That said, I immediately thought of JK Rowling and think it’s great that she worked around the gatekeepers. May she be another nail in their coffin.

Howard said...

The Free Market capitalist entrepreneurial Spirit of America lives on.

Temujin said...

These kind of books, and those by famous 'formula' writers such as Sandra Brown, fill a readers need much like 'stupid TV' does a viewers need. In both cases it's a niche market, albeit a large niche. I don't watch the 'Housewives of Such & Such', but millions of people apparently do. I don't read Ms. Hoover or Ms. Brown, but apparently millions of people do.

Still, Ms. Hoover's story feeds that small measure of hope wannabee writers have about finally breaking through. I guess the first step would be to write the damned book already. Did I just say that out loud?

alanc709 said...

Are her novels properly woke romance novels?

Dave Begley said...

Who watches network TV today? Who reads the newspaper? They both have gone to hell. Content is king and their content sucks.

As to an excellent self-published author, I highly recommend my buddy M. Reese Kennedy. He wrote both “Frankenstein, Part II” and “The Plague of Dreamlessness.” I adapted both to screenplays.

MayBee said...

I've read "Verity", which was good, and another that I can't remember which was a good enough listen. These are good books for just a good story that isn't going to change your life but if you are someone who always likes to have a book going, they will never be disappointing. Someone asked if they are woke romance novels, and they are neither.

I'm happy for her, now seeing her story. What a success!

Owen said...

This whets my curiosity enough to take a closer look at her stuff but whether or not I find it at all interesting I give her huge props for grit, imagination, enterprise, luck. More power to her.

iowan2 said...

I would have liked a more in depth discussion by her about how much pressure her first publisher applied, to get her to stick to formula. Writers write because its what they do. Publishers publish to make money. To be fair, they have to make money. They aren't the philanthropic rich uncle.

Ann Althouse said...

She writes the kind of books people who like to read a lot like to read.

It's like having the kind of restaurant that people who eat out every day like to eat out at. They do a lot better than restaurants that people who almost never go out will go out to if they ever go out.

Aggie said...

I haven't read any of her books but I really like her story. Beach Reads - or what I used to call 'television books', because they leave just as much impact. In one eye, and out the other.

RNB said...

Used to belong to a writers’ group. Several multiply-published authors. One of their favorite amusements was to convey comments on submissions passed back to their agents by publishers. “No, no! You can’t set your story in the Seventies! No one wants to read about the Seventies!” “Your protagonist cannot be described as obese. That will kill any chance of selling the movie / TV rights.” “We need a pseudonym for your science fiction novel. Yes, you’ve sold a dozen fantasy novels but that means you’re known as a fantasy novelist and your readers would be confused by a SF book.”

My impression (from way outside) is that publishing expertise consists of tribal superstition and looking at what worked for someone else, somewhere else.

Bill R said...

Re: The last novel I read was "Slaughterhouse-Five."

Yeah, that did it for a lot of people.

Robert Cook said...

"The last novel I read was 'Slaughterhouse-Five.'"

When it was first published?

Robert Cook said...

"Re: The last novel I read was 'Slaughterhouse-Five.'

"Yeah, that did it for a lot of people."

Why do you say that? It's a wonderful novel.

Ann Althouse said...

"Yeah, that did it for a lot of people."

Ha ha.

It would be funny if I meant that I read it when it first came out and haven't read a novel since. It came out in 1969. I read it within the last month.

Sometimes I even read books that came out before I was born.

Lurker21 said...

Good for her and good for people who still read novels. Edmund Wilson's 1930s essay on verse as a dying technique was widely anthologized through the years. A lot of different things used to be written in rhythmic or rhymed verse. It made things easier to remember, and it kept people engaged with the medium. As the term "poetry" came to be reserved for profound thought and artistry, people dropped out of the market for verse. I'm not sure about the direction of the the causation. The printing press and mass literacy did a lot to promote prose over poetry, but possibly it's the demand for bestsellers and trash -- the 7/8th of the iceberg -- that keeps publishing houses and "literary fiction" afloat.

The pseudonym thing does make some sense. Kids who buy everything J.K. Rowling writes might buy the detective novels she writes under a pseudonym and be disappointed or corrupted and spread the word.

Dave Begley said...

Ann Althouse, "Sometimes I even read books that came out before I was born."

Good one, Ann.

Andrew said...

I've recently started watching YouTube videos that review movies and TV shows. I'm addicted to them now. Their takedowns of Rings of Power episodes, for example, are far more entertaining than the actual show. Nerdrotic, Disparu, and Critical Drinker, for example. My point being, their influence is probably greater than any old-fashioned TV or movie critic.

I'm sure that this is true for novels as well. A good review on YouTube by an "influencer" with a wide audience will have much more impact than the traditional marketing process. I know nothing about this author's works, but good for her for going outside the professional gatekeepers.

Sebastian said...

"Sometimes I even read books that came out before I was born."

Figures, for a former constitutional law professor, teaching stuff that is, like, 100 years old.

Anyway, how many people these days read novels by listening? As many as listen to rhymed verse by listening?

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

Bestseller lists can mislead, the NYT especially.

William Peter Blatty, author of the Exorcist, sued the NYT because his book Legend was not on the list despite evidence that it was selling more than other books on the list. As part of their defense, the NYT argued in court that the list is not a factual account, but rather an opinion piece.

The NYT won the suit. It is now a matter of record that the NYT doesn’t list the bestselling books, they list the books they think you should read, ranked by sales. And even then, only SOME sales. Because it’s impractical to survey every tiny bookstore in the USA (or so they say), they check sales only from the NYT reporting stores, a list of influential stores in influential markets. That list is supposed to be secret, but publishers can guess what most of them are and concentrate their marketing there.

And if after that the wrong sort of book STILL makes the list, they change the rules. After multiple Harry Potter books topped the list for an extended period, the NYT created a new list for children’s books and shuffled the Potter books off to there.

It’s not a bestseller list, it’s a “We think you should be reading this, all the right-thinking people are” list.

wildswan said...

The last real novel I read was The Ink Black Heart by JK Rowling which I'm still trying to work out in my mind. Meanwhile I'm liking old-style English murder mysteries and suspense. There's probably some vague notion of from here to there and back again. And I made green cherry tomato pickles, another case of summer suspended.

Ann Althouse said...

"Anyway, how many people these days read novels by listening?"

I do.

I get a lot of exercise, walking, and I can really concentrate. When I miss things, I'm out there in public saying "Hey, Siri, rewind 2 minutes."

Ann Althouse said...

The audiobook of "Slaughterhouse-Five" is read by James Franco.

Alison said...

@Andrew, I'm the opposite on Rings, I watch the positive analysis shows on Youtube. Mainly Nerd of the Rings, In Deep Geek and Rings and Realms. I'm enjoying the first season of Rings of Power a lot!

Anthony said...

Jeeeez, I don't even remember the last novel I read. I've tried slogging through "The Old Man and the Sea" but have only made it half way. Maybe one of the later Dune books?

But good for her for going around The Man.

Michael K said...

I like certain authors and tend to read everything they've written. The one I'm reading now has some excellent WWII stories and he began writing after retiring for the Navy. Now I'm reading his later books that are sort of detective stories. I went through Andrew Wareham's series on the Industrial Revolution in England and then his novels about WWI. All are excellent. For fiction, I usually read them on Kindle. Nonfiction I read on hard copies.

Jamie said...

I'm trying to get through The Ink Black Heart right now, but I'm reading it on my Kindle and the interludes where there's a chat group going on are in incredibly tiny print. I don't want to bump up the font any more because that makes each normal narrative page extremely short. I'm finding the experience... frustrating

MayBee said...

" She writes the kind of books people who like to read a lot like to read.

It's like having the kind of restaurant that people who eat out every day like to eat out at. They do a lot better than restaurants that people who almost never go out will go out to if they ever go out."

Althouse- yes, exactly!

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

I used the Google and link trick to read the NYT article and it was light on details how she "did it." Self-publishing interests me because the book world is so high on it's on power that they don't like to give indie writers like me a sniff. When they stay the F out of politics, the Times can deliver actual news, and I'm thankful for that.

Gary Snodgrass said...

Thank you, Ann for this. As an Indie author I love hearing about people who are successful. All you have to do is write a book, or a lot of books, that people want to read. There are thousands of us making a good living doing this. A lot of former "Mid-list" authors are making more in the Indie world than they ever did selling to a publisher. Thanks again.

Owen said...

I learn so much here. Thanks, AA; thanks, all.

Amexpat said...

"Anyway, how many people these days read novels by listening?"

I've never listened to any sort of book in my life. Even as kid no one read aloud to me.

Might give it a try with Dylan's new book, "The Philosophy of Modern Song". The audiobook takes a novel approach in having many different actors narrate multiply sections, including Jeff Bridges, Helen Mirren, John Goodman, Oscar Isaac, Rita Moreno and Steve Buscemi. Dylan himself will read some short segments.

Full list of narrators with chapters:

Narr said...

I just browsed a graphic-novel version of Slaughterhouse-Five at the comics and collectibles store. I didn't find it very compelling--but of course it competes in my imagination with several readings of the book (long ago) and memories of the movie, which I thought was a good adaptation overall.

My wife walks a lot, and listens to a lot of novels. I walk a lot but have never liked listening to voices (or even music, much) while walking.

Drago said...

Althouse: "Sometimes I even read books that came out before I was born."

Just keep it to pieces written within the last 100 years so as not to frighten and befuddle the Ezra Klein's of the world.

Harold Nelson said...

So where do I start? Take the draft to a printer and push the paper around? How does one SELF-PUBLISH?

JK Brown said...

Funny, Ann's follow-on comments are the kind that would be great marketing for a book

I can see how that Tik Tok would explode interest in the book among the Hallmark-y crowd. No highbrow analysis, just "listen to this". And left the viewer hanging by not reading the last line.

Jeff Gee said...

I've been assuming "Frankenstein Part 2" was Dave Bagley's running joke and was gobsmacked to find it (and author M. Reese Kennedy) on Amazon. It was as if the girl with the pony tail at my gym said, "I just found out some whack job was writing about me in the comment section of some BLOG in Wisconsin!"

rcocean said...

I didn't realize the NYT Bestseller list was an "Opinion piece" LOL. But I should have. IRC, Ann Coulter's books 20 years ago were being kept off the list because she was "Bad think".

Of course, its weird that in a country of 320 million people, spread out over millions of square miles, a small group of people in Manhattan are able to gatekeep what is published or publicized (sic) in the MSM and what doesn't.

Hoover's work isn't anything I'd want to read, but I'm glad she broke through and is giving the public what they want.

As for fiction in general, I've gotten to point where i need to listen to it on audiobook. Non-fiction I can read, but I no longer have the patience to read novels.

PM said...

1. My preference is non-fiction and histories. A McPhee-junkie.
2. Mr. Shoemaker's comment @9:47 is revelatory.
3. Speaking of Blatty, 200 years ago he spoke in my college Lit class abt The Exorcist. Read it, then saw the movie high. Bad idea.

Lazarus said...

Hollywood is more interested in Slaughterhouse, Part 5, a story about the days when Omaha was hogbutcher to the world.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

Harold Nelson said...
So where do I start? Take the draft to a printer and push the paper around? How does one SELF-PUBLISH?

It’s a huge topic. There are books, blogs, videos, courses, and conferences. I don’t want to turn the comment thread into a sea of links (message me if you’d like them), but here’s the simplest approach I know.

1. Write, edit, proofread, and format the book as best you can. I use MS Word, but there are other options. Writing, editing, and formatting are all skills you’ll have to learn or hire out.

2. Create a KDP account at Amazon. You’ll have to give them banking information so they can pay you.

3. Get a cover. OK art can be $12 at Dreamstime or other stock art sites. If you’re trying to minimize costs, that’s how I would go; but people DO judge a book by its cover, so you should look into cover artists. All depends on your budget.

4. Create an eBook project at KDP.

5. Upload your book file.

6. Upload your cover.

7. Price your ebook.

8. Publish the ebook. Amazon will do a quality check, and reject for various technical reasons. Rarely for content reasons, but still a pain.

9. Amazon will tell you when it’s for sale.

10. Decide on the size of your paperback or hardcover project (if you want one). Download a template file for that size.

11. Paste your text into a copy of the template and reformat it. The eBook format won’t work well for the paper books.

12. Create the paper book project from your eBook project.

13. Upload your paper book files.

14. Price your book.

15. Publish for them to review.

There’s a lot more to learn here, but these are the basics. You can learn the basics pretty quickly. Last year at Fyrecon (a writing/art educational conference), an illustrator, an editor, and I wrote, edited, and published an eBook in front of the audience over the course of four days in order to show the students that they can do this.

tim in vermont said...

+1 Bill R

tim in vermont said...

I just finished listening to Congo, which I saw somebody on Twitter thank somebody else for recommending. I think all aspiring writers should read it, because you learn so much more about writing from a terrible novel than a great novel, the workings of which tend to be more subtle, and so it goes.

Just picked up Heart of Darkness to get the taste out, though I did learn in that book that an adult male hippo can weigh as much as a mid sized RV.