This week, an unknown American author called Amanda Hocking joins an elite literary club alongside just 11 others – including Stieg Larsson, James Patterson and Nora Roberts – by racking up her millionth Kindle sale. Unknown is of course a relative term in this case – no one can shift that many books by remaining anonymous – but Hocking is unusual because she has sold all her books on Kindle. Entirely self-published, her first physical book doesn't reach traditional bookshops until January 2012.
A 27-year-old Star Wars fan from Minnesota, Hocking writes so-called "paranormal romances" for young adults, and is being hailed as the new Stephenie Meyer. Since March 2010, she has uploaded no fewer than 10 books onto Kindle, all of them about vampires and trolls and zombies, all playing out like sagas that mandatorily require multiple sequels. Why trolls?
"They kind of freaked me out at first," she admits, "but I didn't want to write about fairies. I don't really like fairies." It was when she discovered, during her research, that they could sometimes be attractive, that she had her lightbulb moment. "They're not so common, and I thought, no one else is doing this. Let's go for it."
Each book takes between two and four weeks to write, and she sells them for between 99 cents and $2.99. In the past 18 months, she has grossed approximately $2 million.
"I've seen other authors doing the exact same thing as I have, similar genres and similar prices," she told The New York Times, "and they're selling reasonably well, but they're not selling nearly as well as I am."
Hocking decided to self-publish online because she had consistently failed in the traditional route. Writing as a hobby since childhood, she completed her first novel at 17, and sent it out to every agent and publisher in New York. She received 50 rejections, and would receive many more for subsequent novels over the next few years. Frequently toying with the idea of giving up writing altogether ("I was like, 'this is horrible, I'm never going to be able to do it'"), she instead took inspiration from an unlikely source: a YouTube clip of US pop-punk band Blink-182's Mark Hoppus encouraging their legion of disaffected fans to make their dreams come true. And so the young woman who has described her teenage years as "seriously depressed" did just that. She uploaded her first e-book, My Blood Approves – a 17-year-old girl falls for vampiric brothers; trouble ensues – last spring. Within a day, she had sold five books; by the end of the month, 36.
"I was like, '36 books? It's astounding. I'm taking over the world.'"
Six months, and several sequels, later, that figure was at 100,000. She now sells on average 9,000 books a day.
Her titles – among them, Fate, Flutter, Virtue – have succeeded without a marketing campaign or newspaper reviews, and have flourished purely, it seems, on a rather torrential online word-of-mouth.
Despite proving herself a self-publishing phenomenon who doesn't need the industry to become a major bestselling writer, Hocking nevertheless decided to sign to a traditional publisher earlier this year, when it belatedly came knocking. Her deal with St Martin's Press in the US (and Pan Macmillan in the UK) is worth $2 million, and her first "proper" book, Switched: Book One in the Trylle Trilogy, arrives in the new year. The film rights have already been snapped up by Hollywood, and this otherwise shy Minnesotan is now clearly driven by serious ambition.
"For me to be a billion-dollar author," she says, "I need to have people buying my books at Walmart."