Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

The Hocking Syndrome

“We bought $8 champagne,” Hocking said, waving the finger with her frog ring on it in the air. “I had half a flute.”

Duane caught sight of her ring and dubbed it “big pimp bling.”

The above quote comes from the New York Times article on Amanda Hocking, self published millionaire, and now even more a millionaire, after picking up a four book two million dollar deal with St Martins Press.

The article is a bit of a travesty, really, from the fat girl photo by Ben Innes that attempts to be the most unflattering piece it can be, to the portrayal of Hocking as a bogan who has struck it rich but doesn't have the intelligence or know how in how to use the money right. You would think, perhaps, that the author of the article, Strawberry Saroyan, might examine how such an author got rich, if her work is any good, and how she managed to turn that into a multi-million dollar deal with a large publisher, but no. Instead, she'll note the trash culture, the platonic life mate, and the Han Solo in Carbonite that cost seven grand.

Hocking, if you haven't heard of her, is the poster child of quick, e-reader success, the focal point of the rise of new technology. She is the one example that justifies millions in trying her way out, with varying success. In fairness, Saroyan makes note of that at the end by referring to Hocking as a new generation literary phenomenon, but it's a fairly shallow examination. Myself, however, as I got to thinking about the article after I read it, and as it came into the interplay with all the noise from publishers, editors and agents out there that electronic publishing was destroying the industry and making it oh so hard... the more I began to think that Hocking is exactly what the publishing industry deserved: a self made millionaire of derivative fiction who used new technology to do it after an archaic publishing system had no space and no desire for her, depriving her of an outlet.

Perhaps depriving is to strong a word. Perhaps, truthfully, she does not deserve an outlet. Here's an excerpt from Switched:

Drool spilled out across my desk, and I opened my eyes just in time to hear Mr. Meade slam down a textbook. I’d only been here a month, but I’d figured out that was his way of waking me up from my naps during his History lecture. I always tried to stay awake, but his monotone voice lulled me into sleeping submission every time.

“Miss Everly?” Mr. Meade snapped. “Miss Everly?”

“Hmm?” I murmured.

I lifted my head and discreetly wiped away the drool. I glanced around to see if anyone had noticed. Most of the class seemed oblivious, except for Finn Holmes. He’d been here a week, so he was the only kid in school newer than me. Whenever I looked at him, he always seemed to be staring at me in a completely unabashed way, as if it was perfectly natural to gawk at me.

There was something oddly still and quiet about him, and I had yet to hear him speak, even though I had him in four of my classes. He wore his hair smoothed back, and his eyes were a matching shade of black. His looks were rather striking, but he weirded me out too much for me to find him attractive.

“Sorry to disturb your sleep.” Mr. Meade cleared his throat so I would look up at him.

“It’s okay,” I said.

“Miss Everly, why don’t you go down to the principal’s office?” Mr. Meade suggested, and I groaned. “Since you seem to be making a habit of sleeping in my class, maybe he can come up with some ideas to help you stay awake.”

“I am awake,” I insisted.

“Miss Everly, now.” Mr. Meade pointed to the door, as if I had forgotten how to leave and that’s what was holding me back.

I fixed my gaze on him, and despite how stern his gray eyes looked, I could tell he’d cave easily. Over and over in my head, I kept repeating I do not need to go the Principal’s office. You don’t want to send me down there. Let me stay in class. Within seconds, his face went lax and his eyes took on a glassy quality.

“You can stay in class and finish the lecture,” Mr. Meade said groggily. He shook his head, clearing his eyes. “But next time, you’re going straight to the office, Miss Everly.” He looked confused for a moment, and then launched right back into his history lecture.

Use the Force, Luke.

It's not to my taste, really. It has all the style of white paint, rips Star Wars, is set in school, and feels like a cheap knock off of about half a dozen things. But, honestly, that's nothing new. You read the start of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight? It's marginally better than Suzanne Collins' opening for The Hunger Games, but I was just as bored and engaged at the same level of nothing on the pair of them. Of course, it might be better than the substantial bosom that characterizes the start of Charmaine Harris' Dead Until Dark, but people took that and made a cool TV series out of it. Dunno what they'll make out of Hocking's stuff.

The difference between those authors and Hocking is that, frustrated with the publishing industry, Hocking took her product and put it online for a buck and sold a lot of it. The publishing industry, who published those above books, plus so many pieces of trash under the name of commercialism, essentially enabled Hocking to do so, because firstly, it had bred an entire community of readers who wanted something just like this, who had been educated to hate 'hard' reading and anything remotely stylistic that took more than a minute to read a page (which is an entirely different debate about reading practices and how we teach literature, mind) and who had then gone ahead and alienated a part of the public into the new technology of kindle and ebook readers by pricing it at the same price as a physical object, thus allowing the competition to come in and easily undercut them. They've cried foul, of course, they've cried that the sky is falling, but honestly, this is the kind of author they have created, and with new technology, what need does he or she have for them?

Publishing is a terrible industry. I know, many other authors do. It treats the majority of the authors in it horribly. It is financially propped up by best sellers. There's a long list, but I want to note that it is also an industry crying out that the sky is falling, trying to make their woes sound like anything but the noise of a new technology drifting into the market and altering the landscape--landscape, it might be worth noting, that in some places has not changed for hundreds of years. In the way that film cried out when television arrived. The way when video players arrived. The way when video stores arrived. The way music cried when file sharing began. When itunes opened. When and when and when. It's simply literature's turn with the new tech, and books as objects aren't going anywhere, though of course some of the market will go to those online. Good business is about adapting to new technology. Good business is about seeing how it works for you. Ask the pornography industry. They'll set you straight.

But Hocking?

Hocking is the publishing industry's creation.

It created the audience that enabled her, it supports the work that allows her to exist, it treats artists--and the term here is one you can define yourself--poorly, pays poorly, and constantly shuts down a number of intelligent and stunning authors that, in turn, drives away intelligent and beautiful readers because the work is not 'commercial' and thus not viable.

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