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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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Jun. 21st, 2011 05:14 am (UTC)
Heh. You said it. Nothing worse than multimillionaire mouthpieces whingeing for billionaires and multinationals for the thousandth time. Waiting for the book 'Capitalists that hate capitalism (or competition) :).

About the above: read far worse stuff that has gone through the usual vetting by minions of Murdoch et. al. though.

The spousal unit has a theory that good tv comes from mediocre books - e.g. Harris, where the tv show is orders of magnitude better.

To sell lots, though, in general the writing will have to be dumbed down enough to appeal to the left half of the bell curve's intelligence and reading ability to capture enough of them.

You should also add in 'rips off Southern Hemisphere readers to support the profitability of their Northern Hemisphere companies.' ;-)

Jun. 21st, 2011 05:28 am (UTC)
To sell lots, though, in general the writing will have to be dumbed down enough to appeal to the left half of the bell curve's intelligence and reading ability to capture enough of them.

see, i don't reckon that;s true at all. good books sell all the time. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, for example is a good, intelligent book that sells well still. is it the cutting edge of lit and does experimental or weird shit? nah. but it's written well and is intelligent in its thought and execution.

i think the idea that books need to be dumbed down to be success was, firstly, a lie, and secondly, is one that has a terrible knock on effect for readers and authors, wherein this is what they expect and what they create.
Jun. 21st, 2011 05:51 am (UTC)
And generalising about something from one example like that is extremely flawed.

That's one book that has stood the test of time. And if it was from New Zealand would have nowhere near the sales.

And is that one currently selling as much as the books above? No.

Also a rather simple book, To Kill A Mockingbird, so not the best example for you to use :-

Percent of complex words : 7.97
Average syllables per word : 1.4110
Average words per sentence : 12.5411


Fog : 8.2060
Flesch : 74.7367
Flesch-Kincaid : 5.9506

" When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his
injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn't have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.
When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began he summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.

Simple enough that they make youngish schoolkids read it, certainly.
Jun. 21st, 2011 06:08 am (UTC)
least i had an example ;p

i'm bit unsure about the kincaid thing, though. what are you trying to say? that because they teach it in high school it's not intelligent or well written? because the kincaid test says it's not got a whole lot fo complex sentences and the average words aren't intelligent?

dude. you know better than that. big words and long sentences are not the mark of intelligence. just as small words and short sentences are not the mark of stupidity. there's a huge variety to the written word, and to throw up a percentage based off work choice that doesn't even take into account the thematic concerns of the book, the multiple strands, the various characters... dude, we both know there is more to what goes into an intelligent book and a good author than the size of your sentence and words you pick.

i picked TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD just cause it randomly jumped into my head, and has remained in print for decades. it may not be selling what those other books do right now, but it sells consistantly and regularly and it does not appear that it will stop to do so. it is not a book dumbed down, or written badly, or one without an interesting social thematic concern which, albiet, is perhaps a bit simpler now than it was at its release. my use of it as an example is to say good, intelligent books exist and hang round for decades and sell well. i can name more books, if i so wish, but my point is to say you don't have to dumb down to sell well--why would you even want to argue against that? heh. you should go off and find more examples and make a stand on it, man. say no to bad writing. it's like the this is your mind on drugs commerical.
Jun. 21st, 2011 06:32 am (UTC)
I didn't say you have to dumb down to sell well. Advanced Engineering Mathematics will have sold squillions.

I did say making it more accessible to a large percentage of the population is a factor in such though. So is making it more American, according to publishers. :)

To Kill a Mockingbird is a simply written book with an extremely simple story (so much so that it can be easily grasped by young children).

There are lots of books that aren't dumbed down or written badly with interesting thematic content to the same degree that are completely forgotten in the sales sense.

Luck is also a factor - something that both Lee and Hocking managed to snag some of.
Jun. 21st, 2011 06:41 am (UTC)
i think you're selling TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD out short, myself.

but, i'm gonna disagree with you that it work doesn't have to be dumbed down, or more american, to sell well. personally, i think it's a point we ought to push upon publishers and authors to push an ideology change through literature that's needed, but perhaps that is just me.
Jun. 21st, 2011 07:06 am (UTC)
Again, I didn't say they had to - just that those are a factor, pragmatically.

I'm happy for the current American/English biased monoliths to collapse, personally. :)

As on the whole, if cheesy school fantasies are what people want, it is better if most of the money goes to people that want Han Solos in Carbonite as compared to those who want to manipulate economies or politics. Speaking of ideologies.

How rebellious do you want to get? 'Until we get what we want, we will just pirate your junk and help others to do the same'?

Or just blog about how we'd like broader imprints that 'stories about middle-class white American women who live in cities of more than 1 million people and know at least one vampire' and 'farmboys who grow up in faux-English medieval settings (having none of their friends die of poor sewage related diseases) and kill the odd darklord)'.
Jun. 21st, 2011 07:22 am (UTC)
well, yes. if we take it to larger ideologies there's really nothing harmful about people who want to read cheesy school fantasies. there's also a lot more useful kind of things to do in life than discuss the fate of those books as well. but yet, here we are...

as for how rebellious, i don't know, but i think it involves a shift in people's perspectives. much to often i see people say, 'well, this is what sells,' and they read it and comment on it even if they don't like it. this is not confined to spec fic, either, of course. film, music, art, it's all there. i just think as a whole we've become to passive in what we consume, that we take what is put on the plate before us, and don't talk about what we'd like, what we don't want anymore, and so forth.

on the other hand, we could make a manifesto are start sending suicide bombers in. first, we'll send in the poets. they've not a lot to life for anyway ;)

Jun. 21st, 2011 08:16 am (UTC)
"The No Shelf Space Achievable Liberation Front's Weaponised Poets managed today to destroy the North American Headquarters of Penguin USA, MacMillan USA and HarperCollins Australia?"

Although part of the current media company ongoing tantyfest is that we actually can go and snag what we want (if it exists, generally) rather than put up with whatever they are serving now.

Doubly or more overcharged us even more so, of course.

Or even more horrific, read what peons whom they don't own wrote for free. ;-)

Jun. 21st, 2011 02:17 pm (UTC)
To Kill a Mockingbird is a perennial school text with a classic film version which is one reason it continues to sell. Just sayin'.
Jun. 21st, 2011 05:45 am (UTC)
You definitely said it and thank you for saying it.

Also: I am going to start a club for writers where we all vow never to mention the eye colour of our characters unless it is vitally relevant to do so.
Jun. 21st, 2011 06:09 am (UTC)
my bright blue eyes sparkled when you mentioned the club.
Jun. 21st, 2011 07:45 am (UTC)
My grey eyes flash green with jealousy at many of your blog posts, so that is only fair.

We are out of the club now.
Jun. 21st, 2011 02:24 pm (UTC)
That excerpt is very similar to Twilight. Based on, I'd say. It's awful stuff.

Popular film is already down at that level, of course. That sort of plotline is about where it's at in mainstream film. An absolute potboiler of a novel - like the one from which Polanski's The Ghost Writer was adapted - can still be turned into what will be described as taut and clever because most film works with such a basic vocabulary.

Would you agree, though, that there is something repellent about the way that online reader communities produce and re-ingest this drivel now? To me there's something to reading writing that comes from outside.

Aside from that, people like me who don't try to write for a living sort of fail to understand the part where you get to write the way you'd like to make the money. Got to be one or the other, I'm afraid.
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