First of all, I want to say that I am not intending this post as a talent contest. I'm starting on the basis that both Amanda Hocking and Tea Obreht are very talented, high-quality writers. Also, my discussion is based on vague research, so I apologize in advance for any inaccuracy.
What I'm interested in discussing is the extremely different paths each of these women has taken to very different kinds of success. I'm making generalizations here and I'm sure real life is more complicated, but still, I find a general discussion of Amanda and Tea's careers interesting and enlightening. I believe they are nearly the exact same age (mid-twenties?), which makes the comparison even more interesting, especially given the astonishing amount of success they've each had at such a young age. People spend their whole lives trying to reach the level of success that these two have reached. It is the different meanings of "success" that I find interesting.
On the one hand, we have Tea Obreht. Ms. Obreht went a fairly traditional route to publication. To begin with, she not only placed short stories in The New Yorker, but was anthologized in Best American Non-required Reading (2009 I think?) and Best American Short Stories 2010. That is huge success already. She got an MFA by age 25, at which she wrote the novel that came out this month, The Tigers Wife, published by Random House, the ultimate in Big Publishing. For this novel and these short stories, she was listed in several "Best Writers" lists, including the New Yorker's "20 Under 40".
On the other hand, we have Amanda Hocking. I believe Amanda tried for traditional publishing for a good long time, but what ended up working out for her was, simply, different then what worked out for Tea Obreht. Amanda is clearly not only a skilled writer, but a whiz at networking, marketing and promotion. She has a well-established web presence, and has reached a huge audience through things like her blog and Twitter account. Necessarily so, given she has done all the grunt work herself. She went the untraditional (though becoming less so) route of self publishing and has had more success then most in the publishing industry know what to make of. Whatever anyone puts on their lists, her sales are at bestseller rates. She whips out books and people gobble them up. She has several books out, as opposed to Tea's one, and though she hasn't gotten Tea's critical acclaim, the numbers (dollars and sales) are in her favor.
Both of these writers have success that makes me green. I think many writers would give both legs for it. I'm not sure I would be able to pick which type of success is better than the other, or which I would pick for myself. Obviously the ideal is both critical acclaim and mass popularity. (Not that these two fit neatly into one category; like I said, I'm sure real life is more complex and that they've each had a variety of success). In thinking about it, though, I'm not sure if success is something writers themselves have any control over. I believe any writer with enough determination will find success. But as far as what kind, I think that might be up to other people. Of course every writer wants both the acclaim and popularity, but I think all we can do is write the absolute best we can and market the most we know how, and see what happens. In real life every writer will have a variety of success, and for the lucky ones, lots of it.
What are your thoughts? Is there one path that is clearly the preferable one for you? How do you think writers can achieve both kinds of success? Is that even possible?