From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Amanda Hocking vs. Tea Obreht: Terms of Success

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?

Sarah Allen

20 comments:

  1. I follow Amanda's blog but not the other one. Success in my opinion is happiness and that only comes from the inside. If I was published and no one liked me as a person, I wouldn't feel successful at all. I'd be unhappy as a matter of fact. I'd read both writers equally and it wouldn't matter if it was a New Yorker article or not. I guess a person's status doesn't matter that much to me in life. I would stand next to Prince William and think in my head, "he's a human just like me." But I guess other people would think he's a better human than me. Ahh well...such is life.

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  2. Right before you commented on my blog I read this article! Crazy Karma, huh? Anyway, I think (for now) this is a to each is own kind of thing. Whichever works best per author, but in 5 years or so, Amanda's way will be the best way for any author to get things going.

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  3. I agree with crystal, publishing can be a tricky thing. It can go either way I suppose. I've been following Amanda's blog recently and found it amazing she's doing so well. It kind of makes an aspiring writer hopeful.

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  4. I think you can definitely be successful either way. A lot of it really comes down to hard work and at least a little bit of natural talent.

    Thanks for your comment on my blog (paulmbrown.blogspot.com) by the way. How did you come across it?

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  5. I've chosen the independent publishing route because of the creative freedom it gives me. That may mean that I don't have the mass popularity or high profile that either of these authors have, but it's what suits me and my writing goals. The beauty of today's writing world is that each author can choose the path that best suits them. Neither path (traditional or independent) will ever be easy. Once that's accepted as a given, the actual choice becomes relatively simple.
    Judy (South Africa)

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  6. Hi Sarah,

    To me success is to accomplish what ever it is that you want to do in life.
    This is such a luxury in today's world...

    And yes, every thing is possible.

    Have a good day,
    Me.

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  7. Wow! A great question! I would perfer to have Amanda's level of sucess. I believe this is because I am an "indie" kind of person. I would rather go to a local greasy spoon than McDonalds. I would rather make my own clothing than buy it. I want my writing and career to refelct who I am as much as possible. I would never want to be a "product." Besides, she's raking in the cash. But... on the other hand, I am submitting my fiction everywhere, including the New Yorker. The thing writers have to realise is that we have no say over the type of career we will have. People will love our work, or not. Personally, I'm just going to put as much effort in as I can. Maybe I will have a different type of sucess than these women have. And maybe I'll be 67 years old and never made a dime off my writing. I'm ok with both outcomes. I have to be. I don't have a choice.

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  8. To me the biggest difference between Amanda and Tea's success is how I was told they were successful. I knew Amanda was doing well because every time I browsed for teen books on my Nook, her titles were everywhere. Meanwhile, I knew Tea was successful because a glossy magazine told me so. And the glossy magazine was able to tell me because a big publisher told them to read her book and realize how amazing she was.

    Maybe the difference doesn't mean much to others, but it does to me. It's probably the indie in me making me think that.

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  9. Well, congrats for both of you!!!

    Hey, Sarah, just put your heart into the WIP. You will be great and successful for sure too Just like me!! *winks*

    with warm regards
    http://arandomarticle.blogspot.com

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  10. I'd rather have critical acclaim than mass popularity. It lasts longer, and to me, is a more sincere compliment.

    Having both is good too, but popularity is deceptive.
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of my heroes--crazy talented, and a nobel prize winner. He is SO FAMOUS. But yet there are girls who read Twilight and have never heard of him. AS a matter of fact, step outside of literary circles (or latin america), and people don't even recognize the genre of "magical realism," which he writes.

    So I guess it's also a question of, who do you want to be popular with?

    In high school, I wanted to be surrounded by real friends, not numbers. I aspire to the same thing in publishing.

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  11. It depends on how you define success, but if its monetarily, then Amanda has potential to make more in the end because she retains the all rights and the shelf life is as long as she wants it to be. However, the down side of being selfpublished and successful is you have to spend a good amount of your handling the "business" end of the job opposed to having the freedom to write and create. (although that doesn't appear to have slowed Amanda down at all!!)
    Patti
    http://mainstreammystic.blogspot.com/

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  12. It's the wild West now in publishing, isn't it? What would I prefer? That somebody, several somebodies, would read my work and be moved by it. I'll continue to write whether I receive money or acclaim. The love of writing and the journey is my motivation. Some money would be nice, but satisfied readers top the $.

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  13. Wow, thank you all so much for your great thoughts :) I appreciate hearing what other writers think about things like this. And Christine, Marquez was one of the first writers I thought of that one could say has both the acclaim and popularity :) Thanks again, you guys are all awesome!

    Sarah

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  14. Hey Sarah! New follower here :)
    I've recently decided to go the self publishing route, and you're right...I think almost every writer wants acclaim and popularity and success. I'm finally coming to terms with the fact that I'll probably never be as popular as JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer...and that's okay. I just want to get my story out there and have it resonate with someone, and that's all the success I need.

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  15. I've been published by a small publisher and the more I think about having control over my own work, the more inclined I am to self-publish. I think I've made up my mind, but I'm giving myself the rest of the year to wrap up the project I want to self-pub. The only thing holding me back is the amount of work it's going to take to push the novel. It's daunting when you think about the number of books out there. Still, as we say in Jamaica - nothing tried, nothing done.

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  16. Hey, Thanks for visiting my blog Sarah. I have been thinking about the differences in the success of Amanda and the traditional route myself also. Personally I'm working for the traditional route but it is good to see that if that doesn't pan out that my options aren't completely limited.

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  17. Did you heard what Rob Matts said about that?

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  18. I think it comes from never giving up and being sure in your writing. Many people thought that JK Rowlings books would never be succcessful but she knew that it could. I get the same stuff with my books. People accuse me of riding the Twilight fan wave but to quote one of my friends besides the vampire and werewolf there is no other comparison. Either way I know my books are worth it and one day I will join Amanda and Tea in addition to JK because I will never stop believing in myself. That is what I think is truly the secert of success. Never give up and always believe.

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I absolutely love hearing from you! Thank you so, so much for your thoughts and comments, they really do make my day. Consider yourself awesome. Also, I do my best to respond to every comment within 24 hours, so I invite you to come back and continue the conversation :)

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