Browsing the acim I accidentally downloaded a novel called ‘Switched’. (It’s very easy to hit the wrong button with the Kindle, particularly if like me your hands are a little clumsy.) The acim was about teenage trolls; its author was a young American called Amanda Hocking and it cost me all of 49 pence. Despite the rather glaring awkwardness of the writing, ‘Switched’ was ranked among the top fifty Kindle bestsellers.
In fact Amanda Hocking has a total of nine books on Kindle, all of them in the top hundred, which is pretty good considering that the entire Kindle list now comprises some 639,000 titles. Clearly she has found herself a loyal audience, and is selling a lot of books. Partly this may be due to the fact that she writes in trilogies, and prices the first volume of each at below £1.00, but people don’t go on buying books by a particular author simply because they’re cheap. Her marketing strategy works because the people who read her books want more.
I Googled Amanda Hocking’s name, and came up with more than a million results. According to Wikipedia she is 26, has written 17 novels in her spare time, and in less than a year has become ‘an e-book millionaire’. She started publishing her novels as e-books in April 2010. By March 2011, she had sold about a million copies and earned in excess of two million dollars.
Most remarkably of all, all of these books were self-published. This is a fact that is well known to her Kindle reviewers; and presumably explains the clumsiness of much of the writing. Interestingly enough it doesn’t seem to put her readers off. In fact many of them may well like the fact that the book has been published more or less as she wrote it, without any editor or proof-reader (i.e. authority figure) interfering by boringly tidying things up. That’s the Internet for you: it’s nothing if not libertarian.
Instructively Amanda was turned down by a large number of publishers before she resorted to self-publishing. What particularly interested me about her story is that like many people I have a number of unpublished manuscripts gathering dust in drawers and cupboards. Some of these are books which failed to find a publisher, but among them is one that was published and is now out of print: a novel for children called ‘The Musclemen.’
‘The Musclemen’ was published by Oxford University Press in 1991. When writing it I had in mind a similar audience to that of the Roald Dahl books, which my own children had enjoyed immensely from quite a young age, and still continued to read into their teens. I meant it to be quite a challenging, even controversial story: an all-out attack on commercialism and particularly the commercialism of modern toys, which I had been observing with horrified fascination since my early days as a parent – my eldest son was born in 1973. In many ways the plot of ‘The Musclemen’ resembles that of the ‘Toy Story’ films, although it was actually written and published some four or five years earlier. (I’m not accusing Pixar of plagiarism; this is more a case of what Jung would have called ‘synchronicity’.)
The Musclemen’ has a fairly simple plot – hateful toy robots wreak havoc in conventional middle-class household, only to be defeated by an alliance of more conventional play-room characters led by a teddy bear called Hodge. The final nemesis of the villainous Musclemen, as the robots are called, is brought about by their own meanness and capacity for violence. The book relates to Toy Story thematically as well as in terms of plot, in that it pits toys dependent upon technology (Buzz Lightyear/the Musclemen) against toys that encourage the child to use his or her imagination (Woody/Hodge). I have always thought that it would make a great film – particularly if made by Pixar.