The writer who made millions by self-publishing online

A few years ago, Amanda Hocking needed to raise a few hundred dollars so, in desperation, made her unpublished novel available on the Kindle. She has since sold over 1.5m books and, in the process, changed publishing forever.

While I’m pleased for her success, I’m perplexed at how skewed people’s buying patterns are by what they see as worth reading. J. K. Rowling could sell millions of copies of a book containing her shopping lists, simply because of her previous success. People buy what they know, especially when money is tight.

I sometimes wonder how many authors a typical reader could name, and also how many of them they regularly read. I’m guessing that it’s not many. I once knew a man who was proud to read books, but the only author that he ever bothered with was Stephen King. That’s all he read and he had hundreds of copies of his titles – some of which were collectable. He wouldn’t even try other horror writers, such was his obsession. He couldn’t be unfaithful to his idol.

Two ex-girlfriends had strange reading tastes. One loved misery memoirs, to the point where I realised she was both a masochist and a ghoul who relished the suffering of others. The other woman forced herself to read all of the short-listed books for the various literary prizes, even if she didn’t enjoy them. This was all part of her desire to improve herself, which was laudable but didn’t offer a lot of enjoyment. Have you tried reading Keri Hulme’s ‘The Bone People’? It won the Booker Prize in 1986, even though it cries out for editing and guidance on some truly awful writing.

We all have different tastes, and people’s likes and dislikes are as diverse as their preference in food, music and the clothing that they wear. I’ve never read an Amanda Hocking novel, have only read the first four of the Harry Potter series and a few of Stephen King’s novels – I prefer his straight dramatic stories such as ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘The Green Mile’ to his horror output. I gave up on ‘The Bone People’. Life is too short to force myself to read work that fails to engage me.

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