Colleen Hoover, author of the young-adult novel Slammed, “loves the freedom that comes with being an indie author.”
Slammed, Hoover’s debut novel, is currently on The New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-seller lists and is Amazon’s #1 United States Drama and a Top Rated e-book in Romance.
Hoover lives in Texas with her husband and their three boys.
Slammed was released in January 2012 and the follow-up novel, Point of Retreat–also on both The New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists– was released in February 2012. Hoover is currently working on a stand-alone titled Fall Together.
Hoover sat down with IndieReader to talk about her love for the Avett Brothers, how she got her writing mojo back, and the benefits of self-publishing.
Loren Kleinman: What’s so sexy about being indie?
Colleen Hoover: I love the freedom that comes with being an indie author. I like not having any deadlines to meet and the fact that there isn’t any pressure coming from anywhere beside myself.
LK: Why did you decide to self-publish?
CH: Honestly, I didn’t know better. I knew nothing about the publishing industry and after finishing Slammed back in December, I just wanted a way for my friends and family to read it. I never thought it would turn in to a bestseller so I never even tried to get it traditionally published. I researched online how to self-publish and had it on Amazon three hours later. It was incredibly easy.
LK: Do you consider yourself an artist?
CH: I’ve never really referred to myself as an artist before, but I guess the term could apply. I love using my imagination and creating things. It’s my favorite thing to do.
LK: What does self-publishing allow you to do that traditional publishing doesn’t?
CH: I’m sure there are positive and negative aspects to both sides of the industry. With self-publishing, the freedom is definitely a positive for me. I also like the royalty rates, obviously. However, with self-publishing you have to work a lot harder to get yourself noticed and into the hands of readers. You don’t have the marketing benefits that come with a traditional publishing deal.
LK: Slammed provides a look at finding balance. How do both characters find their balance in the midst of a heated relationship?
CH: With Layken and Will, their balance was found once they realized there was so much more going on in their lives that mattered than just the struggles of them not being able to continue with their relationship. A common theme later in the novel is something Will says in one of his poetry slams, which is “put the emphasis on life.” After hearing this, Layken finally realizes that the things she was putting the most weight on were not even the things that mattered in the grand scheme of things.
LK: Talk about music and writing. You mention you found your mojo again through The Avett Brothers. How did they inspire your writing?
CH: I loved being creative when I was younger. I played the piano, wrote a lot and even dabbled in painting. Once I started college, got married and had three children, all in a 4-year span, life sort of revolved around that and my full-time job. When I discovered The Avett Brothers music a couple of years ago that changed. Something about their music and lyrics brought back my passion for music, which in turn brought back my passion for writing. I forgot just how much I enjoyed it and found it to be such a great escape from the pressures of everyday life.
One of their songs in particular called “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise” contains lyrics that say, “Decide what to be, and go be it.” Hearing those words made me stop and think. I had always loved to write. I’ve always dreamt of being a writer. What the heck was stopping me?
LK: How much does your own experience come into play when you are writing a book?
CH: I use a few things in the books that happen with the children, but honestly not a whole lot comes from my own life. Slammed is a very emotional and romantic series, and I’m completely opposite. If anything, the people closest to me were utterly shocked that these books came from me.
LK: Tell me about your writing process. How do you come up with the characters?
CH: I don’t follow an outline or character build before I write. I tried that with Slammed and by the end of chapter one, the whole thing went out the window. So I guess I just introduce them in the story as the story progresses. I just sort of have to wait and see which characters come out and what their personalities are like. I write like I’m watching a movie and I have no idea what’s going to happen next or how it’s going to end. I go scene by scene and have no clue what the next chapter holds. I’m a very disorganized person, so this works for me.
LK: How do you use description to build plot?
CH: I would say I use the characters and dialogue more than I use description. Before I wrote both books, I was a horrible reader. I’m one of those readers that skip 1/3 of the book to get to dialogue. I hate description and tried to keep that to a minimum in my books. I wrote it how I would like to read it. I like a lot of the story to be left to the reader’s imagination.
LK: Why did you decide to write young adult fiction?
CH: I didn’t really know I did. I wrote Slammed without knowing anything about genres. When I first went to upload it, I had no clue how to label it on Amazon. I didn’t think it was just a romance, I didn’t think it was just a young adult book and I didn’t think it could be solely categorized in drama. I hated having to put a label on it at all. I want to write books that appeal to all sorts of genres and ages, which I believe Slammed does. It’s “clean” enough that it is okay for younger readers, and deals with serious topics, which makes it interesting to older readers.
LK: How did you go about marketing Slammed?
CH: I believe the success of Slammed is strictly due to the readers and word of mouth. I had never written anything before, so I was completely unknown in January. I would spend a lot of time responding to people that already read the book and blogging on my blog, but other than that it was all word-of-mouth.
LK: How has being on the NYT bestseller list boosted your readership?
CH: Slammed was in the top 20 already in Amazon when it appeared in the NYT’s. On Barnes & Noble, I wasn’t selling all that many. My ranking was between 100 and 200. After it appeared on the NYT’s, it made it all the way up to the #4 spot for several days, topped by the great E.L. James and the Fifty Shades of Grey series. It felt great seeing my books next to hers. I have a lot of respect for her and admire how she’s handled herself during her rise to the top.
LK: What feedback do you get from your fans about your writing?
CH: This is my absolute favorite part. I love getting messages from people telling me how the books touched them. A lot of them thank me for simply giving them an escape or reminding them of their younger years. My favorite messages are the ones from people telling me they now love The Avett Brothers and have downloaded all of their albums. I love when people find their inner Avett fan.
LK: What writers have inspired your writing?
CH: You know, I’m embarrassed to say this but I didn’t read a whole lot. I would read non-fiction most of the time if I did read. I was just so busy and never thought there was enough time in the day for books. In fact, I had never even read a romance novel before writing both of my books. Now is a different story completely.
I have met so many great authors since I began this journey. A few friends I have made have inspired me along the way with their stories AND with their vast knowledge of this industry. A few of my favorites are Tammara Webber’s Easy; Jessica Park’s Flat Out Love and I recently discovered John Green. I downloaded The Fault in Our Stars back in April and it quickly became my favorite book.
LK: Are you reading any indie authors now? If so, who?
CH: Oh, goodness. I just read Captive in The Dark by CJ Roberts. That one left me questioning my own sanity, which was great. Think Fifty Shades, but WAY more intense. I know, right? How is that possible?
Some others I haven’t mentioned are Tarryn Fisher’s The Opportunist and I just finished Crash by Nicole Williams. They were both great reads. I’m pretty sure other than John Green, the majority of the books I’ve read this year have been by Indie authors.
LK: What else are you working on?
CH: I’m currently working on another book in the Slammed series called, Will’s Story. It alternates between past and present, so readers get a lot of Slammed from his point of view, which they’ve been begging for.
LK: What advice would you give to novice indie writers?
CH: I think Jessica Park says it best on her website when she says to “write for yourself.” If you go into it trying to write like another author or to turn out the next bestseller in a particular genre, I think the story will suffer. Just focus on your characters and your story and listen to what your creative voice is telling you. Ignore everything and everyone else.
Before writing Slammed I read an article that stated the majority of publishers refused to accept anything pertaining to poetry and that writers should avoid this. Also in the same article it stated that writing characters between the ages of 18 and 22 was a bad idea because it was a hard market to tap. Well, Slammed is all about poetry and the characters are 18 and 21. I’m glad I ignored that and went with my gut.
LK: What would you tell readers who are hesitant about choosing an indie read?
CH: If they are hesitant about choosing an indie read, it’s probably because they’ve had bad experiences in the past. This can happen with any book, however it was published. The great thing about eBooks is the retailers provide a lengthy preview. Definitely take advantage of this. Usually within the first couple of chapters there should be indication of whether or not you enjoy the style of the author. I’ve honestly never even looked to see if a book I was reading was indie or not. I base most of my reads on word of mouth, so I rarely even look at reviews.