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A raw blog post

30 October 2014

From author Colleen Hoover:

Three years ago this week…

I lived in a mobile home. A very small, 1,000 square foot trailer house. With black linoleum, horrendous gold trim, an air conditioner that didn’t work, a patio door that didn’t open because the floor was rotted through and appliances that would only run one at a time or the breaker would trip. We had a huge pile of trash in a backyard pen because for an entire year, we couldn’t even afford the $25 a month trash service.

I drove a minivan that had no heater, and every winter I would have to leave for work at 6:30 in the morning and pull over every few miles just to wipe and defrost the windows so I could see out it.

Our kids were on free lunches, and for a while, we qualified for food stamps.

All of this, and I had a college degree, which I was utilizing. But working as a social worker wasn’t paying all of the bills, and I was still having to borrow money from my mother and fatger to make ends meet. When my older sister would come visit, she would bring me groceries. My aunt would send my kids shoes for Christmas, because we could hardly afford them. We dreamed of living like kings on payday, but in reality we were paupers, digging in the couch cushions during the week to afford the banquet TV dinners we lived on most of the time.

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t.

It was wonderful.

I loved my life. I loved my crappy house. I loved that my children were growing up in the town I grew up in, and going to the same school I attended. I loved living half a mile from my mother, and taking the boys for walks every night. I loved paydays, when we would splurge and take the boys to Wal-Mart to buy them a toy. I loved when my mother would show up at my house after everyone went to bed and she’d give me twenty dollars and we would drive to the casino and play penny slots for five hours straight. My favorite present was when my little sister gave me twenty dollars in quarters for Christmas a few years ago because we love arcades, and we spent the entire twenty bucks on claw machines. I loved the days my older sister would come visit and bring me her old clothes and old makeup and groceries and it would feel like I hit the lottery. And I especially loved it when my husband and I would dream about one day building our own house. Of course we never believed it would actually happen, but dreaming was free and it was fun. So we dreamed a lot.

I worked eleven hour days, but I loved my job and I loved the women I worked with. In October of 2011, my son told me he wanted to audition for a play and I knew the hours would kill me, but I loved that he was brave enough to audition in front of a crowd at the age of eight. When he got the part, I was both ecstatic and pissed off. Of course I wanted him to get the part, but my husband was working over the road and was only home a couple of days a month. That meant every weekday, I’d be leaving my house at 6:30 am and wouldn’t get home until 9:30 every night, after rehearsals. But I made it work, with the help of a lot of people.

A friend of mine, and sometimes a few of the teachers at my children’s school, would drop my son, Cale, off at my work every afternoon. My other two children would go to my mother’s house every night. When work ended at 6pm, we would head straight to rehearsals. This went on for a couple of months, and sitting in the auditorium sometimes got boring. I would borrow my mother’s laptop, which honestly couldn’t even be considered a laptop. It was one of those mini laptops that was so tiny, it was hard to type on. Not to mention it was missing a few keys. It was really sad looking, but I didn’t own a computer, so I made it work.

I would play around on youtube, read a book or two on Amazon, anything to pass the time. But one night after watching a lot of slam poetry on youtube, I decided I wanted to read a book about a slam poet. When I couldn’t find one, I started writing one.

I wrote the first few paragraphs on that tiny laptop in the auditorium of the Sulphur Springs community theater. All I could think about while I was driving home was how much I wanted to write another paragraph. And another. I would take my mom’s laptop home with me at night and stay up writing until about 2am. Then I would drop it off in her car at 6:30 every morning so she would have it when she worked all day. Then on my way home every night, I’d borrow it again and use it until 2am. The cycle continued for a week or two, until I had about four solid chapters. I still didn’t know what I was writing. I had no idea that I would eventually let people read it. I just knew that it was fun and I was sacrificing sleep and sanity to do it. It felt so good to be excited about a hobby. I was falling in love with Lake and Will’s story and it consumed me night and day. I would write at work on breaks and lunch and between clients. After a couple of weeks, I printed the first few chapters and gave them to my mother to see if it was something she liked. I also gave them to my boss, who honestly didn’t think anything of it when I said I was writing a book. She was used to my crazy ideas. I think the month before, I wanted to open a pottery story. The month before that I wanted to major in business. The month before that, I wanted to go back into teaching. It was always something new, so she wasn’t expecting this to stick, and honestly, neither was I.

After they read the first few chapters, they didn’t come to me with praise or criticism. They didn’t say how good they thought it was, or how crappy they thought it was. Both of them just basically said, “Where’s the next chapter?” And when I said, “I haven’t written it yet,” it was as if I slapped them in the face. Their reaction was by far better than any compliment they could have given me.

It was my inspiration.

. . . .

My older sister is a different story. She had huge dreams for this book and she’s a very big believer in positive thinking. She makes vision boards every January, and the week before I self-published SLAMMED, she wrote on her vision board that she hoped I would make $100,000 that year from the book. When I saw it, I got so mad at her. I knew that was ridiculous and she was just setting herself and everyone else up for failure. I thought that if she had that expectation of me, she would be disappointed in me. I made her take it down. I didn’t even want my book mentioned on there, because to me, it was just a silly story and no one other than my friends and family would ever care to read it.

When I self-published it to Amazon, I think I sold 30 copies the first week or month. I can’t even remember. I just know it was enough to pay not only my water bill, but my electric bill. And most of those sales were from the first day when all my friends downloaded the book out of curiosity, so I knew the next month wouldn’t really see any sales and things would slow down. But that didn’t matter to me, because I wrote the book simply because it was fun, not because I wanted to make it a career. The thought of actually writing full-time was a crazy notion and I wouldn’t even allow myself to entertain it.

I started on the sequel, Point of Retreat, shortly thereafter.

. . . .

I remember calling my mother one day saying, “SIX people bought my book today and I don’t even know them!” It was insane.

. . . .

Then came the big day. The day every writer dreams of.

The day I was notified that I had hit The New York Times.

Link to the rest at Colleen Hoover and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Here’s a link to Colleen Hoover’s books

Quit Day Job, Self-Publishing

49 Comments to “A raw blog post”

  1. I haven’t read Slammed, but Hopeless was really good! Colleen’s personal story is inspiring.

    • This is so inspiring! I’m sitting here with a big grin on my face and getting kind of emotional. 🙂

      • Very Stephen King!

      • Haven’t even read it yet (will in a minute). I met Colleen on the KDP boards when another author went on a tear about her reviews being fake right after she released “Slammed”.

        Several of us took a look and told him he was full of crap.

        Colleen is seriously one of the NICEST people. She is also a damn good writer. I don’t typically read the genre she writes, but “Hopeless” was fantastic.

  2. Three years ago, Colleen Hoover was working as a social worker in east Texas. If you’ve never been to east Texas, you cannot imagine what Sisyphean task that is. And as you can tell from her description, Texas doesn’t pay social workers very well.

    Every time you hear the Scott Eagans and Andrew Wylies of the publishing world slam Amazon and self-publishing, remember Colleen Hoover and the millions of readers she is reaching. Because Hoover’s success and her readers’ joy is what really upsets them.

    • Agreed.

      With this one blog post she shoots them all down. Not only that but they have no way to counter her story other than to scream “Outlier!”, an argument that has less merit with every day.

      • Why in the world would anyone dispute her success story or not cheer for her? You folks seriously do not understand the point. Hurrah for the opportunities in self-publishing and, in fact, the opportunities that the new technologies have brought to traditional publishers who are not the Big 5. Small presses are able to maximize many new avenues and publish more authors than ever before due to affordable online channels. There’s no doubt that indie authors and indie presses can create their own career paths — I’ve never heard a trad pub, agent or editor say otherwise. Stop listening to your rebel leaders, who are leading a rally against straw men. I promise you, you should be more worried about the corporate controllers of the system that gives you the chance to self-publish, not the perceived threats from traditional publishers, who mostly pay attention only when a shiny new author rises in the system. As often happens, those self-pub authors are happy to sign with major publishers in order to advance to higher levels. Publishing is not a one-trick pony operation. Stop saddling that one pony, please.

        • We have “rebel leaders”?

          I guess Joe Konrath and Hugh Howie come close, but there are assertions both of them have made that I disagree with fairly strongly, and I know that I’m not alone. As for “straw men,” are you saying that the class action lawsuit against Harlequin and the numerous reports about egregious tradpub contract terms are baseless? That I don’t have to worry about non-compete clauses or 25% of net anymore? The only “straw men” I can see are the ones you keep tilting at.

          I have three deal-breakers (non-compete clauses, toothless rights reversion, and any kind of royalty payment based on net) that keep me from signing with a traditional publisher. That said, there are a couple of publishing houses that I would seriously consider going with, if we could come to an agreement on terms.

          Yours is not one of them.

          • Don’t waste your time Joe.

            Drive-by-Deb doesn’t debate, she just screams out the window as she passes by.

          • @ Joe

            As if self-published writers have — or need — “rebel leaders!”

            We don’t need no stinkin’ leaders. We are all our own leaders. It takes a certain mindset to be an entrepreneur, which is what self-pubbed writers basically are. And cantankerously individualistic loners, for the most part.

            Yes, it’s certainly about the money to be made cutting out the middlemen and their greedy 85-90% paws. But it’s also about having control over your creations. And setting your own schedule, too. All that’s not to be sneezed at.

            Money, control, schedules: the trifecta of self-publishing. No “leaders” necessary, thank you.

          • “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

            — One of those annoying Rebel leaders

            Truly an amazing story and a testament to the power of authors having the ability to directly connect with an audience.

        • While I appreciate your point, he’s referring to a meme that makes the rounds all the time as recently as a few days ago that very few self-published authors make any money and self-published books almost always earn less than $500. Both of these are myths.

          • I think they mean less than $500 this month. 😉

            But winter is coming, Khaleesi, and all those peasants will be snuggled in their hovels with their Kindles by the fire…

        • I heard there had been a Drive By Deb sighting and came to investigate.

          Yay! My favorite commentator!

          Dear DBD, legacy is not a threat. We already worry about corporate control (including Amazon and Legacy). And people don’t succeed as an indie and go legacy, it’s the opposite.

          Keep trying D! You my fav!

    • “Every time you hear the Scott Eagans and Andrew Wylies of the publishing world slam Amazon and self-publishing, remember Colleen Hoover and the millions of readers she is reaching. Because Hoover’s success and her readers’ joy is what really upsets them.”

      Repeated for truth. Let’s shout it from the roof tops, because stories like Coleen’s are what make this self-publishing thing so awesome.

      I’m not in much better of a position that Coleen was. Very little money. Broken-down junkers (my previous minivan’s heater didn’t work well, so I can relate to stopping and clearing windows), a single-wide that’s slowly falling apart around me because there’s always something else that needs fixing first.

      It’s not easy, but I keep writing because, like Colleen, I have to. I’ve tried to stop, more than once. But I can’t do it. The writing always comes back into my life.

      I’m just waiting for my day to come. 😀

    • Who pays social workers well ever? So tired of people being relentlessly partisan.

  3. That was really inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Everyone loves a happy ending…

    This one makes my week!

  5. Bartholomew Thockmorton

    Everyone loves a happy ending…

    This one made my week!

  6. A marvelous story, but it doesn’t need to reach Outlier status to be impressive. I can’t help thinking about what a difference that first $100 or $150 dollars that her first sales represented to a family in their circumstances.

    Even if, as she feared, nothing more came of that story, there was still that first rush of unexpected money and approval. That she had made that great a contribution to her family with just her words was a great achievement and one she was determined to repeat.

    This is being repeated by the hundreds at that small scale. As Hugh Howey has noted, it’s not just those who manage to be completely employed by writing, it is also the much larger numbers where their writing is making an everyday difference in their income.

  7. I’m glad PG posted the story. I know Colleen… she’s a way friendly and generous author and she also finds ways to help out indies. Thanks for taking my blog recommendation, PG. 🙂

  8. I really liked the story too, but -1 for using the word “utilized”.

    • It’s a perfectly cromulent word. Pompous half-educated people misuse it to mean simply ‘use’, of course, and it has acquired a bad reputation as a result; but abusus non tollit usum, as somebody or other used to say, and the word has a legitimate meaning as well:

      utilize, v. [with obj.]

      make practical and effective use of

      I’d say Colleen Hoover’s usage of the word was precisely correct and informative. So many people have college degrees that they never make practical or effective use of. Good on her for it, and better on her for her success as a writer.

  9. Here’s the question: If Colleen Hoover had presented her first novel to New York, would they have taken it?

    Seriously, anyone who has read her book, would she have been able to find one agent / editor / publisher who would have agreed?

    • I’ll be the first one to say…no. Highly unlikely.

    • I think it’s possible. Again, I’ve read Hopeless and I ugly-cried with that book. I felt every emotion. It’s been more than a year since I’ve read it, and I still remember it, and the title… OMG, when you find out the reason for the title Hopeless it sort of shatters you (in a good way).

  10. Dear Colleen, may you sing in the shower or in La Scala for a very long time. Congratulations on your success. Reading this made my day.

  11. Another ode to the joys of privilege. And yes, she had privilege in the form of other people paying her way while she indulged her fantasies and whims. Her kids have surely learnt some interesting lessons in how the world works, having observed their mother being indulged for years on end by relatives.

    • Um, did you miss the part about working 11 hour days? And where’s the shame in seeking out a little help when times are tough? Very few us haven’t done such things. You also apparently missed the part where her “whims and fantasies” as you called them have now allowed them to live the dream of building their own home. I hope her children have learned something; the value of perseverance and not being afraid to take a chance and follow your dreams.

      • I hope her children have learned something; the value of perseverance and not being afraid to take a chance and follow your dreams.

        This is so important. A few years ago, my son wrote the sweetest thing on his FB page on Mother’s Day. It had to do with how I had written three books while working full-time and how it inspired him. He had been kind of lost just before that–out of work and not sure what to do with his life. Since about the time I published, when he was 22, he started working out, got a job, went back to school to become a personal trainer, and now wants to keep going to school to become a teacher. He’s living on his own, paying his own bills–including school, and he’s come so far with his fitness, he has entered some weightlifting competitions. (Deadlifts 500lbs!And made it look easy!) Now he’s my inspiration. 🙂

    • Yes, quite. It would have been far better to let the horrible little leech starve to death and never write anything. That would have increased the sum of human suffering and reduced the sum of literature: both of them excellent things to strive for.

      (signed)

      H. Smiggy McStudge

    • indulged her fantasies and whims and having observed their mother being indulged for years on end by relatives

      emjaye, did we read the same blog post? Because “indulge” feels a bit unfair here. Colleen had “support” from her family and friends. Indulge and support are not the same thing.

    • emjaye, I do hope you feel better after that dump. Please remember to wipe afterwards.

    • Indulged? How? Because her family occasionally contributed what they could so that Colleen and her family had enough to eat? How is that indulging? Sheesh.

    • I normally don’t respond to negativity, but good on you, emjaye, for bringing my kids into this.
      Yes, while I put myself through college and worked eleven hour days, I would have to occasionally rely on my mother to give me gas money. In turn, the day I received my first payment from the publisher, my children went with me to my mother’s place of employment and watched me give her a check to retire on. It was the first thing I did with our money.
      And in two weeks, my mother will be moving into her brand new house that I made sure was built and paid for before I even broke ground on mine. So yes, you are absolutely right. I hope to hell my three boys have been watching closely during all of this and have learned a few “interesting lessons on how the world works.”

      • Thanks so much for your story, Colleen. I can’t tell how inspiring I found it, and how much I hope one day to build my mom her own house, too. 🙂

  12. I love this soul’s soul.

    emjaye, just a thought: If you’ve never been there, it may seem like privilege, but it’s not. If youve been there like many of us have, or if you are there still, cynicism is not the catapult.

  13. Loved the post. Loved the spirit behind it.

  14. What a beautiful story. It seems that no one believes that opportunity still exists for the independent artist or entrepreneur. We are not trapped in whatever place we find ourselves in. God bless her. I hope she becomes insanely rich.

  15. Good for Colleen. And good on her family who apparently stepped up and helped when she was struggling. It DOES take more than one parent to raise kids. And I’d say her “privilege” was to follow her dream even though she couldn’t be sure it would lead her anywhere–and it paid off, big-ways.

    One time-honored and still-active American privilege is to strive to do better. I’d say Colleen embodies all the good values we (mostly) share.

    • What really helped was that a) she was driven to write, and b) she figured out how to write where she was rather than wait for the right moment, or set up her writing space first.

      If she can do that, and Jane Austen write her novels on slips of paper in between visits and family obligations, it’s possible for anyone. They (and by that I mean we) have to get out of our own ways.

  16. Colleen looks for opportunities, and emjae looks for excuses: emblematic of the only 2 types of people in this world.

    I too was on food stamps and disability a few years back. My father is illiterate and my mother dropped out of school in her early teens. The so called ‘white privilege’ crowd can go F themselves.

    I wrote four novels over 3 years and amassed 500 rejections from Big Pub before self publishing. Roughly 10,000 hours of work for no pay while my husband supported us with his sales job.

    I made $17k this month and according to my CPA that puts me over 100k for each of the past 3 years.

    Signed, Outlier

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