Bestseller Colleen Hoover on 'How I Did It'

Reading has always been a wonderful escape for me. When I was a child, I immersed myself in books and loved writing short stories. My mother was very encouraging and anytime I gave her part of the imagination I put onto paper, she would reply enthusiastically. I realize now that my mother is just a very enthusiastic person, and she was simply being a good mother. But it was her enthusiasm, no matter how genuine it was, that solidified my dream. I was going to be a writer.   

However, when I grew up, life had other plans. I married my husband when I was twenty, and we had our first child a year later. By the time I graduated college with a degree in social work, I had three children and needed a job that would put food on the table. As much as I loved to write, the pens and paper began collecting dust as my life became busier. 

I worked hard at my career, but felt there was something missing. I went back to college and began teaching special education, but found it didn’t fill the void. From the ages of twenty-five to thirty-one, I returned to college and received two more degrees in the hopes that one of them would finally be the career that fulfilled the void in my life. Unfortunately, none of them were.  

I realized that maybe being an adult wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. When you’re young, your dreams and aspirations don’t seem all that far-fetched. But as the years go by and those dreams still aren’t within reach, optimism begins to fade and realism sets in. That’s what happened to me. I became complacent, and I accepted the fact that maybe things were as good as they were going to get. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great life and three wonderful boys. I had even found a job I liked at this point. But when you have a passion for creativity that isn’t being fueled, the void will always be there no matter how perfect everything else around you is. 

A little over a year ago, my eight-year-old son told me he wanted to audition for a local community theater. He got the part and I was thrilled, but the practices were grueling. I worked eleven-hour days and his rehearsals were from six to nine o’clock every night. I would sit in the auditorium while they rehearsed for hours. It became very mundane, so I brought my iPad with me and would watch YouTube videos or read on my Kindle. I began watching performances of slam poetry on YouTube and found it extremely engaging. I searched for a book to read that included a main character that slammed, but I couldn’t find one. I kept thinking it would make for an interesting work of fiction and couldn’t get the idea out of my head. 

On our way home that night, I was listening to music and a line in one of the songs said, “Decide what to be, and go be it.” 

It was like a punch in the gut. It was such a simple statement, yet so profound. I thought about my childhood and how all I’ve ever wanted to be was a writer, yet I continued to pursue careers that weren’t at all what I had a passion for. When I arrived home, I opened my laptop and wrote the first sentence of what is now Slammed

I had absolutely no expectations for this book. I have no background in writing other than doing it for pleasure, and had never even read a romance novel. I was completely engrossed in writing the book; I never even thought about whether I would try to get it published. I just wanted something my mother and sisters could read because they had always encouraged me to write. 

I wrote non-stop. I would stay up until two in the morning, then have to be up at six to get my boys ready and on the bus before my eleven-hour workdays. I would write between breaks at work and then start again when I returned home. My husband was an over-the-road truck driver, so he was only home about three days a month at the time. My children learned how to grow up extremely fast that month. I taught them how to use the microwave, then went right back to writing. They thought I had lost my mind, and looking back on it, I’m pretty sure that’s not too far-fetched. 

After two weeks, I decided to share what I had with my boss and my mother. Not only did they love it, they forced me to write more. My boss would see some of my clients just so I could finish a chapter and hand it over to her. I loved their enthusiasm, and it only made me love writing more. When it was finally finished, I had no idea what step to take next. I had no doubt that what I had written was nothing more than a simple story. I would have been embarrassed to even attempt to get it published at that point, but I had friends and family begging to read it. I went online and searched the best way to get some cheap paperbacks printed up for them when I stumbled across Amazon’s self-publishing program. I was immediately drawn in by the fact that I could put the book up for free for five days, so that’s exactly what I did. I uploaded it and told everyone I could about the free promotion, even going on message boards and emailing English teachers at local high schools. 

After a week, I started receiving positive reviews but the promotion ended and I had to put a price on the book. I was stunned when, for weeks, people were still buying it. I remember calling my mother sometime close to the end of January and screaming into the phone, “Five people bought my book today, and I don’t even know who they are!” It was surreal. 

I began getting requests for a sequel, so I completed one and published it in February 2012. Again, my sales were minimal, so I was still writing for fun. I loved that my friends loved it and I had fun writing it, so why not? 

By March, bloggers began blogging about the books and I was printing every review out and putting it in a scrapbook. It was an incredible time in my life. I had finally done something I wanted to do and people were responding to it with enthusiasm. 

My faith in the stability of it all was minimal. I never once woke up expecting to see an increase in sales or a better ranking, but it continued to happen. By May, the books had reached the top 1000 on Amazon and by June, they were in the top 100 on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. By the time they dropped into the top twenty and hit The New York Times, I had signed with my agency, Dystel & Goderich. Later the following month I accepted an offer for a two-book deal with Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. 

Exactly one year has passed since I wrote the first sentence to Slammed. I’ve spent most of this year struggling with faith in my writing abilities and confidence that I actually have what it takes. I’ve always preferred a more simple writing style that places more of the focus on the story and dialogue than anything, so I constantly doubt that what I have to offer is up to par. For those reasons, I still find it uncomfortable to refer to myself as an author. I’ve always considered myself more of a storyteller. 

I’m currently working on two novels and have yet to decide which route I’m going to take with them. There have been positive aspects to both self-publishing and traditional publishing and I honestly think it will depend on the book I write and which direction fits that book the best. No matter what direction I take from here or how many people read my next release, I’ll be forever grateful for all that has happened up to this point. I was finally able to quit my job a few months ago and I now focus full-time on this career. It took me thirty-two years and a lot of soul-searching, but I’m finally being what I wanted to be.

Colleen Hoover is the New York Times bestselling author of two novels, Slammed and Point of Retreat. Colleen lives in Texas with her husband and their three boys.


This Week's Top Ten Bestselling Indie Titles
Maybe it’s because holiday sales are in full swing or maybe there are more people who want ready reference to the odd facts and incredible feats of this world, but Guinness World Records 2013 now heads up the IndieReader Top 10 Indie Bestseller List, after several recent posts had it slightly lower on the list. As the Guinness people say ...
Tom Doyal: Indie Publishing Makes Room for a Regional Stylist
If you are still applying words like “sedate” or “genteel” to publishing, you have not been paying attention. The air is now full of stories about self-publishing, social media marketing, bookseller market share, ebooks, the demise of many brick and mortar bookstores, governmental prosecutions of publishers for alleged price fixing, and other esoterica. All these new developments foreshadow big changes ...
M. Leighton: The Bestselling, Prolific Writer on 'How I Did It'
When I was approached by the lovely Karen to do a “How I Did It” post, I was both intrigued and a little intimidated.  Why, you ask? Well, mainly because I don’t really have an answer. Not a cut-and-dried one like some of the authors who’ve posted before me had. No, my story is much less … dramatic, I ...