After a feverish month of inspiration, Colleen Hoover had finally fulfilled her dream of writing a book.
With family and friends asking to read the emotional tale of first love, the married mother of three young boys living in rural East Texas and working 11-hour days as a social worker decided to digitally self-publish on Amazon, where they could download it for free for a week.
"I had no intentions of ever getting the book published. I was just writing it for fun," said Hoover, who uploaded "Slammed" a year ago in January.
Soon after self-publishing, people she didn't know were downloading the book - even after it was only available for a fee. Readers began posting reviews and buzz built on blogs. Missing her characters, she self-published the sequel, "Point of Retreat," a month later. By June, both books hit Amazon's Kindle top 100 best-seller list. By July, both were on The New York Times best-seller list for e-books. Soon after, they were picked up by Atria Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint. By fall, she had sold the movie rights.
"I wasn't expecting any of this at all. And I'm not saying I don't like it, but it's taken a lot of getting used to," said the 33-year-old Hoover, who quit her job last summer to focus on her career as an author.
Hoover is both a story of self-published success in the digital age and of the popularity of so-called "New Adult" books, stories featuring characters in their late teens and early 20s. Others in the genre include Jamie McGuire's "Beautiful Disaster" and J. Lynn's "Wait for You." The novels, which often have explicit material, are seen by publishers as a bridge between young adult novels and romance novels.
"In a nutshell, they're stories of characters in their formative year, when everything is new and fresh," said Amy Pierpont, editorial director of the Hachette Book Group's "Forever" imprint, where "New Adult" best sellers include Jessica Sorensen and J.A. Redmerski.
When Hoover finished her third book, "Hopeless," in December, she initially turned down an offer from Atria and decided to digitally self-publish again. By January, that book too was a New York Times best-seller and she signed that month with Atria to publish the print version, but kept control of the electronic version. The paperback is set to come out in May.
In February, Atria bought the digital and paperback rights to two upcoming books from Hoover: "This Girl," the third installment in the "Slammed" series, set for release digitally later this month, and "Losing Hope," a companion novel to "Hopeless" to be published digitally in July. Just last week, Hoover announced on her blog a new deal with Atria for two books to be released next year.
Johanna Castillo, vice president and senior editor at Atria, said she learned about Hoover while perusing book blogs. Checking out Hoover's blog that details not only her burgeoning writing career but also her day-to-day life, Castillo became enchanted. Around the same time, Hoover's agent, Jane Dystel, sent Hoover's books to Castillo.
"I read them and I liked them and we moved forward very quickly," said Castillo, who adds, "The voice that she has to connect with readers is very special."
In a June post Hoover poignantly writes about being able to move from a single-wide mobile home to "a REAL house. A house with doors that work and an air conditioner that cools and electricity that doesn't shut off if you run two electronics at the same time."
"Seven months ago, we were struggling to make ends meet," she writes in the blog post. "Now, things are finally coming together and it's all because of you guys. Every single person that spent a few bucks to buy a book that I wrote deserves a big THANK YOU from my whole family."
Hoover says a confluence of events led to her writing "Slammed," which tells the story of an 18-year-old girl who moves to a new state with her mother and brother after the sudden death of her father, falls for their 21-year-old neighbor who has a love for slam poetry and soon makes a discovery that means they cannot be together.
Inspiration for the book came from several directions. Hoover had recently gone to a concert of her favorite band, The Avett Brothers, and a line from one of their songs - "Decide what to be and go be it" - kept replaying in her head. Then one of her sons got a part in a community theater production that left her tinkering on her laptop during rehearsals, which included looking up videos of people performing slam poetry. That in turn led to her trying to find a book with a main character who was a slam poet. When she couldn't find such a book, it occurred to her that she could write one herself.
"When I sat down and wrote the first paragraph I was like `Oh, I can go with this,'" Hoover said. "I didn't do an outline. I didn't do anything. I just wrote sentence by sentence, not knowing where the story was going."
Even after being able to quit her job and signing with Atria, Hoover said it wasn't until a book signing she organized with other indie authors at a Chicago hotel in the fall that her popularity began to sink in.
"I remember coming down the stairs and there was this huge line with hundreds of people and someone goes, `There's Colleen Hoover,' and they all start freaking out," she said. "That was I think the first moment that it hit me that this was way bigger than I thought."
Hoover grew up in rural East Texas, was married with a baby by the age of 20 and got a degree in social work from Texas A&M-Commerce. She worked as an investigator with Child Protective Services before returning to school to get her qualifications to teach special education, which she did for a year before returning to school again to get a minor in infant nutrition and going to work for the federal Women, Infants and Children program, known as WIC.
Maryse Black, a book blogger who has mostly read and reviewed indie books in the last few years, was among Hoover's early fans.
Black reviewed "Slammed" a couple months after Hoover uploaded it, asking readers if they were in the mood for "a book that will hook you from the first few lines, make you smile, make you laugh, make you ABSOLUTELY fall in love, and then sigh and sigh and sigh again."
"She's 100 percent real in her writing," Black said in a recent phone interview. "I feel like I can relate to her characters. I can relate to their situations and I can relate to their reactions. I can see it actually happening as I'm reading the book it plays out in my head like a seamless movie."
On a recent blog post Hoover shared with her readers what she called "a really depressing blast from the past" - a MySpace post from 2006 she recently came across in which she writes that although she's certain she "was born to write a book," she believes that she never will. She writes that she's researched whether it would be worth it to even try and decided that with the low odds of ever getting a publisher or being able to support herself writing, she shouldn't even try.
She writes on her blog, "Good thing I didn't listen to myself. It also says a helluva a lot about how much the publishing industry has changed."