February 27, 2024


How to outsell the Bible

Colleen Hoover, CoHo to fans, might just be the biggest author you’ve (possibly) never heard of. Born in Texas in 1979, Hoover rose to prominence with 2012’s Slammed, a poetry-infused romance book. She’s since written 25 more titles, routinely outselling John Grisham, James Patterson, and even the Bible. Her best-known book, It Ends With Us, was the No. 1 fiction title in 2023, selling over 1 million copies, while estimates of her total sales top 30 million.

Hoover has made it clear that not only is romance alive and well—it’s big business. The genre was the bestselling book category in 2022 and again in 2023, with TikTok—more specifically, “BookTok”—helping drive the trend. Hoover fans share their reactions on the video platform, attracting more readers and creating new fans. Not coincidentally, Hoover’s main publisher, Simon & Schuster, saw its highest-earning year in 2022 and enjoyed a banger 2023.

But not everyone’s reveling in this chapter. You don’t have to look far for sneering reviews of Hoover’s works, or for worried literary types fretting over how mega-sellers like Hoover are turning a hits business into even more of a hits business.

Ready for more literary-world dirt? Read on.


By the digits

 1: Where Hoover’s It Ends With Us landed on the best-selling fiction list in 2023

2: Where Hoover’s sequel It Begins With Us landed on that list

So close to being 3: Hoover novels that sold more than a million copies in 2023

68%: Share of 2023’s best-selling books written by women

26: Published Colleen Hoover novels to date

14.3 million: Books Hoover sold in 2022


Monetizing love

Capitalism with a capital Colleen

“It’s an open secret that the romance genre in general—and now Colleen Hoover specifically—keeps the lights on in publishing houses,” says book critic Elizabeth Held, “but that’s not something the literati is comfortable with.” This dynamic may seem new, but the English-language romance genre is at least several centuries old, with examples dating to the mid-1700s and perennial sellers like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice making money for hundreds of years.

Hoover may be minting a fortune by satisfying the same yearnings, but let’s be clear: It’s not simple or dumb, and to argue so is a mistake. Yes, it’s true that if the work was easy, everyone would be doing it, but criticisms of Hoover go deeper and are often rooted in gender politics. “One of the reasons CoHo faces such strong resistance is that we as a society love mocking things women love—reality TV, Taylor Swift and, yes, romance novels,” Held argues.

Hoover isn’t just thrilling readers and Simon & Schuster’s accountants. Because she also self-publishes some of her books, and sells merchandise (such as tracksuits) on her personal website, she’s capturing a far greater share of the moolah than authors traditionally have.

“She’s building the kind of empire where I could see her deciding to pull back on writing and publishing books, or reducing frequency, but still making as much money as before,” says the publishing consultant Jane Friedman. “It’s remarkable, and probably a sign of what strong author businesses will look like in the future, at least in the realm of genre fiction (romance, science fiction, mystery-suspense-thriller, etc.).”

Critics, sit down. Creators, take note.


Quotable

“People want books that make them feel all the feels, safely.” —Independent bookstore manager Andi Richardson on what’s driving the desire for dark romances like Hoover’s mega-selling It Ends With Us, in a text with Quartz


Pop quiz

Which of these is NOT the name of one of Colleen Hoover’s characters?

A. Six Jacobs

B. Ryle Kincaid

C. Wythe Deane

D. Atlas Corrigan

Find out which character might be in Hoover’s next novel, below (Colleen, if you’re reading, you’re welcome to use our made-up one).


Brief history

1748: Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, widely regarded as the first modern romance novel, is published.

1813: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published in this year.

1972: Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower, widely believed to be the first “bodice ripper,” enflames readers all over.

2016: Colleen Hoover unleashes her monster hit, the trauma-inflicted romance It Ends With Us.

2018: TikTok comes to US shores, enthralling teenagers and worrying the government.

2022: The New York Times names TikTok “an anchor in the publishing industry and a dominant driver of fiction sales.”

2023: Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp says of the publisher’s slightly declining 2023 sales, after a monster 2022, “You can’t be stratospheric forever, but we’re still flying high.”


Fun fact!

The US book publishing industry is declining at the rate of about 2% a year, while the US streaming-entertainment industry is estimated to be growing at an 8% compound annual rate. Time for audiobooks to morph into streamable words?


Watch this!

Check out this funny bit of BookTok for a pithy Hoover review.


Take me down this 🐰 hole!

Redditors have gone deep on the feelings inspired by Hoover’s controversial hit, It Ends With Us, with some debating whether CoHo’s books are romances or something harder to categorize. Such debates are key to not only Hoover’s rise but the increasing power and visibility of fandoms, in which vocal Redditors and TikTokkers have as much or more power than the New York Review of Books or [insert fancy taste-making outlet here].


Poll 

Which genre would you choose if you were to write a novel?

  • Romance, baby!
  • Choose-your-own-adventure mysteries.
  • Fantasy, swords, faeries, yada yada.
  • Western, bang bang, pow pow!

Tell us in what bookstore section we’ll find your next novel. It’ll only take a sec.


💬 Let’s talk!

In last week’s poll about Shah Rukh Khan, 42% of you hadn’t yet had the pleasure of seeing the King Khan’s movies. Get on it, ASAP!

🐤 X/Tweet this!

🤔 What did you think of today’s email?

💡 What should we obsess over next?


Today’s email was written by Catherine Baab-Muguira, author of Poe for Your Problems (loves gothic lit, obviously) and edited by Morgan Haefner (loves most genres, but especially prosy reflections on the mundane).

The correct answer to the pop quiz is C., Wythe Deane. We don’t share the sneering critical view of Hoover some have, but we reserve the right to roll our eyes at some of the names.





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