The Profile Dossier: Colleen Hoover, the Romance Novel Hit Machine
“I write what I want to read."
Colleen Hoover is no longer just an author. Colleen Hoover is an obsession.
Her readers call themselves, “CoHorts,” and they devour and obsess over Hoover’s novels. That’s because a signature Hoover romance novel is known for its gut-punching plot twist. She expertly weaves in drama, mystery, and passion, and her books often read like fast-paced thrillers.
You might know her for Verity, It Ends With Us, and Ugly Love, but it all started when Hoover wrote as a hobby and self-published her very first novel on Amazon called, “Slammed.”
A social worker making $9 an hour, Hoover started writing for fun at age 31. She had just attended an Avett Brothers concert, and heard the lyric in their song that says, “Decide what to be and go be it.” The next day, she started writing.
“I just always had excuses, was too busy, had three kids, was in college, etc," she says. “Once I finally sat down to write for fun and didn't take myself too seriously or try to make it a source of income, I was finally able to write for myself without pressure, and my first book was written.”
She sent the book to her family and friends. The next day, six people Hoover didn’t know bought the book. The following day, it was 60. A few months later, the book hit the best-seller list.
In some sense, it seems like Hoover lives a double life. She lives in a small town in East Texas, has been married to her high school boyfriend for over 22 years, and she leads “such a boring life.”
But then there’s the other side of Hoover. A novel hit machine, she’s currently the best-selling novelist in the United States. She has sold 8.6 million print books this year alone, and racked up more than 1 million followers on TikTok.
Yet she still has a hard time embracing her newfound popularity. “Still, in my head I’m like, ‘This is going to end tomorrow,’” she says. “So I need to enjoy it.”
Here’s what we can learn from the author who bet on herself time and time again and learned how to tame the pressure that comes with success while continuing to write out of love and not obligation.
On becoming the queen of romance novels: Hoover has sold more books this year than Dr. Seuss. She’s sold more books than James Patterson and John Grisham — combined. She’s currently the best-selling novelist in the United States. Her specialty? Steamy romance novels with outrageous plot twists. Here’s how her success has upended the publishing industry’s most entrenched assumptions about what sells books. (The New York Times)
On her writing process: How does Colleen write a novel? She doesn’t have a set writing schedule and instead sits down to type when she feels like it—which could mean months of no action followed by a few weeks of writing 16 hours a day. She once signed a publishing contract where she refused payment in case she wasn’t in the mood to write the book. “People in my life think I'm very scatterbrained, but it's because I just live inside my head,” she says. “The book ideas in my head are very organized, but my real life is chaotic. I put all the effort into my imagination.”
On her unexpected path to success: To this day, Hoover continues to be surprised at her books’ popularity. “It was surreal and still is surreal,” she says. “The first time I was told I made The New York Times in 2012, I didn’t tell anyone for an entire day because I didn’t think it was true. And that’s pretty much how everything has gone since then. It takes time for the good things to sink in. My husband and I still sometimes look at each other and say, ‘How did this happen? Why did this happen?’” Here’s how she deals with her newfound success.
On the role of impostor syndrome: In this podcast episode, Hoover holds nothing back. She explains that she suffers from impostor syndrome “terribly.” When she self-published her book Slammed, she “didn’t think she wrote a real book.” And then it took a life of its own. Here’s how Hoover gets inspired, comes up with ideas, and fights her feelings of impostor syndrome.
On letting her creativity guide her: When it comes to her writing, Hoover lets her creativity take the lead. Sometimes, the words flow effortlessly and sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, she doesn’t try to force them. She just trusts that her inspiration will always return. “Sometimes, I’ll get up and write for an hour in the morning,” she says. “Sometimes, I’ll write five days straight. Sometimes I’ll wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and write.”
Engage in selfish writing: The magic of a Colleen Hoover novel is that it forces suppressed emotions to bubble up to the surface. You might find yourself crying on the subway or gasping in shock. Hoover’s hidden genius is that she can pierce through the monotony of our lives with vivid scenes that evoke emotion. “I write what I want to read,” she says simply. Ironically, Hoover is not a very emotional person, and she says it takes a lot to make her feel anything. “I think the reason why my books make a lot of people cry is because I'm kind of hard inside,” she says. “So I write until I kind of sort of feel something sad inside of me, which takes a lot to get there.” To me, this is a lesson about the importance of selfish writing. If you find it interesting, it’s likely others will too. If you’re moved by it, it’s likely it will move others, too. To echo Hoover: Write what you want to read.
The antidote to impostor syndrome is to act: Hoover says there are at least three types of writers: 1) Those who love to write and love what they write; 2) Those who hate writing and look at it like a business and don't care if they love or hate what they write; and 3) Those who love to write but hate every word they put on paper. She says she’s the third kind. Whenever she re-reads her work, it makes her cringe, and she thinks there’s still a lot of room left for improvement. (If you’re a writer, you know this feeling well.) “If you hate what you write like I do, when do you know it's ready? You don't,” she says. “Writing is a job that has very little distinguishable end, and the only way you know if you did it right is after you release your book.” So the antidote to impostor syndrome? Hit publish and put it out into the world. There is no other way. As Hoover puts it, “Basically, if you want to be a writer, get ready for the roller coaster.”
Use the ‘edges of time’ for creative pursuits: “I don’t have time” is probably one of the most used excuses to explain why you haven’t pursued the things that would fulfill you. When Hoover is asked when she has time to write, she says that she wrote her first book while waiting for her son to finish his three-hour theater rehearsal. She found time to write in the “edges of time” or “the spare moments” as she calls them — which refer to those tiny moments we all have throughout the day that we fill with nonsense. Rather than making progress toward a goal or a creative pursuit, we instead fill those pockets with time by scrolling mindlessly on social media or binging a show. Audit your calendar and identify the tiny moments in your day when you can start that thing you’ve always wanted to start. There’s always time. You just need to discover it.
Find inspiration as you move through the world: What if you saw the world through a lens of curiosity? Hoover’s novels often feature unique names like Ryle, Tate, Atlas, Kel, and Lake. When asked how she comes up with them, she says she’s always on alert for memorable names. When she’s doing a book signing and a reader has an interesting name, she’ll make a note of it and use it in a future novel. Similarly, she’s always paying attention to her surroundings when brainstorming book titles. One time she was shopping at Anthropologie, and saw a tiny glass with a picture of a ship on it that said, “Maybe Someday,” and that became the title of her book. In other words, ideas are hiding in plain sight, and it’s up to us to discover them by moving through the world with more awareness.
Embrace your nervousness: Ten years into her career as an author, Hoover says she still gets nervous when she publishes a book. Her advice? Embrace the nerves. “It means you care about what you're putting out into the world,” she says. “I used to tell a friend of mine, ‘Be nervous.’ That was our pep talk, because it meant we still cared. Indifference is what you should be afraid of.”
Discover your own writing style: No one writing technique works across the board. Here’s how Hoover puts it: “It’s like math, how every person can get to the same answer using a different method, but it’s like that with each book I write,” she says. “I don’t have a method; I don’t have steps or rules I follow. I just somehow make it from the beginning to the end by the skin of my teeth and hope I get it right.” Every writer is different, she says, and every process works. Write in a way that gives you joy even if it’s scattered and unorganized. If you get to your destination, it doesn’t matter how winding of a path you took.
Be careful not to turn your passion into a job: Hoover has some words of caution: Your passion project can turn into a dreaded chore if you’re not careful. “Writing is something I love as a hobby and I don't like feeling like it's work,” she says. "So I don't set word count goals or deadlines for myself. I only write when I feel like writing. I sometimes go months with writer's block and don't write a single word, but I don't stress about it. I know my mojo always returns, so I'll spend the times I'm not feeling creative just watching TV and soaking up other novels.” This is unbelievably important. Consistency is key, but the only way to prevent burnout is to diversify your interests and ruthlessly protect the creative act that gives you joy.
Answer these 3 questions to know if you’ve found lasting love: Hoover has been married to her husband for more than 20 years, and her daily life doesn’t at all resemble the explosive, fiery relationships she writes about in her books. “The beginning is, of course, very passionate,” she says. “But then as you grow together, love morphs into something more. Respect and admiration are big parts of that.” Here are the three questions she says will indicate whether you’ve found someone worth keeping: 1) Do they treat you with respect at all times? 2) If they are the same person 20 years from now that they are today, would you still want to spend your life with them? and 3) Do they inspire you to want to be a better person?
QUOTES TO REMEMBER.
“Every single day, I have no idea what tomorrow looks like. That's how I thrive.”
“If you want to be a writer and you want to self-publish, just ‘decide what to be and go be it.’”
“There is no better way to learn how to write than to read.”