The 43-year-old mother with a Texas twang has lived the dream of every hobbyist with a creative passion, her rise to literary prominence every bit the modern-day publishing fairytale. She put her first book on the internet without the help of an agent, watching aghast as it took off through word of mouth and on social media. Within months, the Texan writing from her single-wide trailer emerged as a staggeringly popular pioneer of a burgeoning genre.
Fans have flocked to the narrative, admiring her in droves with their own nickname – CoHorts – with a passionate loyalty akin to Taylor Swift’s “Swifties”. Many likely see themselves in Ms Hoover — or wish they could be her — and cling to the positive trajectory, however unlikely. The author, for many, is living proof that miracles, with hard work and dedication, can happen. She looks like them, and dresses like them, and her social media openness further endears “CoHo” to her voracious readers.
They see themselves, too, in the plotlines she writes — usually, a woman from challenging circumstances who wrestles with life and relationships while ultimately triumphing in some fashion.
It’s a recipe that has propelled the author to an historic place on the New York Times Best Seller list; her 2012 novel, Hopeless, became the first self-published work to ever earn the list’s coveted #1 slot.
And it’s a rise Ms Hoover has marvelled at herself.
“I felt like a fraud,” she told Lone Star Literary in a 2015 interview. “It all happened so fast, I felt I hadn’t paid my dues as a writer yet. Here I was, this working mother who wrote a story, and now New York was calling? It didn’t make sense to me.”
That down-home humility is trademark Hoover, who’s spent almost her whole life living in the same rural patch of East Texas.
Ms Hoover was born two weeks before Christmas in 1979 in Sulphur Springs, but her mother quickly removed her young family from an abusive household, leaving Ms Hoover’s biological father and ending the marriage.
“One of my earliest memories was him throwing a TV at her,” the author told Today this summer.
Her mother remarried when Ms Hoover was 4, and she and her sisters would help out at the family’s small dairy farm; the author gave eager TikTok users a glimpse of the property in January while announcing casting choices for a movie adaptation of It Ends With Us.
“This is the house that I grew up in and lived in … from the age of probably four to 18,” she says in the TikTok clip. “No one lives here now; we still live on the land.
“I just want everyone to know how appreciative I am to my mother, who got us out of a scary situation when I was little and brought us here to this house, which doesn’t look like much, but this house was full of love and joy, so thank you, Mom, for making that very difficult decision,” she said, fighting back tears as she stood before a modest white home.
Around the same time that young Colleen was settling into life on the dairy farm with her new stepfather, she was also discovering her love of the written word.
“I remember being so jealous of my older sister when she started Kindergarten because she could read and write and I couldn’t,” the author writes on her website. “I vowed at four-years-old to learn how to write and to be really good at it. When I was five and learned how to write, I wrote my first story called Mystery Bob. I’ve loved writing since then.”
She’d originally planned on majoring in journalism, but financial concerns were influential factors from early on.
“I was a senior in high school when I found out how poor we were,” she wrote in a 2019 Facebook post. “I never thought about my parents’ finances until I was filling out the FAFSA for college and had to use their tax returns. Their total combined income that year was $13,000. We owned a dairy farm and the price of feed went up and the pay for milk went down and they had to close the doors on the farm and go back to work full-time.”
Ms Hoover married her high school sweetheart, Heath, after graduation, and began attending college, switching her major “to social work so I could graduate sooner and find a job that could help with the bills”.
She wasn’t alone at college, though; her mother, aunt and grandmother also enrolled, and, eventually, Ms Hoover’s pregnancy meant her unborn child was attending classes too — “so technically, there were four generations of our family attending the same college at the same time,” she wrote on Facebook.
She gave birth to her son, Levi, then welcomed two more sons, earning her degree in social work from Texas A&M-Commerce and working as an investigator with Child Protective Services before returning to school to get her qualifications to teach special education.
She taught 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. Writing for fun took a backseat as Ms Hoover worked 11-hour days, raising three boys in a single-wide trailer while her husband spent significant stretches away from home as a long-haul truck driver.
“I went probably ten straight years without writing for fun,” she told Lone Star Literary.
Then, when she was 31, her son’s participation in a local community theater production gave her some free time during rehearsals, when she’d search YouTube videos and became interested in slam poetry. She began looking for a book featuring a slam poet protagonist but couldn’t find one; she decided to write one herself, sharing bits and pieces of what would become her first book, Slammed, with friends and family — whose enthusiastic reactions spurred her on.
“I just wanted to finish before Christmas because I was very poor and it was something I could give my mother for free that she would love,” Ms Hoover said in 2015. “Little did I know what it would turn into!”
The fledgling author uploaded Slammed to Amazon in 2012 so her family could read it, but the book soon took off on its own, even after it could only be read for a fee.
“She called me one day and said, ‘Mom, six people I don’t know bought the book,’” Ms Hoover’s mother told The New York Times. “The next day, it was 60 people.”
They may have been surprised, but Ms Hoover’s family threw themselves full-force into promoting the talented writer within their midst — particularly her sisters, Lin and Murphy, who promoted Ms Hoover’s work on social media.
“They were very happy and excited, and they had big hopes for me,” Ms Hoover told Lone Star Literary. “We actually used to argue about it. At one point after I had finished my first book, my older sister had made a vision board (something she does every January) and wrote on the board that she hoped I would make $100,000 that year. I got so angry at her and made her remove it because I didn’t like that they had such faith in me. I didn’t want to let them down if no one ever bought or read the book.”
Her sisters, however, had clearly already recognised the addictive potential of Ms Hoover’s prose — with her work taking off exponentially. Within months, Slammed had reached the New York Times Best Seller list, and her other books were soon to follow. All of this was done without an agent; instead, Ms Hoover was giving free copies to key influencers and harnessing the power of social media.
“I was still working full-time when I started receiving offers from publishers in amounts that I hadn’t made in my entire life of working,” she told Lone Star Literary. “I was hesitant to accept any of the offers because I thought my first two books were a fluke and everything was going to stop at any moment. I didn’t want to disappoint a publisher, if that was the case.
“I ended up selling the two books I had already written to Atria Books, but didn’t sign any future books with them at the time. I didn’t know if I would be able to write under pressure, and the last thing I wanted was to be stressed about something that brought me nothing but joy.”
Her worries were unfounded, though, as Ms Hoover continued to churn out content that elicited huge emotional reactions from social media users — who have proven all too eager to share their thoughts and tears in videos and never-ending online commentary.
The June after publishing Slammed, Ms Hoover shared a charming, relatable blog post about leaving the family trailer for “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 wrote. “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.”
Sometimes I wonder if discussing every chapter of my books with my mom as I write them is not doing me any favors. pic.twitter.com/QxTW22nI5j
— Colleen Hoover (@colleenhoover) July 14, 2020
Ms Hoover’s background and folksiness, however, bely a shrewd business sense. She’s released books with different publishers while still occasionally opting to self-publish as she added to her personal canon; there are film projects in the works, too, along with a production company of her own
“Everyone keeps coming trying to make a blanket offer,” Ms Hoover told Time in June. “I would never sell everything to one company, because what if I don’t like how they do it?”
Regarding her own future production company, she continued: “Why am I selling my rights for them to do whatever they want with it when I could actually be a partner in this?”
She has partnered with her sisters, too, to create non-profit The Bookworm Box, where they “aim to leverage our love of reading to promote literacy and support various other charitable endeavors ... through numerous literacy-focused fundraisers, including our an annual book convention, Book Bonanza and an annual raffle,” they write on the charity’s site. Up until earlier this year, the effort included a subscription box service and online bookstore.
For this summer’s Book Bonanza, 15,000 people logged on to try to buy fewer than 2,000 $250 tickets – and they sold out in minutes, Time reported.
Ms Hoover has oft been cited as one of the most influential authors in a growing genre labelled New Adult, bridging the gap between YA fiction and more adult romances — but it’s a genre of which she’s said she was completely unaware before publishing Slammed.
“I’m pretty sure I was about three books into my career before I heard the term ‘New Adult,’” she told Lone Star Literary. “I came across it on a Wikipedia page and saw that I was listed as one of the first to write in that genre.”
She told the outlet that she’d “released at a good time, before the market was saturated. I had a run of good luck, unwittingly writing and releasing in a genre that was about to take off. I had some wonderful readers who loved the book [Slammed] so much, they talked about it online and to their friends.
“Word of mouth was probably the most effective aspect for sales of the book, and I believe word of mouth is still the most successful marketing tool available for a book.”
Word of mouth, however, can be a double-edged sword. Ms Hoover’s rise has not been without controversy, as critics take aim at her plot lines involving violence, abuse or other triggering subjects that some say are not properly explored within her novels. Even on BookTok — the literary-focused subculture of TikTok that fueled Ms Hoover’s meteoric rise — there is fierce debate about her novels constituting “trauma porn.”
One of her most popular works, It Ends With Us, incorporates domestic violence – a thread Ms Hoover says was “loosely inspired by my mother.”
During her TikTok video announcing that Blake Lively would star in the movie adaptation, Ms Hoover said the book’s connection with reality was “bittersweet ... because so many people have had to go through that, but to know that my mom’s decision has helped so many people get out of that ... I love you, Mom.”
Ms Hoover’s success has enabled her mother’s retirement, her husband’s ability to leave his truck driver job and her own opportunity to focus on, and support her self solely by, writing. She’s writing for her fans, and she’s writing for herself.
“A lot of writers are writing to impress — maybe publishers, maybe other writers — so they may go out of their way to use a large vocabulary and craft a substantial piece of literature. That’s not how I write,” she told Lone Star Literary. “I want people to devour my books in one sitting because the storyline and dialogue are too gripping to put down. I don’t try to write heavy books that educate, inform, and impress. My only goal is to entertain, and hopefully that’s what I’m doing.”