An image of a woman with blonde hair wearing a dark colored blouse and flower pattern

Novelist Colleen Hoover took up writing fiction as a hobby. She now has sold 8.6 million print copies and topped bestseller lists with books like ‘Slammed’ and ‘Point of Retreat.’ Photo by Chad Griffiths, courtesy Atria Books

Take a glance at any major bestseller list, and you’ll spot the ubiquitous brightly colored trade paperbacks with Colleen Hoover printed in a basic block font across the covers. Currently, Hoover’s novels hold six of the top 10 spots on The New York Times’ paperback fiction bestseller list. During this past year, the author has sold 8.6 million print copies of her novels, so it’s no exaggeration that the East Texas writer is a publishing phenomenon of colossal proportions. In fact, no other author has ever topped the charts with multiple titles like Hoover, not even Stephen King or John Grisham.

Like some of her protagonists, Hoover comes from a humble background: Born in Sulphur Springs, and still living in a nearby small town, Hoover married her boyfriend soon after she graduated from Saltillo High School and gave birth to three sons before the age of 26. Later, she earned a degree in social work from Texas A&M University-Commerce, worked in various social work positions, returned to school for another degree in infant nutrition, and held a job with the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program while taking up fiction writing as a hobby.

Her daily routine was far from the idyllic writer’s life of a room of one’s own and endless quiet hours at a desk. Hoover and her family lived in a single-wide mobile home, her husband was a long-distance truck driver (gone 28 days out of the month), and she often worked 11-hour days in between driving her children to and from school and other activities. She found time to write fiction in a darkened theater while waiting for her son’s play rehearsals to end.

In 2012, Hoover finished her first romantic thriller, Slammed, a Young Adult narrative that follows a teenager during the aftermath of her father’s death, and self-published on Amazon, a route she took because she didn’t know how to get a literary agent. She continued to write and publish, and surprisingly Slammed and its sequel, Point of Retreat, landed on the New York Times bestseller list for e-books during the summer of 2012, thanks to positive reviews by book bloggers and other online reviewers on YouTube, Instagram, and elsewhere. Long before other authors realized that cultivating a social-media presence would be a requirement of their profession, Hoover distributed free copies of her first novel to many of these digital reviewers. Soon after, Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, picked up the first two novels, and then, the movie rights of Slammed were optioned.

Now, 42-year-old Hoover—nicknamed “CoHo” by her fan base and loyal admirers who call themselves “CoHorts”—is more popular than ever: She maintains 3.9 million followers on multiple platforms, with regular self-effacing posts about her work, life, and gratitude for her evangelical readers. The author is something of a one-woman contemporary-romance megaplex with 25 YA and romance novels and novellas in addition to her nonstop social media presence. Fans can’t seem to get enough.

“I’m one of the original CoHorts. I bought Slammed when you first self-published it and have loved your writing since! I have almost all of your books and now my daughter is a huge fan too! Congratulations Colleen. You worked so hard for this! Enjoy it and keep writing these kick ass novels!” — @diana.j.patrick on Instagram

“I am an avid fan of @colleenhoover and her books. Plus she’s a pretty awesome human with a wicked sense of humor and a heart that’s bigger than Texas.” — Christine Manzari on Pinterest

“This book [Verity]—granted being one of the best books I’ve ever read—makes me want to rip out every strand of hair on my head. So much love and appreciation for your writing, Colleen!” —Emma Shand, Colleen Hoover author page on Facebook

“I just finished this book [Verity] the other day. I’m still messed up. Now I need therapy.” —Phyllis Joseph Hunter, Colleen Hoover’s Facebook page

A brightly-colored book cover with dark blue text reading It Starts With Us

Courtesy Atria Books

Hoover’s next highly anticipated novel, It Starts With Us, arrives on bookshelves on Oct. 18. This latest entry into the Hoover oeuvre is the sequel to It Ends With Us, which is No. 1 on the paperback trade New York Times bestseller list even though it was published six years ago. Just this week, The New York Times published a lengthy profile of Hoover, detailing her rise to stardom; the hundreds of readers’ comments are equal parts respect and vitriolic. (Unfortunately, the author wasn’t available for interview for this article.) Prior to the sale day, Simon & Schuster had logged more preorders for It Starts With Us than any other novel in the publisher’s history. (The last novel to hold this coveted highest-preorders spot was Stephen King’s Dr. Sleep, which was published in 2013.)

Hoover’s novels aim to entertain, employing the stock elements of a contemporary-romance page turner: romance with a capital R, steamy sex scenes, domestic abuse and violence, torrents of tears, whiplash plot twists, and more. Most of her protagonists are young women between the ages of 18 and 26, the same age as many of her readers. (“New Adult,” or NA, is how these coming-of-age novels are now described in the publishing world.) The author is more interested in writing a propulsive, addictive read than turning a lyrical sentence or developing complex characters. Hoover said in an interview with Lone Star Literary Life: “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.”

Social media has served as the primary engine of Hoover mania. During early months of COVID-19, many readers had more time on their hands and BookTok, a popular subculture of TikTok, exploded. “Everyone was sitting at home by themselves,” says Janet Bailey, a librarian at Abilene Public Library. “Then, they found Hoover through TikTok, and said, ‘Oh look, here’s an author who we haven’t discovered, or are rediscovering again.’”

Ebony Purks, a bookseller with the Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio, agrees: “BookTok pushes her books and gives her exposure as an author. The more people read her books, the more she is seen.”

Another factor of Hoover’s success is that she appeals to a younger female reader, making her a sort of Judy Blume for Gen Zers and millennials. “She includes many of the tropes that are popular with young woman readers: love triangles, enemy-lover relationships, happily-ever-after endings, the male love interests who are the kinds of guys that women wish existed in real life. It’s female-gazy as much as a female gaze can exist. This kind of male character is attractive to young female readers,” explains Purks, who read a few of Hoover’s titles (Confess and Ugly Love) when she was still in high school though admits now the author’s books are not for her. “Ugly Love was one of the first spicy books that I read as a teenager.”

Ayah Chreidi, a bookseller at the Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, has read several titles by Hoover. “Like many readers, I discovered her on BookTok because she kept popping up,” she says. “Eventually I picked up The End of Us and stayed up until four o’clock in the morning, reading the novel in one sitting. I couldn’t stop reading.”

Admittedly, there is a lack of diversity with Hoover’s protagonists and readers. “Her readership tends to be white young women,” Purks says. “This is what appeals to people because they know what they are getting. There are hardly any surprises. They see themselves represented in Hoover’s books for that reason.”

Other critics say that Hoover exploits violence and abuse, calling it “trauma porn,” because she rarely delves into the complexity of these experiences and their painful aftermaths.

With her windfall of good fortune, Hoover has put some of her monumental success to helping others: She and her two sisters operate a monthly book-subscription service out of a small storefront in downtown Sulphur Springs called The Bookworm Box. Books are signed and donated by bestselling authors, such as Meghan Quinn and Lexi Ryan, and then 100% of the proceeds are donated to select charities, such as the Center for Grieving Children and The House: A Safe Place for Teens. To date, The Bookworm Box has donated $1 million to charities around the country. In addition, every year her organization hosts the Book Bonanza in Grapevine, an annual romance-novel convention, where the author and her sisters raise more charitable funds. (The next Book Bonanza, in June 23-24, 2023, is already sold out.)

How long will the remarkable momentum of Colleen Hoover last? Will her books maintain staying power? Or will they fade like that the social media platform that served its purpose for a few years? For now, the multitudes of fans don’t seem to care. They just want an escape.

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