Colleen Hoover outsold the Bible last year — but she’s happy still living as a ‘homebody’ in her small town

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

At 9:30 a.m., the bookworms sat quietly in their seats. At their sides were rolling carts filled to the brim with hardcovers and paperbacks, Tetris-style; turquoise and neon pink lanyards dangled from their necks. Some were local to the Dallas-Fort Worth area while others had traveled from as far as Alaska and London to get a peek at the literary world’s author of the moment: Colleen Hoover.

So when Hoover stepped onto the stage of the Book Bonanza festival in Grapevine, Texas, on June 23, those hundreds of hushed readers erupted into sudden, ear-piercing cheers and applause.

For the uninitiated, to date, Hoover has sold upwards of 20 million copies of her books, according to Circana Bookscan. At this story's publication time, three of Hoover’s books were in the top 10 of The New York Times fiction bestseller list. And last year alone, she sold more than 8.6 million print copies of her books. That’s more copies sold than J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, Stephen King and John Grisham — combined. In fact, also according to Bookscan, there were more Colleen Hoover books sold in 2022 than copies of the Bible.

Colleen Hoover speaks to JBH during an interview for the TODAY show. (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)
Colleen Hoover speaks to JBH during an interview for the TODAY show. (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)

While the 43-year-old should be a household name, she’s famously avoided fame, and is not shy about being media shy. But for the 2023 Book Bonanza — the festival she founded with her two sisters that’s become known as the “ComicCon of reading” — she agreed to sit down with TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager, a fellow book lover and Texan Sagittarius: first, at a morning panel open to the public, then for a 45-minute interview at a local steakhouse that was captured for TODAY.

Throughout the day, it was clear that Hoover is still in awe of her sudden rockstar author status. Her blonde hair and bright blue eyes shone beneath the lights of TODAY’s set, and she was quiet before the shoot began. When she finally did speak, her Texan drawl exuded a calm and friendly energy.

“My goal was, ‘Oh, I hope I write a book someday.’ That’s as far as it went. You know, I just wanted to sit down, get an idea, write a book, maybe someone would read it,” Hoover said. “Actually thinking about having a book that was on The New York Times (bestseller list) was not even in my brain.”

From small town to big screen

The beats of Hoover’s biography have been repeated many times — perhaps because their twists of fortune sound like...well, something right out of a Colleen Hoover novel.

But Jenna couldn’t wait to dive in, buzzing with energy as she asked Hoover about growing up in her hometown of Sulphur Springs, Texas.

Hoover shared the tale of the moment she knew she wanted to be a writer: when she saw her sister come home from school and write their address on the wall of their shared bedroom. A young Hoover was overwhelmed with the desire to learn the alphabet and write. A year later, the first Colleen Hoover story was born: “Mystery Bob,” about an investigator searching for five golden rings.

Still, writing, while a dream, wasn’t the practical route. Hoover gave Jenna “major props” for becoming a journalist; while she briefly considered majoring in journalism in college, she “got the idea of writing for a career out of (her) head” once she started her family at age 20.

“I realized early on that I needed to feed my children, because I started having kids young. I married young. I was in college while I was a mom and working full-time,” she told Jenna. “And I thought, ‘Wow, I need a career that’s more practical around where we live.’ And so I majored in social work and loved it.”

Colleen Hoover with a fan at Book Bonanza  on June 23, 2023 in Grapevine, TX.  (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)
Colleen Hoover with a fan at Book Bonanza on June 23, 2023 in Grapevine, TX. (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)

Hoover, who has been with her now-husband since she was 16 and is the mother to three sons who are young adults, said it was when she was in the midst of her career as a social worker when she began dabbling in writing again.

“When I was 31, I started writing stories for fun,” she said. “And then that’s when everything started with this career. It was completely unintentional, but I’m so glad that I let go of thinking I had to do it for work and looked at it more as a hobby. I still try to do that.”

She wrote what would become “Slammed,” and only uploaded the book to Amazon so her grandmother could read it on her Kindle as a Christmas present.

“The book ended up on Amazon with just a basic cover. Like, they had templates you could use,” Hoover said. “And then my grandmother downloaded it, and then my sisters started telling everyone else: ‘Hey, my sister wrote this book. It’s free right now. You can read it.’”

After two days of allowing a book to be downloaded for free in January 2012, Hoover told Jenna that Amazon made her charge for the novel.

“Other people just still kept buying it,” she recalled. “Someone would read it, and they would tell someone else to buy it. Four months later, it hit The New York Times as a self-published novel.”

She described finding out about hitting the bestseller list while she was at work, and once she hung up the phone, she thought it was a joke.

“I didn’t even tell anyone I worked with that day,” she said. “I went home and told my mom and my husband. And I’m like, ‘I don’t know if this is real.’ We actually waited until it came out in The New York Times before telling anyone because I was in such doubt.”

A portrait of JBH and Colleen Hoover on the main stage at Book Bonanza on June 23, 2023 in Grapevine, TX.  (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)
A portrait of JBH and Colleen Hoover on the main stage at Book Bonanza on June 23, 2023 in Grapevine, TX. (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)

While her self-published books gained in popularity over the years, Hoover said she owes her now-astronomical trajectory to TikTok, where her readers, known as CoHorts, began gushing about how her stories "emotionally destroyed them" (their words, not ours) during the COVID pandemic. Her 2016 release “It Ends With Us” was a favorite amongst users of the app.

Hoover still doesn’t know how TikTok’s algorithm works — but has a hunch it comes down to authentic enthusiasm.

“People ask me like, ‘How did you get your books to go viral on TikTok?’ And I’m like, ‘It wasn’t me. It was readers. It was the bloggers, BookTokers.’ People trusted what other readers thought,” Hoover said.

Hoover has rarely left the bestseller list since. To date, she has written a total of 25 novels and novellas. And while her writing has brought her success, it hasn’t come without some criticism. But Hoover said she doesn’t dwell on it.

“I feel like when you have five books on the bestseller list, it’s very hard to be upset in any way by criticism because it’s, like, you know that people are out there enjoying your work,” she said. “And I just keep my focus on that.”

As Colleen Hoover speaks on stage, fans engage at Book Bonanza  on June 23, 2023 in Grapevine, TX.  (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)
As Colleen Hoover speaks on stage, fans engage at Book Bonanza on June 23, 2023 in Grapevine, TX. (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)

‘It Ends With Us’ started with Hoover

When Jenna and Hoover got to the topic of her blockbuster novel “It Ends With Us,” it began thundering. Soon, rain was pelting down onto the massive windows overlooking the restaurant. While the crew looked up anxiously, adjusting microphone tones, Hoover didn’t appear to notice, being used to the Texas weather.

Hoover has been forthcoming about the biographical roots of “It Ends With Us,” a book about a young woman trapped in a cycle of violence. After growing up with an abusive father, Lily Bloom enters a marriage in her early 20s with a neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid and has her own tragic experience with domestic violence.

Hoover shared with Jenna that she was thinking of her mother and biological father when she wrote Lily and Ryle’s story.

“One of my earliest memories was him throwing a TV at her,” she said of her biological father. “We grew up in an abusive household up to that point.”

“There were no resources for women to leave situations like that,” she continued, adding her mother divorced her father when she was 2. “She was able to get out of that relationship. And then from then on, I just remember growing up with a mother who was so strong and independent.”

Hoover said she would ask her mother all the time about how she was able to leave her father and ended up writing a book inspired by her mother’s courage. That became “It Ends With Us,” Hoover’s most successful novel, which has been on The New York Times bestseller list for 105 weeks.

“It’s a little bittersweet though, because it’s been on The New York Times for so long, but why? Because people resonate with it. And it’s kind of a sad subject to resonate with,” she said.

Still, the fervor around the book and now the film adaptation has been undeniable. Hoover herself was shocked when she received the news that Blake Lively would be cast as her Lily Bloom.

“I didn’t believe it…I have been obsessed with Blake Lively since ‘Gossip Girl’ days — I’m just a huge fan of hers, and of course of her husband,” she said during the panel discussion with Jenna.

She recalled getting the call from director Justin Baldoni that they might have cast Lively, and she said her reaction was: “Yeah, OK, that would be great.”

“I think he expected me to just scream into the phone, but he doesn’t realize I don’t believe anything,” she said as the audience laughed. “Still to this day, I have not allowed myself to get truly excited, because I’m like, ‘Something could happen. It’s not done filming yet. Like anything could go wrong...but I’m absolutely stoked.”

The success of “It Ends With Us” has also come with a controversy of its own. Critics say Hoover’s book glorifies domestic violence, and the same could happen with its film. Others say Hoover shouldn’t have written about domestic violence at all.

But during her sit-down with Jenna, Hoover said readers’ stories outweigh any criticism.

“It’s been very heartwarming to read how much the book has helped people, and that my mother’s story has actually given strength to other women to be able to leave their situations. It’s a wonderful thing that I’m excited to see on the screen. I also hope that it has the same effect that the book has had,” Hoover said of the upcoming film.

The criticism doesn’t end with the book. When the “It Ends With Us” film adaptation was announced, some of Hoover’s readers immediately panned the casting of Blake Lively, 35, who is set to portray the novel’s 23-year-old Lily Bloom.

“I was hoping when we announced the movie that people would be excited about it. I didn’t think that it would spawn all these TikToks…and that people would be so passionate and angry about some of the casting choices, some of the outfit choices,” she said.

The outfit choices Hoover referred to included photos of some of the looks Lively has been spotted in while filming the movie in Hoboken, New Jersey. The photos leaked online, sending some "CoHorts" into a frenzy with many claiming the outfits were not how they were described in the novel, and others outraged the outfits were not how they imagined them in the novel.

Hoover addressed the outfits during her panel appearance with Jenna.

“When I wrote the book, it wasn’t about the age of the characters. It wasn’t about what they were wearing. I don’t even think I described any clothing in the book,” she said. “It was about the message that I wanted to get across.”

“Yeah, you’ve seen a few outfits that Lily has worn, but she looks so phenomenal on screen. And some of the outfits that she’s worn indoors that no one’s gotten pictures of yet are phenomenal,” she added.

Hoover also defended the film’s choice to cast Lively as Lily, despite their age gap, saying it was “her fault” for not aging the characters in her novel appropriately. She explains when she was writing the novel, the "new adult" genre — with characters centered in their early 20s — was very popular. She decided to make Lily 23 at the start of the novel, and she didn’t want Ryle to be much older.

“As an author, we make mistakes,” she said with a laugh. “There’s no 28-year-old neurosurgeons, you know? You go to school for 15 years. And so to make corrections to what I messed up in the book, we aged the characters up somewhat.”

She concluded: “I love that there’s discourse surrounding it, I do. I think that people are going to be very pleased. I’m very pleased.”

She’s the same Colleen. Really.

Hoover has mostly been able to avoid the pitfalls of fame, though it’s likely that “It Ends With Us” landing on the big screen could be what finally makes fame unavoidable for her. With Jenna, she reflected on her life pre-2012.

“I had a job that I loved. I had coworkers I loved working with. But we were very poor. We lived in a single-wide trailer house. We didn’t have a front door knob. We had a washcloth where the doorknob went,” she said with a laugh. “Like, just very, very poor, but very happy. We just struggled a little bit financially, you know?”

Hoover is no longer financially struggling — though she’s still adjusting to living life in Chanel loafers. During an event surprising fans, she asked for Band-Aids. Her assistant arrived and immediately started sticking them on her boss’s heels. (Her assistant, it should be noted, got the job after finding Hoover’s novels at her Barnes and Noble, special ordering the ones the store didn’t have, messaging the author on Instagram about her love for her and then later asking if she had any positions available.)

Colleen Hoover (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)
Colleen Hoover (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)

So while the material facts of her life have changed, she said she’s tried to keep things as similar as possible.

“I’m still surrounded by the same wonderful husband, wonderful sisters, my mother,” she said. “I actually took the employees that I worked with at my old job, and they work with me now here. We’re all still together all these years later.”

The author who is currently on everyone’s bookshelves and soon to be in their theaters still unwinds by watching the “Housewives” franchises on Bravo, still drinks Diet Pepsi and still refers to herself as a “homebody.”

When Jenna asked if Hoover could have looked into crystal ball in 2012 and seen what her life turned into, she’s clear that the lights, cameras and sitting down with a TODAY show anchor were not what she saw for herself — even admitting she likes to say she “never would have written a book” if she’d known what was in store.

At Book Bonanza, though, she feels that she’s in her element, surrounded by the people who receive her books with open arms. “It’s my career. I might be scared of some cameras and scared of interviews, but to see all the people that come out in support of this…I would do it every day if I had to,” she said.

Surrounded by more than 200 other authors at the bonanza, Hoover gave credit to the writers who have opened doors and helped her along the way, including one of her mentors: “50 Shades of Grey” author E.L. James, who was in attendance as well.

“I’ve been very fortunate in that I got into the book world when James’ books were starting to get really popular, so we became friends way back then,” she said. “I was able to watch how she handled her criticism. She handled it with such grace and kept her readers first. Like, her readers are number one. She has always interacted with them, and has never felt like she got too famous to do any of that.”

Hoover added: “She’s just very grounded, so I’ve always looked to her. And she’s been very supportive of other authors. You know, when anyone has a release, she’s out there bein’ one of the first ones to share it with the world.”

A portrait of JBH and Colleen Hoover during a panel at Book Bonanza on June 23, 2023 in Grapevine, TX.  (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)
A portrait of JBH and Colleen Hoover during a panel at Book Bonanza on June 23, 2023 in Grapevine, TX. (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)

What’s next for CoHo? Yes, more books

On stage with Jenna, Hoover dropped a bombshell the audience was waiting for: Once she makes it through the rest of the movie’s filming, she wants to start writing her next novel, which she said she wants to be a thriller. (“Verity” fans, rejoice.)

“I just want to continue to write. I don’t really have a goal at this point because it’s like, I’ve surpassed my goals, obviously, because I just wanted to write a book, and I’ve written 25,” she said. “But I still get so much enjoyment out of it.”

She added that her only goal for her readers is to provide entertainment.

“But sometimes I make them cry, and I don’t know if that’s very entertaining,” she said while laughing. “But seeing that these books that I write with no intentions have led people to make huge decisions in their life — books really are life changing.”

“And the more I write, the more I realize that,” she continued. “Even as a reader, books are life changing — it’s not just a hobby. It’s not just something you do as an escape. You can read something and not realize that you’re gonna connect to it on a level that inspires you to leave your abusive situation, you know? They’re important. Books are important. We need to stop banning them.”

The crowd enters for the panel with JBH and Colleen Hoover at Book Bonanza on June 23, 2023 in Grapevine, TX.  (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)
The crowd enters for the panel with JBH and Colleen Hoover at Book Bonanza on June 23, 2023 in Grapevine, TX. (Nitashia Johnson for TODAY)

Out of the spotlight — finally

“Yay! It’s over!” Hoover’s team cheered as she wrapped the interview and made her way out of the cameras, a reminder of just how much she does not like the attention being on her.

She snapped a couple of pictures with the crew before heading back to the festival. A few fans decked out in Book Bonanza merch who happened to stumble upon the scene stood, stunned as they took in their idol, eyes wide and hands over their mouths. On her way out, Hoover stopped to pose with anyone who asked before she headed to her room to prepare for the first of two four-hour book signing sessions.

During the final moments of Hoover’s interview, Jenna asked what she would want to tell her kindergarten self about the life she’s created since becoming an author.

“You are gonna be so happy. So happy,” she replied.

Jenna paused as tears welled up in her eye, waiting for her subject to add more.

But she didn't. Hoover’s books may not always have happy endings, but her own story just might.

This article was originally published on