Home » Fantasy/SciFi, Self-Publishing, Self-Publishing Strategies » Authors are snubbing publishers and insisting on keeping e-book rights. How one novelist made more than $1 million before his book hit stores.

Authors are snubbing publishers and insisting on keeping e-book rights. How one novelist made more than $1 million before his book hit stores.

8 March 2013

A very nice story about Hugh Howey in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Hugh Howey’s postapocalyptic thriller “Wool” has sold more than half a million copies and generated more than 5,260 Amazon reviews. Mr. Howey has raked in more than a million dollars in royalties and sold the film rights to “Alien” producer Ridley Scott.

And Simon & Schuster hasn’t even released the book yet.

In a highly unusual deal, Simon & Schuster acquired print publication rights to “Wool” while allowing Mr. Howey to keep the e-book rights himself. Mr. Howey self-published “Wool” as a serial novel in 2011, and took a rare stand by refusing to sell the digital rights. Last year, he turned down multiple seven-figure offers from publishers before reaching a mid-six-figure, print-only deal with Simon & Schuster.

“I had made seven figures on my own, so it was easy to walk away,” says Mr. Howey, 37, a college dropout who worked as a yacht captain, a roofer and a bookseller before he started self-publishing. “I thought, ‘How are you guys going to sell six times what I’m selling now?’ ”

. . . .

Publishing houses that once ignored independent authors are now furiously courting them. In the past year, more than 60 independent authors have landed contracts with traditional publishers. Several won seven-figure advances. A handful have negotiated deals that allow them to continue selling e-books on their own, including romance writers Bella Andre and Colleen Hoover, who have each sold more than a million copies of their books.

. . . .

Four years ago, he decided to give writing a shot. He and his wife were living in a 750-square foot house in Boone, N.C. He was unemployed; his wife, Amber Lyda, was working as a psychologist. He had an idea for a story about a young spaceship pilot who travels across the galaxy in search of her missing father. He sold the novel, “Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue,” to a small Indiana publisher for less than a thousand dollars. Sales were meager.

“When he first published ‘Molly Fyde,’ I’d call his wife and say, ‘How many books has he sold? Should I go to Amazon and buy three more?’” says his mother, Gay Murrill, who owns a yarn shop in Charleston.

. . . .

“Wool” started as a short story that Mr. Howey dashed off in three weeks. He posted it on Amazon for 99 cents in July 2011. Within three months, the story had sold 1,000 copies. Mr. Howey was stunned.

“I told my wife, ‘Baby, we’re going to be able to pay a couple of bills off this short story,’ ” he said.

. . . .

Self-publishing continues to erode publishers’ status as literary gate keepers. Several authors are now self publishing some of their novels and selling others to publishers. A few writers have negotiated deals with publishers that allow them to keep digital rights.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Fantasy/SciFi, Self-Publishing, Self-Publishing Strategies

12 Comments to “Authors are snubbing publishers and insisting on keeping e-book rights. How one novelist made more than $1 million before his book hit stores.”

  1. Overall, a good article, except for stuff like this: “Simon & Schuster acquired print publication rights to “Wool” while allowing Mr. Howey to keep the e-book rights himself”. S&S did not ALLOW anything. Howey negotiated a good contract, like any businessman. At the end of the article are some nice snippets about some other successful indie writers. Again, a decent article overall, just wished the journalist kept away from the patronizing terminology.

    • SERIOUSLY!!! I was just thinking that. Way to give all the power to the publishers in the article, even though Howey obviously kicked butt and kept the power himself. ERG.

      • The slant from the WSJ is because of me. In interviews, I’m the first one to give S&S all the credit for this contract. We didn’t negotiate down to this, it was more a matter of not taking offers from other publishers, S&S keeping tabs on what was going on, and then coming straight at us with exactly what we wanted. There was no back and forth. They knew what we were after and delivered it. I think they deserve a lot of credit for being so bold. They have gone on to give Coleen Hoover a similar deal, and worked with John Locke and Tucker Max in other awesome and unusual ways.

  2. As I’ve said before, Hugh is handling his success very well and while watching his journey I’ve taken many notes.

    But there’s one question they never ask him.

    After the success of Wool, the move to the coastal town of Jupiter, and taking your job history into account, I just have to know;

    What kind of boat did you buy, Hugh?

    • Indeed. The small house size may seem prudent, or it could be on a beach with its own dock and a cool yacht. I hope he gets to sail more.

      • Heh. We bought the cheapest house in the neighborhood. $125,000. And that was a step up from our last house.

        There is a boat in the plans, but that’s 6 years away. I’ve always wanted to circumnavigate the glove. My wife and I have been working toward that for 10 years. It was going to happen anyway, this will just mean we do it on a nicer boat and we don’t come home broke (which we would have done gladly).

        • You’ll need a wizard of a steersman if you want to circumnavigate a glove. Those hairpin turns in between the fingers are murder.

          (I know, I know, you meant globe. But it was so much more fun picturing it the other way! Sometimes tyops make my day.)

        • As long as you don’t “circumcise the world with a giant clipper like Christopher Columbus” (Anguished English, by Richard Lederer) you’ll be okay.

  3. Six years is a long time, maybe even enough to plan such a trip. :) Something tells me there are a few other things on the list ahead of the big trip. I envy you, sir.

    Personally, I would have to include Cape Horn (the “wrong way”), the southeast coast of Alaska, and Yap for the scuba alone.

    Great, now I’m thinking about this and probably won’t get much writing done today.

  4. Good balanced, article by the WSJ. Although they focus on the marketing a bit much, I think.

    I do think Hugh is an outstanding marketer, but he also wrote a very high quality story. The first without the second just doesn’t work.

    On the other hand, Hugh might want to think about writing a book someday about indie marketing – I think he’s very gifted at it.

    This article also documents how he made very smart decisions all the way down the road, and stood tough against some temptations. That the story of a strong writer pioneering a new path! Bravo!

    • “On the other hand, Hugh might want to think about writing a book someday about indie marketing – I think he’s very gifted at it.”

      A problem I see with this is that Hugh has already said the following in the comments of this post: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/11/2012/hugh-howey-doesnt-need-a-publisher-thank-you-very-much/

      “I believe that was the journalist’s interpretation of my saying that it was the book I never promoted at all that took off. I published a 12K word novelette to KDP and went back to my novels. Those, I was promoting by doing all the things you listed and more. They sold a handful here and there, but nothing to pay *a* bill, much less *the* bills.

      WOOL took off on its own. It was word of mouth. That frustrated me, because it made me feel powerless in making my work a success. But I think that’s the same feeling most publishers suffer.

      Once WOOL got going, I did everything I could to augment that growth by promoting it fully. But who knows how much of an effect that had? My biggest breaks, like a mention on the front page of Gizmodo, getting optioned by Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian, landing an agent, being picked up in 20 countries . . . I had no direct role in any of that.

      I don’t mean to disparage promotion. I promote my stuff all the time. But I think it pays to be honest, and in my (albeit limited and anecdotal) experience, it’s the reader who has all the power. And they are as fickle and unknowable as they are mighty. We can’t predict what will do well. There’s no formula, no way to sit down and purposefully craft a bestseller. Even the greats write flops.

      My best guess as to how to do well at this (something I espoused years ago, not something I came up with via hindsight) is to write a lot and to write a wide variety of works. If anything hits, jump on it.”

      Marketing after the book caught fire? I’m sure he has some insights on that. On the other hand, at the point opportunities started coming to him, not the other way around (mostly). But marketing to help a book/story catch fire?

      He’s already said what one needs to do for that. What worked for him: Write, write, write good stories. Get them out there. Hope that the ephemeral word-of-mouth hits. If it does, jump on it.

      There, book written. :P

      • J.A. Marlow – I think you have a really good point. It’s rather mysterious what really ‘hits’, although top quality work does seem to find it’s way to the top. Of course, some would argue what top quality is…..

        But I do think there is something Hugh could share about marketing once it caught on. He’s built an extremely loyal readership and supportive community. Not every successful author is able to do that!

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