Home » Self-Publishing, Self-Publishing Startups » Hugh Howey doesn’t need a publisher, thank you very much

Hugh Howey doesn’t need a publisher, thank you very much

12 November 2012

From Charleston City Paper:

 Self-published authors have long been the underdogs of the literary world. Unable to land book deals, they often publish their work using their own money in a last-ditch effort at exposure. They send them to media outlets where, more often than not, they are immediately dismissed. If you were really mean, you might say that self-publishing is where failed authors go to die.

But that would just be harsh. And untrue, if Hugh Howey and Fifty Shades of Grey are any indication.

Little more than a year ago, Howey was just another sci-fi author trying to maneuver his way through the world of self-publishing after a not-so-successful experience with a small publishing house. Today, his book Wool is a smashing success with more than 300,000 copies sold in the U.S. alone and a film optioned by 20th Century Fox and Ridley Scott. He’s the face of a new era in publishing, and he’s just as surprised as anyone.

“It feels like it happened overnight,” says Howey, a Florida resident who attended the College of Charleston in the early 2000s. Wool started out as a novella. He posted it online in July 2011 and forgot about it, deciding to focus instead on promoting his full-length novels. But through the magic of the interwebs, readers took notice of Wool and word spread. Newfound fans clamored for more, so within six months Howey expanded the story into four more installments, which eventually became a 540-page novel about a post-apocalyptic world where people live underground because the outside world has gone to hell. He published via CreateSpace (print) and Kindle Direct Publishing (Kindle book). “It was just kind of all out of my hands,” he remembers. “So by January the full story was written and I couldn’t even keep up with the media demands. I was running ragged with my job and everything, so I had to put in my notice and quit my day job at the book store and I’ve been writing full-time ever since.”

. . . .

The funny thing was, Howey didn’t need a publisher. He was doing just fine on his own. “You do so well self-published, it’s hard for publishers to compete with what you can do on your own,” he says. “I make 70 percent royalty rates on sales here in the U.S., and if I went with a publisher, that would be cut to almost one-sixth. And so, you know, we sat down with them, and they had some nice offers, but I’m handing them a bestseller with a film contract attached and all of these other things attached and what they’re offering is just not as good as what I’m doing currently. I showed them what I’m earning now, and they kind of said, I don’t know if we can compete with that.”

. . . .

“In a lot of different entertainment industries now, sole ownership is kind of becoming the new standard,” Howey says, citing Louis C.K., who self-produced his latest comedy special. “In a lot of ways, what YouTube has done for filmmakers, the Kindle, the Nook, those are doing for writers. You can control your content, produce the best work possible, and you have a distributor that has worldwide access at your fingertips. It’s just remarkable.”

. . . .

As with many other success stories, Howey found domestic promotion to be shockingly easy; he barely had to lift a finger. The word really started spreading when readers sharedWool on Facebook and Twitter. “The power of social media is that if you create something that resonates with people, it has a much greater chance of spreading,” he says. “It has dried out the underbrush, if you will. Throwing sparks can now lead to bonfires.”

. . . .

Howey released his latest self-published novel, I, Zombie in August, and his Kindle Single, The Walk Up Nameless Ridge, became available in early September. “I’ve prepared myself by reminding everyone that this will end as soon as it began. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything,” he says. “One day, I’ll look back at this brief career and marvel that it ever happened. I’ll still be writing, I’m sure. There will be many more people wanting to read my books than there was a year ago, but something like Wool happens once in a lifetime. I’m certain of that. And it makes me feel fortunate, not anxious.”

Link to the rest at Charleston City Paper and thanks to Jim for the tip.

Self-Publishing, Self-Publishing Startups

30 Comments to “Hugh Howey doesn’t need a publisher, thank you very much”

  1. It was an honor and a thrill to speak with a former hometown paper, but I’m a little embarrassed by the article’s title. It’s catchy, and I understand why they went with it, but my reasons for turning down domestic publishing offers is more complex than thinking I don’t need them.

    We signed with Random House to release a print edition in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, and I have enjoyed every moment of working with my editor there and the publicity team. My hesitation in the US has stemmed from many of the contract issues pointed out here on The Passive Voice and elsewhere. Books are now effectively in print forever. Signing away rights for that length of time (or giving up a 70% royalty for a 15% royalty) is not a decision I take lightly. And I’m not sure that these options will change until enough authors hold out for more flexible deals rather than just large advances.

    But this may just be me being naive!

    • Thanks for the visit, Hugh.

    • Congrats on the article in the hometown paper.

      I am currently in the middle of the omnibus edition of Wool and am enjoying it immensely.

    • I was just wondering if the paperback version was different from the ebook. Is there editing, additional material, something that RH did other than just print the ebook out?

      Thanks in advance!

      • Hey Sheryl,

        WOOL went through an editorial process with Random House. It was a lot of fun. I worked with Jack Fogg, who is absolutely brilliant. He recently did Rod Stewart’s biography.

        It was a very light edit, as far as those things go (so he tells me). The only major change came when he asked about fleshing some characters out, and I had the idea of adding an entire chapter toward the beginning. This and a few other changes make for a much stronger narrative. But it’s still mostly the same book.

        Cheers!

        • Wow… a whole new chapter.

          Do you plan to release this newer version in ebook for or in print in North America?

          Again, thanks!

          • I do. I’m trying to see how this will affect the audiobook, as the two are synched if you own them both. The new chapter has been read on video on my website.

    • I’ve read your work, Hugh. You’ve earned every dollar and accolade. It’s a pleasant change of pace to see a newspaper article showing an indie some respect.

    • I have the same issues. Part of me would like the experience of working with a publisher, but I don’t like the terms I’m hearing from some of my peers who have gone the traditional route with their self-published work.

  2. This to me is the gold:

    “I make 70 percent royalty rates on sales here in the U.S., and if I went with a publisher, that would be cut to almost one-sixth. And so, you know, we sat down with them, and they had some nice offers, but I’m handing them a bestseller with a film contract attached and all of these other things attached and what they’re offering is just not as good as what I’m doing currently. I showed them what I’m earning now, and they kind of said, I don’t know if we can compete with that.”

    As more of these stories happen – and they will, Hugh WON’T be an outlier – the ongoing changes in the publishing industry will accelerate.

    And btw – can we drop the term ‘Publishing Industry’ and start using the term: Author To Reader industry ;)

  3. I highlighted exactly the same paragraph as J.J. It’s worth re-printing:

    “And so, you know, we sat down with them, and they had some nice offers, but I’m handing them a bestseller with a film contract attached and all of these other things attached and what they’re offering is just not as good as what I’m doing currently. I showed them what I’m earning now, and they kind of said, I don’t know if we can compete with that.”

    AWESOME. Good for you, Hugh!

    I hope other authors continue to be as smart and saavy!!

  4. “Wool started out as a novella.” Which appears to be free (for everyone) right now on Amazon. I’ve added it to my already overloaded Kindle.

    http://www.amazon.com/Wool-ebook/dp/B005FC52L0/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1352744277&sr=1-4

  5. The biggest takeaway in my opinion is where Hugh says that it’s all in the hands of the readers. I hear this over and over from writers who hit it big. No one is able to predict or engineer this kind of thing. The best possible thing for a writer to do is keep writing! Let the readers tell you if your cards are any good, and only then double down.

    PG, you’re being lurked by big names. It’s just another sign of how stunning the success of PV is.

  6. Liked this interview very much – I think in part because it helps lay out a new script, a new path (sorry, can’t find the correct word) for writers navigating this new paradigm. Our work is a set of content that we develop and manage, and our criteria for doing so are often very-reader centered.

    In the old writing model, creativity and business also seemed bifurcated, somehow. In the model that is still emerging, the two are more entwined. Still struggling to make sense of this, but I like the direction.

    “One day, I’ll look back at this brief career and marvel that it ever happened. I’ll still be writing, I’m sure. There will be many more people wanting to read my books than there was a year ago, but something like Wool happens once in a lifetime. I’m certain of that. And it makes me feel fortunate, not anxious.”

    And then I just like the sense of being grateful! Again, perhaps not the correct word. But still. Readers aren’t an entitlement. Instead, they are such an incredible privilege.

  7. Great news. Still curious though, if you’re still here Hugh: The paper says you “barely had to lift a finger.” But I’d like to know which finger did you barely lift? Did you publish Wool on Amazon and do nothing? Or did you contact sci-fi oriented bloggers and let them know it’s there? Try to get a review on indiereader? Do anything with goodreads? Thanks.

    • 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.

      • Glad my understanding of you was right, Hugh. Like I said above, this is what I hear most often from people that find the success you have.

        And BTW, Wool is amazing stuff. I’m giving it to someone for Christmas.

      • I dunno. I don’t think I’m alone in being torn between happiness at an indie author’s success and worry about the powerlessness of what succeeds and what doesn’t, especially when I’m three weeks from publishing two titles under my name (not pen name). The advice to write good books and not worry about what happens is hard to follow for a worrier (and control freak) like me.

        • I’m right there with you. I also prefer to have control. And I want my hard work on the promotional side to be rewarded. I wouldn’t say that promoting your work does nothing, but there is probably some tipping point when you have several works available and you’ve been promoting for a year or so that things begin to sustain themselves.

          Something else to keep in mind: Traditionally published books require the same degree of luck. There are thousands of books published by the big boys and girls every year. The number that become viral hits can be counted on one hand. Sometimes on one finger. Luck plays a crucial role no matter how you decide to publish.

  8. 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.

    Amen to that. This, more than anything to me, supports the core of what it means to be an indie writer. Once locked into a trad. contract, one no longer has the freedom and agility to write what one wants, when one wants. They’re so busy trying to follow and predict trends (which is wasted energy IMO) that they ignore good work and the building of an author brand.

    I love writing in various genres, characters and POVs, most writers do. Generally the kiss of death to the old guard if they’d decided they liked only one of my pieces. I don’t want to reinvent a penname every time I change genres; I want to build my author brand long-term and if something works… awesome! I’ve already got my sci-fi/adventure/romance out, working on its sequel while starting a fantasy/post-apocalyptic/romance and working up ideas for a historical fiction and a fantasy/action/romance. Will probably have ten more idea before another year’s up. Lol!

    Thanks, Hugh!

  9. Always a treat to hear more about Hugh Howey’s success. I’ve read Wool, and like thousands upon thousands of others, I loved it. He deserves all the recognition he gets and then some.

    And I have to say (zombie lover that I am) his I, Zombie book is equally as awesome.

  10. One thing the article doesn’t mention is how open and accessible (and interactive!) Hugh is with his fans. I think that has something to do with his ongoing success.

    You’re an inspiration, Hugh! :)

    • Thanks, Anthea! I didn’t set out to be (it’s intimidating, to be honest).

      • See, that right there. ;) And I really like how you get your fans’ input on so many things. (Check Hugh’s blog if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) Keep on with your awesome bad self, and don’t let the fame scare you. (grins)

      • BTW Hugh is a great example of how to do promotion and social networking on Twitter. He’s never spammy nor annoying, despite the fact that he posts a healthy number of links to his stuff. Anyone looking to do Twitter would do well to follow him and learn.

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