Hugh Howey is the author of the independently published hit book WOOL. A New York Times and Amazon.com bestseller, WOOL is being translated into 23 languages and has been picked up by Ridley Scott for a film adaptation. Though traditional publishers are clamoring for book rights, he has decided to stick with indie publishing in the U.S. Hugh recently answered a few questions for us about his journey as an independent author and how he and his book earned breakout success.
Tell us about your book and how it came about.
WOOL is about the last remnants of humanity living in an underground silo. They've lived there so long, in fact, that there are only legends about people having lived elsewhere. In this underground world, it's forbidden to speak of going outside. If you do, you are given the very thing you ask for. You are banished. And nobody returns.
WOOL began as a short novelette, which I published through CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. Within a few months, reviewers began clamoring for more. So I wrote what is now the Omnibus Edition, which has been as high as #13 on the New York Times Bestsellers list and #1 on Amazon. Ridley Scott picked up the film rights this summer, and the work is being translated into 23 languages. And no, none of that makes a lick of sense to me, either.
Please share a bit of your background as an author.
I've dreamed of becoming a writer since I was twelve. I began a lot of books over the years but never got past the third or fourth chapter. I eventually lost sight of that dream. Instead, I chanced into a career as a yacht captain, sailed off to the Bahamas and began taking work on other people's boats. It wasn't until I fell in love and was dragged away from the sea that I fell into writing seriously. It got started after a couple of book conventions that I attended as a blogger and reviewer. That was nearly five years ago. It took me 20 years to realize my childhood dream of becoming an author.
Why did you initially choose to independently publish?
I published my first book with a small press. It was a wonderful experience, but I began to see that the success of the book would still depend on my fighting for every single sale. The process was a bit slow for my liking, and I wondered if I couldn't do some things myself (cover creation, pagination, etc.) without having to give up the rights to my work forever. That's the part that was most difficult for me: giving up full ownership of something I'd labored to create.
At the time, I was following the new trends in print on-demand and e-publishing. These changes meant two things for me, as a writer. First, books would now be in print forever, which made selling the rights to them a much dearer decision. Second, any aspiring writer could now access and afford the production and distribution of their works, which was never possible before. A new world was opening at just the time I was moving from writing being a hobby to a potential career. Amazon and CreateSpace were the ones who opened that world for me.
What obstacles did you face prior to self-publishing?
I received my share of rejection letters from agents and publishers, but that's true of any author. My main frustrations were that I had stories to tell, and I wanted to get them to readers. Not to force anyone to read them, mind you, but simply to have them available. The old system made that difficult. All I ever wanted was to have access to the market. That was it. I didn't care about favorable positioning or being face-out on a shelf or in a bookstore window; I just wanted my works to be available and affordable to anyone who might have a hankering for them. And that's what Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace have made possible, for the digital and print editions, respectively.
How did you choose CreateSpace as a publishing partner?
I tried a competitor, but there were fees for setting up books and for making subsequent changes, and there were delays in seeing the book available on Amazon, which is the distributor that matters the most to me. When I finally tried CreateSpace, it was with one of my NaNoWriMo books. By completing the NaNo challenge, I was given codes for free proof copies, so I used them. I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the product and the speed and affordability of the service. The difference in every aspect was startling. The copies I ordered for myself were less expensive, and the product page went up much faster. I'm now working to get my older books moved over to CreateSpace. I tell everyone to just start with them.
Without CreateSpace, I would be facing the reality of shelling out thousands of dollars to have more books printed than I could hope to sell. That's how it used to work for a self-published author. But now, I can order just enough to fulfill demand. And rather than worry about being in a handful of bookstores scattered here and there, my works are available to anyone with an internet connection and a mailbox. That's revolutionary! I'm so fortunate that I happen to be writing at the time that I am.
Tell us about your marketing efforts for your book. How did you get the word out?
The book that's done the best for me is actually the one I never promoted at all, not in the beginning. It was a short story that I published and forgot about. So while I've blogged and Tweeted and Facebooked about each of my works, it was word of mouth and the efforts of readers that created this success. And that's something that none of us know how to generate. It's just up to the reader.
The best marketing, I believe, is to get busy writing the next work. WOOL is proof of this. When sales of the first story took off, I immediately began writing the rest of the series. Had I not, the level of success I've enjoyed would've been limited. I would be promoting a novelette rather than entertaining offers from major publishers on what is soon to be a trilogy of full-length novels.
Have you met your publishing goals at this point?
My goal has always been simply to have a voice. I love stories. I love books. My lifelong dream was realized the day that first proof copy arrived in the mail, and I could hold all those words and hours of hard work in my hands. I still do video blogs of me unboxing each new book. That moment is just so special to me.
What's next for you and your book?
WOOL has taken off this year in a way that I never could have imagined. The rights were picked up overseas, which means an upcoming trip to the U.K. and to Australia to promote the releases there. I also have all these foreign language editions to look forward to. And I really hope Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian do something awesome with the film rights. Of course, my main focus is just on writing the next work. I enjoy telling stories. I'd be doing this whether or not anyone was buying them and reading them.
What advice can you offer your fellow authors?
Produce your best work and get it out there. It's as simple as that. If you love what you're doing, you can't lose.