Hugh Howey is one of the resonating success stories of the indie publishing movement. His Wool series is a massive hit, and he recently signed a deal with Simon and Schuster where he retained his ebook rights, in a move that was hailed as groundbreaking only a short time before Colleen Hoover did the same. The landscape is apparently changing so fast that last week’s news is this week’s legend, but one thing that seems to be consistent is that readers are embracing well-written indie-published books with enthusiasm. Hugh is a wonderfully warm and down to earth author whose talent is only exceeded by his humility. He’s a fitting model for the industry, and it’s with great pleasure that I welcome him to the blog.
NEWS: A great review for Silver Justice from Sheila Deeth is a must-read!
RB: Hugh, your Wool series is a blockbuster. To what do you attribute its success?
HH: I attribute its success to the readers. They are the ones who read the first Wool and demanded more. I wouldn’t have written the rest of the series without their feedback and reviews clamoring for me to continue the saga. And everything since then has been a product of their enthusiasm, their telling family and friends, and all the great buzz they’ve created. For some reason, this story resonates with people. They’ve done the rest.
RB: You’re not exactly an overnight sensation. How long have you been at this, and what was your journey?
HH: It feels practically overnight! I’ve been writing seriously for four years. I had six novels and a short story published before Wool took off. The last year has been insane. This time a year ago, I worked in a bookstore shelving other people’s books.
RB: Your recent deal with Simon & Schuster where you kept your ebook rights was considered a landmark for indie authors. Do you see this becoming the norm moving forward?
HH: I sure hope so. It might not become the norm, but it should become more common. Colleen Hoover recently received a similar deal. And before us there was Bella Andre with Harlequin. Publishers are much more flexible than they get credit for. I think they’ve been fortunate to watch and learn from the film and movie industries. They are adjusting faster than those businesses did.
RB: Let’s talk process. Do you outline, plot and structure, or do you just sit down and write? How long between when a book idea comes to you, and when it’s ready to be written?
HH: I plot and structure, but I leave room for my characters to meander and inform the plot as they go. It’s a wide path I lay out. But I know where it’s headed. I have to have the final scene in my head before I start. Otherwise, I think readers can sense when a story is wandering aimlessly.
RB: Do you have a set schedule for writing? What’s your typical writer’s day like?
HH: I get most of my writing done in the morning. I aim for 2,000 words a day. I can usually get this done between 6 and 11 in the morning.
RB: Do you have monthly or annual word goals? How’s your discipline?
HH: My annual goals are to publish around 200,000 words. That might be three short novels or two long ones. I wrote five novels over 60,000 words each last year, which I consider a success.
RB: Longhand or computer? Any trick software you favor for writing?
HH: Oh, computer. My hand cramps after the first page of longhand. My software of choice is Apple’s Pages, because of how clean the fullscreen mode is. Too bad Apple has abandoned the application. I would love an update.
RB: How do you come up with your characters? Based on real people, pure invention, or a combo?
HH: It has to be a combo. I pull from people I know and all the fictional characters I’ve encountered over the years. And probably too much from myself.
RB: Do you ever have issues with motivation? Writer’s block? If so, how do you move past it?
HH: No, I can always write. The problem these days is finding the time! I have way too much business-related stuff to handle. It was easier writing around my day job, because when I wasn’t working, I didn’t have anything on my mind other than the book in progress. These days, I can’t stop thinking about the emails piling up, the books to sign and ship, the upcoming travels, and so much more. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but I would have thought when I quit my day job that all I’d have to do is sit around and write!
RB: Describe your work environment. Quiet? Music? Window? What is it like?
HH: Silence. Me and my laptop and my dog. I can be on the sofa or out in the back yard or in the bed. All I see is my laptop and all I hear is my dog grunting to be taken for a walk.
RB: How many hours a day do you write? Are you consistent every day, or is it sporadic?
HH: I try to spend 3-4 hours writing a day. I’m pretty consistent. Except when travel intrudes. And then I try to cram it into plane rides and gate waits.
RB: How many times do you polish before your manuscript is ready for edit – how many drafts?
HH: I aim for 7-8 complete drafts. The last one or two are light edits, but those are often the most important.
RB: Adverbs. Satan’s foot soldiers, or valuable tools?
HH: Valuable tools! Man, what’s up with all the rules for writers? Just say what you want to say. Convey information. We are writing for readers, not English majors. What’s strange is getting an email from an aspiring writer with some sample of their material attached. The email is invariably a better read than the writing. We put too much pressure on ourselves. Just write. Use your own voice. Forget complete sentences and how many –ing and –ly words you’re using.
RB: Let’s talk pricing. How do you arrive at your pricing model, and how do you know it’s “right?” Do you see that changing over time? If so, in what way?”
HH: I’m not the right one to ask. I have zero confidence in my own writing, so it’s all I can do not to make it all free. I undervalue and therefore underprice everything I write.
RB: What do you think about the current state of trad pub vs. self-publishing? If someone came to you and asked which to do, what would you say?
HH: I think a very beautiful interplay between the two is coalescing. The stigma against self-published work has disappeared among publishers. 1 out of every 20 books sold last year was from E.L. James, who originally published on a fan fiction site. That’s mind boggling. It has publishers looking everywhere for the next bestseller.
Over a year ago, well before Wool took off, my advice to myself and my fellow writers was to view self-publishing as the new querying method. Stop wasting your time trying to prove yourself to agents and editors. That process is SLOW. Self-publish and start writing the next work. Rinse and repeat. If you work catches on with the gatekeepers who matter (the readers) the rest of the publishing world will come to you. If you can’t please the readers, going traditional isn’t going to help.
I know that sounds simplistic coming from someone who has had success, but I was harping on this before my sales took off. Of course, I was ridiculed for suggesting such a tactic. I still am. But even though I have publishers clamoring for my next work, I continue to self-publish first and wait for things to play out afterward. I can’t sit on a finished work for a year while the marketing machine warms up. Books are now published forever. There’s no longer any pressure to earn a bundle in six weeks or six months. Your book might take off ten years from now. Move on.
RB: What counsel would you offer a newbie who was interested in pursuing the author’s path? Is there anything you feel you have done that is primarily responsible for your remarkable success?
HH: I may have touched on most of my best advice above. I recommend two things, really: Write because you love to write and for no other reason. That’s the first thing. Secondly: make your work available. It doesn’t matter how. Give it away if you must. It’s not going to do anything for you unread.
RB: What’s your biggest writing regret? The one thing you wish you could do over, or differently?
HH: I wish I would’ve printed a few hundred copies of the first Wool Omnibus. Those things are going for several hundred bucks on eBay! I think I might sell the copy my wife owns. Don’t tell her.
RB: Whose work most influenced you, and why?
HH: After reading Douglas Adams, I wanted to become a writer. After reading Ender’s Game and hearing that Card was from my home state, I started to think it was possible. These days, it’s Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, and comic book writers like Geoff John, Robert Kirkman, and Joss Whedon.
RB: A question about genre. How much flexibility do you allow yourself in terms of genre-hopping? Do you have a rule of thumb you would recommend?
HH: I’m a few chapters in to my first erotica novel. I’m going to write it all. Reader beware.
RB: What’s your current project? Can you tell us anything about it?
HH: I just wrapped up the last SHIFT book and am working on DUST, which is the last book of the WOOL series.
RB: What’s the best thing about being an author?
HH: Working without getting dressed. Sorry for the mental image.
RB: You’ve been extremely gracious sharing your time and views. What advice would you leave budding authors with, if you only had thirty seconds to impart it?
HH: Stop reading my advice and go write. Entertain yourself. Enjoy the process. Dive into your characters mind and heart and reside there. Have fun and be good to one another!