My Writing Life – Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey has spent time as story-spinning yacht captain before settling in Florida. He is the author of the bestselling Wool series — originally just a novelette, the demand from reviewers sent him scurrying to write more tales of this subterranean world. The resulting Omnibus has been optioned by Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian for a potential feature film, and Random House will publish the hardcover version in the UK in January 2013.
What was the first eBook you published on Kobo?
The WOOL OMNIBUS. I had several readers get in touch and ask me why my books weren’t on Kobo. At the time, it required publishing through other resources, which I never felt comfortable doing. When Writing Life opened up, it was like a brand new and shiny bookstore suddenly sprouted up on every block around the world, all willing to carry my works. Better than that: I was now in every home that had an internet connection.
When I first started self-publishing four years ago, I agonized over not being able to get in physical bookstores. My, how times have changed. I no longer give it a second thought. Instead of being spine-out in a few hundred bookstores, my works are available everywhere. And the same is true of anyone dedicated to writing and publishing their own works.
What is the most interesting thing about eBook publishing?
For me, it’s the interaction with readers and fans. Everything feels so accessible these days. Growing up as an avid reader, authors were mystical beasts to me. They were hermits living in cabins nestled in the woods, or people with cardigans and pipes who lived in penthouses in big cities. If you were lucky, one would come to your hometown and do a signing and you could meet them in person.
Now, I tweet and Facebook with readers every day. They send me emails and works of art and fan fiction. They become beta readers; they invite me into their book clubs via Skype; I talk to their classrooms live over the Web. I’ve always dreamed of being a writer, but I previously imagined that it would be a lonely and solitary affair. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
How has the ability to publish and control your eBook entirely affected your approach to writing and publishing?
The degree of freedom is difficult to appreciate. The biggest advantage is the ability to control price. I like keeping my eBooks as inexpensive as possible. It isn’t that I don’t value the written word or the hard work I put into each story, I just value a wide readership even more. I want people to be able to afford as many books as they can read. I’d much rather make a small amount and have a huge audience than the other way around.
The other two blessings are the ability to release several books a year and to write in various genres. Both of these traits have long been frowned upon by large publishers. They worry in the case of multiple releases that an author might saturate the market. This is why Nora Roberts has to also release under the name of J.D. Robb. Meanwhile, readers are begging for more books from their favorite writers.
Publishers are also wary of allowing authors to spread across several genres. The idea is that readers will follow the author and that readers tend to only read in specific areas. I haven’t found this to be the case, and it keeps me interested in exploring new worlds and styles of writing.
What was the best piece of advice you ever received as a writer?
To stop thinking about writing, dreaming about writing, planning to one day become a writer, and just write. It was the mother half of the Charles Todd writing duo who said this. She was on a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book, and someone in the audience asked for some advice on becoming a writer. Mrs. Todd became extremely animated, and I felt like she was speaking directly to me. I went home from that conference and wrote my first completed novel,Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue. I haven’t looked back since.
How important are beta readers to a self-published author?
They are crucial! You need a wide variety of opinions before your work goes live. You also need help finding pesky typos, which even an expert editor will sometimes miss. The challenge, as you start your career, is finding anyone willing to read your early work. Even friends and family require a lot of cajoling. I’ve become very fortunate to have dozens of volunteers who are thrilled to get a sneak peek at my next book. They also seem to enjoy being a part of the creative process. I treasure the relationship I have with my beta readers.
How do create your covers?
I used to do my own covers, and I think I made a few over the years that weren’t half bad. I found the best method was to create a prop and then photograph it. Anything I would try and draw would end up looking amateurish. With a photograph, you can frame the image to include the spine and rear jacket, and then crop the front for your e-book.
Recently, though, I’ve had incredible artwork submitted by fans. I’ve begun paying them a fair rate to use their work on my book jackets. Mike Tabor created a few of my covers. Jasper Schreurs, a professional artist in the advertising industry and a huge fan, is the one who did the two new Molly Fyde covers. I’ve also come across someone else’s photograph or artwork and approached them about buying the rights. Nadia Huggins took the cover shot for one of my bestselling works, Half Way Home. It’s awesome to be able to support other artists and showcase their talent.
What advice would you offer to up and coming writers?
Don’t compare your rough draft to what you’ve been reading your entire life. The finished eBooks we download are the end result of a half-dozen revisions and several rounds of editing. You’re not seeing the author’s rough draft. So don’t get discouraged when every sentence doesn’t glow the moment you set it down. Write rough and trust the revision process.
The most common mistake I see is when writers stop working on their first draft to go back and play around with what they’ve already written. I’ve even seen seasoned professionals get caught in this quagmire. You won’t even know your story fully until you get to the end, so concentrate on that. Write the full work. And then go back and make it wonderful.
How did your Wool series go from a self-published short story to being optioned for film by Ridley Scott and picked up for translation in over 15 foreign languages?
I credit readers and this new digital age we live in for what has been a success beyond my wildest imaginings. I never thought I would write for a living. I dreamed of selling a thousand books in my lifetime, not hundreds of thousands of them. When I first published Wool, it was just another short story that had been burning inside me that I wanted to get out. I put it on e-bookstores and moved on to my next project.
What happened next became this symbiotic relationship formed with readers. They discovered a short novelette about people living underground, and they must’ve begun telling each other about it. I wasn’t a witness to this process, which I assume involved social media word-of-mouth. All I saw was a steady increase in sales of a book I never once promoted on my own.
This immediate feedback gave me the ability to satisfy demand by writing the subsequent entries. I read all the Amazon reviews as they poured in to determine what it was readers enjoyed. The rest of the series came out very swiftly, so they didn’t have to wait a year or even months between releases. The stories were also shorter and less expensive, so the investment in time and money didn’t serve as a deterrent to giving the books a try.
What amazes me about this process is that Wool never would’ve been picked up by a major publisher. It breaks all the rules of length, style, and genre. The only rule it followed, however, was the one that truly matters: Write something people will enjoy reading and will want to tell others about. That was the one thing I got right. Everything that happened after that was up to the readers, and they have been blowing me away ever since.