Caught this article in the Wall Street Journal about author Hugh Howey and his runaway hit, Wool. It’s a postapocalyptic thriller that has sold more than half a million copies and generated over 4,000 reviews on Amazon.
Source: Amazon.com, re-sized here
Read that article at the WSJ. Howey worked his ass off to write Wool (it started as a short story, but caught on), and he approached publishing with an eye to promo and working hard to generate an audience. To that end, he turned down several publishing offers from major houses so he could retain his ebook rights (he’s made over a million bucks off Wool). What all did he do? Well, here:
Mr. Howey comes across as a charming, self-deprecating goofball (he posted a video of himself doing ballet on his lawn on YouTube after he signed his publishing deal), but he’s proven to be a savage negotiator and slick marketer. He sent free copies of “Wool” to book bloggers and reviewers at Goodreads, a social-media site for avid readers. Early raves prompted more people to try the book, and the reviews snowballed. “Wool” now has more than 12,500 ratings and around 2,200 reviews on Goodreads. He hosted an “Ask Me Anything” session on the popular website Reddit, fielding users’ questions for more than 12 hours. He encouraged fan art and fan fiction set in the “Wool” universe; his readers have designed book covers and written their own novella-length takes on the story. He conscripted 30 of his most ardent fans to be “beta” readers who edit early drafts of his books for free.
Source: “Sci-Fi’s Underground Hit: Authors are snubbing publishers and insisting on keeping e-book rights. How one novelist made more than $1 million before his book hit stores, Alexandra Alter, Wall Street Journal (March 7, 2013)
Did you read that paragraph? He used Reddit, Goodreads, and encouraged fan fiction and fan art. And he enlisted 30 of his most ardent fans to serve as beta readers of his drafts. And he turned down giant deals from traditional houses until he got the one he wanted.
I brought this article up to you, dear readers, to demonstrate how much publishing has changed even in the past 3-4 years. Savvy indie authors are writing really good books and generating fan appeal and then, if they’ve got Howey’s chops, they’re incorporating their fan bases into their writing processes and promotion, as active participants. And I think it’s important to note how Howey took charge of his writing life, and held out for the deal that worked best for him.
Not to suggest that what happened to Howey is going to happen to every indie author out there. It won’t. That’s the hard truth of writing. Howey wrote a book with a theme that is super-hot right now. It’s fortunate that he loves science fiction and has been reading it since he was a kid. The WSJ notes that the entertainment industry was looking for another “high-concept dystopian” (and/or postapocalyptic) hit like Suzanne Collins‘ Hunger Games. So Howey wrote a great postapocalyptic story and slowly built a fan base by releasing it in installments and working the social media sites. It took off. Kudos to him for how he approached indie publishing, and for what’s happened to him.
That said, the lesson here for all of us who do indie publishing exclusively or non-exclusively is to treat it like a job. Be professional. Put out professional work that is professionally edited. Give it a professional-looking cover. Interact with your fans (both extant and potential), and be willing to lose lots of sleep to constantly promote your work and build that fan base. It’s a win-win. You get to write stuff you love, readers get to read stuff they love. So give them a good product.
And don’t just take any deal that comes down the pike. Think about not just short-term, but long-term as well. Good luck!
Happy reading, happy writing!