howey, hugh

It was early afternoon last Friday at the office.  I was waiting for information from about four different people (I needed it to continue on a project) that I was sure would arrive later around 4 p.m. as they all left for the weekend.  Then, I’d have the pleasure of staying late and working into the evening.  In my bored state I thought, why not throw up a Hail Mary and see what Hugh Howey is up to, maybe he’ll answer some questions for my readers.  Much to my surprise, I had a response within about two hours that said he’d be delighted and for me to send my questions on over.  I was completely unproductive the rest of the day–doing multiple river dances and whatnot in utter elation–so if I’m jobless before the Thanksgiving holiday I may have to hit him up for a loan.

If you’re unfamiliar with Howey, he is author of the NY Times and USA Today best-selling WOOL series.  Though that hardly encompasses his body of work as he writes in multiple genres, and very well I might add.  Before becoming a best-selling author, Howey spent a decade as the captain of a yacht, sailing around the world, doing odd jobs, and working in a book store among many other things.

Long story short, a few years back he uploaded his novelette WOOL and before long it went more viral than a gyno office full of porn stars.  This blossomed into the best-selling WOOL series that has also had the film rights optioned to Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian.  If you haven’t read the WOOL omnibus (and subsequent works), I can’t recommend them enough.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but YOU MUST READ THESE!  He also just released a children’s book MISTY: THE PROUD CLOUD and just put THE SHELL COLLECTOR up for pre-order.  To keep up with Howey, you can follow him over at his blog where he posts frequently and provides a wealth of information and resources for indie authors along with updates on his current projects and whatever else he feels like sharing that day.

All of this aside, I think what I admire most about Howey, is what he’s done for indie authors and many of them going forward.  He turned down seven-figure publishing deals–once WOOL took off–and instead was able to ink a print-only deal for mid-six-figures.  As I understand it, this allowed him to keep all of the digital rights to his work and maintain much more control.  It might not seem like a big deal, but it’s actually huge and more of these ‘hybrid deals’ are starting to happen for other indies.  I truly think Howey’s deal shifted the paradigm of publishing deals with regards to an author’s digital rights.  He’s very humble, so he might say otherwise, but it’s true.  Ok, I’ll stop rambling now and let you hear what he had to say.

I scrambled to put together a wide range of questions I thought might be entertaining and also helpful to indie authors out there.  I’m far from a journalist, so this will have to suffice.  We covered everything from free-handing it off the back of a yacht, to the Amazon/Hachette battle, to tips for aspiring indies.  Here’s how it went:

Will:  First, the question that we all really want to know.  Back when you were a yacht captain, was there ever a time when nobody was around, that you went out to the front, and did the whole Titanic pose with your arms out to the side?  Just being one with the boat, Leo DiCaprio style?  This is a safe place, you can admit it.

Hugh:  No, when no one was around, my Titanic pose was always at the back, peeing in the wake.

Okay, maybe not “Titanic.” More like a dinghy moment.

Will:  Are you traveling right now?  Writing?  A little of both?  What’s going on in the world of Hugh Howey at this very moment?

Hugh:  A lot of both. The last three years, I’ve been away from home more than I’ve been home. But I’m sitting in an airport in Zurich right now, waiting on my delayed flight back to Miami, and then I don’t have another business trip planned for eight months. That feels surreal.

And I’m always writing. My first children’s picture book launched last week, and I just put THE SHELL COLLECTOR up for pre-order. Now I’m working on the sequel to SAND and my first non-fiction series. I stay busy.

Will:  Other than writing, reading, and then writing some more, and pumping out a body of published works, what are other important things an indie author can do?  How would you prioritize your time if you were still selling just a few books a month?  Writing a kick-ass blurb? Amazon SEO research? Metadata? Promotion?  How much time would you give to each, say on a monthly basis?

Hugh:  You nailed the most important things: Writing, reading, writing. The next one after that is to gather as many life experiences as possible. Travel. Volunteer. Walk around your home town with a camera. Interview strangers (really and truly interview them). Talk to people half your age and twice your age. Slip some different sorts of reading in there, like a national newspaper (I like the Times and the Post). These things will amp up your writing, which is the best way to increase sales.

Of the marketing sorts of things you mention, I would suggest being effusive. Be passionate. On social media, a blog, a podcast, wherever. Just let your ideas and emotions hang out. Fear is the enemy of creativity and connections.

Will:  What are you currently reading?  Do you ever just grab random self-pubbed books from small-time authors and give them a read?  Any recommendations?  What’s the best book you’ve read in the last two years?

Hugh:  I’m reading SUBLIMINAL, a book about the subconscious mind. I just finished a couple books about the sea, one called THE WAVE and another called DEEP. And read two works of fiction that aren’t out yet after being requested to blurb them (one by Ted Kosmatka, who writes brilliantly). Best book in the last two years would probably be THE SECOND MACHINE AGE or THE INNOVATOR’S DILEMMA. Both are must-reads.

Will:  What are your thoughts on enrolling in KU vs Smashwords or plain ol’ KDP where you can distribute out to everyone?  If you were still selling 50 – 100 books per month?  What approach do you think you’d take in today’s self-publishing climate?  I know there is a lot of heat going back and forth between everyone over this.  You’ve always seemed like a pro open source type of guy to me, so I have to figure the exclusivity issue doesn’t sit too well?

Hugh:  I’ve gone back and forth on this one. I was anti-KU when it launched (I just don’t get the financial model of subscription ebook services, not without really harming author income). But then I was able to experiment with KU, and I saw how increased readership and marketing tools made the exclusivity worth it. Now I’m back to questioning the health of exclusivity. I see KU as a great tool for authors just starting out and trying to get noticed, but I think for most writers having moderate success, it’s better to distribute with several outlets.

Personally, I would use Draft 2 Digital over Smashwords if authors can’t go direct. And I would avoid Google Play until they allow authors to opt out of the weird discounting they do. Or at least until they partner with authors and let us know when they’re discounting, the way Kobo works. Google Play has great potential, but they are making some really crazy decisions there and don’t seem open to working with authors at all.

Will:  You and JA Konrath have become—at least in my opinion—sort of the voice of the indie community, for lack of better words.  Do you think that’s true?  It’s obvious you both care a great deal about self-publishing and author’s rights to their work.  Does playing that role ever alienate you in any way within the upper echelon best-seller crowd or traditional publishers?

Hugh:  This is true for Konrath, for sure. The guy deserves a medal for his tireless advocacy and wealth of information. I really admire him. And despite his public persona, Joe is a warm and caring guy. You have to be, to work as selflessly as he does.

Has my advocacy alienated me with people? Only those that I don’t think I’d want to socialize with anyway. Many of my dear friends disagree with me on a lot of points. I love healthy disagreements. If my positions are wrong or weak, I want them challenged. That’s the only way they’re improved. This is why I seek out challenges, the things I fear, the areas I’m weak in. It’s the same with my writing. Whatever I’m not good at, that’s what I gravitate toward doing more of.

Will:  When did you have your first Ron Burgundy type celeb moment where you realized, ‘yeah, I’m kind of a big deal, people know me?’  Did you immediately purchase many leather bound books?

Hugh:  Ha! I’ve been getting rid of books. My collection got up into the thousands, many of them very old, quite a few in leather, but moving every few years was torture on my back.

And every time I feel a hint of celebrity, my response has been shock and denial. None of it makes sense to me. I still think of myself as a guy who loves to read who played around with writing in his spare time. I’m stuck right there. It’s where I’m comfortable.

Will:  Ok, been dying to ask this one, but Ridley Scott, wow!  How kick-ass was/is that?  I think you may be a few years older than me–but I think it’s pretty close–so the Alien franchise was like a staple of child/teenage/adult years for me and I’m assuming you as well.  Bladerunner!  Gladiator!  Do you ever still feel like you’re living in a dream state when you think about it?

Hugh:  Yup. Alien and Bladerunner helped shape my growth as a terrified and confused human being. It does feel like a dream. It helps to assure myself that nothing will ever come of the film option. I tell myself this every day. Hell, I’d be happy for the rights to be optioned over and over until I die. Even that is a massive compliment. And the money ain’t bad, either.

Will:  I know on your website you have a little indie toolbox section with services you recommend.  Do you have any other names you could drop as far as cover art, editing, formatting, etc. goes?  For an author on a budget?

Hugh:  The ones on that list are the people I’ve used and can recommend without reservation. There are people whose work I’ve seen that I like. I’m dying to use Raaven’s cover art at some point. She kills it.

Will:  I’m pretty sure the traditional publishers probably wine and dine you quite a bit as you travel around.  Do you ever run the tab up on them?  Just to stick it to the man?  If you’re ever at like a Four Seasons or luxury hotel on their dime, you think you could get a picture for us of you with a 25 year scotch, toasting all of us with a smile?  I’ll Retweet the shit out of it, I promise.

Hugh:  No, the opposite, in fact. I have to be sneaky and pick up the tab when I can. It feels weird, being on tour with publishers, and them acting like you don’t know how to get around town without them. I’ve had publicists place exact change in my palm, put me in a cab, and heard them tell the driver to be sure I get there, that I’m an American writer. Still can’t tell if it was the American or writer part that had them worried. (Twice, I’ve had publishers express shock and horror after using subways or buses to get around their towns, like this is something I’m not supposed to do).

So all that is a bit weird. I was on book tour once, and the publisher was putting me up in a Four Seasons in every city. Crazy hotel rooms. Several had two separate bathrooms! My house doesn’t even have two bathrooms. And cheese plates laid out waiting for me. I didn’t get it. You’re so busy on tour, you don’t even see these rooms. You just stagger into them, pass out, and get up at 5am for your next flight. I told them in an email that they were wasting a lot of money on me and to spend that dough on marketing or something.

Will:  I was reading one of your articles and stalking the comments section a while back.  It was basically you making the case that now that things are digital, an author’s works can live forever.  The comments were cracking me up once the computer scientists started weighing in.  Is there anything sci-fi nerds won’t argue about?  I’ve heard people talking about WOOL and criticizing it for things like how temperatures in an underground silo, with the Coriolis effect, and electromagnetic fields, blah blah would blah blah blah and it’s impossible, COULD NEVER HAPPEN!  Do you have any favorite theories you’ve heard about why Wool could never become reality?  Something good, where you read it and were like, ‘Seriously?  What the fuck?  Get a life man!’.

Hugh:  I love those conversations. Arguments over plausibility are important, I think. As long as they don’t interfere with the enjoyment of the story. The thing with WOOL is that it’s satire at its core. It’s meant to highlight the absurdity and tragedy of the human condition. Maybe the mistake I made is that I created a world too believable in many ways. So the point of a lot of the deep satire is lost in people trying to make sense of every detail.

One complaint I never understood was the worry over how radios work underground. It’s the future, man. They have repeaters. Use your imagination. That’s what it’s there for.

Will:  Alright, Hachette, Amazon, Author’s United–ok, I’ve kept up with it a little, but not a lot.  I know the first two finally made a deal last week.  My question is why should a small-time indie author or any reader of books give two shits about this?  In real life (not online), I’m one of those tax guys who counts everything.  I’m sure you know a few of us.  My mind always goes to materiality when I look at something.  Sure, it matters in principle, but dollar wise it doesn’t affect my main income or expenses, or a reader’s.  Not more than gas prices or food, you know REAL commodities (sarcastic dig at AU).  So why should they care?

Hugh:  It matters because Amazon gives authors an equal platform. This is the bookstore for and of the little people. 95% of the crap being said about that dispute and Amazon in particular gets it completely wrong. And if we allow people to paint Amazon as some kind of evil giant that everyone should boycott, then it’s the little authors who get shafted. Which I’m sure is entirely the point. Fat-cat authors who make tens of millions a year because they own the prime placement in bookstores are taking out hundred-thousand-dollar ads to convince people that bookstores are great and Amazon kills puppies. This is nonsense. Amazon is the best thing going for readers and writers right now, and all indies should care about their reputation and market share until something that works even better for us comes along.

Will:  Speaking of my profession, I’m sure–with your financial success as an author, and possibly before–you’ve had to learn to deal with self-employment taxes, and pass through entities, and business ownership situations.  These are things that even a semi-successful self-published author will have to deal with, and according to a lot of your calculations, things are moving that way for many indies.  I’m assuming Amazon and these other guys issue you a 1099 if you earn more then $600 in royalties.  Was any of it a learning experience for you?  Would you advise someone who was starting to make decent money to go ahead and set up an LLC or find a trustworthy CPA who’s highly recommended?  Or to play it by ear and take it as it comes?

Hugh:  Yeah, but I very quickly went from making so little that I didn’t involve the IRS into the discussion to having the IRS on speed dial. (More precisely, they had ME on speed dial.) So I hired a CPA, who totally dicked me by making me pay every penny I owed. A true advisor would’ve packed my things for me and booked passage to Ireland or the Caymans or something. Live and learn.

When I first started writing, I did form an LLC. I think it was because Lightning Source or Barnes & Noble required a business account at the time. But it was a good move. Do these things as early as you can. Plan on being a multi-million-dollar empire in the near future in the way you structure things, and then DON’T plan on it in the way you spend and manage your finances.

Will:  In my line of work–that pays the bills anyway–I’ve seen many start-ups take off, I’ve had very wealthy clients, and I’ve dealt with some large estates.  So I’ve seen what the shock of a sudden influx of capital can do to someone.  I’ve also seen how large sums of money can rip the nicest family to shreds when someone passes.  Did you struggle with it at all?  Were friends and family coming out of the woodwork with an open hand?   How did you deal with it?

Hugh:  I deal with it by pretending it hasn’t happened. I’ve made more than I can ever spend in a lifetime, but that’s because I don’t spend a lot of money. My wife and I live in a 900 square foot house. The house cost less than the state taxes I saved by moving from North Carolina to Florida. That gives you an idea of how below our means we live. And that’s been the key. My favorite thing to do with free time is take my dog to the beach. My favorite food is still pizza. I wear Old Navy t-shirts and some of the same shorts I wore in high school.

What really helped was working on yachts for ten years, having billionaires for bosses, and seeing how money does not correlate to happiness, not once your basic needs are met. Sure, people who can’t afford to feed their families, or pay for their healthcare, or rent, or utilities . . . that’s miserable. I’ve been there. I know. But once you have those things met, searching for a high by spending money just doesn’t work. Everyone thinks they’ll be the exception, but just look at what happens to most lottery winners (sounds like you’ve seen this). It isn’t pretty. Dreaming of winning the lottery is better than actually winning it.

So I allow myself to dream. My plan is to move back onto a boat in the next couple of years, to simplify even further, to go sail around the world, living at anchor, catching fish, doing odd jobs, making life simultaneously as difficult and as heavenly as possible. I believe happiness comes from striving. From overcoming obstacles. From being productive. So I concentrate on that.

Will:  Last question, Ronald Reagan.  Great president?  Or greatest president ever?

Hugh:  Great president. He’ll never be as great as his staunchest admirers, nor the fool his detractors seem to want him to be. He won the Cold War with words and by believing in the merits of capitalism, rather than outright bloodshed. And he was among the first of the presidents to decry nuclear arms and argue for their reduction. He said a lot of things that would sound like far-left liberalism today.

Here’s the thing with all the presidents I’ve witnessed in my life: All seem like great people to me. Like they care about this country, the people who live here, the world around us, and the seriousness of their job. I truly believe that. They all thought they were doing the right thing at the right time. We make them out to be evil, because it’s part of the sport of politics, the out-grouping and in-grouping. And we think it helps make sense of how people can disagree with us. They must be crazy or liars, right?

I wish we would all relax a little and tone down the rhetoric. The reason politicians are so extreme these days is because they are our representatives. They are modeling themselves after us. If we learn to get along with the people we disagree with, and give strange looks to those who can’t seem to do this, things will turn around.

I can’t thank Hugh enough for all he does for the indie community and for taking the time to answer my questions.  Be sure to pick up his newest book for the kiddos MISTY: THE PROUD CLOUD and his new release THE SHELL COLLECTOR now available for pre-order.  (It looks like at the time of this interview there are still some signed limited edition copies of MISTY: THE PROUD CLOUD available)

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click here                                        click here

 

Connect with Hugh online:

Blog: click here

Twitter: click here

Amazon author page: click here

Bio:  Hugh Howey is the author of the award-winning Molly Fyde Saga and the New York Times and USA Today bestselling WOOL series. The WOOL OMNIBUS won Kindle Book Review’s 2012 Indie Book of the Year Award — it has been as high as #1 in the Kindle store — and 17 countries have picked up the work for translation. Look for WOOL in hardback in 2013 from Random House UK and keep your fingers crossed that Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian will do something exciting with the film rights!

Hugh lives in Jupiter, FL with his wife Amber and their dog Bella. When he isn’t writing, he’s reading or taking a photograph.

 

Comments
  1. Bruno Goncalves says:

    Awesome interview. I’ve had Shell Collector on my shelf for months and haven’t gotten round to reading it yet. That’ll change now…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Antara Man says:

    **spoiler alert**

    I like this guy – he is very modest, down to earth and not arrogant as the super rich writers being traditionally published.Thank you Will for asking for KDP and KU as I will start publishing in one month or so and consider using it. Great to hear Hugh’s point of view on exclusivity, I must admit I read his Wool and didn’t like it. It made no sense the end scene. Prior to that it was interesting but what was the point of killing the main protagonist?
    Right now Amazon, without a doubt is a gift for indies but maybe in few decades, it will go corrupted.Jeff Bezos said it himself.

    Like

    • Will Marck says:

      Antara, thanks for commenting. I hope you don’t mind but I put a **spoiler alert** disclaimer in your comment in case anyone hasn’t read Wool yet. I think you should give the rest of the omnibus a go, you might change your mind. Glad you enjoyed the interview.

      Like

      • Antara Man says:

        Hugh wrote Wool as a stand-alone, he didn’t intend to write a whole omnibus. It was later, when the book took off that he continued it. Apart, I don’t see anything like a spoiler in expressing my true opinion. I am not the only one who didn’t like Wool. We are living in a democratic country, aren’t we?

        Like

      • Will Marck says:

        I understand and you are more than welcome to not like any book you choose. You are more than welcome to speak freely here about any books you like or dont like. But, if you are going to disclose key plot points (which your post does) you need to attach a ‘spoiler alert’ disclaimer to the top. I hope you understand the purpose for this. It has nothing to do with expressing your opinion about the book.

        Like

  3. John L. Monk says:

    Reblogged this on John L. Monk and commented:
    I mentioned this guy’s site the other day. Would you believe he landed a Hugh Howey interview? Totally did. Here it is!

    Like

  4. Steve Vernon says:

    Reblogged this on YOURS IN STORYTELLING… and commented:
    Hugh Howey is ALWAYS worth listening to – even if you have to read what he is saying!

    Like

  5. Holly says:

    I think I’m a little bit in love with Hugh.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kim says:

    Love that interview…Will be rereading it again and again just like his books to gain every growing knowledge, guidance, and insight as a fledgling Indie author~

    Liked by 1 person

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