What I Learned from Hugh Howey

In October of 2011, Hugh Howey noticed something odd when he looked up his sales reports in his Amazon account: a short story he’d uploaded, Wool, had sold twelve copies in the first week of the month. He was pleased and surprised that people would read a short story. By the end of the month, it had sold 1,018 copies. Hugh can be forgiven for thinking this was the pinnacle of his writing career. Who could imagine that it would go on to be a million copy, New York Times bestseller? Wool is now just part of the whole series that he wrote in frantic response to all the positive feedback.

Last night Howey gave us some insight into the journey that took him to this fantastic success. Here’s a quick list of some of the things I learned:

  • working on people’s pleasure boats in the Caribbean Islands is a great gig.
  • College graduates in Virginia work jobs shingling roofs. This one didn’t surprise me, since after university I worked with two other grads for a landscaper for a summer. Indeed, one day when we were planting flowers, the economics grad said to me, “Actually, Japan isn’t so much a capitalist society as a mercantilist society.” To which my brother responded, “What’s the matter with you guys? You’re hands are covered in sh*t! What are you, Monty Python peasants from the Holy Grail?”
  • Howey writes fast. 4000 words in a day is no big deal.
  • He wrote to order. When fans started saying they wanted to hear more about the Silo in Wool, he wrote more for them. He had no idea that this short story would take off, but he knew a good thing when he saw it, and he seized the day.
  • Trust your own judgment. He had already turned down one publishing contract to self-publish. Later, he had to turn down several agents until one talked about bigger issues than the 15% cut they had hoped to receive.
  • Value your fans. I already knew this one, because I can’t help myself. I love my fans. It awes me when people read my work, and it totally stuns me when they contact me to tell me they loved my novel, or better yet, write a positive review.

Howey also explained the work he and others did to determine author earnings, which showed that there are people making a living from their self-published writing even if they’re not million selling outliers like him.

His concluding advice to writers is write what you enjoy, don’t wait for miracles, just keep writing, and dare to hope that you’ll be surprised one day.

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