Hugh Howey Shares His Wisdom!


Hugh took the time to share with us as he headed to the Frankfurt Book Fair!

Hi Hugh

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us. One of the things I enjoy and appreciate most in self-publishing is the support authors give to each other – I don’t know if that’s true in the traditional publishing world but somehow I doubt it.

You have said that the journey of your life in the last decade has been the source of true joy, not just because of being a bestselling author – although you have to admit that is pretty spectacular! Your passion for what you do is inspiring but do you think it is possible for someone to become a bestselling author if they view it as strictly a way to get rich?

Hugh- I think the chances are very unlikely that anyone becomes a bestselling author, however they go about publishing and whatever their motivations are. The truth is that millions of books are published and very few of them become bestsellers. It’s similar to those who play basketball and those who start in the NBA and make the All-Star team. But I don’t think that should dissuade people from writing and dreaming. The real miracle of modern publishing is that everyone can publish. Even if they sell ten copies — or a hundred copies – people are able to get their works out there and give themselves a chance. What’s more, there are people who don’t become top sellers who take this craft seriously, get a dozen or so titles published, and are able to pay their bills doing something they love, something they would probably do for no pay at all. That’s the real story of this publishing revolution.

You participate in so many things in the writing community – seminars, writers’ groups, NaNoWriMo, forums, class room lectures – it is a lengthy list! Even though you do not attend these events to hawk your books, other writers must appreciate your support and tell others about you. Do you think sharing as you do helps to get your name out there as much as paid advertising would?

Hugh- I don’t know how much it helps. I would guess that it’s a net loss, monetarily. I pay for my own flights and hotel for most of these trips, and I spend a lot of time not writing. There’s no way I sell enough books to make up for that. But that’s not why I do these things. I do them because they’re both fun and rewarding. I like meeting my peers and my readers. I enjoy giving back in whatever way I can. My success has been due to word of mouth, and if there’s any way to reward readers for the life they’ve given me, I jump at the chance.

With your first books, did you use paid services such as PR and advertising? If so, do you feel it was worth the cost?

Hugh- Nope. I still haven’t paid for advertising. I have paid for a few media blasts, but only in the past year or so, only to experiment, and I haven’t been impressed with the results. My attitude early on was just to keep writing and to enjoy the process.

Now that you have developed such a loyal following, who do you write for – yourself or your fans?

Hugh- Myself. I jump around between genres and move my stories in strange directions, because I want to stay engaged with what I’m doing. So far, readers haven’t revolted. So I guess it works out okay for both of us.

Do you get a lot of feedback from your fans about what works and what doesn’t? If so, do you consider this when writing your next book?

Hugh- Absolutely. I read my emails and my reader reviews. It helps to know what readers enjoy and don’t enjoy. It’s no different than writers listening to their spouses, agents, and publishers. The difference here is that I’m going straight to the source. Agents and publishers can only guess at what readers will enjoy or not enjoy. A funny story: I was at an event with my editor once, who had cut a favorite line of mine out of his edition of SHIFT. A fan came up to us and told me how much he loved the book, and then gave me his favorite line. It was the line my editor had cut. The reader had picked up a different edition. The look on my editor’s face was priceless.

One critical benefit traditional publishing brings to a book is good editing (although the author gives up a lot of control in return.) As you might expect, poor editing is the main reason indieBRAG readers reject the vast majority of books submitted to us. How do you edit your books to be sure they are ready for an audience, and how important do you think this is?

Hugh- I think a manuscript needs to be edited close to perfection before it is submitted to an agent, a publisher, or a reader. It’s going to get rejected by any of these three parties if it isn’t. 99% of manuscripts aren’t edited well enough to make it past any of these parties, which is why most manuscripts never land an agent, never get published, and don’t sell well. So I would say that editing is crucial, and not just for self-publishing. The difference is, you never see all the unpublished traditional books.

My process is to perform 8 or 9 revisions on my own, have my wife and mom read through and make suggestions, and then I send the work on to a freelance editor before it goes out to beta readers. Each stage sees incremental improvements.

Now that you are a well-known author, you are invited to speak at events like the Frankfurt Book Fair where you are heading this week. However, in the early days you attended these events without speaking. For “newbies” at this, can you tell our authors what you did at these events? Did you pay to exhibit? Did you take books to sell? And what did you gain by going? Did it ever seem that it was a waste of your time and money? As you know, it is important for most self-published authors to focus on what will actually drive sales, or build momentum.

Hugh- The first events I went to, I just attended as a member of the public. I went to panels to listen and learn. I met readers out at public venues to hang out. I networked with fellow writers. These things don’t really “pay off”, but they are enjoyable and I think invaluable. It certainly helped once I had to sit on a panel or give a reading, having seen others do the same.

I view writing as a hobby that can potentially pay. Stress on potentially. If you don’t love it, I don’t know how you do this. It’s a massive investment in time and energy. But if you do love it, going to a conference or a convention is an absolute blast. My mom loves to paint and pays money to go to paining retreats. What does she get out of that? Enjoyment. She improves her craft. She meets others who have similar passions. That can be enough.

You have stated that secondary sources such as foreign markets and translations are important. How does an author go about getting such a contract? And importantly, how can they make sure they aren’t being ripped off if they don’t have an agent – which is not easy to get.

Hugh- I don’t know that I would have tackled foreign contracts without an agent. It’s possible, but it’s a lot of work and it’s difficult to research every foreign publisher. My overseas agent knows all of these publishers and knows what offers make sense in each market. I know some indies do this on their own, but I wouldn’t be able to, now without worrying that I was messing something up.

As you say, getting an agent isn’t easy. But I would suggest that until you can land an agent, you probably aren’t going to make very much on foreign deals anyway. If you have publishers interested enough to outlay serious cash, someone will be willing to work with you to take their percentage. So compile interest from foreign publishers, and use that to pitch your work to an agent.

Many self-published authors are still dubious of audio books. You have said it has been quite successful for you. Would you recommend that an author does this early or wait until they have gained an audience?

Hugh- Do it from day 1. There is zero risk. You can create audio books on ACX without paying a cent. You and the voice actor can split the royalties, which also gives you a second person promoting your work.

One of the biggest obstacles for self-published authors is expense. What do you feel are the most cost-effective ways of building word-of-mouth?

Hugh- Writing stories that blow readers away. Take chances. Be unique. And be yourself. Readers enjoy knowing the story behind the story. Share your writing experiences, challenges, and successes.

Thanks again Hugh for sharing your knowledge and experience –
The very best to you

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