3 S.R. Johannes: IndieView: Hugh Howey on writing eshorts (Bestselling Author of WOOL series)

Monday, July 23, 2012

IndieView: Hugh Howey on writing eshorts (Bestselling Author of WOOL series)

NOTE: Hugh Howey will be joining us on #indiechat tonight (Tuesday) at 9PM EST to answer more questions about writing eshorts. You can use tweetchat.com and enter in the hashtag #indiechat to follow easily.

Enter for an ecopy of Omnibus below.

For those who haven't heard of Hugh Howey, he is an indie writer who started publishing a couple years ago. His first short story WOOL took off last spring. When readers begged for more, he released several more editions within 6 months and quickly became a household name in the indie world :) He just signed with Kristin Nelson, sold Wool to RH in UK, and sold his film rights to Ridley Scott.

Today, I'm giving away a couple ebooks of his OMNIBUS edition which collects the five WOOL books into a single volume. This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.

And BTW, he's like the nicest guy! Now here's Hugh.

Hi Hugh, thank you so much for stopping by. 

Can you tell us about you and your indie journey to publication?

I've been a voracious reader all my life. I grew up on a farm in North Carolina, the son of a school teacher and a farmer. I tried to write my first novel when I was twelve, and it was just awful. Not that it mattered: I lacked the dedication to finish the work. Over the years, I've probably started a dozen books before losing interest.

It wasn't until I started reviewing books for a popular website that I learned the dedication of writing on a deadline. I also got hooked on the immediate feedback from readers (possibly why I love getting e-mails and reviews so much). While covering book conventions for this website, I heard successful authors repeat a mantra over and over: If you want to write, what's stopping you? Just sit down and write.

This really hit me hard. I had this childhood dream, and it was perfectly attainable. It didn't matter if what I wrote was garbage, what mattered is that I finished a novel just to say that I had. So I sat down with renewed spirit and wrote my first book. To my surprise, it didn't stink as much as I feared it would. It even got picked up by a small publisher, which meant working with a professional editor and not having to pay a dime to print the thing.

After taking this first step, I was hooked. I kept writing, and when the contract came in for the next book, I decided to try publishing on my own. I wanted to be able to get stories out as fast as I could write them and also maintain control over the entire process. 

Things were growing steadily until WOOL came out, and then they went into overdrive. What started as a 60-page novelette turned into a serialized adventure that stormed up the bestseller lists. It's been a wild ride ever since, one I keep expecting to come to a stop, but it still finds some way to press on. Recently, we announced both a movie deal with Ridley Scott and a hardback release from Random House in the UK. All from a short story that I didn't even promote when it came out.

I love seeing indie authors take off and all because of reader's word of mouth! What are the top three things to think about when writing a short story series?

First, plan ahead. Make sure you know where the overall story arc is going so you can foreshadow and plan appropriately. When writing a novel, you don't publish the first chapter until you've already written and revised the final chapter. Writing a series does not usually afford this luxury, and you don't want to make it up as you go like the writers of LOST did. Readers are savvy. They can tell in an instant when a creator doesn't have a handle on their own material.

Secondly, keep up the pace. If you are giving readers less to read, you better dole it out more often. A short story a month or a novella every two months feels about right. You want to keep your material fresh and your name visible.

Finally, listen to your readers. I check out every review and read every e-mail. With a series, you get a rare opportunity that a novel writer misses out on: you get feedback that you can actually use for future "chapters." I've heard from readers that some issues are unclear, or some characters need more attention, and I definitely allow this to guide my writing. It's like having beta readers help you steer your work so that it's as awesome as it can be.

Since you have become so successful, can you share some of the marketing tools or secrets you used to get the word out?

I've tried everything, but nothing works like word of mouth. I Tweet and use Facebook and participate on writing forums. I blog and do interviews, Skype with book clubs and speak to classrooms. But honestly, nothing will drive sales and continue to drive them quite like word of mouth. And how to achieve that is a mystery to me. I think the story has to be not only good and well-told, it has to be interesting, puzzling, engaging. It has to be addicting. And there's no way to really sit down and guarantee you'll achieve that. Even the masters write duds. All of my books aren't jumping off the digital shelves with the same vigor. So maybe this is the answer to marketing yourself: Write a lot and don't write the same thing over and over. Spread yourself across genres. Write works of varying lengths. You never know what's going to take off, so diversify, give yourself a chance, don't buy multiple lottery tickets with the same number and expect your chances to budge an inch. 

Now, I know you just signed with Kristin Nelson at Nelson Agency. I think she is the dream agent of many authors :) How is it to work with an agent after being independent? 

Agents rock if you get the right one. Kristin Nelson has got to be the best agent in the business for authors with self-pubbed success. I don't think there's any doubt. I've heard it from editors at major publishers, from authors, and even from other agents. What Kristin has done for me is allow me to thrive where I'm already having success while branching off in ways I never would have imagined. We've signed over a dozen foreign publication deals in the past few months in addition to that major Hollywood deal with Ridley Scott, Steve Zaillian, and 20th Century Fox. I never would have managed this on my own.

Co-agents are also key. Jenny Meyer, Kassie Evashevski, and Gray Tan have all done amazing things to get WOOL into the right hands. If you self publish and you begin to have some real success, start reaching out to agents who support hybrid authors, those who want to go the traditional route as well as stay indie. It's the best decision you'll ever make as an author.

So what is next for you? Will you stay indie, go traditional or both?

My next work is a horrible little zombie book told from their perspective. I'll be begging people to not read it. Seriously, it's awful. After that, I'll return to the silo with the second of the prequels. Once I wrap up that series, I've got a new one I'm dying to start. There's just so much to write and not enough time! And for the first time in my life, I've got a legion of fans hounding me for more, so it isn't just the pressure I put on myself anymore. Not that I would have it any other way. 

Thanks Hugh.

You can find him online at Facebook, Twitter, and at his web site.

Today I'm giving away the whole ebook of the WOOL series called Ominibus. You will be able to choose your format. To be eligible, you must leave a question for Hugh, fill out the Rafflecopter form, and be a follower of my blog . There are also several ways to get extra entries if you like.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Heather said...

Wow, Kristen Nelson, that's a tough one to impress! Great interview. I'll do my best to make it to the chat tomorrow.

Yvonne Osborne said...

What an amazing story and interview. I want to read WOOL!

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow! Amazing journey and success! That's awesome! Congrats :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Great interview! I love the idea of writing a short novella series - I'm seriously contemplating that next! Looking forward to tonight!

Kristin@BloodSweatandBooks said...

I haven't read this series (want to though!)so I don't know i this has ever been answered but Why is this series called Wool?

RaShelle Workman said...

Awesome interview! Go Hugh. =)

Claudette Young said...

Great interview and admire any writer who can keep up the pace. I'm looking forward to reading this series. It's been a while since I've read a series. Perhaps the time has come. Love the premise.

Keep it going, Hugh, and thanks for sharing with all of us.

Hugh Howey said...

Kristin: The name has a few meanings. One is the wool pads used for cleaning the camera sensors in the story. The other meaning is the wool pulled over one's eyes. There are more reference later on, but I don't want to spoil anything! ;)

Ansha Kotyk said...

I'm taking your advice and writing in different formats. I've started a short story series and for now I'm simply following where it leads me. Thank you for the wonderful interview and advice Hugh!

Rebecca said...

I've been wanting to read these books! Excited about the contest. :)

Rebecca said...

My question for Hugh is, when writing a short, do you still have sub-plots or have they all been weeded out to focus on the primary story?

Hugh Howey said...

I keep sub-plots. It's amazing what you can do in one paragraph. Check out THE PLAGIARIST sometime (only a buck). There are only a few lines about the protag's mother, but it paints a much larger picture. The key is density mixed with clarity, which is what I strive for.

Terra Harmony said...

Hi Hugh! Great interview and thanks for being on IndieChat tonight. I'm curious as to how the movie rights were bought (or how any are, for that matter). Does your agent actively market it to Hollywood or did Hollywood come to you?

Hugh Howey said...

Terra: A bit of both. I had interest from studios before I landed with an agent, but once I had Kassie Evashevski working the book in Hollywood, things went to another level. She fell in love with the material and took it to all the heavy hitters. I couldn't believe the list of people she submitted it to.

Steve Zaillian was wowed by the book, and he supposedly doesn't go nuts over very much (he's one of the absolute best screenwriters in Hollywood). He suggested it to Ridley, which is how he got onboard. We had quite a few offers and more TV studios coming aboard day after day right up to the moment that we agreed to terms with Scott and Zaillian. It was a whirlwind. I was dealing with something film or TV related every single day for two or so months.

cleemckenzie said...

So sorry I missed the contest, but I'll buy the book. It sounds like one I want to own.

4utea said...

I don't know anything about the controversy on Goodreads. What I do know is that I participate in a weekly meme with some super awesome book bloggers. So I just like cyber hanging out with them (being a reader AND a writer). The ones I know are wonderful.
Sounds like some pretty horrific stuff has been happening online. So sad.
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