DBW Interview with Hugh Howey, Author

Hugh HoweyHugh Howey is a New York Times best-selling science fiction author and one of the most vocal proponents of self-publishing. His biggest hit, Wool, was published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program and ballooned into a best-selling series that went on to win Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Book of 2012 Award. Wool has also been optioned by director Ridley Scott and appeared in print under Random House UK.

Howey, along with Data Guy, is also part of the team behind the Author Earnings reports, which present data on self-published titles through Amazon’s KDP program and inform the industry on how big of a role self-publishing plays in today’s book publishing landscape.

I spoke with Howey about a number of issues, including the role of traditional publishers today, what self-publishing can do better, and what he wants the industry to look like 10 years down the line.

What do you view as the role of traditional publishers today? And do you see that role changing at all going forward? Put another way, do you believe that the big publishers will slowly go away, or will there always be a place for them, however diminished or different it might be?

The major publishers will always have a role in delivering books to readers, even as that role dwindles. Bookstores and paper books will be around forever in some capacity, and the major publishers have great relationships here. One thing we don’t acknowledge enough in this industry is that there are more reasons for buying books than simply reading them. There’s gift-giving; decorating a home library; as a promise to our hopeful future selves (like gym equipment); for social status (young readers prefer physical books partly because they are a signal to their biblio-tribe); and to own the must-read item that no one actually reads, like Kapital and Goldfinch.

But the market share of the Big Five will continue to shrink. It has already shrunk enormously. What ground has been held has almost entirely come through acquisitions, which is why I expect we’ll get down to three major publishers eventually—much as the music industry winnowed itself from six to three major labels. Profitability has held steady and even increased in areas due to Amazon, which has reduced costly print book returns from over 30 percent to less than 5 percent. And by the digital tools Amazon has unleashed—ebooks, POD—that are more profitable and less wasteful than offset print runs.

The problem is, major publishers are going to have to eventually compete with the 70 percent earnings offered by KDP, so their margins are going to get squeezed on the royalty side. And they are going to have to compete with indies on price, which means getting squeezed on the price side. As middlemen, their role is not only going to get smaller as self-published authors bypass them—their profit margins are going to shrink as readers and authors demand better prices and pay.

There are solutions, but I don’t think any of the major publishers will adopt them. I’ve been saying for years that the smart move would be for a major publisher to get out of New York, stop competing on advance size, invest in original IP, and grow writers’ careers by sticking with them for half a dozen novels before cutting them loose. They should focus on genre works, move to shorter work lengths, and break up non-fiction into salable chapters that readers can “complete” as they might a full music album. They need to pay monthly via direct deposit. And they need to connect authors to readers a lot better than they currently do. Instead, it’s been west coast companies doing the innovating. The center of the publishing world is already along the Pacific coast with the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter.

There are clearly benefits from the author’s perspective to self-publishing. But do you still see benefits for the author in trying the traditional route?

There’s a lot about this question that I find troubling. Rather than gloss over those benefits, as if DBW has been covering them, I think publishers would be well-served to hear all the ways they are deficient compared to self-publishing. There’s no way for them to stem their losses if they don’t understand why they’re losing.

The advantages to self-publishing are enormous. Key among them is price control. Publishers are charging too much for their ebooks, especially for ebooks from new authors. The Big Five have got to stop looking at ebooks as competition to paperbacks, and they really need to stop worrying about a low-priced ebook competing with a more expensive ebook at the same publishing house. Every shopper is different. By ignoring entire segments of the reading populace (and not exploiting their backlists), publishers are missing out on revenue, not serving their authors well, and are losing readers to indie authors.

Publishers need to rebrand from the ground up. Get rid of ancient imprints that readers don’t care about. Stop paying seven- and eight-figure advances to people who are already millionaires, and instead pay more up-and-coming authors a livable wage. One of the great mistruths out there today is that publishers somehow support authors with advances so they can write. This simply isn’t true. You have new authors getting $5,000 for a manuscript while celebrities and politicians who are already wealthy get piles of money. Either way, authors are writing those first novels while working other jobs; they aren’t getting paid for proposals. Even most non-fiction authors write while working a full-time job elsewhere.

Self-publishing is so much faster, pays so much better, offers so many more creative freedoms, and allows experimentation with price and retailers. Kindle Unlimited is just one example of the enormous sums of money an author misses out on by going with a major publisher. We’re talking $150,000,000 a year going directly to authors, and if you sign with a major publisher, you are taking yourself out of that pool.

As for when to do a deal with a major publisher, I think authors should consider this once they can afford to. It’s just too costly to go the traditional route, both in time wasted and money lost. Once an author has a steady income through self-publishing, it might be a good idea to try something with a traditional publisher, partly for the experience, and partly for the exposure provided by brick and mortar bookstores, even though this is shrinking.

Keep in mind that it can take years to get a book published through the query-agent-publisher route. The absolute minimum is probably 18 months. Five years is a good guess for the average author getting their work to appear on a bookstore shelf. To put that into perspective, I wrote my first dozen novels in the same amount of time. And even before Wool hit the New York Times bestseller list as a self-published work, I was making steady money every month, and it was growing. There’s a good route here for a livable wage if you can write entertaining stories and really pour energy into doing it right.

There’s a view that self-publishing has flooded the marketplace and that, although some truly great books have been able to be published, there has also been a lot of inferior stuff readers have to sift through and that authors must compete with. Do you agree with that at all?

I strongly disagree with pretty much all of this. When I worked at an independent bookstore, we used to laugh at the great stacks of catalogs publishers sent us every quarter. So many books! Who would read them all? We only ordered a scant fraction, and we eventually returned a lot of what we did order.

And yet, when Amazon opened up the #1 bookstore in the world to anyone with a dream of being a writer, self-published authors were able to sell millions of books every month. So where I saw a crushing deluge as a bookstore buyer, the readers were seeing huge gaping holes in the market.

Some of the biggest bestsellers for publishers in my lifetime have been works derided for their supposedly awful prose. The year 50 Shades of Grey came out, one in every five books sold that year were from that trilogy. Instead of judging the quality of works from their own tastes, or assuming that readers don’t want any more books in the world, publishers should pay attention to what is selling and offer as much of that as possible.

The fact that publishers have largely walked away from urban fantasy is something I find baffling. There are dozens of examples of missed opportunities out there. Publishers should concentrate on that, rather than operate from a position of fear and entitlement. The world is never going to go back to the days when they owned a monopoly on readers’ attention. Those days are gone forever, and that’s a good thing.

Are there too many books now?

Never. Never. Never.

There will never be too many books. You can get on gutenberg.org right now and find thousands of classic novels for free. In lots of formats. More words than you can read in a lifetime, and great words. Many of the best books ever written. And yet, a lot of money is spent on books every year. There will never be full saturation. There will always be books that don’t sell well, but this has been true for as long as there have been books.

Really, this is a meme that needs to die. It’s just fear from publishers and authors who don’t think they can compete. We should welcome the competition. Know that you can write a book that people will talk about and that no one can put down. Stop trying to paint the landscape as this volcano of swill, or whatever the metaphor is these days. It’s bunk. It’s like saying we have too much pizza, sex or chocolate. Books belong on the short list of things we can’t get enough of.

How can self-publishing—as a whole, not on a specific platform—be improved? If it even can or needs to be?

There are lots of areas for improvement. I’d love to see online editing tools for published ebooks, so typos can be fixed without having to re-upload files. It would be great to have a place for matching writers with cover artists, editors, beta readers, and formatters. The discovery process could be refined, though Amazon does a good job of recommending titles once you have a buying history with them. Amazon could get rid of the tiered royalty structure and the delivery fees. Lots of little things like this.

They pale in comparison to the things the major publishers and retailers need to fix, of course. Draconian contract clauses; pitiful royalty rates; infrequent payments; poor pricing strategies; not embracing POD; the blacklisting of self-published and Amazon-published titles at brick and mortar stores; the current returns system; and so much more.

In your view, is Amazon’s the best self-publishing platform for new authors?

Of course. It isn’t even close. They are publishers’ #1 sales account, and they are probably the #1 sales account for 99 percent of self-published authors. It’s the biggest bookseller in the world. Partnering with them is a good idea if the goal is to sell lots of books. One day this might not be true, and we will be right to focus our energies on whoever the new top-selling retailer is.

I can also say without reservation that most debuting authors should go exclusive with Amazon until they gain traction and can afford to branch out. The increased visibility offered by Kindle Unlimited makes it worth thinking of Amazon as a writer’s personal publisher. Keep in mind that self-published authors can move their works around. KU exclusivity is only for 90 days at a time. Unlike the decision to go with a major publisher, where you lose all control of your work for the rest of your life—and another 70 years for your heirs’ lives—with self-publishing, you can experiment freely. You can dip in and out and try lots of options.

There’s some talk lately about Amazon being a monopoly or monopsony and the negative effects its share of the market has on the flourishing of literature. In your opinion, how worried should we be?

I think the motives here are no secret, and they have historical precedent. When those who can’t compete on the open market realize this, they appeal to the public for sympathy and to the courts for protection. There are two very strident campaigns going on here, and both are ethically bankrupt.

Amazon has vastly increased the access to books. They have also vastly increased every author’s access to the market. They are lowering prices for consumers and increasing pay to producers. They are able to do this by operating very efficiently and by pouring all their earnings back into their business divisions.

What’s really Orwellian about these monopoly complaints isn’t just that Amazon is doing the opposite of what they’re being accused of; it’s that major publishers are the ones who have enjoyed a collaborative monopoly for many years and have used the lack of competition to calcify the reading experience, overcharge for their wares and underpay for work.

For a very long time, most aspiring writers had no hope of expressing themselves and having access to consumers. Amazon almost single-handedly changed that. For an equally long time, many lower income and small-town readers have not had access to enough affordable books. Amazon almost single-handedly changed that.

Even better, Amazon is now hurting the big-box brick and mortar stores that decimated indie bookshops. Indie bookstores are making a comeback, and it’s largely because Amazon cleared out the wolves that were winnowing their kind. Those bookstores offer a shopping experience Amazon.com can’t emulate, so the two can exist in harmony. But there’s no doubting the positive effect Amazon has had on their numbers. Shoppers are showing they will support both.

So Amazon has been great for readers, writers and small bookstores. That leaves noncompetitive middlemen and the authors who were enriched by their system to complain. To be simultaneously pro-books and anti-Amazon requires some truly impressive mental gymnastics from anyone else.

What are the biggest issues facing self-published authors today?

The biggest issue facing a self-published author today has to be when reality slams into expectations. You write your first book, and you expect to make serious money. It rarely works like this. Your first book won’t be your best. You need lots of titles out there to build momentum and to hone your craft and develop your voice. Too few successful self-pubbed authors talk about the incredible hours and hard work they put in, so it all seems so easy and attainable. The truth is, you’ve got to outwork most other authors out there. You’ve got to think about writing a few novels a year for several years before you even know if you’ve got what it takes. Most authors give up before they give themselves a chance. It’s similar to how publishers give up on authors before they truly have a chance.

There’s been a bit of a cottage industry that has sprung up around marketing for self-published authors: social media, email lists, ebook giveaways. Are there any tactics that you endorse, or is it up to each author to figure out what works for her?

Each author should experiment, but I will say that nothing is better than writing the next book. If any time is being spent marketing in lieu of writing, that’s a bad decision. Most marketing tactics don’t work. The ones that do can be fun and don’t feel like marketing at all. Interact with your readers, even if you only have a few of them. Be open about the challenges you face, the triumphs you feel, the doubts you suffer. Lay it all out there. Readers enjoy this access, and I’ve personally found it to be immensely rewarding on many levels.

I talked to Data Guy about a bunch of issues, including the genesis of the Author Earnings report. What was your reaction when he initially reached out to you?

I fell out of my chair when I saw the first data set. I knew something was happening out there, that more authors were earning a living than any other time in human history, but I had no idea how pervasive the gains were for self-published ebooks. I kept thinking something must be wrong with the math, but we checked and rechecked. It was a complete game-changer, what Data Guy did. Most of the anti-self-publishing rhetoric dried up after that first report, and what hasn’t dried up has looked more and more inane since.

There are certainly critics of the data and/or conclusions of the Author Earnings report. What do you say to people who dismiss the report?

The data is the data. We make it all available. I say crunch the numbers and show us an issue with our conclusions. I don’t think it’s possible, because the titles are so evenly distributed throughout the bestseller lists. Any way you set up the sales rates, self-published titles comprise more daily royalties paid to authors than the Big Five combined. And by quite a bit.

That means Amazon is not only offering more titles to readers at lower prices; they are also paying more money to writers than all the publishers. There is no other way to see Amazon than the best thing that’s ever happened to readers and writers. Of course, the middlemen who can’t compete will continue to gnash teeth.

What do you want publishing to look like in 10 years?

There are two trends I would love to see: I’d love for the popularity of reading to go up and up. And I’d like to see the friction between writer and reader to go down and down. These are the only two trends anyone in publishing should care about.

I think the reason Amazon is such a global leader is because they focus on these two things. How can they reduce friction? With quicker shipping. One-click purchasing. Predictive book ordering and warehousing. POD. Better upload tools for authors. And on and on and on.

They also want to see more reading taking place, which means QA concerns, enjoyable and easy to use devices, and great content.

When you look at publishing through this lens, all the mistakes publishers make are startlingly obvious. Delaying some book formats so readers can’t get the ebook or paperback they want? That’s more friction. Less friction would mean publishing the ebook ahead of the print book’s release. Less friction would mean free ebook promotions (especially the first in a series). It would mean inclusion in KU. Lower prices on unknown names so readers will take a chance on a debut author. Fairer prices for libraries. Quicker shipping fulfillment The list goes on and on.

My biggest concern is that all the dollars going into video games, films, music and so on, will shrink the pool of dollars going to authors. How can we make reading more popular with more people? That’s what keeps me up at night. It needs to start in schools. We need to stop forcing kids to read books they won’t enjoy. Let them graduate to the classics on their own. Don’t force our values on them, but get them hooked on the hobby so many of us value. Trust the process.

The reality is that the nature of storytelling will continue to change. We will write stories for video games, TV, film, VR, interactive theater, and so much more. We truly are storytelling animals. The desire to tell and hear stories will never abate. Publishing will just have to fight for their share of that pie. We are currently living in the greatest era in human history for readers and writers. I hope we’re saying the very same thing 10 years from now.


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22 thoughts on “DBW Interview with Hugh Howey, Author

  1. Patrice Fitzgerald

    It’s clear that self-publishing is a threat to traditional publishers, because it takes them out of the picture. But the production of books no longer requires layers of bureaucracy and relaxed Manhattan lunches. The idea of \protecting\ readers from books that aren’t worth being published has gone by the wayside… readers can now make their own judgments with their wallets.

    Whether a writer creates brilliant and innovative stories or complete dreck, the market will sort it out and give her an answer. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Open the gates… the barbarians are already in.

    Reply
  2. Joe Procopio

    “You’ve got to think about writing a few novels a year for several years before you even know if you’ve got what it takes.”

    That’s not writing; that’s typing. And he wonders why people might complain that contemporary self-publishing is “this volcano of swill.”

    Reply
    1. Ellen

      You may want to read some of his work before saying this 😛 I took Wool from Amazon as a free e book and ended up buying everything I could get my hands on (published by him) in the same week… The point here is that yes, there is some seriously horrible reading material on Amazon… but you can sift these out via the ratings, comments or (gasp) the preview giving you the same amount of book you probably would scan through in a bookshop while daringly exploring new titles…
      While self publishing doesn’t provide an editor, draconian grammar nazis on Amazon quickly give an Author the feedback needed and I have seen a few terribly written books get saved by community help…
      Indie publishing simply gives a new author the chance to connect with the public in a way not possible before.
      Humanising the relationship between authors and readers in a time where you can instantly contact anyone connected on line in the world, is not only good for business, but frankly crucial for the future of reading as a whole.

      Reply
      1. Jeri Westerson

        “While self publishing doesn’t provide an editor, draconian grammar nazis on Amazon quickly give an Author the feedback needed and I have seen a few terribly written books get saved by community help…” That’s an appallingly scary comment. Any author who thinks of themselves as a professional hires other professionals–editors, book designers, cover designers. The community might work out for a GoFundMe charity, but it has no place when you publish your books. One should do one’s homework first.

        Reply
    2. Smart Debut Author

      Bravo, Joe. Your lawn chair looks mighty cozy, but those clouds aren’t going to yell at themselves.

      Reply
  3. Paula

    The big 5 need to seriously rethink their fear of eBooks. The model for libraries is insane (26 checks outs, 3x the cover price, or 12 months). Self-published authors need to develop stronger methods of discovery for libraries. We had a patron who checked out a new author, loved his work and purchased the author’s other two titles. Amazon needs to work with the eBook systems to allow purchase of their eBooks. There seems to be a fear of sharing by Amazon as well.

    Reply
    1. Michael W. Perry

      Paula, despite what you might think, the executives of the Big Five aren’t stupid. In fact, if my hunch is correct, they’re being remarkably clever and market savvy. Whether you like it or not, they’re keeping the price of ebooks high for libraries and the public for a reason.

      * Making library copies expensive and cluttered with rules means libraries tilt toward print versions. Major publishers have good business reasons for wanting that. One reason is that their distribution system to libraries is far better than that of independent authors. Keeping the ebook selection of libraries small suits them.

      * Making retail copies of ebook expensive is also to their advantage. The key lies in how profits are distributed. Amazon makes virtually all the profit on ebook sales. Its costs are virtually nothing, merely pennies to download and process a financial transaction with no risk involved. On the other hand, a Big Five publisher, must take on all the costs of readying a book for publication and marketing it. Making that ebook edition cheap increases the risk that it will be stuck with an excess print inventory. And making that ebook edition cheap means that traditional bookstores, who form the only real competition with Amazon, lose money.

      It actually makes sense, I suspect, to many Big Five executives to forgo a little ebook profit to keep other bookstores alive. Remember, everyone has a different POV. Don’t assume that Big Five executives are making a mistake when they don’t do business like you would.
      ——-
      Also, authors who want to reach libraries should check out Smashwords. It has excellent distribution to libraries and allows authors to set a different price for them than for the general public. It also distributes directly to almost every ebook retailer but our-way-is-the-only-way Amazon.

      Reply
      1. JR

        You have a hunch, but I have stats which say the big publishers are either on a steady decline, or making profits by gutting their companies. PRH will be sacking another 4000 this year. Hatchette is nearing half the profit it made in 2009. I don’t know what the secret plan is here…

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  4. Michael W. Perry

    When Mary I of England lay dying in 1558, she said, “When I am dead and opened, you shall find Calais lying in my heart.” As Hugh Howey lies dying, perhaps in 2058, one suspects he will say, “When I am dead and opened, you shall find Amazon lying in my heart.” Sad, really sad.

    I doubt I will ever understand Amazon fanboys, particularly those who publish through Kindle. Price an ebook at a price Amazon doesn’t like, and it pays you a pitiful 35% royalties. And even if you stick to one of their approved prices, a grossly inflated “download” fee drops an author’s real royalties to about 60%. Contrast that to Apple, which pays 70% at all retail prices and charges no download fees. Nor is Apple special. Amazon pays lower author royalties than any other major ebook retailer. For ebooks, an author always makes more selling anywhere else. That’s why it’s smart for authors to steer all the sales they can to other vendors.

    That’s also why Howey’s remark that Amazon is “lowering prices for consumers and increasing pay to producers” is utter nonsense. Only when Apple came along, did Amazon raise its royalties up to that bizarre 35/70% mix. And if memory serves me correctly, it hasn’t raised that a penny since 2007, almost a decade ago. (So much for that “increasing pay.”) Getting away with paying a “producer”—Howey’s clumsy term for authors—less than anyone else is a classic illustration of what a near monopoly can get away with.
    ——-
    Consumers are also screwed by Amazon bizarre, multi-level pricing scheme. Authors who might price their introductory novel at $0.99 or $1.99 are forced to price it at $2.99 to get that fake-70% rather than a miserly 35%. That means higher prices for consumers. Why the feds aren’t doing something about that is beyond me.

    Students get particularly screwed by Amazon. Amazon multi-level pricing roughly doubles the cost of textbooks. Take as an illustration a nursing book that, to recoup its cost, must earn $20 per sale to break even. To earn that $20 on Amazon, it must be priced at 20/0.35 or $57.14. To recoup that same cost on the iBookstore, it only needs to be priced at 20/0.70 or $28.57. Keep in mind what that means.

    * Amazon’s pricing scheme means that nursing student, not the richest people around, must pay about $29 more than they would otherwise thanks to Amazon’s refusal to let authors and publishers sell lower at other retailers than them.

    * Remember that textbook sales are inelastic. Publishers cannot recoup that $20 cost by lowering prices and getting enough sales to recover their costs with a profit of just $10. Textbooks sales aren’t driven by price.

    * Assuming that this textbook is priced so that the publisher merely breaks even, Apple is making $28.57 x 0.3 or $8.57 on each sale. In contrast, Amazon is pocketing $57.14 x 0.7 or $40 on each sale. Amazon’s profit is almost five times that of Apple. And note that Amazon makes $40 on a digital sale that cost it mere pennies to process. That means Amazon and Jeff Bezos (the sixty richest man in the world) have a internal cost versus profit ratio for that nursing textbook that must run into several thousand percent—and all with zero risk. Amazon’s really should adopt the motto “We Screw Students with Inflated Prices.”

    In short, what Howey and his Amazon fanboy buddies are saying is nonsense. Amazon grossly underpays authors and only raises royalties when forced to do so. Some ebook authors would double their income if Amazon merely paid what Apple pays. And Amazon is also robbing consumers, particularly students, where Amazon roughly doubles the cost of their digital textbooks. Amazon is no one’s friend but its own.

    I grow tired of pointing all this out. Howey and his kin are, I am forced to conclude, idiots who can’t see what’s obvious to someone who understands fifth-grade math. They think because that Amazon check is bigger, Amazon must be treating them better. There’s no fix for that flawed reasoning.

    I really don’t care that Howey & Co. are getting shafted by Amazon. They are getting what they deserve. But I am angry that their bogus advocacy of Amazon keeps other authors from putting pressure on Amazon to pay market rates.

    Reply
    1. JR

      You’ve confused ‘selling through Amazon’ with ‘publishing with Kindle’ for your textbook story. That’s a big step. Amazon doesn’t take 70% of textbooks – not even 30%. It depends on a lot of things but 15-20 looks normal. For the <$3 thing – authors like companies that make them money. Amazon makes them a lot of money. You're really picking on such a bizarre thing considering you're saying OTHER people are 'fanboys'.

      Authors are making money with Amazon. Customers are getting great deals. The world of literature and written entertainment has expanded incredibly. If you want to say all those people are 'losers', well… who cares?

      Reply
  5. Chris Bauer

    I have one self-pubbed ebook paranormal/horror novel out there (author name C.G. Bauer) that was originally POD and ebook pubbed by a small press that went belly up. I’m now writing thrillers and have since gone the agent/traditional pubbing route, having queried in excess of 100 agents before — huge surprise — I got three yesses for representation within weeks of each other. The reason I’m trying the traditional route (one novel is currently on submission): I hope that through traditional pubbers I will get reviewed by the major reviewers, go into pubber release catalogs, sell more books because of this, and eventually gain a larger reader base. I expect to return to self-pubbing, but I’m hoping I get some traditional pubber legs under me, too. I could be headed back there sooner than I planned, however. Traditional pubber rejections are starting to come in. 🙂 I might also self-pub additional material even if I get a traditional pubber contract. Hugh, keep doing what you’re doing and continue to spread the gospel. We ARE listening.

    Reply
  6. Randall Wood

    One thing I have to disagree on.

    “major publishers are going to have to eventually compete with the 70 percent earnings offered by KDP”

    They simply can’t. I doubt they can even get close without it becoming a death sentence. Their overhead and cost-to-produce are too high for them to do so, even if they were to adopt all of Hugh’s suggestions. The deciding factor will be the rate at which the reading public continues to embrace the ebook format. That number will increase while the profit margins of the Big 5 will decrease. The two numbers will creep toward one another until it reaches a breaking point.

    “Bookstores and paper books will be around forever in some capacity”

    Maybe. But I think they will come from indie authors publishing through CS and LS, rather than through the Big 5 publishers.

    Reply
  7. Peter Cawdron

    Publishing is a business, but to see it only in terms of profit is short sighted. The goal is reaching readers. The reason Amazon has been so successful with indie authors is they’ve never lost sight of that. They’re focused on connecting authors and readers, seeing profit as a secondary benefit rather than the driving goal. And the result? They’re making far more profit than if they put the dollar first.

    There’s a lesson there.

    Reply
  8. SpringfieldMH

    Joe, That’s not writing, that’s typing\, was Truman Capote’s pretentious cheap shot at Beat generation writers such as Jack Kerouac. What I think you’re trying to say is something more like \art takes lots of time and only trash can be produced quickly\… which any number of classic works and practitioners of art in many disciplines have routinely put the lie to. Go read up on the apprenticeships and careers of many of the greats and not so greats. This is just another convenient comforting zombie meme that some folks seem desperate to keep propping up, presumably for purposes of putting others down and making themselves feel better and superior, often while posing as heroes while exploiting those foolish enough to believe the meme. Good work if one can get it.

    Reply
    1. Joe Procopio

      Thanks…glad somebody got the allusion to Capote and Kerouac. Call it a meme if you want, but fast AND good writers are by far the exception, not the norm. And I don’t disagree with the kernel of Howley’s advice: write constantly and in great volume to hone your craft. What I do take issue with is the idea that everybody needs to vomit onto the market your every scribbling. That’s where the traditional “gatekeepers” (editors, publishers, etc.) serve a useful purpose: they’ll either let you know that your novel isn’t up to snuff, or if they see some promise, they’ll pair you with an editor who can help get your writing there. The world wasn’t hurting for enough good fiction before the barriers to self-publishing were lowered by technology. It’ll always be easy to point to a very small handful of writers who got rejected by traditional publishers that found success as a self-published author, but nobody wants to look at the ratios of self-published success stories to abject failures. Howley and his ilk with their Amazon boosterism perpetuate the “lottery winner” mentality of mediocre talents who think they are geniuses just waiting to be “discovered.”

      Reply
  9. Stephen Black

    Another great interview with Hugh Howey. Whether or not one agrees with everything he says, the research and data he has produced is impressive and inspiring.

    HH is spot on in terms of the big picture.
    \There are two trends I would love to see: I’d love for the popularity of reading to go up and up. And I’d like to see the friction between writer and reader to go down and down. These are the only two trends anyone in publishing should care about.\ Yep.

    \My biggest concern is that all the dollars going into video games, films, music and so on, will shrink the pool of dollars going to authors. How can we make reading more popular with more people? That’s what keeps me up at night. It needs to start in schools. We need to stop forcing kids to read books they won’t enjoy. Let them graduate to the classics on their own. Don’t force our values on them, but get them hooked on the hobby so many of us value. Trust the process.\ Yep again.

    Reply
    1. J. Andrew Killian

      I don’t know, Joe. Maybe we should hear from someone else in the field before we give him too much credit.

      Reply
  10. Melinda Martin

    Thank you so much for this! I provide publishing services for bloggers who pursue the self-publishing route, and this article addresses many concerns they have about traditional vs. Self-publishing. I have a Facebook group at http://facebook.com/groups/selfpubsupportgroup and one of our members posted this in there for us. It is a place to get educated, motivated, and connected, and the members are just as active in fulfilling that mission as I am.

    I loved the thoroughness of his answers.

    Reply
  11. Palessa

    I find a good chunk of what he said to be true as I have alot of respect for him and Data Guy. The points about how Amazon changed the game are true but they seemed to be putting them screws to author by denying honest reviews of books and allowing trollish nonsense. I have had more than a few of my fellow Indies see this firsthand. It’s disturbing and I’m a bit wearier of Amazon these days.
    Second, I totally agree with writing and honing my craft. I’m still working and learning. I’m not a churner so writing several books a year doesn’t work for me. I also disagree that my time spent marketing is a waste, I’m building a brand here. I see this as a way to express myself, yes, but I’m also a business. My role doesn’t end with the period at the end of the last sentence. To me that’s the beginning. Just as a singer needs to go on tour to promote/support and album, I need to make the rounds to support my work. That means I’m planning my writing time and keeping to that discipline while I do promo (that’s fun). I do what I can to fight the real adversary in the self-published/ indie author world: obscurity not other authors because it’s not like readers are just going to read that one author or that one book and that’s it. There’s plenty of room on the landscape.
    As I said, I respect most of what he said here and his site. Pretty insightful. I look forward to hearing his take on Facebook possibly entering the publishing arena.

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  12. Markie Madden

    One retailer that often gets missed in discussions like this is Google Books. You upload your work directly to them just like KDP (Smashwords doesn’t distribute to them, either). My first couple months of being on Google Books didn’t do so well, but I wasn’t doing enormous sales elsewhere, either. Then, about February of last year, I saw a huge spike in sales at Google Books, and for about 8 consecutive months, I sold more books through them than I did anywhere else. When I got my last new Android phone last spring, I noticed it came pre-installed with Google Books, whereas before you had to download it from the app store. And the Google Books app can’t be removed. Possibly this accounted for my spike in sales; people not bothering to download Kindle or Nook because they already had a reader app on their phone.

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