Category Archives: Author Interviews

WOOL Author Hugh Howey on Writing and Self-Publishing

Sometime last month, I’d downloaded a sample of the popular Sci-Fi short story “WOOL” by Hugh Howey to my Kindle. It had been on my radar for a while, but I hadn’t gotten around to checking it out. The sample popped up on my Kindle in seconds, and I propped myself up in bed and thumbed the screen.

In just a few minutes, I was disappointed when the sample ended abruptly, just when things were getting good in the story. But it was a good kind of disappointment. I wanted MORE!

I purchased the WOOL omnibus that evening and am currently reading through the first 5 installments. It is rare that a sample hits me in that way, but exciting all the same. Author Hugh Howey’s method of storytelling is engaging, and draws the reader in early on (be on the lookout for more on this in a future post).

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Hugh Howey about his best-selling WOOL saga (for which the omnibus edition just hit #98 on USA Today’s Bestseller List) and how he approaches his writing.

TWW: “WOOL” is one of the hottest things in Sci-Fi right now. Could you tell us how the story came to be? Did you have any particular inspiration for it?

HH: The idea behind Wool haunted me for years before I finally got around to writing it. It was always going to be a full-length novel, but I couldn’t find the time among all the other projects I had going. Last summer, I wrote another short piece, THE PLAGIARIST, for a science fiction class I was taking. Yeah, at 36 years of age, I was still in college. I worked for an independent bookstore on campus, and one of the perks was a free class per semester.

After writing THE PLAGIARIST as my final project for that class, I decided to turn the idea for WOOL into a similarly structured novelette, just to purge it from my brain. I had fallen in love with the 10,000 – 15,000 word length. It was just enough space to develop a character and a world and bring a bit of tension to climax.

The commercial expectations for WOOL were zilch, which ended up being a good thing. I was free to write what I wanted to read, not what I thought others might enjoy reading. And it worked. 

As for the inspiration, it came from realizing many years ago that my worldview was severely biased from always peeping through a very limited lens, like seeing the world projected on the wallscreens of WOOL. I began to question whether my sense of dread and impending doom was justified or merely a product of the daily news I was being fed. WOOL, then, is an exploration of whether we are justified in our pessimism or our optimism, and the risks we face in choosing between the two. What is the world really like? What would we chance in order to find out?

Amidst all of the offers you’ve received to publish “WOOL” through the traditional route, why have you decided to remain self-published domestically? Would you recommend self-publishing to other authors? If yes, why?

I recommend self-publishing as the start to one’s career, not necessarily the end. The stigma behind self-publishing is on its way out, and good riddance. There’s a great article in this week’s Variety magazine about this, and more and more of these opinions being bandied about every day. Publishers have scouts who sift through the bestselling e-books looking for potential. It’s like a slush pile that’s already been sorted by the reader, so there’s no career suicide in publishing your own works anymore.

I publicly suggested this exact route half a year ago before WOOL took off, and my fellow writers thought it was a foolish idea. The old assumption was still strong back then that if you self-publish, it’s because your work isn’t good enough. But some of us just want to publish and move on to the next project. We don’t want to spend our days querying to dozens of agents and keeping track of everything we’ve submitted and to whom. Rather than test ourselves in that slush pile, I say give the reader the power to choose. Put the work out there and get cracking on the next thing. This is writing as one’s primary form of promotion.

My hope back then was that good stories and good writing would work their way to the top. And that’s exactly what happened. And I’m watching it happen to friends and fellow writers, who are also being approached by publishers. And the ones who aren’t having success yet, but who are still writing and still putting out content, they will improve their craft and diversify their offerings. Maybe some future project will gain traction. To me, this process seems infinitely superior to the old one. Even publishing experts can’t predict what readers will like, so why not bypass the gatekeepers and go straight to the source?

Some have described your writing as “poetic.” What techniques, processes, or other writing magic do you use to create your scenery-rich scenes?

The WOOL series is written in a more lyrical style than I use in my other works. I was able to fall into this voice due to the post apocalyptic nature of the setting. Language will have changed in the future. Just as someone writing in the Victorian era can use a bit more flourish and get away with it, so too can someone writing in an upcoming age.

I also try to mix short sentences with long ones. I listen for cadence. And I try to use words in slightly awkward ways when I need to be a little jarring. The great thing about self-publishing is that you don’t have a “house style” to conform to. You can really experiment and go wild with your words.

What can your readers expect from your upcoming story, I, Zombie?

They can expect to be very upset if they waste their money on it. The work is going to come with a lot of warnings. I’m going to beg people to not read it. This isn’t a marketing ploy, it is genuine terror that people will try to get through the mess of this work and then decide to never read any of my other works. I’m still debating using a pen name.

I, ZOMBIE really began as an exercise in catharsis for me. It was never meant for publication. However, I shared some chapters on my website a while back, and several of my sickest fans have asked for me to finish it and put it out there. The only thing I’m looking forward to now is getting this over with and moving on to something I can be proud of.

Given your experience, what are your top 3 tips about the writing process for aspiring authors?

One: Write. It’s that simple. There’s no magic sauce that can replace repetition and dedication. Write every single day and don’t allow yourself to be distracted from it. Stare at the blank screen for an hour if you must. That’s more productive than surfing the web while you wait for inspiration to strike. Believe me, your brain will be doing something while you’re gazing at that blinking cursor.

Two: Write poorly. This is as important as writing at all. Stop revising as you go, that’s a different mindset to get into. Just write the damn words, as rough and horrible as you like, until you get to the end of the story. Write for the rubbish bin. You’ll fix it all later. The inner critic is really just your inner procrastinator in disguise. Ignore those nagging thoughts and keep moving.

Three: Write because you love it. Don’t write for money, as there isn’t much there to be had. My best writing days were when I was most broke, working a day job, squeezing in the hours where I could, and pleasing a handful of devoted fans. If you write because it makes you happy, you’ll write better material and your reward will have already been earned. Think of it as a hobby, one that costs almost nothing. Most hobbies are dreadfully expensive. Fishing, golf, collecting things, riding or sailing things . . . you’ll find enjoyment but you’ll go broke. Writing will earn you money in all that you save, as long as you’re happy doing it. I liken it to vegetable gardening, which can satisfy the urge to do something productive while also paying you dividends in the long run.

Also, to aspiring writers: be great to one another. Help those who need it and be appreciative of those who help you. I’ve been on both sides of this equation, and the fun is in trying to keep it in balance. We’re all in this together. Voracious readers are out there, constantly bemoaning the fact that there’s nothing left for them to read. Be a part of the growing community that sees us not as competitors for limited eyeballs, but as a family trying to keep the awesome and unruly kids in the back seat satisfied. Because it’s a long drive. And there’s room for all of us. And no, we are not there yet, wherever it is that we’re going.

Check out the IndieReader article about the sale of the movie rights for WOOL (with Ridley Scott at the helm). The article was also republished on Huffington Post.


Meet Jeremy Laszlo – Author Interview

Today, I am excited to kick off the Author Interview Series, which I hope to make a periodic feature here on The Weekend Writer. There is a lot that can be learned from published (traditional or self) authors, and it is my hope to offer tips and insight to you through these interviews.

Without further ado, please help me welcome…

Jeremy Laszlo

Jeremy is the author of the Blood and Brotherhood Saga, currently available on Amazon. A former Marine, he has written two books in the series, with a third on the way soon.

**Scroll down to the bottom of this post for an exclusive look at the cover for Jeremy’s next book, The Changing!**

TWW: Jeremy, how long did it take you to write your latest novel, The Chosen? What obstacles did you face in writing it?

JL: It’s funny you should ask that, because had it not been for traditional literary agents, The Chosen would not exist as it does today.  Originally, the first 3/4 of The Chosen was actually the second half of The Choosing, the first book in my fantasy series.

However, a couple of Literary agents suggested I somehow break the monstrous novel into two separate books, as it was “too large” for traditional publishing.  What is ironic however, after having revised and rewritten to break the novel into two books, adding several more chapters, none of those traditional publishing leads played out.

To answer your original question though, it took me about 3 months to create the original book, then taking a break to land an agent, then about three more months to rewrite and split the novel into two books.  The main obstacle in the process was splitting the book in two, yet creating new content that followed the story line precisely, allowing the two books to flow seamlessly and yet having each feel like a completed work.

Being a family man, what do you do to make time to write? What’s your typical writing schedule?

Making time to write can be very difficult.  As you mentioned, I have four children, all under ten years old, an amazing wife, and two very peculiar pets.  On top of that I work my normal blue collar job generally 70-90 hours per week, and also do construction and remodeling on the side.  So with that said it can become a bit overwhelming trying to find a comfortable balance, and all the while juggling all my other responsibilities.

The trick that works for me I find is sacrificing a LOT of sleep.  Caffeine is one of my best friends, and generally I find time to write at night after everyone else is asleep.  However on occasion, if all the stars line up properly, a child in japan sneezes at precisely the same time a dragon on the moon belches, everything falls into place and I get a few days in a row to write vigorously.  Such was the case with my next novel, The Changing, and I managed to put down 70,000 words in three days.

How has your experience been with self-publishing? Pros? Cons?

Thus far my experience with self publishing has been a good experience overall.  While waiting on replies from agents I spent a lot of time researching self publishing, and before I had even heard back from all of them I moved forward taking my publishing fate into my own hands.  For myself, the most obvious Pros to self publishing relate to myself and my family.

Having so many responsibilities to juggle, it is nice to be able to do things at my leisure, allowing me to focus more time on my family.  Of course another great thing about self publishing is the royalties.  Had I landed an agent, and sold a paperback for $8.99, I would likely receive 0.40-0.80 cents per copy sold, whereas self publishing has allowed me to sell at a lower rate, and bring in more income with which to support my family.

As for the Cons of self publishing, I will admit that there have been a few.  Whereas in traditional publishing there is a team of experienced people handling a vast amount of tasks, as a self publisher it is up to you alone to do many things you may not have anticipated.

Although I have enjoyed the learning process and experience that came with all these other tasks, such as building web sites, designing appealing cover art, hiring an editor, and marketing and promotion, much of it was a steep learning curve, and some of it can be a bit pricey.

The Choosing, Book One of the Blood and Brotherhood Saga

How often do you write? Where do you find your inspiration to dig in and write as often as you do?

I write as often as I am able between other responsibilities, and occasionally even take a couple days off of work to get some ideas down that I may have been tinkering with mentally.  My inspiration comes from everywhere.  People I have met over the years, my children, movies I have seen and books I have read.

Everything in my life I imagine has influenced my writing in one way or another, and oftentimes you can find experiences taken directly from my own life within the writings of my books.  I think that perhaps my emotional connection to these experiences bleeds through my writing and perhaps that is why my readers can connect with it so well.

What was your favorite part of the writing process in creating your latest novel? Your least?

My latest novel, Book 3 of The Blood and Brotherhood Saga, is titled “The Changing” and as I had mentioned above, on a very rare occasion everything in my life lined up giving me 5 days with very few interruptions.  I had set a goal for myself in those five days to finish writing The Changing, but it only took me three days.  I spent the other two days revising, and by the end of day 5 had the manuscripts sent out to both my editors and beta readers.  I am expecting the manuscripts back any day now.

My least favorite part of writing is always the editing and revisions.  I know they need to be done, and of course I understand why, I just simply don’t enjoy that particular process.  However even the dark cloud of editing has a shiny silver lining.  Often while editing I begin getting a bit anxious and excited, because the editing and revision process means the book will be published very soon.

What advice have you found helpful in marketing your self-published novel?

I am still very new to self marketing and promotion, and I have to admit that very little I have read about the subject has been useful.  Twitter, I believe, is my best marketing tool, though I have no facts to back that up.

I have tried a few paid advertising campaigns, as well as social media marketing campaigns, and you might be surprised to learn that after each of those campaigns my sales actually fell instead of increased.  Terribly disappointing.  Self marketing and promo is akin to another full time job, and I am still learning to balance it along with everything else, and constantly doing experiments to see what works and what does not.

The Chosen, Book Two of the Blood and Brotherhood Saga

Do you consider yourself a pantser or an outliner? Why does your method work for you?

I am not a huge fan of labels, however I am a sticky mix of organized and unorganized writing.  Generally I scribble down a VERY loose outline, because I do not want to confine my creativity to one direct path, and then I free write.

Occasionally I will refer to the outline to make sure I am on track, but generally speaking the entire story is already floating around in my head, and I need only look within to unleash it into my netbook.

What writing books or resources have you used or found helpful?

I will admit, that after writing The Choosing and The Chosen, I purchased a copy of Mr. Freys book “How to write a damn good novel”.  Interestingly enough, having no formal training aside from reading thousands of novels myself, I realized that I had already incorporated all of the main techniques he writes about.  Other than that, I found the Smashwords formatting guidelines quite useful.

What advice would you give to fellow writers who are currently drafting their manuscripts? What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

Aspiring novelists planning to self publish should be aware of a great many things.  First and foremost, EVERY book is judged by its cover.  Unless you have a background in graphics design, or are an AMAZING artist, do the research, and pay someone experienced to create an amazing cover for your “baby”.

Secondly if you can afford it, hire an editor.  There are some with very reasonable rates, do your research, and get quotes and references.  If you cannot afford an editor, in the VERY LEAST, give copies to no less than 5 avid readers/teachers/librarians for them to markup and find mistakes for you.

Third, I would say to you that All feedback is good feedback, no matter how negative someone might view your book, it is an invaluable learning experience for you to take their critique and use that knowledge on your next work.  Next I would say that your biggest marketing resource and most vocal promoter is yourself.  Build a fan base early, months before your book is even published.

Finally, DO NOT devalue your work.  I am not saying that from time to time you cannot run a discount or even free promotion of your books, however your book is worth just as much as the next guy/gals.  You have spent and will continue to spend your time and money on your “baby” and deserve to be rewarded for it.  Do not cut yourself short, from a reader’s perspective your price reflects the quality of your work.

The Changing, coming soon!

Thank you, Jeremy, for taking the time to give us your insight on the writing process and self-publishing.

Thank you for having me on your blog Weekend Writer, it has been a wonderful experience!

If you have a comment or question for Jeremy, please post it in the comments below. You may also visit his website here.

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