A Fall Update Full of Bookbubs and Pumpkin Spice

I thought I’d write a quick update as there is so much going on in this crazy year in my writing career. After about a hundred rejections (I’m not joking- I could show you the emails), I landed my first Bookbub promo for Atlantic Island! That happened around my birthday in August and tripled my previous best daily sales record. It also led to my first time breaking into the top 100 on Amazon, topping out at #87!

Around that time I reached out to Barnes and Noble to see if there was any interest in bringing my work to their Nook platform. To my pleasant surprise, they were very interested. I cannot say enough about how positive my experiences with Barnes and Noble have been the last few months. The staff at Nook Press are professional and helpful and supportive.

I brought my paperbacks to Nook Press for online order, and got Rising Tide and Traveler on there as ebooks once I ran out the exclusivity with Amazon. Yes, Rising Tide is the second book of the Atlantic Island series, but the first book is exclusive until the start of November.

Barnes and Noble scheduled The Traveler for a Nook Daily Find for October 14th, and I was able to land a Bookbub for the same day! That combination was a much bigger marketing effort than even August and certainly than anything I’d done for Traveler before. The book sold 3000 copies in one day, moving to #62 in the Kindle store, and #1 in the Nook store! It also had great sales in iBooks and Kobo. I was blown away by the support for the book during the promotion, and I’m thrilled that the latest batch of reviews has been positive. Sales continue across all platforms now that the book is back at full price. I can’t say for sure that this was the true tipping point for Traveler, but it’s doing better than ever before, so I’ll take it.

I can’t talk too much about the things I have coming up, but I can tell you that Atlantic Island will be coming to all platforms in November and will be part of a special promotional effort at Barnes and Noble for Cyber Monday! The final book of the trilogy is moving along well, and will be released on January 9th for Nook as a limited time exclusive, and two weeks later on all platforms. The tentative title is Omega Protocol… that name has something to do with the situation developing at the end of Rising Tide, but I don’t want to spoil it here.

That’s all for now! I’ve got a ton more writing and editing to do (which means drinking a ton more seasonal coffee at the book store cafe) and hopefully I will have some more news to report once a few things are worked out. Thanks to everyone for making this an unbelievable year thus far!


2017 So Far (or Six Months of Middling Success)

The last time I wrote an update here I talked about the promotion of Traveler in February and how it seemed to have a much longer tail than I had anticipated. I’ll update you on Traveler now, but I know that isn’t the book that people want to hear about…

Traveler continued to sell for a very long time (truthfully, it’s still selling, but in minuscule amounts), with about two weeks of 15-25 sales a day, then a month of 5-10 a day, and downward from there. It clocked in over 100,000 page reads from Kindle Unlimited borrows and generated a sizable amount of reviews. I can proudly say that most of them were very positive. February was by far the best month of sales I’d ever had, and March and April were very good as well. Traveler is going to get another promotion in a couple weeks and I’d be happy to get anywhere near that level of sales again. We’ll see.

Okay, so… Atlantic Island. While I was busy worrying myself about every ranking shift up and down with Traveler, my readers and marketing people kept telling me that I was backing the wrong horse. Atlantic Island, they said, is the mainstream type of book people are looking for. So I decided to give it a shot with a free promo in May.

Before that could happen, Amazon offered me a spot for Atlantic Island in their new Prime Reading program. I was honored to be asked and quickly accepted. The book got very little visibility in the new program and didn’t sell too much at all heading into May.

The day of the promo arrived, and the book took off quickly, outpacing Traveler in free downloads. It reached about 11,000 by the time the promotion ended, but strangely tied Traveler’s best free rank at #7 in the store.

The paid sales started to come in after the free deal was over, but they were surprisingly very slow. I attributed this to many people getting the book as a Prime borrow, but the ranking told a different story. The book got as far as #525 in the store and quickly started to head the wrong direction. I had no idea what had gone wrong but I accepted it.

Then, days later, Amazon’s mysterious popularity rankings updated and AI moved to near or at the top of almost every subcategory it was in, including first page visibility for all of Prime Reading. Over the next two weeks the book sold more and more copies, creeping back through the rankings. Finally, it surpassed its promo day best. Then it broke into the top 500.Then it beat Traveler’s record (#465) and went all the way to the 430’s. It took #1 in three different categories and for several days was outselling all the Divergent books and both Hunger Games sequels (but not anywhere close to the first book, damn it!) In the meantime, hundreds of AI readers went on to buy Rising Tide. All that momentum drove my author ranking to around #50 of all Sci-Fi authors.

I set up an ad campaign for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. I had originally envisioned a much more elaborate marketing effort for that weekend at the Jersey Shore but settled for a couple Facebook and Amazon Ads. I pushed the idea that if you were heading to the shore for the holiday weekend, well, the book of the summer is here and it’s called Atlantic Island.

It turns out that if people were reading on the beach that weekend they were not reading any of my books. Sales screeched to an abrupt halt over the three day weekend and by the time people went back to work that Tuesday, the book was ranked in the 900’s. It has dropped since, but sales do continue. At present the book fluctuates between about #1800-2800 in the store depending on the day.

I continue to be amazed at the support my work has received. Every new sale means so much. I have received quite a few questions about the third book in the trilogy (“Atlantic Island Trilogy third book” comes up as a frequent search on amazon even before the words “Atlantic Island” are typed). The book is in the works. There’s quite a bit going on in that story and many major characters to contend with. It is in part a continuation of the Traveler and probably the closest thing to a sequel that book will receive. Thomas has a bigger role than he had in Rising Tide, and the travelers in general are an important part of the tale. After all, the travelers and the super-powered orb folk are essentially two sides of the same coin. The main story arc is figured out and, thankfully, I know how it all ends. I just have to put the pieces together in a way that entertains my faithful readers. Rest assured, I will do my very best.

I have a few other stories in the works. I plan to start on something new as soon as the draft of AI3 is complete and off to the editors. I will update as soon as there is news to report. Thanks again to everyone who has read my work and supported this crazy endeavor.

What A Day (Part 2)

To say things are continuing to look better in 2017 than they did throughout 2016 would be quite the understatement. As predicted, Atlantic Island and Rising Tide dropped quickly back down the rankings, and a little extra marketing for Atlantic Island the next week only helped a little. Those books have never had much stickiness in the ranks and now I wait to see if having a good volume of sales leads to word of mouth promotion.

So what’s the good news? Well… first I picked up a couple very nice reviews of Atlantic Island. Then Monday the big promotion for The Traveler finally happened. It’s been in the works for months and I could barely sleep the last few nights as I counted down the hours. The book shattered all of my records, selling hundreds of full-price copies in just a few hours. The ranking for the book (which was in the 400,000’s and had only ever been as high as 4,100) rose and rose, peaking early Tuesday morning at 464 in the entire kindle store and 35 in all Science Fiction!

At that point, with only 8 sales in the early morning (I say “only” as if it’s not a huge deal for me) I assumed that was the end. The promotion was over, it had been great, and now my sales would dry up again and I’d move on to the next idea and keep writing my sequel. Only… sales continued all day on Tuesday. Nearly 100 over the course of the day. Keep in mind my previous best day of sales of Traveler was 40 back in 2015 and that was on a discounted promotion day.

I woke up today (Wednesday) knowing that I had somehow been lucky and Amazon had gifted me one extra day of getting the word out about the book and now it was over. Only… it wasn’t. Sales continued all today as well and I’ve sold 63 as of 8 PM. I can’t explain how shocked and excited I am to have so many people willing to take a chance on my work. There are many doing free borrows as well… I can’t track those but Amazon lets me see page reads and there is a lot of reading going on. That thrills me. Hundreds of strangers are being introduced to the story of Dan and Suzy and Thomas and all the other characters I love so much.

I realize today’s sales will be a little less than yesterday, and while I wish the book would “find its level” and maintain some number of sales in perpetuity, I suspect the good times are winding down. Still… these have been very good times and I’m proud to have my work being read. I just hope people like my story and tell a friend or two or twenty.

For now I’m going to get back to work on the Traveler sequel, and by the end of this week I should have the next few promotions lined up for the spring.

What a day!

I started my first promotion attempt of 2017 today, dropping both parts of the Atlantic Island story to 99 cents. The response has been bigger than I expected, and bigger than anything I’ve done so far in this industry.

As of right now the books have sold a combined 213 copies during the promo. They moved to just above 1,000 in the overall kindle store (still can’t break through that mark!) and Atlantic Island nabbed the #1 ranking in Young Adult Sci-Fi Romance and Young Adult Mystery Thrillers. Both books were ranked very well throughout the store, including placing in the top 100 bestsellers in all Sci-Fi as well as all Teen/YA. One other cool moment was seeing my author rank crack the top 100 of all Sci-Fi authors! I made it as far as #90 before slowly dropping off the list but I’ve never had an author rank next to my profile before.

No doubt the books will slide back down and my fifteen seconds of fame will be over but maybe some of these new readers will like the series enough to tell others and to try my other work. I’ve got some small promos coming up in a week and a big marketing campaign for Traveler hitting in about two weeks so this (hopefully!) is just the beginning.

Thanks to all who supported this sale today for helping me achieve a few more small milestones in my writing career!

Okay, I’m Back For Real This Time.

About a year ago I promised to write something on this page at least once a month. That lasted one month. Sorry about that. I decided to spend a year following the publication of Rising Tide letting my work do its thing organically without my input and marketing hand-holding.

It didn’t go particularly well. My first mistake was probably not focusing more on getting a list of all the people who read and enjoyed Atlantic Island. I trusted Amazon to track them down but it just didn’t seem to happen.  My second mistake was using the new (at the time) pre-order capability of KDP. Rising Tide pre-sold about 20 copies but that had little to no impact on the book’s ranking when it finally released.

In addition, Amazon finally expressed real interest in moving the Atlantic Island series into an Amazon imprint (I think 47North), but they were afraid to pull Rising Tide from the pre-order page because that would be a bad user experience. They decided to wait until the book was out and doing gangbusters. But then the book came out and sold almost nothing, and to this date I’ve never heard anything more about it. Such is life.

The Rising Tide situation was disappointing for me because I love those characters and that series and I think the sequel is really some of my best work. Yet the thousands of readers who bought Atlantic Island and the hundreds of them who actually contacted me to ask for a sequel did not turn up to actually buy the sequel.

I ended 2015 very strong after having that big 300+ sales week in the fall. I didn’t even sell 100 books through all of 2016. The only thing I saw that gave me some hope was a small amount of stickiness for The Traveler. The book sold 3-5 copies a month the whole year with no promotion, and that’s a book that at its best sold 40 in a day. Not even close to the success I’ve had promoting Atlantic Island, but this little bit of steady selling developed on its own.

Halfway through the year I started writing a sequel to Traveler. I rediscovered Dan’s voice instantly but it took me a while to figure out what I want to do with the story. I’ve mentioned before that Traveler was designed as a standalone story that also served to flesh out the Atlantic Island multiverse. I love Dan’s story and the arc of his romance with Suzy and I didn’t want to disturb that or turn the series into the wacky adventures of a time traveler.

Recently I figured out that this book isn’t really Dan’s, though he narrates a good portion of it and it is a continuation of his role in the larger tale I’m telling. This book is really Thomas’s. In many ways, he’s the connecting force between my books and he’s one of my favorite characters. Peeling back the mystery of his life is a challenge but I think it gives a new perspective on him and will, in turn, give a new perspective on the events of Traveler and Rising Tide. I think it’s an engaging story set in a very different series of environments than my other novels and it helps move the pieces into place for the finale to Atlantic Island which is still a while off.

Speaking of that, I will probably create another series that also ties into Atlantic Island before getting to that final part of the trilogy. I’m going to be doing some promoting of the existing works over the next few months and I anticipate getting the sales machine moving again, at least a little.

On a final note, there is a strong possibility that I will be developing Traveler into a screenplay over the next year. I would love to be a part of the process of turning my work into a film. How that all takes shape depends on how well the book sells in the near future so stay tuned.

Almost sequel time…

Here we are at the end of November. Thanksgiving has come and gone, and editing of the Rising Tide manuscript is approaching completion. I have a deadline of December 4th to get it to Amazon and I am confident I’ll hit the mark.

I did some serious marketing for Atlantic Island through November and it paid off. The book sold over 300 copies during the month, tripling my previous best month ever (not including free downloads). Over 80 of those sales came in one day! The novel made it on to the top 100 Science Fiction and top 100 Teen/Young Adult bestseller lists. It’s a great feeling to have so many new readers and I’m proud that people seem to like the book. There are over 50 reviews now with a 4.4 average rating. Not bad.

I’m feeling good about Rising Tide. It ramps up the science fiction aspects a little more than the first book but I think I managed to keep the focus on the characters and their struggles. Hopefully there will be enough surprises for readers while still delivering a story that feels like the right step forward for Theo, Kylee and the rest of their gang.

Having never released a full sequel before, I really don’t know what to expect. I’m not sure that Amazon will market it to the people who bought the first novel (there are a couple thousand of those wonderful folks now). There is certainly a chance that nobody will buy the book, and that would be unfortunate only because I’m so excited to share this story with my readers. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ll spend most of January promoting the new book and doing some work preparing all of my fiction titles for alternate formats and stores. The paperbacks will probably take some time. After that? I have three ideas. One of those is a Traveler book but I’m still undecided as to whether Dan needs a sequel at all. What do you think?

A Long Overdue Update

Okay… so I may or may not have stepped away for what may or may not have been a ridiculous length of time approaching two years. Many things have come up in my personal life that distracted from working on promoting my writing career. That doesn’t mean I’ve been distracted from my writing, however.

In addition to revising and expanding Atlantic Island and Traveler I have been working away at the full sequel to AI, a book called Rising Tide. The draft is over 70,000 words and I’m just about ready to write the final arc of the plot. This book incorporates the Galaxi novella, which you might recall was going to be part of a series. I’ve changed that plan and completely revised the novella to fit in as just one component of a much bigger story. I know many readers liked Galaxi the character, and I can tell you she is involved in much more of Rising Tide than just the parts from her original story. Of course Kylee, Theo and many other Atlantic Island favorites are in this novel as well.

In other news, The Traveler finally started to gain some traction in the Kindle Store, briefly holding the number one spot in its sub-genre. I’m very proud of the many positive reviews that have been coming in about the book. I’ve been contacted by some readers who want to know about sequels to that story. I don’t have any concrete plans right now, but certain elements from that book (though not Dan himself) are a critical component of Rising Tide. I’ve always designed my books to exist in a shared multiverse and that will all start to come into play in Rising Tide and come to a head in the final part of the AI trilogy.

Tentatively, I imagine there will be at least one or two other novels in between the second and third AI books. One of those might involve Dan Wells, or it might not. Clearly I change my plans as I go, and that’s one of the awesome things about writing. Even the writer can’t always predict where his or her story will go.

I’m going to try to post something at least once a month here, and probably more as we build toward the release of the next book. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

My two cents on the “Paid Review Scandal”

Many authors I know are writing blogs defending the authors named in the anonymous blog post as having paid for positive reviews of their books. In particular, they are defending Hugh Howey, whom I have written about here several times. I don’t have much to contribute to the discussion other than the following:

1. I don’t understand why somebody would create such a list unless he or she was hoping to knock out many of the top authors in the self-publishing world and clear the path for the next bunch (which the accuser must assume her or she is going to be a part of). Sorry, friend, it’s not going to happen. These people have massive followings and they aren’t going anywhere. By the way, the business isn’t a competition and there is room for more to join the list without removing the list entirely. 

2. As I just said, these top talents have massive followings. They don’t need to pay for reviews. I can tell you that Hugh is just great to his fans and has earned their devotion without paying them anything. 

3. There’s an idea going around as part of this scandal that thousands of positive reviews is an indication of “fake.” Here’s what I can tell you: I’ve sold a little over 200 copies of Atlantic Island, not including several hundred sales and free downloads of the installments. I have 8 reviews of the novel, 7 of which are very positive, 1 of which is negative (and none of which I paid for). So to me those are the results of a good but (so far) unknown book. Extrapolate that out to a book like Wool that has sold probably hundreds of thousands of copies. Then look at Hugh’s reviews. The ratio is not all that different than mine. 

In conclusion, the premise of this accusation is foolish, the purpose of it is a shot in the dark at best, and none of this is any good for the growing self-publishing industry. What’s scary is how many people have jumped on the bandwagon calling out all these authors. It’s ridiculous and it needs to stop. If you don’t like somebody’s work, write a review. If you are jealous of one of these authors and his or her success, write your own damned books and try to join them in the winner’s circle. Name-calling, accusations and bullying don’t lead anyone anywhere positive. 

End rant. 

Two at a time.

I’ve been back to the grind of writing each day for a few weeks now. The time travel series I’m developing will launch with a novel called “The Traveler” presumably by the end of 2013. The series will either be referred to as “The Traveler Series” or “The Daniel Wells Series” or something like that. TBD. The book is a little more than 1/3 to its targeted length and the story is very different than anything I’ve written so far.

A little while ago I decided to write a novella while working on “The Traveler.” It’s tentatively titled “Galaxi” (the first name of the protagonist) and…drumroll please… is part of the Atlantic Island universe!! Now wait a second, it’s not a sequel to the original novel. I think that project is still a ways down the road. So what is it? It’s part of an eventual series of shorter works called “Atlantic Island Chronicles.” The characters and events of my original story certainly inform what occurs in “Galaxi,” but they aren’t the centerpiece. I’m guessing my readers want to know when the story takes place. That’s the other big part of my announcement. It takes place after Atlantic Island. Significantly after. In that sense the book serves two purposes: it’s a semi-sequel to the novel, in that it will let readers know what happened to the world I’ve created, if not to all the characters. It’s also a standalone prequel to the next novel, whenever that comes. The world of Atlantic Island is much more involved and detailed than I ever thought it would be, and you’ll learn a whole lot about it from reading “Galaxi.” The book is also about a third written but it’s much shorter than “Traveler” and I think it will be ready sometime in October. I’ll have more to report on that soon. For now… I’ve got two very different books to write. I love a good challenge. 

Jupiter’s E-Book Sensation: Hugh Howey (From the Palm Beach Post)

Hugh Howey doesn’t look like someone engaged in changing the world of books.
He’s a mild-looking, inquisitive 38-year-old, who enjoys playing with his adored dog Bella in a 900-square-foot house in Jupiter while his psychologist wife is at work.
But in the past five years, he has gone from writing a series of science fiction short stories called “Wool” that he put up for sale on Amazon at 99 cents apiece to becoming a best-selling e-book sensation and landing a print deal for the combined stories with Simon & Schuster. Ridley Scott has even optioned rights for a movie.
How big is Howey?
“In terms of Kindle copies sold in the science fiction/fantasy category,” says Jeff Belle, vice president of Amazon Publishing, “Hugh is right up there with George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury. He’s one of the smartest, hardest working authors I’ve ever met.”
And it’s possible none of it might have happened if he hadn’t been on a yacht in the Hudson River on Sept. 11, 2001.
‘Just like the movies’
Born to a farmer and school teacher in Monroe, N.C., Hugh Howey segued from reading fantasy to sci-fi in middle school. The titles were typical: Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy, Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” L. Ron Hubbard’s “Battlefield Earth.” He went to the College of Charleston and dropped out, but not before reading all the classics he had resisted in high school.
Peripatetic by nature, he worked as a roofer for a time, then captained private yachts. He loved the sea, and the work was reasonably lucrative and carried a low overhead — yacht captains earn about $1,000 per foot of ship and live on board. All told he worked on yachts for almost nine years, and filled his spare time by reading.
Twelve years ago, writing was still far into the future. On Sept. 11, 2001, Howey was in New York, captaining a 74-foot Sunseeker motor yacht for a wealthy hedge fund manager. The boat was moored in North Cove Marina, at the base of the World Trade Center.
“When the planes struck, they did so directly overhead,” he remembers. “The first one was an accident, of course. That’s what we all thought. I remember watching the second plane bank hard and come screaming down Lower Manhattan, and I still thought this was some sort of accident. Your brain just turns off. I was silently yelling for the pilot to pull up, was thinking of some sort of malfunction, the kinds of things I was too smart to believe. But the truth was too evil for me to comprehend.
“I remember the heat from the fireball. I remember thinking ‘It’s just like the movies.’ And then the people started running and screaming, and I thought that was just like the movies as well — the panic in everyone’s eyes.”
Howey’s boss said they had to get out of there — everybody believed more planes would be hitting momentarily. “I cranked the engines and started throwing the dock lines. People asked if I was leaving; I said that I was, and if they wanted to come, they should get on board. I remember asking them to take their shoes off, and how that seemed wrong even in the moment. My wires were crossed.”
Howey steered the ship across the Hudson to Liberty Landing Marina, but there was no room, so Howey tied up at a restaurant. A group of construction workers asked if Howey would take them back to the site of the Trade Center. They wanted to help. He agreed, dropped them off and then picked up others. He would see the same construction workers later when they came back for the lunch pails they left on the docks, and told him about the looting they witnessed.
“It’s easier to talk about now, but I didn’t for the longest time. We sat on the bow of the boat and watched WTC 5 (or was it 7?) fall, the radio bursting with the news before the rubble even settled. We watched both buildings come down. The night before, we had sat in Windows on the World at the top of one of the towers and looked out over the city. That spot was now in empty space.
“It seemed surreal. Still does.”
Low sales, then sudden success
After that came a cooling-off period. Howey piloted the boat to Fort Lauderdale, where he met the woman he would later marry. For a while, he followed her around the country as her career took precedence.
Seven years after the Trade Center came down, Howey began writing. He wrote a couple of e-books in a young adult series concerning a young spaceship pilot who travels the galaxy in search of her father. When he started writing the stories that became “Wool,” they were living in Boone, N.C., where Howey was quite happily working in a bookstore.
Working there taught him a lot about the realities of writing. “Only one book sells at a time. Harry Potter, “Twilight,” Stieg Larsson, “Gone Girl.” Authors would come in for appearances. Their books were well-reviewed, but I noticed they were all professors — there were no full-time authors.
“They were making $50,000 a book, paying 15 percent of that to their agent and then more to taxes. If I hadn’t seen the parade coming through, I never would have known that very few authors support themselves on their books. That’s part of the reason I kept my cost of living so low.”
Howey’s idea was to publish his books serially on his blog, mostly because he researched conventional publishing and it sounded like a huge pain. “Three years to find an agent? By that time, I’d lose interest. And with a small publisher, there’s a small advance. I wanted a say in the cover, I wanted a say in the font. I believe that pagination is important — widows and orphans can help or hurt the reading experience.”
He was sensible about it; he figured that “Wool” wouldn’t be much different than his other e-books. “If I put $200 in the bank over the lifetime of the work, that was fine. I was doing it because I loved it. I really had no idea what was in store for me, and my expectations were subterranean.”
The first “Wool” story was finished in July 2011 and consisted of 12,000 words. He was so indifferent to its success he didn’t bother linking the story to his website and simply put it on Amazon for 99 cents. The opening sentence was a grabber, as opening sentences should be: “The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do.”
“Wool” is about a dystopian post-apocalyptic society, where people are forced by the toxic atmosphere to live in an underground 144-story silo. Procreation is allowed only via lottery. Someone has to be sent outside to clean dirt off the sensors that bring in light, said cleaning being done with industrial-grade wool. The narrative tension derives from the fact that once someone is outside, there’s no way to get back inside the silo alive.
Initially, Howey’s expectations were met: Nothing much happened. But after three months, a faint rumble was heard; rave reviews started appearing on Amazon and word-of-mouth — or word-of-chatroom? — began to work its magic. Sales began rising; people began asking for more.
It was October 2011 when everything changed. That month, Howey sold a thousand e-books. On the last day of the month, he stayed up till midnight watching the numbers come in. When he realized what had happened, he sat down and began to write the second story in the series. He would rise at three in the morning to get in his hours at the keyboard before going off to work at the bookstore. “I was consumed.”
In November, the second story was available on Amazon. By January 2012, Howey was making $200 a day, more than he was making in a week at the bookstore. He quit, although not without a great deal of angst — he was about to try to be one of the few writers who doesn’t have a day job.
So far, his luck is holding just fine.
“Wool” was published (in print!) in England, where it became a best-seller. It has now sold to 32 different countries. Ridley Scott has optioned the book. Howey calls the entire experience “life-altering,” and he’s not exaggerating. He returned to South Florida, and the Jupiter house he bought a year ago is paid for.
9/11’s influence
Howey was lucky in one respect — science fiction, along with romance, have very avid fans. Amazon’s Belle says that, “The most active, engaged and well-organized reading communities online are groups of science fiction, fantasy and romance readers. If you write a book that catches readers’ attention and makes them want to share their thoughts about it, these groups can spread the word very quickly.”
Howey says that the reason literary fiction is not particularly dependent on word of mouth is that story is less important than prose and style. “With science fiction and romance, you kind of know going in what the experience is going to be.”
All told, “Wool” is a fairly grim book, as is “I, Zombie,” a book Howey brought out in 2012, which he refers to as “a literary horror novel.” In “I, Zombie,” the creatures can remember all of their previous lives, even as they are helpless to control the desires that compel them to eat people. Some of the gloom derives from Howey’s consumption of a great deal of philosophy and a gradual loss of belief in free will that probably derives from witnessing 9/11 at close range.
“9/11 pops up in most of my works. I’ve been writing about it obliquely since my very first novel. In that debut work, an entire planet is razed, and the protagonist watches from a distance. I remember bawling while writing the scene. It was painful but cathartic. In the ‘Wool’ series, several of the silos are brought down much like the twin towers. I don’t think I’ll ever get that day out of my head, but writing about it helps, even if I’m the only one who knows that’s what I’m writing about.
“ ‘I, Zombie’ tackles that day head-on. Maybe that’s the reason I don’t recommend the book to people and even put a disclaimer in the description. I don’t care if anyone ever reads that book; I just had to write it.”
It was only a matter of time before conventional trade publishers came calling for “Wool,” but Howey turned them down because the standard publishing deal mandates e-book rights, and he was making in the vicinity of $100,000 a month through Amazon, which had priced “Wool” at $5.99 for the five-story omnibus version.
Finally, Simon & Schuster bought the book for print only. The book has done well, but not as well as the e-book version; Howey says about 90 percent of his American sales are e-books, and it’s possible that the e-book has skimmed off a lot of potential readers who would otherwise have bought the print version for a higher price.
Open to fan fiction
Howey has taken his success one step further: he’s encouraging others to share in it by allowing writers to use his settings and characters for their own stories. In other words, he’s opened up the “Wool” series for fan fiction. This would give most writers an aneurysm, but Howey is sanguine.
“I grew up in a different time, with open-sourced projects. Wikipediaand the Encyclopedia Britannica. I don’t have an affinity for a canon; I don’t feel a sense of protectiveness about it. I don’t ask to see anybody else’s story before it goes out.”
Fredric Shernoff, 32, lives in Wellington and works as a real estate developer. He recently published “Angels of the Earth,” a “Wool” story that has been selling 20 to 30 copies a day at 99 cents apiece on Amazon. “There are some general rules,” says Shernoff of the Amazon program, “but they allow the rights holders to set the parameters. Hugh is very open. You can kill one of his characters off, you can revisit a plot he already did.”
Shernoff says that the author of the fan fiction gets 35 percent of the proceeds, Howey gets 35 percent, and Amazon takes the rest. (Amazon doesn’t talk about contractual matters, so won’t confirm or deny the royalty split.) Howey was given an advance once he agreed to the fan fiction, which he took to be a licensing fee.
“If I make a penny in royalties beyond this advance, I’ll be donating those royalties to a literary charity,” he says. “I don’t mind the licensing fee, but I would be uncomfortable earning royalties on another’s work.”
Howey says that he thinks of fan fiction as training wheels for new writers. “I’ve already made more money off ‘Wool,’ than I ever planned, so seeing other people get a leg up because of it is cool. It’s also surreal. One guy told me that he made enough from his story to pay his rent for the month. Worrying about copyright pales next to that. Fan fiction teaches readers that they can become writers too, and that’s exciting.
“I like books like ‘The Road’ and ‘The Handmaiden’s Tale,’ books that cross boundaries. I’m just thrilled that ‘Wool’ has done some of that. I have no ego about the work — I just want it to be as good as possible. I’ve lived a simple life, so this is like winning the lottery. I’m grateful, but I’m also prepared to go back to shelving books.”
Next: sailing the world
Right now, Hugh Howey is enjoying his good life.
He has completed another book entitled “Dust,” which wraps up the Silo saga. “I don’t want to write the same characters over and over,” he says.
He gets up in the morning, gets the paper from the driveway and reads it over a bowl of cereal. He writes until lunch, after which he takes Bella to the beach. Afternoon is for emails and business.
In five years, Howey and his wife plan to retire, buy a boat and sail around the world. He’ll write a serialized memoir about their experiences and post it on his blog. Maybe he’ll even sell it — there’s a long history of sailing adventures staying in print for a century or more. Hugh Howey, meet Richard Henry Dana.
Howey rubs Bella and contemplates his good fortune, which is diametrically opposed to his vision of a world bathed in brutality. He is not unaware of the irony.
“Right now,” he says, “I’m just soaking up every minute of it.”