Wool has been a publishing phenomenon. It started off as a self-published, online, short story that grew into a serialized novel whose eBooks sales outstripped Fifty Shades of Grey. The film rights have been snapped up by Ridley Scott and Hugh Howey has landed landmark publishing deals with Random House in the UK & Australia and Simon & Schuster in the US. The follow up, Shift, has just been published and Hugh Howey is visiting Australia in April. (He will be signing copies at Pages & Pages on April 16!). Hugh was kind enough to answer a few questions ahead of his visit down under.
It’s been a wild one, that’s for sure. To begin, I’d like to thank you for your part. Having the support of readers who spread the word – that’s how all this came about. And to have a bookseller with your reputation and awesome shop shouting the book’s praise, it’s been very humbling and encouraging.
I started writing when I was young, but I would give up before I finished a manuscript. After a career as a yacht captain, I found myself landlocked and returning to the dream of becoming an author. I finished my first novel in 2009 and published it with a small press. When they offered to publish my second book, I decided to try publishing on my own instead. I’ve been writing and putting out my works ever since.
What inspired me to become a writer was first finding enjoyment as a reader. I became addicted to books, which made me want to craft some of my own.
2. Would you have changed anything in the way Wool was originally published?
Not a thing. I can’t imagine having any more success than I have. I’d be terrified to do anything differently. The serialized nature of publication created a lot of work on my part, but I believe it’s the reason this series was discovered. It’s very easy for readers to try the first book. If they don’t like it, they haven’t invested much money. If they get hooked, the rest of the story is waiting for them.
I think the underground portion came from my childhood during the Cold War. Bunkers were just understood to be where we would retreat in a disaster. I also grew up with grain silos on my father’s farm that I would climb and play inside.
The heart of the story is a question of hope and belief. Is the world as bad as some people make it out to be? Can we know the world if all we have is a single screen feeding us information? These are the topics I tackled with the first story.
4. Wool started as an eBook before being published as a hardcover and paperback so the big question is what do you prefer reading, print or digital? Why?
I prefer print, but I read both. I still like the feel and heft of a novel. E-books have advantages, though. Some (not all) are cheaper than print books. They don’t clutter your house. You can access them immediately. You can take dozens with you on vacation. While I see their growth continuing, I don’t think books will ever go away, nor bookstores. There are too many of us who choose to read the former and support the latter.
5. Wool and Shift have both been published in multiple parts as eBooks before being printed together. What do you like about the serial fiction process (both writing and publishing)?
Writing a serialized work is incredibly hard but very rewarding. Like a season of television, you get all of these smaller climaxes and cliffhangers within the larger story. Readers don’t have to wait a year between works. And the story holds together for people who come along later. Besides, if it was good enough for Charles Dickens and Isaac Asimov, it’s good enough for me.
6. Wool finishes with lots of questions still to answer. What made you decide to go right back to the begining and tell the prequel story in Shift before the sequel Dust?
I wanted to leave WOOL on an island for a little while. It was such a fun story to write, and I think it holds together so well, that I felt a direct sequel would lessen the impact of the final chapter (and epilogue). My choice was to never write another work in the series or have a departure before coming back. I chose the latter.
The joy of self-publishing is that I get to write what I want, which is often the thing that makes the least financial and commercial sense but pleases me most as an artist. SHIFT was one of those decisions (I, ZOMBIE was another). I don’t think I could have gotten away with this narrative structure had I been with a publishing house.
7. What has been the biggest difference going from self-published, digital-only books to being published by Random House and Simon & Schuster in print?
The differences have been a lot less than I would have thought. By the time I signed with Simon & Schuster, my self-published paperbacks were showing up in bookstores here in the United States. I had done signings, some touring, a lot of media, had a deal with a major Hollywood studio and producer, had half a million readers, and had made more money than I ever thought possible. So the biggest difference, I would say, has been the people. Having a team behind you can be a lot of fun. I just spent a week with the Random House UK crew, and I left feeling like they were a part of my family. I consider my editor, Jack Fogg, a very dear friend (not sure if he feels the same way!) It’s been worth publishing with Random House just for the bonds I’ve formed.
8. Ridley Scott has optioned the film rights for Wool. What has that process been like and are you involved or keeping a distance?
I’m as involved as they want me to be, but I’ve asked that the project be left in their hands. I don’t know the first thing about making a film or writing a screenplay. They have a brilliant writer in J Blakeson. 20th Century Fox flew us both to LA for a week to discuss his vision for the work, meet with the production teams and studio execs, and chart out our path forward. That’s the sort of involvement I’ve had.
I told them I wanted to purchase a ticket and a tub of popcorn. That’s my idea of how I’ll help (It’ll probably be a dozen tickets, actually).
9. What books and writers inspired you to become a writer?
Orson Scott Card, Douglas Adams, and Shakespeare.
10. What books have you recently read and enjoyed?
I finally picked up George R.R. Martin’s GAME OF THRONES series. I promised myself I wouldn’t start these until he’d finished the work, but I got scared one or both of us wouldn’t be around to see that happen. And once you dig in, you can’t stop.
I’ve also been reading a lot of indies like David Adams, Matthew Mather, and Annie Bellet. There is some absolutely brilliant work being self-published these days. So many authors are going straight to this route in order to avoid the time delays to publication, and it means incredible talent is out there to be discovered. There’s never been a better time to be a writer. And there’s never been a better time to be a reader.