Interview with Author Hugh Howey

Welcome to Book Brouhaha! Why don't you start out by introducing yourself and telling us a little about "Wool."

Thanks for having me, Alain! I suppose I'm just this normal guy who just wrote a little story called Wool. It's about a group of people who live underground. When their society turns on itself, it threatens all of mankind. In a way, it poses the conundrum of every revolution: How do you destroy an unjust social structure without the collateral damage being worse than the injustices were?

I suppose the most interesting thing about me, personally, is that I lived on a sailboat while I was in college. This led to a career as a yacht captain, which sent me all over the Caribbean and the East Coast. I didn't start writing in earnest until my wife dragged me away from the sea and into the mountains. I've always loved the short form. I've been told that it isn't as marketable, even though science fiction has a long and glorious history of celebrating shorter works. It's strange, then, that my fame is growing on the backs of one of my smaller pieces.

Your novelette, Wool, really seems to be taking off! Just the other day you had mentioned on Kindleboards the possibility of a movie contract. Very exciting! Do you think that some of the success of the story is due in part to the word count (a "mere" 12,000 words) of the story or in spite of it?

I think if I'd stopped with the first Wool story, I wouldn't be quite where I am today. Ridley Scott wouldn't have optioned the work for film. It was following it up with more novellas and sating reader demand that really pushed me over the edge. The Wool series ended up being a serialized story, with releases coming more quickly than traditional sequels. I think early readers enjoyed this process as much as I did. And luckily, the end result hangs together nicely as a novel. It's a publishing method I hope to employ again some day.

Despite the fact that you have clearly written a well-crafted tale, I see you've still acquired a few of the reviews all short story authors fear: "Well written BUT too short..." Do you think this is an attitude that will eventually change as more and more short fiction becomes published?

I hope so. E-readers are a natural fit for works of all length, as there's no publication costs to satisfy. As for the bad reviews, I don't understand giving something a 1-star mark because you loved it but you think the length is incorrect. I charge the minimum allowed for the first Wool story (and way under-price all my other works as well), so it is a bit baffling. Still, I've learned to take these comments as a compliment. I've set aside many books as a reader that I couldn't get into enough to want to finish. The works I really loved were the ones I hated to see end. Also: if readers hadn't clamored for more, there's probably would be any more!

On Amazon you have a little disclaimer about how you are charging the absolute minimum for your ebook and that you make far less on standalones than you do on your collection. Why do you feel that this explanation is necessary?

Because some people who came late to the party and saw the individual entries thought I was trying to maximize my earnings. As you probably know, the opposite is true. Authors make half the royalty rate on less expensive works, which means you need to sell quite a few short stories before you can buy yourself a cup of coffee. To head these comments off at the pass, I finally decided to include something in the product description. It isn't the reader's responsibility to know and understand Amazon's royalty rates. It's my duty to inform them.

Despite the rich history behind science fiction short stories, they can be a tough sell these days. Any promotional tips for authors trying to work in niche markets?

Give your work away until you can afford to charge for it. I've been posting my shorts for free on my website for ages. I gave Wool to anyone who would even express a slight interest in reading it (and many others who did nothing more than glance my direction!). Most of all, write because you love it. Do it for the joy, and you can't go wrong. I don't have a single bad memory of the years I spent writing while working a day job. In fact, those were some of the happiest writing moments of my life!

Thanks, Hugh!  Readers, you can check out his work on Amazon and stop by his website to see upcoming projects.


  1. Great interview Alain and Hugh. I've always loved Sci-fi and am glad the short form is still around and marketable. Congratulations on all your success Hugh. I highly recommend readers grab a copy of Wool. If Ridley Scott loved it, you will too.

  2. It's definitely still around. Now just to see if it's marketable.... =p

  3. Nice interview and nice blog. I have a short sci-fi that wasn't selling so I recently pulled it.

    But after reading the interview, I'm going to try again. You have inspired me. Thank you!

  4. Definitely keep it published! One thing I have noticed is that short stories take awhile to "age." My best selling works are my oldest. I've yet to have a newly published work just take off instantly.

  5. It's great to see Hugh's success happening. I'm almost through Wool 3 and can't get enough. Enjoyed this interview, too. Thanks!

  6. Thanks for the interview. I too hope that the advent of the Kindle will see a resurgence in popularity for shorter fiction. Best wishes, Stephen Livingston.

  7. This thrills me! I've been going back and forth for (I'm ashamed to say) a whole year at least, debating whether or not to even publish short fiction to Kindle because all I've heard (pre-Hugh Howey) is how those works get 1-starred by people for being "too short". People have even blogged that Amazon customers do not like short fiction, only full length books, namely of the 600 page length.
    They also stated that Amazon customers wanted those ebooks for free so they can "sample" our work.

    I write everyday & don't consider myself a lazy writer, but personally, at the price point of FREE or 99 cents, or even a couple of bucks, I just don't feel like writing something that long. I just don't want to invet that much time and energy into something that (let's be honest) more than likely won't pay off. and I just feel like these ebook consumers want too much. they want the ebook to have all the attributes of a paper book (length, polishing, professional cover art, ect) but just not the price of a paper book. They want a $20 book for 99 cents. I'm just not down with that.

    Their well-documented argument is that ebooks cost nothing to produce but from what I've experienced, nothing costs nothing to produce except nothing. for example, I am now going back to re-check the FONTS I've used on my ebook covers (I got them from dafont dot com) because most fonts cost about $19.95 for commercial use/free for personal use. Then to be able to use a photographer's photo as a professional ebook cover can cost anywhere from $20 to over $200. So far I managed to get mine for free with permission (from DeviantArt photographers), but they still look good IMO. But I digress.

    To be able to publish multiple ebooks in a series at 10,000 words a pop or even 12,000 words is a lifesaver! I can pump out a book per day like this and move on to the next one. Plus they're easier to edit! PLUS other people are more willing to edit or critique it because it's not a 600 page tome! PLUS 10,000 words or so matches the tiny price point. 600 words does not/never did/never will.

    Besides, the real money for writers is in selling film rights and getting a small percentage of backend profits once the film has been released, ect. That and merchandise. Maybe we can earn a little extra cash selling ad space in the ebooks. but peddling our wares for Free & 99 cents? No, there's no money in that.

    And before somebody brings up Amanda Hocking, it was the $2.99 price point that she made her money on, not the 99 cents. How hard is it to understand that?? And John Locke was already rich before he started publishing so it didn't matter to him if he made 99 cents. As for Hugh Howie, I believe selling the film rights is what actually led to his ability to write full time now, not just selling his books for 99 cents. No way. What do you think?

    Sorry this is SOOOOO long :( thanks for allowing me to comment!

    1. Well I think a few things:

      1) You seem very concerned about the profit aspect of writing. If this is literally holding you back from writing down the stories in your head, you should probably rethink your hobby. Writing is by no means a get-rick-quick scheme. It takes YEARS (as in, more than 5) before any author, traditional or indie, will start to make a respectable income.

      2) That said, one of the worst things you can do is NOT publish because you're worried about not making a profit. Edit and get cover art within your price range . You can self-edit as best you can and, as you said, find free images to use for cover art. But whatever you do KEEP PUBLISHING. The more works you have out the, more likely it will be that a potential reader will find you.

      3) I'm not saying that film rights don't make you money... but I think you should consider the larger scope of things. Film rights and backend sales are a one-time deal. You sell the rights and that's it. Your ebooks will be around forever.

      Assuming royalties stay the same (for math sake), if you sold one 99 cent ebook every day for the next 30 years, you'd make $3,832.50. Write one story every month for a year and you'll have 12 stories. Sell one of each of those every day for 30 years and you'd make $45,990.

      And this is flawed math because it assumes your sales stay the same over the 30 year period. They don't. They increase if you put out good quality work. Because if you get the one reader that likes your work, they'll buy your other one. And the more your name spreads, the more people buy.

      So my suggestion to you: WRITE =)

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