On Writing

Hugh Howey On Self-Publishing

(updated from September 17, 2014)

One of the biggest questions a writer today must answer is should I self-publish my book or go with a traditional publisher? And although this is the number one question in most writing groups, it is not a new concept. 

As I stated in my last blog, in 1849, unable to find a publisher, Thoreau self published his first novel,  A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers . He received minimal success by self-publishing and it wasn’t until after his death that a publisher accepted his work. 

Today, however, more and more writers are finding an audience for their books by self-publishing. One such author is Hugh Howey, who is famous for his Science Fiction novel WOOL. Howey is a self-publishing success story.

He turned down seven-figure offers from publishers before reaching a print-only deal with Simon and Schuster. Currently, Apple TV in conjunction with AMC has ordered development of WOOL into a TV series.  

Ironically, he has this to say of his fame.

You might think I’m living the best days of my life right now, but that isn’t the case at all.—Hugh Howey

In 2014 when I first discovered Howey, WOOL debuted at #7 on the New York Times bestseller list and in the two years prior, Howey sold a million books. Yet, he does not consider this time in his life the best days of his life.

A Little Howey Background

Howey worked as a yacht captain, a computer repair technician, a bookstore clerk, and he installed home theatre systems. But the job he enjoyed most was working for a roofing company.

He said he liked the thrill of the heights, the hard work, the achy bones, and even the sweat-soaked clothes. During the two years he spent with the roofing company, he did most of his mental writing, and it was while working in the bookstore that he wrote most of his stories.

He describes his pre-published life in lyrical terms painting a picture of simplicity and beauty—a small home, a garden, hikes, neighbors, homemade blueberry cobblers, and a debt-free existence with his wife and dog. In his words,

We were poor and wanted for nothing.

To Self-Publish or Not, Howey’s Thoughts

“Do these cynics tell the youth strumming their guitars on the street to stop right then?” Pixabay Image by Tommes64

I  googled “self-publish” to see if it was hyphenated and a whole slew of articles on why not to self-publish snowballed me. Each article stating legitimate concerns, however, consider Howey’s thoughts. 

…Who says the only reason to self-publish is because someone wants to get rich? And who says publishing, any way you do it, is a route to financial independence. I think we all know it isn’t. I knew that better than most from working in a bookstore and meeting so many bestselling authors who had day jobs. That isn’t why we write. It isn’t why we publish.
And to those cynics who advise no one self-publish, Howey says:
Do these cynics tell the youth strumming their guitars on the street to stop right then, to give up creating art because there’s no future in it? What about the present in it?
Howey lectured to students and gave them this message:
…I talked about the joys of self-publishing—not as a commercial venture but as a way of producing art and making it available to others. I saw myself as a small-time painter or musician might. Nobody tells these people to stop putting their works in local galleries or to quit playing local bars. We don’t rail against the proliferation of YouTube videos from aspiring filmmakers or DeviantArt accounts from future designers. We celebrate the act of bettering our craft by producing early works.

I put down my e-device and clapped every time I read one of Howey’s motivational and empowering comments aimed directly at the heart of any self-published author and the brain of any cynic. My husband woke up when I started dancing on the bed and politely asked if I could please go somewhere other than the bedroom, at two in the morning, to cheer. 

For so long friends, a few family members, editors, and other writers have told me not to self-publish, because no serious writer self-publishes, and that traditional publishers won’t even look at a self-published author. But that’s like telling an artist not to exhibit her/his works. How will he/she get better? How will we improve our craft if readers are not present to tell us what they like or dislike?

Howey’s Best Days

My happiest days were spent writing,
not being a bestselling author.—Hugh Howey’s best days in his words
My happiest days—besides being with family—is when I am writing. How about you, what are your happiest days? And it doesn’t have to involve writing. I love hearing from you
Clara Bush
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