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The WOOL Success: An Interview with Hugh Howey

As an indie author myself, albeit an unknown one, it makes me happy to see a fellow author becoming successful with his/her book. And Hugh Howey is one of them.

Awarded with “#1 Bestseller on Amazon * Winner of Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Book of 2012,” and with film rights sold to 20th Century Fox for his WOOL series, and with Ridley Scott as well as Steven Zaillan (Schindler’s List!!!) optioning it for a potential feature film, Hugh is no doubt a publishing success!

Hugh Howey

How would you describe yourself?

I tell people I’m a writer. I did this even when I had a day job as a bookseller. To me, it’s like an actor who has to wait tables to pay the bills. That’s not what you’re passionate about, what you spend all your time thinking about and working towards.

What I rarely say is that I’m an “author.” For some reason, I don’t feel like I deserve that title yet, or that it’s too stuffy for me. Anyone can be a writer. You just sit down and do it. That feels more my style.

What was your childhood dream?

To sail around the world and to write novels. You can imagine the horror my parents must’ve felt!

I lived on a sailboat for five years and worked as a yacht captain for a decade, so the dream of a circumnavigation is still alive. And I’ve wanted to be a writer since I fell in love with reading at a very young age. It’s surreal to be living my dream.

Growing up, what does the word “success” meant to you?

Fulfilling your own expectations. I think it means reaching the goals you outline, whether they be professional, personal, physical, emotional, whatever. My problem is that I set way too high of expectations for myself, so I never feel like I’ve fully succeeded. It’s a problem and a blessing, as it always has me striving to better myself.

Was life easy for you back then?

Life has always felt easy for me, even when I was struggling. I think our natures are pretty rigid in this way. I loved working as a roofer for two years, a job that most people would find excruciating. It’s our mindset. So even when I’m broke or lonely or experiencing hardship, I tend to find find something to be positive about. And that makes life feel easy.

Was there something you wished you knew 5 years ago?

Tons. But I’d hate to change the way things unfolded. Each discovery felt like it came at the perfect time. If I had all the information at once that I have now, I would’ve been too overwhelmed to march forward. Ignorance allowed me to tackle things that seemed small but look daunting in hindsight. I don’t know if I could’ve written WOOL if I knew how many people would eventually read it.

Things you wish you did differently?

I wish I’d started writing earlier in life. I put it off because I was scared of it. I should have 30 books written by now, not a dozen.

What’s your ultimate failure so far?

I think there have been times when my wife has felt alone because of how absorbed I get in my writing and my travels. I get overwhelmed with work stuff, and I could have done more while I was on the road to send flowers or let her know how much I missed her. I keep thinking my success is temporary, so I don’t plan for the long haul and the amount of endurance she needs. That’s been my biggest failure so far. I’m sure I have plenty more in store.

Was there a time you felt like you were just wasting your time pursuing something that seemed far-fetched to other people?

Never. I’ve always felt sorry for the people who think the dreams of others are unattainable. Reaching those dreams isn’t important, it’s having them. The people I worked with in my old bookstore used to marvel at the hours I spent writing. During my lunch break, before and after work, any spare moment I got, and they would tell me how beautiful it was outside. They didn’t mock me in a demeaning manner, but there was this confusion on their part. Why would I chase the impossible? I feel really bad for people like that.

When and why did you decide to self-publish?

The day I got the contract for my second book. My first novel was with a small press. It went great, but I started to think I could do the publishing bits on my own. The technology was there. The times were changing. I had this great impatience to forge ahead on my own pace. And so I filed the contract away and went on my own. I haven’t looked back since.

How did you promote your books? Do you have any special marketing strategies?

The book that took off for me was the one I didn’t promote at all. I don’t know what that means, but it makes me feel powerless about what succeeds and what doesn’t. The reader is the one who does the real promoting by telling their friends, writing reviews, posting on their own FB and Twitter accounts. I did everything you can think of: book signings, talking to schools, joining writing groups, going to conferences. But again, it was the book I never promoted at all that took off.

What can you say about people who look down on indie authors?

To me, it would be like walking down the street and saying something denigrating about the woman playing her violin on the sidewalk, or the man playing his sax in the subway station. It would be to walk up behind a woman painting in a park and telling her that her work wasn’t professional.

I view writing as art. Do people go onto DeviantArt and tell those talented individuals that they suck because they’re not going through a gallery? It makes me shake my head in wonder. Indie authors craft books from beginning to end. Some of them do their own covers and paginate their own interiors. They make books from scratch. How can you look down on people like that?

Describe a typical day for a Hugh Howey.

Get up. Let the dog out. Eat a bowl of cereal. Write. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. Take the dog for a walk on the beach. Drop off signed books at the post office. Come home to write some more. Answer emails and post on FB/Twitter throughout. Sleep!

What inspires you?

Every bit of life inspires me. What I read, what I see, the things I photograph, the joy of breathing. I find story inspirations in the newspaper, in comics, from film and TV. And then there are the inspirational people in my life: my wife and sister and mother. My father and brother. Seeing them do great things makes me want to do great things.

People that inspire you?

Beyond those listed above, I find inspiration in many historical figures. I read a lot of non-fiction, psychology, and philosophy. I love Bertrand Russell, Stuart Mill, Carl Sagan, John Adams, Mark Twain, and so many others. Their work and thoughts move me.

How do you define success now?

Publication. I measure my years and my progress by the works I complete and deliver to readers. I’m working on what should be my fourth novel of 2012. That feels like success to me.

Advice for people who wants to become successful author like you?

Write because you love it. That’s all you can control, the quality of your work and how much you enjoy putting it together. If you handle this, if you are happy with the process, nothing else matters. I never went into this dreaming of fame or fortune. I still don’t dream of those things. I just want to leave behind when I’m gone a few stories that people will enjoy losing themselves in.

So, what’s next?

The story of the silos will end up being three acts. After WOOL comes SHIFT, which I’m working on now. The first of the three Shift books is already out. The second should hit in a few weeks. Early next year, I’ll wrap up this saga and move on to something else!

Thank you very much!

Thank you!

Author’s Note: Hugh Howey responded to my email a few minutes after I sent him my interview invitation. Not only is this guy down to earth, but he’s also friendly. I wish him all the best and I’m sure as hell am going to watch out for his upcoming projects!

Denise Wy

9 Comments

  1. Kick-ass interview – I’M a huge fan of Howey’s career – incredible what he accomplished so far ? His fan base is rabid – just look at how they see his (art) work.

    You asked some cool questions, and I thoroughly enjoy his answers. He’s well-thought and genuine, and there’s obviously lots to learn from him.

    Welllll done !

  2. I think one of the reasons that Hugh inspires such fan loyalty is the fact that he is both a regular guy and a mature individual who has engaged in some self examination. People don’t grow this kind of outlook overnight. His success in itself encouraging to his fellow indie authors — but it’s his personality, generosity and level-headed outlook that really cause people to want more after an initial interaction with him or with one of his books.

    Great interview. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. Thanks for introducing me to Hugh! Like every other successful person, he loves what he does.

    I’m finally doing what I love, and although it’s not writing, I communicate and resonate with my audience simply because they sense my true passion.

    Keep the great articles coming please!! :)

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