Thursday, November 7, 2013

studying Howey's story

Have you heard of Hugh Howey? He's one of the biggest success stories in self-publishing. One of his stories was optioned by Ridley Scott for a potential feature film. He's turned down seven-figure offers from major presses wanting rights to his ebooks, and eventually negotiated a print-only deal with Simon and Schuster (keeping his ebook rights for himself).

My brother told me I should read Hugh Howey's blog to try to find out the secret to his success. So I started at the beginning, and read a bunch. I don't know if I discovered Howey's secret, but I did learn a few things.

Howey started out pursuing traditional publication, and succeeded in signing a deal with a small press for his first novel. After the first novel, he quickly (in the course of the next year) wrote three follow-up novels, but he published them by himself, on Kindle. During this time he also cranked out a novel for NaNoWriMo 2010 called Half Way Home, which was also self-published.

Throughout the buildup to his small-press release, and after it too, Howey seemed to do all of the right things. He wrote the aforementioned followups, he worked at spreading the word about his books, he worked at building an online presence and developing himself as a "brand." His efforts resulted in some success, but it was limited.

And then he broke out with Wool, a novelette that he made no efforts to promote, and which he never really expected to go anywhere. For some reason it did, getting hundreds, and then thousands, of sales, building more and more interest, all on its own. Wool created the snowball effect I mentioned in a previous blog.

Howey didn't seem to understand why Wool was having the success it was. But that didn't stop him from making an effort to capitalize on it. Once he realized Wool was becoming a break-out success, he cranked out 3 followups in the course of a month, and they helped to blow that break-out into one of the biggest book success stories of 2011. Eventually he published a total of nine Wool-related titles. They have sold more than a million copies, and have been translated into at least 24 languages.

So, what's the main thing I learned from the above?

Howey's success came as a surprise to him. It wasn't a novel-length work, it wasn't part of a series when it first started selling, and he wasn't putting effort into promoting it. It seemed to take off all on its own, but when it did, he seized the opportunity it presented.

What kind of strategy can I come up with after studying Howey's story?

Give up on self-promotion. Give up on spreading the word, and building a fan-base. Give up on "professional cover design and formatting." Give up on writing novels. Give up on writing series. Instead, focus on writing and publishing short, self-contained stories. Keep cranking them out. If fortune hits, be ready to turn the lucky story into a series. And do it quickly.

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