Going it on your own: the story behind Wool

I just finished reading Wool, a claustrophobic, terrifying, brilliant novel (or collection of stories) by Hugh Howey. The story behind Howey’s success with the book is just as interesting as the book itself. He originally wrote the first section of the novel as a short story and self-published it as an e-book. In The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success, I talk about publishing in e-book format first, a strategy which Howey employed masterfully in this case.


Wool achieved such impressive sales figures in its first few months that he kept going, writing more sections and self-publishing them online. The BBC has a brief interview about the background behind the series, and The Washington Post published a review yesterday.  The best piece I’ve seen, though, is the Wall Street Journal article, which gives a much more detailed timeline of events, and talks more about exactly what Howey did to achieve his significant success.


The most important part of his marketing campaign was to have a really excellent book. If your book is mediocre, the word-of-mouth that was central to Wool‘s widespread popularity just won’t happen. An author or publisher can put an advance copy in a reader’s hands, but nobody can manufacture the type of enthusiasm that makes books like WoolThe Hunger Games, and even Fifty Shades of Grey into phenomenon.


Howey also took advantage of a lot of inexpensive online opportunities to promote his book, most of which involved connecting with readers–through Goodreads, book bloggers, and a Reddit AMA once he started gaining visibility. Reddit seems to be gaining a lot more attention as a way to connect with a fairly young, intelligent, and tech-savvy audience.


One thing that surprised me about Howey’s story is that he was able to negotiate a print-only deal with a major publisher for Wool. As more people read digitally, publishers are loathe to pick up an expensive project (or any book, really) without also picking up the e rights. That said, I think Jonathan Karp made a smart move in this case, as Howey has proven himself to be a strong marketer and there is significant enthusiasm for Wool and Howey’s other books. And who knows–if Simon & Schuster forms a good relationship with Howey, he might consider getting out of the self-publishing business at some point and letting them have all the rights so he can focus on the writing.


There are numerous other lessons to be taken from this story. I’m always happy to see a writer achieving success–especially on his own terms.


Breaking the rules

Today, on my travels around the web, I read an excellent piece by Charlie Jane Anders over at io9, “10 Writing ‘Rules’  We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break.” The rules addressed both themes/plot setups such as “No portal fantasy” and techniques, such as “Avoid infodumps.” Anders went on to explain each one, discussing why this might be a convention (or a rule) and providing examples of authors who had done it well.

I’ve been editing a few fantasy novels lately, and have seen authors do all sorts of literary backflips to avoid a whiff of exposition or seeming to have an infodump. It can definitely be much easier and less jarring to a reader for the author to just give a few paragraphs of background and move on with the story.

The piece as a whole has me thinking about the rules of writing. My hardest and fastest rule about magic or any out-of-the-ordinary effects in novels are that an author can do anything he or she wants–build any sort of world, give her characters any sorts of powers–but those powers or effects should remain consistent throughout the book. Gabriel Garcia Marquez creates a bizarre, otherworldly place in One Hundred Years of Solitude, and you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next, or whether something actually happened, or whether a character just perceived it that way. That said, the book has its own internal logic, or if not logic, then at least it’s joined together by a similar sensibility, so things that happen on page 200 seem to be part and parcel with what begins the novel in the first 20 pages.

I believe that once you set up your world and its rules, you should really stick with those rules, with one caveat. If the effect produced by breaking the rule is so valuable that it outweighs the disruption to and confusion of your readers, then go for it. For example–if there is a revelation halfway through the book and your character discovers something about himself or his world, and the rules change from there on out–great! That works for me.

I’ve always been a little baffled by Murakami, because his worlds (such as the one in Kafka on the Shore) seem to be deliberately without an internal logic. Things happen because they happen, and the reader is expected to go with it. He’s a writer with a lot of talent, but I’ve never been able to fall in love with his work because of that.

What are your rules for writing?

Novelrocket: Inside Tips on Book Publishing

Over the weekend, I did an interview with Novelrocket about book publishing. I covered topics such as mistakes self-publishers make, secrets of the publishing industry, and whether authors really have to market their own books or whether that’s something that’s better left to the professionals.

Here’s a selection from the interview:

What drove you to write this book?
Working as an editor and publisher, I see that writers have a huge hunger for information about the publishing process. Authors who are traditionally published frequently know very little about what the publisher’s job entails, which can lead to confusion and frustration. Publishers typically compound this problem by not really taking the time to educate authors on how best to work with them, so there can be friction and disappointment because of unmet expectations.
Self-publishing can be a huge boon for an author, but it’s easy to underestimate the challenges of publishing a book. As Donald Rumsfeld once said in a completely unrelated context: “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Many authors are diligent about learning the publishing process, but it’s tough to do that if you don’t even know what questions to ask. The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success is meant to be a guide for authors, to teach them what questions to ask, and to answer many of those questions.

For the rest of the interview, visit Novelrocket. Thanks again for the opportunity!

National Grammar Day!

Happy National Grammar Day to you! I imagine the best way to celebrate is to use perfect grammar, all day long. Either that, or completely botch all your grammar, giving those around you a deeper appreciation of why we need it. Either way, the choice is yours.

Here are a few suggestions about how else you can celebrate National Grammar Day.

If you’d like to use this as an opportunity to brush up on your grammar, Bud Bradshaw has written The Big Ten of Grammar, an excellent, simple guide to grammar that addresses the most commonly-made grammar mistakes.

big ten

In college, a friend and I learned about the subjunctive mood. After learning the rule, we saw this everywhere! It is very infrequently handled correctly in most spoken and written English.
Do you have a favorite grammar rule?

Novel Publicity & Co: A Step-by-Step Guide

Today, my blog tour has taken me to Novel Publicity & Co, where I’ve written Editors and designers and distribution, oh my! A step-by-step guide to self-publishing your book.

Here’s an excerpt:

Create the Package

The look of a physical book, including the cover, format, paper quality, and other elements, is called “the package” of the book. The choices you make at this stage will create readers’ first impression of your book. The package of the book telegraphs a lot to readers, even if the author or publisher isn’t aware of what a cover or other elements of the package implies.

Finding a good cover designer is one of the most important decisions at this stage. Readers are fairly sensitive to design, and if the quality of the cover is poor, readers will often assume that the quality of the writing is similarly poor. Make sure to look at the designer’s other work before hiring her. If you’ve written a genre novel like romance or science fiction, try to find a designer who has worked in the genres, as there are some very specific expectations for what a romance or sci-fi cover will look like.

When you’re working with the designer, find five or ten samples of covers you like in your book’s category, and figure out why you like them. If you give designers concrete design samples to use as a guide, it can really help you get the aesthetic you’re looking for.

Other aspects of the book’s package include the title and subtitle, any endorsement quotes, whether you use matte or glossy laminate on the cover stock, the quality and color of the paper, and many additional considerations. The book’s package is the first marketing tool in your arsenal, so make sure you dedicate the time and resources to making sure it’s very good.

The blog seems like a great resource for writers and people who are publishing and promoting their work. There is advice on writing, publishing, social media, and an Ask the Editor feature that dispels confusion about puzzling subjects such as When to Use an Em Dash.

My step-by-step guide leaves a LOT out, but it’s a good approximate overview for pieces of the publishing puzzle. There is a lot more detail in my book, The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success. The Search Inside feature on Amazon is up now, so you can browse around inside it if you want to see what’s in there.

Blog Tour!

I’ve had a lot of experience publishing, editing, and marketing books, but it feels very different from the other side. I think having the experience of being the author will make me a better (and more empathetic) editor/publisher/book marketer. I never realized before how challenging it is to do a blog tour, and write  many posts on a subject in a short period of time without becoming redundant–or worse–dull.

My publicist and I are still developing the tour, but we’re in the thick of it right now, so I thought I should put the schedule out there for interested parties.

Previous stops

Gotham Ghostwriters interviewed me about the book way back before publication.

I wrote about How to Bust Up Your Writer’s Block for Huffington Post earlier this month.

In ancient history, I wrote about how to crash a book for Publishing Perspectives a while back.


Today, I wrote a piece for The Writer’s [Inner] Journey about the pros and cons of working with a co-author, and how to deal with creative differences.

In the Future

Going forward, there are a few more stops scheduled.

February 26th, I’ll be doing an interview with NovelRocket.

March 6th, I’ll be tackling the very exciting subject of how the little guys can compete in this very challenging publishing climate for Write on Fiction Now.

There might be a few additional surprise stops. I’ll keep this updated as that develops.

This is very exciting for me! I’m thrilled to have the chance to share some of what I’ve learned about publishing with writers who are thinking about publishing their own work.

The Insider’s Introduction

Starting this blog is long overdue, and I’ve felt a bit hypocritical over the last few weeks of promoting my book. Ideally, if you intend to publish a book, you should have your blog up and running six months or a year before you publish your book–or even longer, if you’re really on top of it. That said, I definitely think “better late than never” with pretty much all aspects of book promotion. At some point, I’ll talk about the Long Runway, but for now, rest assured that book promotion doesn’t happen all at once, and you really do have to go at your own pace.


I’ve been an editor for nine years, and a writer for much longer than that. It has been fascinating watching the publishing industry change in that time. One of the most exciting changes has been the rise of tools and opportunities for writers to publish their own work. That said, it took me years working at a publisher, collaborating with a great team to feel comfortable with the publishing process. Writers who try to publish their own work can be at a big disadvantage in that there is a steep learning curve, and it’s easy to make a lot of mistakes with your first book. I teamed up with Eric Kampmann to write a book about the publishing process to create a guide for writers who are going through it. The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success is meant as a companion for writers who are publishing their work.


I’ll be posting information from the book here, as well as posting links and discussing issues in publishing today. It’s meant to be a resource for writers, publishers, and self-publishers.


Until next time!