Book Reviews, Publishing

You must read Hugh Howey’s novel, Wool

Hugh Howey Wool
Hugh Howey’s novel Wool is now a New York Times Bestseller.

A long time ago, I thought about writing book reviews for every book I read. What an easy way to come up with content for my blog, right? But for some reason, the books I had read just kept piling up around my desk without me ever getting around to writing those reviews. Until now. Now I have finally read something so good, I feel compelled to blog about it.

I just finished reading Hugh Howey’s novel Wool, and I must say, it is the best book I have read in a long, long time. Wool is a futuristic dystopian novel that follows the story of a people who have been living in underground silos since the destruction of the outside world several years in the past.

In addition to enjoying Howey’s story, as a writer I am also intrigued with the construction of the story, as well as how it came to exist. One of the most interesting things about this novel is that it started as a short story. Howey first published Wool through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing system. This original short story garnered such great success, Howey added a series of novellas. Books 1 – 5 were eventually compiled into the novel that I just finished reading. Books 6 – 8 will be released August 2013 in the Dust Omnibus.

The astonishing part of the Wool story is how this series of self-published Kindle novellas was eventually picked up by a traditional publisher. According to the Wikipedia entry for Wool, Howey “signed a print-only deal for in the neighborhood of a half million dollars with Simon and Schuster to distribute Wool to book retailers across the US and Canada. Unusually, Howey retains full rights to continue distributing Wool online himself.”

The story behind Wool has writers around the world blinking their eyes in wonder at how a self-published short-story writer could achieve such an amazing feat. It also has me (and a lot of other writers) wondering if we could do the same thing.

In the old days, a writer just didn’t release any part of a novel if he or she had any hopes of seeing it picked up by a traditional publisher. Traditional publishers wanted first publication rights. Publishing even one chapter of your novel online uses up that first publication right, which publishers typically do not like. But authors like Howey have turned this old notion upside down.

Recently I have heard that more and more publishers want authors to build their own audience first, and then publish. This leads me to wonder if those of us who are spending years on perfecting our novels for publication might be selling ourselves short. What if the thing to do now is to go ahead and release those first few chapters to build interest? Why not put pieces of my novel out there now and see what kind of feedback I get?

There is no denying the publishing industry has changed. Some may argue it has changed for the worse. But I think the recent developments have created new opportunities for great writers who may have been previously ignored by the publishing industry. It gives writers the opportunity to sell their work directly to the readers rather than allowing publishers to decide what books we get to read.

I believe it is only fitting that the reader should be allowed to decide what makes it and what doesn’t. For centuries, readers have had access only to what publishers want them to read. Now we can choose for ourselves. I wonder if what we are choosing has taken those traditional publishers by surprise.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

~Mandy Webster

12 thoughts on “You must read Hugh Howey’s novel, Wool”

  1. Barry Eisler, who wrote the popular “Rain” series of books about his assassin character, John Rain, has written a lot about self-publishing. Even though he was a successful author, he decided he could make a lot more money, and offer his books to his fans at a much reduced cost, by self-publishing. He published a book through Amazon, with the characters he’d used in his previous novels, and I thought it was awful. He rambled on and on about things that didn’t impact his plot and the story became all about his political beliefs. He drowned out his own character’s voices with his own. So…speak of rambling voices, I suppose I should get the point.

    Actually, there’s two points.

    1. Read up on Barry Eisler if you’re looking for more info on self publishing in and outs. I’ve found articles where he breaks down the rights and payments of a traditional contract vs. self-publishing.
    2. In light of Eisler’s epic failure, (at least in my opinion), I’m scared to self-publish. If an experienced author can’t see what crap he’s putting out there, I’m sure I won’t know how crappy my stuff is either.
    3. Okay, I lied. Three points, not two. Have you ever considered offering editing services for those who do want to self publish? I’ve seen editors for hire on the internet marketing to self-publishers, and they charge a nice sum for their services. Just a thought.

    1. Hi Jackie, how’s it going?

      1. I will look into Barry Eisler, thanks for the info!
      2. I promise not to rush anything to self-publishing without first getting a lot of feedback on it. My first 90 pages got me an A in thesis, so I am feeling pretty good about those, but the rest needs some critique work and tons of revisions before I’ll even think about releasing it!
      3. I actually have considered offering editing services to other writers. I think I would be really good at giving other writers the kind of feedback they need to improve their novels before they try to self-publish. I have just been so busy with other things, I haven’t ever gotten around to figuring out how to get started doing that. I’m a little wary of some of the freelance websites out there. I did some work through when I was first getting started and got burned by a few “clients” who were just looking to get something for nothing. Have you seen any websites you would recommend that I look into? Or maybe I should set up my own website and sell my services through there?

  2. I love WOOL!!! I also love indie success stories. Howey’s is particularly fun because he seems so down to earth and level-headed about his successes.

  3. I was given “Wool” by a friend who’s a friend of Howey’s agent, and although I think it’ll make a GREAT movie, I found myself skimming the book and wishing fervently that the man had had an editor. From the second paragraph, where “feeble chips” clung to a character’s boots, overwriting plagued the essentially interesting tale, which contained only two compelling characters–the original mayor and sheriff–who were killed off at the end of Part Two. I admire how Howey created a fabulously (sort of) believable post-apocalyptic world. But as published, “Wool” belongs on the commercial best seller list, not the literary best-seller list.

    1. That is one drawback of self-publishing. However, I just finished reading a traditionally published book that made me cringe and wonder what its editor was thinking. It makes me wonder if getting published isn’t just a complete and total crap shoot.

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