The “How” of Hugh Howey

By Lori Culwell

Major news sources cover “self publishing success stories” all the time.  Interestingly, all of them tend to leave out the “how” of the story.

woolI’m an author and am interested in all things internet and marketing (and internet marketing), so naturally I am interested in any and all success stories, especially stories that involve self publishing (which of course combines authorship with the internet).   With that in mind, yesterday one of my Facebook friends referred me to a piece that was running on Marketplace.   First, I went over to read the story on American Public Media’s website, which you can see here:  http://www.marketplace.org/topics/business/big-book/best-selling-novelist-youve-never-heard

They’ve also now posted the interview—go over and listen!

As I’m reading the story, all I can think is:  I hope Kai Ryssdall (the host of Marketplace) asks this author how he did it, because that is (literally) the million dollar question on everyone’s mind when they hear about a self-publishing success story:  what did they do that I can do?  How can that be me?

That is where I come in.   If (as in this case) the reporter does not ask the author about how they actually did it, I ask the author myself, and if they don’t answer, I attempt to reverse-engineer their network so I can tell you what I think they are doing right, and how you can do these things yourself (hopefully with the same results).

The last time a self-published author who got a book deal caught my eye, it was Brittany Geragotelis’ 3-book deal with Simon & Schuster.   Right after the news broke about her deal, I reached out to her to get more of the story about how she did it, and she could not have been nicer about sharing her journey.   Brittany and I are now friends, and I continually admire her work ethic.   Her “secret,” in case you’re wondering, was being very active on WattPad, very organized in her author platform and branding, and very consistent in her interaction with her readers (as well as being a great writer, of course!).  Brittany treats being an author like a business, which (in my opinion) is really what you have to do to be successful.

After the Hugh Howey article / interview ran yesterday, I was so curious to know how he did it, I tweeted him to see if he would agree to be interviewed for this website.   Here was his reply:

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(sad trombone).  Can I just say that it bugs me to no end when successful authors are coy about their methods?   Dude– you are successful.  People want to know what worked for you.  I feel like if you’re successful as an author, the LEAST you can do is outline what you think might have worked to get you there.

Because he doesn’t want to comment (and because I do not accept “luck” as a method that can be replicated), I took a look at his network and asked a few other publishing types, and this is what we’ve come up with so far:

–He is a great writer.   This is the one thing on the list that will make you roll your eyes, because talent is something you really can’t control.

–He is very prolific.   Hugh Howey is less than 40 years old and has written 14 books, has an active website presence, and participates in at least three social media sites that I can count.   Does this motivate you to finally finish your first novel?  It should.

He knows his genre.  Howey writes in a genre that is compatible with online promotion/ word of mouth.   Fellow BookPromotion.com contributor Katherine (Sears) and I recently had a whole discussion about how some genre just sell better online, and science fiction (Howey’s genre) is one of them.   Also, his books are series books.  Based on work with clients and my own experiences, I will say that it definitely is to your advantage if you can write a series of books, because (at least electronically) you can link them together and keep people buying and reading.  It really does come down to the first book in the series having great characters and interesting action, but the series is a great “repeat product” model.

He is organized and responsive.   Just like several other successful authors we’ve profiled, Hugh Howey was ready for his “big break.”  When he saw that people were responding to “Wool,” he wrote more books for that series.  Same with his “Molly Fyde” series.

He regularly gives books away for free.   This is that topic that authors argue about all the time because they think “free equals no value” and they cite that statistic where 75% of all books that get downloaded for free never get read.   Note:  I’m not telling you to give your books away for free.  I’m simply saying, Hugh Howey does it, and might be part of why he’s so successful.

He uses social media.    Howey mentioned in a recent Media Bistro interview that he likes to go on Facebook and unwind, though it must be mentioned—Mr. Howey, you have a Facebook Profile linked from your main website instead of a Facebook Fan Page.   This is not something we recommend, since Facebook can take away your profile for having too many “friends” you don’t actually know.    He also tweets regularly (so, he’s not just a “syndicator”).   Facebook and Twitter are both great platforms for connecting with readers.

He blogs.   If you are thinking of complaining about how you don’t have time to blog/ regular updates are just too hard/ etc, please check Hugh Howey’s website.   Apparently he has enough time to have written 14 books and be at work on three others while updating the blog on his site once a day (on average).

He’s on Reddit.   Here’s an interview he did where he talks about some of his promotional methods (including Facebook and reader recommendations).     Reddit is a perfect place for Howey to connect with tech nerds who might also happen to be sci-fi geeks (I mean that in the most loving way possible, sci-fi geeks.  I know how to play Magic: the Gathering, ok?).

— He has a newsletter. I signed up for his newsletter (which is run through MailChimp, a service we highly recommend), and I am interested to see if he regularly sends out updates.    No way of telling how many people he has on this list, but since he’s sold more than $1 million worth of books, I am going to guess that he a) has a lot of people on that list, and b) is in regular contact with the members.  This would explain the large number of Amazon reviews and strong sales of each subsequent book in each series (oh, also?  He dances for reviews  on YouTube).    I would definitely put “build and stay in contact with your mailing list” at the top of my recommendations for authors, although I do find that this is the one thing that most of them are missing.

The bottom line for me is that this is an author who is treating his writing career like a business, and it shows.  He’s set up and organized with his website, he regularly connects with his fans, he writes a ton, and he sees what is working and responds accordingly with his work.

With the possible exception of the fact that he really does need a Facebook Fan Page instead of using his regular profile for promotional purposes, I give Hugh Howey an A + in book promotion and conclude that his success has almost nothing to do with luck.  If you are confused about your own book promotion, I would encourage you to look at what he’s doing and follow suit.   If you are feeling reluctant about getting yourself out there, take a look at his success and let it inspire you to get going!

And with that, I will once again extend an invitation to Hugh Howey as well as Kristine Kathryn Rusch to please come and talk to our readers about your promotional methods.

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