Doug has a Question

Hello Mr. Howey,

I’m Doug Rigsby and I came across your books on amazon looking for kindle science fiction books. My goal is to earn my living via writing science fiction novels. I’ve been writing in my spare time for the past 7 years. I’ve learned a tremdious amount during that time. I figure I’m within a year of launching my first ebook. Would you part with me some of your experiences? Things to do, not do? Developing a platform or online presence isn’t something I”m use to doing even though I’ve been in technology for the past 21 years. I appreciate your time and look forward to hearing from you.

Take Care,

Hey Doug, that sounds like a familiar dream! I always wanted to make it as a full time science fiction author. I’ll tell you what I’ve learned: It’s hard work; you really need to do it because you love it; and it’s never been a better time to be a writer.

The key is to get a lot of writing done. You need to produce many quality stories, not just put all your dreams into a single work. Form a habit of writing every day. Spend your free time when you aren’t writing dreaming up your next scene or plot. Obsess over your work. Read quality material in your spare time (or watch movies, TV shows, read comics, poetry, or preferably a mix of all these things).

Once you produce something you’re proud of, get some eyeballs on it. Join a writing group (in person is best; online if you must). Trade editing services with others. Or hire an editor if you can afford it. Get the best cover you can make or afford. Hire someone to format your ebook (Jason at Polgarus Studios does amazing work at rock bottom prices). And then make the work available to readers. Don’t sweat whether it takes off or not; this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Building a platform is also a slow and steady affair. Start while you’re writing. Craft a few short stories or scenes from your works and post them online. Introduce your characters. Write some backstory. It’s good practice, and it showcases what you can do. Tweet and Facebook and blog these things, even though nobody is listening. For the first few years, there’s a good chance no one will listen. But you’re writing; you’re practicing; you’re seeding the world with your craft. A blog needs content. It needs a history.

It’s actually better if you don’t take off for a few years or more. By the time you start gaining an audience, you’ll have tons of content on your blog, some practice with Twitter, and a back catalog of published works. If you devote time to it, even with a full time job and a family/household, you can produce two or three novels a year. In a few years, you might have ten or a dozen works out there. They will never go out of print, never grow stale, will always be there to become discovered.

Again, it’s important that you are writing because you enjoy it. If it makes you happy, you can’t lose. There’s the satisfaction of creating something that will outlive you. If it feels frustrating that you are writing these works and no one seems to be reading them, think of John Kennedy Toole, Stieg Larsson, Philip K. Dick, and the many others who never knew the impact they would eventually have. It might be delusional to think we could have the same impact, but there’s nothing wrong with daydreaming and staying positive if it helps you attack a hobby with cheer and gusto.

Another thing: Check out KBoards and read through the threads in the Writers’ Cafe. I’ve learned a lot from this forum and made some lasting friendships. Best of luck, man. I wish you every ounce of success. Most of all, I hope you stick with it because you enjoy it.



Writing does take a while. Been at it myself for 2 years – 1 year preparing – the next writing. At first it was slow, knocking off 100-200 words a day in the early days.

Now, I hit up to 2k a day or more.

In the last eight days I have written 22k/40k novella.

I agree it takes time, and with time it becomes much easier as your writing flows out and you can get much more written.

But their will be up and downs, but never give up.

Daniel Milford

The single most important reason I read your blog, Hugh, I must admit, is for the encouragement you give us aspiring writers still fighting with that first novel.

Second reason: Dust! DUUUUUUUUUST!

Edit: my soul feels bad now. “Dust” in Norwegian (my native tongue) means “moron”.

Eddy Piasentin

Hugh, your response is valuable to a lot of us. As you say, it’s definitely a good time to be a writer, and the opportunities are exciting. Can you offer your thoughts on how to deal with the feeling of needing to reinvent yourself as a writer. What I mean is, I imagine many aspiring writers have regular jobs and regular lives and writing is something done privately, very much on the side. Suddenly faced with the need/desire to get their work out there, they are faced with an uneasy disconnect between these two worlds–worried about criticism, or questions about their decision to share their art. It sounds ridiculous to think of being controlled by what others might think of you, but I think it’s a fear that sits just beneath the surface sabatoging dreams. Anyway, not sure if this is something you’ve dealt with, but curious how you might respond. Thanks!

Doug is the man for actually asking the questions that MANY of us followers have meant to ask.

Hugh rocks for taking the time to answer!

Now, how do you deal with writers block? I seem to be backed up worse than a public toilet at a rock concert…

Joseph D. Stirling

A trick that’s always worked for me is to re-write something I’ve already written. Sounds silly but it always helps me. I’ll take the last page or two right up to where I got blocked up and re-type them word for word. It may not even take that many pages. Before you know it, you’ve either started a rough edit on what’s already been written or you find yourself hammering away at new stuff. Works for me, maybe it’ll help you too.
Good luck. :)

Patrice Fitzgerald

Great stuff, as usual, Hugh! You are a real mensch for sharing your experience with those
just starting to write.

And remember, Doug… everyone has a first book. And every book includes those stages where you think, “This thing I’m trying to write is really stupid… boring… been done before… who’s going to want to read this? Who’s going to want to pay for it? I should just go back to watching TV rather than embarrassing myself.” Don’t listen. Write it anyway! Be bold. What have you lost except a few hours of bad TV?

I did a blog post about how to self-publish successfully a few weeks ago, designed mainly to give suggestions to anyone who wants to see some money roll in along with fulfilling their creative dreams.

Here it is for anyone who wants to stop over and check it out:

Great site Patrice.. seems to me you have hit on most the key elements of eBook commercial success. It seems accurate and should be noted and applied by moderns looking for financial return.

I have to wonder, though: What would a traditional talented wordsmith and story craftsman like Vladimir Nabokov think of this advice?

Not criticizing, just emphasizing the sad reality that commercial success these days often requires a compromise of what the intellectoids (my word) believe is true literary quality.

It’s either-or for most of us. If you want to write for the sake of art, don’t expect to get rich. It would be like learning to sing opera and expecting to make a living vs. learning to sing at weddings in order to make a living.

If you want to make a living at writing, study the marketplace. You aren’t going to change reading habits (a rare few ever do).

The ideal solution is to write what sells in order to afford to be able to write what you think will make a “contribution to literature,” which is pretty subjective. I would argue that Dan Brown and E.L. James have both contributed to literature.

Hugh, I believe all three of us are in agreement. Patrice states:

“..Not that you can’t write the great American literary novel. But perhaps try something hotter first.”

Commercial success comes at different levels – and it certainly does not necessarily indicate mediocre writing. And I know that sophisticated word smithing may not carry quality plotting and character development, or even cogent thought (just look at some of my posts!)

If one can afford it, and one desires, I say take a bimodal route of commercialism and literary intricacy. This can be done by mixing a popular genre with craftily sophisticated prose. It takes “talent” (the kind of which I do not possess) and a long, long amount of time. You have the talent, I don’t. And soon you will have the financial security and confidence to experiment. But, you may not wish to – after all, we all are comfortable in different styles and genres and there is no reason to move from something being done very well. In your case, very well indeed!

But, it can be done. Nabokov’s Lollita took five friggin’ years to write and it was a success commercially. So much so, that it enabled him to buy a home and retire in Switzerland (I believe). By the way, that book was REJECTED by five major houses before it was picked up by a small, radical publisher and given a chance. It immediately flew off the shelves.

But, if it makes the consumer happy and allows the author personal satisfaction, I could care less for the difference of a hot dog and a steak dinner. After all, once the money need is met, I wonder if the predicate in this graph shouldn’t be what it’s all about.

Patrice Fitzgerald

Thanks, WM! To my mind, the false dichotomy between great literature and tawdry commercial pap was invented by the sellers of the less-popular kind of fiction in order to gin up demand for their product. They need to encourage the idea that some work is better for you in the same way you should buy a T-shirt named Hermes ($91,500… maybe Hugh can pick one up?) rather than one labeled Hanes. You can barely see the difference in the names… but one is worth at least 10,000 times the other… right? It’s called advertising. Or plain ol’ marketing BS.

Shakespeare wrote for the masses. Dickens wrote for the masses. Jane Austen wrote for the masses. And Hugh Howey writes for the masses. I would put the philosophical underpinnings of his work up against classics in the genre like Brave New World, 1984, and Farenheit 451. He can’t help it if they’re also entertaining!

By the way, want to see the Hermes T-shirt? Cute model. He should eat something, though:

And for entertaining books, you don’t even need to kill a crocodile…

Very sage advice.

I think the best point in here, besides needing to enjoy writing, is to be able to write lots of quality stories as opposed to putting all your dreams into a single book. I can’t tell you the number of folks I’ve run into who focus only on one work, and then don’t know what to do when that one’s finished.