About the Author

img-hugh Hugh Howey is the author of the award-winning Molly Fyde Saga and the New York Times and USA Today bestselling WOOL series.
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Misty

Misty - The Proud Cloud

The story of Misty, a cloud who lives high above a valley. Illustrated by Nidhi Chanani.

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It’s that time of the year to disappear for a bit. November is National Novel Writing Month, an annual festival of carpal tunnel and obsessing over word counts. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word rough draft in a single month. It requires writing 1,667 words per day for thirty days. It’s not that the daily load is too heavy — it’s that once you set it down, it’s hard to pick it up again.

Missing one day means working hard to make up for it elsewhere. Falling behind leads to more falling behind. Distractions like social media interfere terribly with getting work done. You have to sacrifice short term and shallow gains in order to achieve something bigger and more lasting. In all of these ways NaNoWriMo is as much about learning our limits and how to forgo immediate self-gratification than it is just about writing.

And you don’t have to sacrifice quality for quantity. Many writers produce their best work while writing under pressure or for a deadline. This is the only way some writers get work done. For me, the compressed nature of the writing means I can’t leave the world I’m creating. When I’m away from my keyboard, I’m daydreaming about the story. It’s all I think about for a month. And so the plots can be more involved, the characters more alive, the world more real.

I invite all of you who write or dream about writing to join. It’s a global event, and it can change your life. Even if you just want to write about your past, your thoughts, or create a collection of poetry. Whatever small entertainments you have to set aside for the month, I promise you they’ll be there and waiting when you get back. Meanwhile, you’ll have created something that will last a lifetime. Something that will need a lot of editing come December.

 

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Almost everything being said about publishing today is predicated on two facts that are dead wrong. The first is that publishers are somehow being hurt by ebook sales. The second is that independent bookstores are being crushed. The opposite is true in both cases, and without understanding this, most of what everyone says about publishing is complete bollocks.

Let’s take the health of publishers first. Below you will see that profit margins at the major publishers are either flat or improving. For three of the top publishers, margins have improved quite a bit:

Publisher profit margins

 

Here we can see why. Margins on ebooks are much higher than the previous cash-cow, hardbacks:

Continue Reading →

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Ars has a great article up on how smaller musical acts are being affected by streaming and subscription models, and how Apple used to be able to give these acts an enormous boost — but no longer seems to have that power (or interest).

It’s a must-read for authors or anyone interested in entertainment and digital disintermediation. Could the same thing be around the corner for indie authors? Will income diminish as all-you-can-read subscription services mature? Will breakouts be more rare as top authors vie for promo spots that used to be about the discovery of new art but are slowly becoming more useful as advertising for competing platforms? I think this last fear is a valid one, and it would be a detriment to readers as well as upcoming writers.

There’s also mention of how spreading yourself too thin as an artist by doing promos everywhere is not as powerful as the directed energy of a single major player. Could it be that a more competitive market for the consumption of art diminishes the cultural penetration of that art? As iTunes lost market share, did music lose some significance in our daily habits? Would video do the same if YouTube lost market share to dozens of competitors? What effect does dilution of platform have on buzz and word-of-mouth?

One other potential pitfall for authors is hinted at in the article: Devices like iPods that used to be about music have morphed into iPhone swiss army knives where tunes are one app among many. Similarly, I see the threat of people buying tablets instead of dedicated e-readers (the latter is far superior for reading and has fewer distractions). If you are a book-lover or an author, it’s a good idea to rave about your e-reader and maybe let people you know borrow the device and give it a try.

The article is long but seriously worth the read. I’ve learned a lot about the publishing industry by watching the music industry. We seem to lag behind them a few years in many developments. If possible, let’s learn from their mistakes instead of resigning ourselves to repeating them.

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My first NINC conference. What a brilliant bunch of authors. Thought I’d make some notes and drop some ideas as I have them (so this post will keep updating).

  • Porter Anderson asks a panel of experts if low prices are devaluing books. Can low prices really devalue literature? If so, what about the gift that are public libraries? And another thought: If price can devalue literature, does paying authors miserly royalty rates devalue writers and writing? Why is that never a focus?
  • A BookBub representative says “price is a marketing tool.” I absolutely agree. And I think the consternation about low prices comes from those who see these titles as an intrusion on their own profitability. I don’t see this threat. New authors need to level the playing field and win over their own readership. I think it’s the difference in seeing book-buying as a zero-sum game or an additive game. I subscribe to the latter view.
  • I’m not convinced readers are so homogenous. Some are bargain-shoppers. Some are more prone to experimenting with unknown authors. Some will pay a premium for a known author or a current bestseller. I look at the auto market as an example. Some shoppers are only looking for a used car; some are looking for a new car; some are looking to lease. Confusing these shoppers as the same people is a huge mistake publishers and authors often make.
  • Most animated exchange thus far: A publisher executive in the audience pitches the advantages of working with them, when Brenna Aubrey says “Just get rid of your non-compete clauses.” A representative of that publisher (who is on the panel) says, “We don’t use non-competes.” And then the executive from the same house had to respond: “Actually, we do.” And then: “And it’s for the author’s benefit.” Got a bit raucous.
  • Hypothetical question: If you could place your books in every library in the United States, at zero cost to you, knowing you wouldn’t be paid to be read and would lose some direct sales, would you do it?
  • Watching a room of hundreds of writers lob questions at the Amazon team is immensely informative and entertaining.
  • One writer asks how they can update their series information when part of the series is with a publisher and part is self-published, and the publisher refuses to link the books. Yikes.
  • The greatest benefit to these conferences is realizing you are so much like other authors, that you stress about the same things, go through the same things, and are not alone.

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Whew. As a Simon & Schuster author, I have to say I’m relieved to see how quickly my publisher struck a deal with Amazon. According to several sources, the negotiations took just a few weeks and the agreement was reached with months left on the current contract. It’s a multiple-year deal, and both sides sound pleased with the results. Simon & Schuster retains the rights to set prices, and Amazon retains the ability to discount.

Everyone is speculating on the finer points of the deal and wondering why Hachette can’t come to terms with Amazon. Hints abound. In fact, the terms Amazon is seeking have been staring every self-published author in the face for years. We can even catch glimmers of confirmation in this Simon & Schuster deal.

Engadget reports that Simon & Schuster now has “a financial incentive to drop prices.”

The New York Times quotes S&S as saying that “with some limited exceptions,” the contract gives S&S the ability to dictate prices.

A financial incentive to drop prices. Limits on S&S’s ability to dictate prices. What does this deal entail?

Some commentators are hailing the deal as a return to Agency pricing, but I wonder if these are the same commentators who claim that self-published KDP authors employ Agency pricing?

Guess what? We don’t.

Our agreement with Amazon is something more like Incentivized Agency. If we set our prices between $2.99 and $9.99, we get 70%. If we set our prices outside that range, our split drops to 35%. According to our EULA, Amazon retains the right to discount our ebooks as it sees fit. Continue Reading →

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The latest Author Earnings report is up. This is our first look at the effects of Kindle Unlimited — we’ll be diving in further in coming months. I wish our conclusions could be more . . . conclusive. To me, weighing all the benefits of KDP Select against the minus of exclusivity, my thinking is that KDP Select is great for those starting out and those selling at the very highest levels. For those in the middle, who might be getting traction on other outlets, the increase in sales does not seem to outweigh the percentage of the market given up.

KDP Select is not an all-or-nothing program, of course. Perhaps it is the ideal place to launch a new series or to give underperforming works a boost. Put them in for 90 days or 180 days, and then branch out once they take hold. It could also be that an expanded readership outweighs cold financial calculations for some authors. The best advice may be to experiment.

I’ve been able to experiment with KU without the exclusivity requirement. It’s not a permanent exclusion, and I’ve been leaning toward exclusivity and staying in KU once it expires. I’m now leaning the other way. Even with the potential of All-Star bonuses, I’m not keen on a system that rewards the top and bottom but leaves out the middle. What I’d love to see is for Amazon to drop exclusivity as a goal. They already have (by far) the best marketplace for discovering ebooks and purchasing them. They have the best lineup of devices (having seen the newest e-ink display). They have one of the best upload and stat dashboards (after having revamped the latter).

So why not make KU elective for all authors? Why not set the pay scale by page rather than reward shorter length works? Compete for readers in all the other ways that Amazon excels (customer service, one-click, search, also-boughts, recommendations, reviews, etc.) and let authors publish their works far and wide. I have a feeling most authors would continue to share Amazon links by default. I have a feeling Amazon would be just fine and continue to dominate in this space. And everyone else would be a little better off.

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This one’s for high school students. With a bit of planning, you can reap enormous rewards in mental well-being that will reverberate for decades. The steps are simple:

  1. Purchase a pair of jeans that are three to four sizes too large.
  2. Wear said jeans around school for a few weeks (suspenders may be required).
  3. Upon graduation, pack away said jeans with other mementos (yearbooks, diploma).
  4. Twenty years later — on the verge of turning 40 — rediscover said jeans, try them on, and marvel at the fit!
  5. Brag to spouse.

You’re welcome.

Posted in Writing | 9 Comments | Read More


Just a week after the New York Times called for more balanced coverage of Amazon’s book business, the call seems to have been taken up by those across the media. One piece from Slate hits some great points on why Amazon is actually a force for good. The piece begins by making light of predictions about what Amazon will do with its market dominance at some point down the road. On what Amazon decides to do with its vast earnings, you have this:

Instead of rigging the retail business in its favor by fattening its margins and exploiting its dominant position in a handful of niches, it is so cutthroat that it sometimes appears to be cutting its own throat, as evidenced by the fact that the company loses a boatload of money.

 

Bezos is, for whatever reason, less interested in goosing Amazon’s stock price than in building new fulfillment centers, investing in new technologies, and doing all kinds of other things that involve more actual engineering than financial engineering.

I love that last bit (emphasis mine). Continue Reading →

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Someone explain this to me:

It’s 1 time out of 100 that I write in public (usually by necessity, not by choice).

It’s 1 time out of 100 that I write a scene that makes me cry (again, no stopping it).

It’s 100 out of 100 times that these two overlap. Why the hell?

I’ve had stewardesses (twice) ask me if I’m okay. Another time in an airport waiting at the gate. And this morning at breakfast (a really nice guy this time, who seemed willing to discuss my problems or give me a lift or whatever I needed).

What’s weird is that I never tell these nice people what I’m doing. People have real problems to cry about, and all I could possibly say is: “Don’t worry. I’m just writing.”

Have you had this experience? I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

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This is some seriously awesome news. Bigger than a print-only publishing deal if you ask me. Barbara Freethy, who is likely the top-selling modern self-published author around, is working with Ingram to have her books distributed to major retailers.

She retains the rights. Ingram makes their wholesale fee. Barbara keeps the rest. Bookstores get more great content. Readers have access to one of today’s hottest selling authors. Everyone wins.

Kudos to Ingram for putting this together. This removes one of the last few barriers for self-published authors, and that’s print distribution to brick and mortar stores. For other bestselling self-published authors, it’ll mean another option other than selling off all rights to a work, since publishers have been loathe to sign more print-only deals. And it should help bookstores, who didn’t have access to some of the bestselling works around (Barbara has written 19 New York Times bestsellers, including titles that hit #1 on the list!)

Congratulations, Barbara! Couldn’t have happened to a nicer or more hardworking person. Check out Barbara’s website here to learn more about her works.

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You want to see progress? Take note that the regular attackers of self-publishing as a career choice have altered their aim and are now just going after those who dare to voice their support of self-publishing. Amazon is their number one target, of course, as the top supporter of the self-publishing path. And anyone who defends Amazon—or who argues that self-publishing is just as viable as (if not superior to) traditional publishing—is also a target.

What you don’t see anymore is anyone daring to argue against the substance of pro self-publishing points. Remember the old attacks and stigmas? They used to be:

1) No one sells books by self-publishing. (Often stated as: The average self-published author only sells X books in their lifetime.)

This is rarely trotted out now that dozens of authors have sold millions of titles, hundreds have sold hundreds of thousands of titles, and thousands of authors have sold many thousands of titles. Do all self-published authors have wild success? Of course not. But only 1% of those who submit to agents get published at all. This is finally sinking in, and enough self-published authors have had enough success to put an end to this canard. Continue Reading →

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A year ago, I wrote a short blog post called It’s the Reader, Stupid, inspired by James Carville’s advice during the 1992 Presidential campaign, when he coined the term “It’s the economy, stupid.” The post was meant to be a reminder to publishers and bookstores that their customer is the reader, not each other.

I think it bears reminding to all of us just who should be in charge of the publishing industry, and that’s the customer.

What got me thinking about this today was a discussion on KBoards about how Amazon’s algorithms and also-boughts work, what gets promoted and what doesn’t, and all the ways that entrepreneurial writers attempt to figure out the market they’re writing for. Here’s my reminder: It’s all about the reader. Continue Reading →

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