Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

About my biases

I am a biased dude. We all are biased to some degree. Perhaps even to a great degree. Our experiences, our upbringing, our parents, our peers, all influence the information we take in and how we choose to sort that information. It influences what we readily believe and what we vociferously doubt.

I unabashedly support Amazon. I have for longer than I’ve been a full-time writer. When I worked in an independent bookstore, I used Amazon’s third-party sellers to secure out-of-print books for customers. I also steered customers to Amazon for used textbooks that cost hundreds of dollars less than I could get them from the publisher. My thought was that Amazon did some things better than we could, and we did some things better than they could. I knew we could coexist.

Before I started at that bookstore, Amazon didn’t even exist in our computer system as a vender. I had to create that entry. It didn’t take long before the receiving crew knew that any box with a smile on it went straight to me. I was the only employee who used them in the years that I worked there. I was the only employee that spoke up in defense of them. As far as I know, I’m the only person even now who points out that Amazon is crushing big box discount bookstores to the great benefit of independent bookstores.

The point is that my bias does not come from the number of books I’ve personally sold through Amazon. That bias was in place long before, and it was only strengthened in working for a small bookstore. I’m sure there are those who disagree with my opinions who would love to discount what I say about publishing as having some monetary motivation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When Data Guy and I published our first report on AuthorEarnings.com, we took a massive risk in upsetting people at Amazon for revealing as much of their sales data as we could scrape. Data Guy remained anonymous partly because of this possibility.We did what we thought was right, not what we thought would benefit us. At great expense, I hosted the information away from any listing of my books. There is no self-promotional aspect to my punditry. I would make far more money investing this time in writing fiction, but I care more about change than I do about dollars.

I have a history of working against my own interests. There are major e-book distributors that I don’t publish with at all because of their policies. One of these distributors would pay me, at a minimum, six figures a year. I forego that money out of principle. How many anti-Amazon authors demand that their books not be available on Amazon? I know of one publisher who made that decision, and they have seen growth since they made that choice. I have respect for anyone who stands by their principles, even if I disagree with those principles.

I don’t know many authors who would forego six figures a year based on their principles. It helps to have an awesome wife and agent who feel the same way. As a team, we have turned down more than one 7-figure deal that didn’t improve contract clauses. My agent and I stated as a goal, when I signed on with her, that we wanted to help publishers make progress in these areas. That’s my bias right there.

I’ve also seen those who disagree with me point out that I publish with major houses. They ignore the fact that I only do this when it means progress on major contractual policies. I’m happy to work with publishers. I’m dying to see them partner with more authors. I don’t want to see them go out of business. Which brings me to the final fallacy I see when people disagree with my stance and attack me rather than showing me where I’m wrong:

I didn’t get into self-publishing because I was rejected at major publishers. My first manuscript was out to agents and small presses for two weeks before I got my first request for a partial read. A week later, I had two requests for full reads. A few days after that, I had my first offer. I didn’t wait to hear back from agents. I had to send replies to a few who expressed interest to let them know I already had an offer. I published with a small press and was offered a contract for the sequel. That was when I decided to self-publish. Since then, I have turned down offers from agents and publishers alike. I am not trying to wreak vengeance on those who dissed me. It never happened. I’m advocating for change before I will partner with them. And I advise other writers to do the same.

It sucks that any of this bears mentioning. But I plan on working with partners in the future whose ideals align with my own. If that keeps pushing me closer and closer to working with distributors like Amazon, it makes it more difficult — not easier — to speak out in their defense. Such opinions only hold weight if they are impartial. I look at my success on these platforms as being aligned with my biases, but the causality is opposite what some claim.

I throw all my weight into the platforms that I admire the most. When I link to products, I link to those sources. When I publish, I focus my energies in one direction. I pulled my books off another POD distributor because of their onerous fee structure and website GUI. I don’t advocate for Amazon because I make money through their services, I make money through Amazon’s services for the very same reasons that I advocate for them. Similarly, when I worked at an independent bookshop and partnered with Amazon, our sales numbers went up every year during the worst of the recession.

9 replies to “About my biases”

I think you’ve nailed the moral compass behind the chicken or the egg. I have no doubts that you sleep better having carved your own path – and in doing so were still able to reach the milestones of your career as a writer – with your soul intact. How tempting to be offered huge sums of money for talent – we all dream of it in various ways. How much sweeter the prize when you can live the dream on your own terms. As Hunter S. Thompson put it, “Buy the ticket. Take the ride.”

Your integrity is another reason why your posts are so valuable. Thank you for all you do to help other authors.

I definitely don’t agree with all your biases, but I respect you for owning them and sticking to them.

Of course, with that said, there is a lot we agree on. I think digital publishing will bring on a renaissance of indie bookstores and small publishers, and that digital platforms and those small players need to find ways to partner and work together to solidify the new landscape.

However, seeing those big bookstores and publishers drop in influence also makes me want to see the same happen in the digital space. Instead of having a few big players, I wish there were a lot of distributed online platforms like we’re starting to see with bookstores and publishers. Maybe it will come down the road, but the odd thing about the internet is it does seem to breed a small number of big companies to control different sectors.

A great reminder that in a culture where people are looking to be offended, it takes courage to have biases.

Biases and generalizations just come from subject matter expertise. I’m glad you’re vocal about them because they’ve helped me learn a ton in the few short months I’ve been reading the blog.

Also- appreciate running the tests with Promises of London and In The Mountain. This is a great message to the aspiring fiction writer that nothing is wrong with short.

I would expect nothing less from you. I have read enough of your work to have come to see each of your books to be like children that you have set out upon the world.
Like any good father you soldier on to shape the world to be a place where your children can grow and flourish responsibly. Thanks for being a leader. Thanks for sharing your journey and remember what a smart man once said “the problem with the truth…Liars and honest men both claim to have it.”

A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment.
I do believe that you should write more on this subject matter, it may not be a taboo subject but usually folks don’t discuss
these topics. To the next! Many thanks!!

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