Adventures in Traditional Publishing

Thanks to the success of Wool (which I owe to you, my avid fans, who infect others with your good taste in literature) I have been approached by the sort of people that I used to beg for and now rarely think about. Film and TV studios have made serious inquiries, and a handful of agents have written with offers of representation. As many of you know, I finally was wooed by the enthusiasm and reputation of one of these fine agents. She has been awesome to deal with, even as I warned her up front that I had very low hopes for Wool being anything other than an indie hit.

A few weeks ago, my agent sent proposal packets to quite a few major publishers. The results have been both comical and expected. One publisher feared the book was selling far too well for it to be a success with them. Their reasoning was that everyone who wanted to read Wool already had. I suspect the truth is that they know 80% or so of their books don’t make very much money, and they didn’t want to ruin what was already a good thing (it would look less like chance in this case and more like determined incompetence).

Several publishers have been keen on Wool. The first thing they want to do is change the name. Brand recognition and fan bases in the tens of thousands are not good things, apparently. Others expressed interest and are willing to give me less than a third of the royalties I’m currently receiving. I nearly choked on their generosity. Another publisher said the story was weird. Protagonists kept dying, which is not what readers want. They pointed to all the 5-star reviews you people have written as evidence of your disgust. (The most troubling thing about giving anyone the e-book rights to anyone would be the sudden and absolute loss of all the existing reviews you’ve graced me with. Can you imagine me doing that?)

It’s been an informative exercise, that’s what this has been. I can now see how lucky I’ve been that Wool has done well at your hands and with your guidance. I had a number of works out at the time, and reviewers explicitly clamored for more Wool. As I wrote the stories that followed, I had your encouragement and feedback at every turn. You helped design the covers; you spread the word; you left hints of what you liked and disliked in your emails and reviews. All of which played a part in how the story unfolded.

I will be ecstatic to remain an underground success. It’s more than I ever dreamed of. What’s great about publishers not wanting to take the print side of things to the next level is that your voice is the only one that matters. When you comment on this site, write a review, tell a friend or family member about any of my books, you give me the only feedback I care about. Thanks for that. And thanks to Amazon for being the kind of middleman that just wants to connect frugal readers with struggling writers. It’s been a match made in heaven.

37 responses to “Adventures in Traditional Publishing”

  1. Thanks for sharing the joyride! I know as a self-pubbed author myself I actually enjoy reading these stories. You are a success and I think the big publishers have yet to really grasp that the little guys can make it. Indie music went through the same thing through the last 2 decades and now indie rock is all that’s on the radio. I keep hearing my book isn’t commerical enough but I sell enough to know people enjoy it just the way it is. The Wool series are amazing and it’s awesome to see that you stand behind your work and your fans instead of appealing to the idea of being signed onto a big publisher. I never want to give up the rights and have other peoeple get paid off my hard work, why should we right? Just to say I’m signed with so and so? No thank you! Keep writing those books Hugh and there is a ton us who will keep buying them!!

  2. I’m proud of you for holding your ground, and guarding the integrity of your work. Hugh, I think you, inadvertently, are leading a major shift towards the democratization of literature. The old publishing guard will not be able to understand just how you succeeded in spite of them. No longer should a talented author have to wait, and hope, that someone will see the value in their work. You’ve proven, that if you are willing to put in the work, and have a story that resonates, you can go far. So congrats on confusing the hell out of the literary elites…I’m looking forward to them trying to figure out how you made it to the top of the New York Times best sellers list one day…in spite of the fact that you didn’t change the title of Wool to “Sunset”… and didn’t rewrite Juliette to be an awkward, yet pretty, 17 year old high school mechanic, who catches the eye of Lukas a moody and sparkly vampire boy who works in IT….seriously maybe they should get you to give THEM tips on how to develop a book that resonates!

    1. Hey, they did give that sparkly teenage vampire thing a go, and it worked for them! ;)

  3. I don’t think you will ever need a traditional publisher for spreading the word about Wool. Internet and friend suggestions are already doing a lot, and they will do much more when Wool will have a TV series or movie. And the Boing Boing effect could be replicated as other mainstream Internet media write something about your work.

    By the way, indie games are riding the wave as well: the brightest example is Minecraft, which was independently developed and published and now has sold 5,212,827 copies (and counting: at about $25. No traditional game publisher would have ever supported a vintage-looking game with huge pixels where you mainly go around placing and smashing big cubes. But guess what, now its developer (a guy from Sweden) is a millionaire ;)

    By the way, you could also experiment with reader-funded publishing if you feel like:

    1. I love that Minecraft has done so well. Some of the large-scale projects fans have cooked up blow my mind. There’s a full-scale replication of the USS Enterprise and that massive castle from LOTR. Amazing stuff.

  4. Hah! true enough…and I did read those books too…(stop judging me)…but we will just say that those soccer moms and tween girls hadn’t had a crack at Wool back then…you cast Robert Pattinson as Lukas and that audience is ALL YOURS….(cha-ching!)

  5. WOW. Just saw the Enterprise now. I’m speechless.

    1. Good thing your fingers work, then! ;)

  6. Holy crap, I’d never heard of minecraft, just checked out the enterprise on youtube….(awe)…I want to build a silo…I have no minecraft skills…must send that guy a copy of Wool so HE will want to build a Silo!

  7. Eheh, I was just thinking the same: building a silo in Minecraft would be amazing. Swarms of Wool fans collaborating while digging up a mountain for making room for all the levels… that would be a collaborative project I would gladly join.
    No way I’m doing that by myself though!

  8. I was actually thinking of doing that, a Silo in MC… (Major avid Minecraft fan I is…) and now that 1.2 (the latest version) allows us to build higher it might be possible… maybe not all 100 odd floors but most of… Hmmm… Once all my mods for the game are out I might try it…

    Also, yeah, screw mainstream… indi is the reason mainstream are dying out… That and I don’t wanna go all hipster on you…

    “Oh I read Wool BEFORE it was famous…”


  9. Sounds like were going to have to find a way to build a silo!

  10. This has been great to follow along and see this success unfold. Im glad you’re keeping your head about yourself. The beauty is that you’ll end up with far more success because of it.

  11. You are so inspiring. Keep it up, regardless of what others say.

    I use the kindle app on my ipod and downloaded the first three Wool books on the Wednesday that they were free. Now I can’t wait to get the rest of them, since I just finished the third book!

  12. Yeah, don’t get down about not being published in the traditional sense. I have a feeling that if you had skipped self-publishing through ebooks I wouldn’t have found your works (and I’m probably not the only one.)

    You’ve found a unique and liberating way of sharing your work. I don’t see Wool having an expiration date, so the idea that you won’t have any new fans in the future kind of confuses me.

    Also, the fact that you are so accessible to your readers really helps to give inspiration to those of us who want to write as well.

    Keep up the good work Hugh. Blaze the trail that works best for you.

    1. Don’t worry, I won’t get down about it. It wasn’t even something I sought out; the idea came looking for me in the form of excited agents. I almost pull for them in the hopes that their hard work will be rewarded somehow.

  13. You go Hugh! Part of your awesomeness is that fact that you are present as an author and true to your work.

    I echo what the others have said, as long as you are happy and satisfied with what you are doing you are doing it right.

    I am sure sparkly vampire and child death match money is good, but I would rather an author love their work enough to not destroy it by compromising.

  14. I finally read it (last one on the planet apparently). It’ s marvelous. Woke up this morning thinking about the implications of the ending and how they rippled back into riots and things. Just awesome, and I’ve let people know.

    It’s sad that publishing is so mired down by its archaic model that a great story like this can’t just be conveyed to the masses. It seems like the purpose of publishing should be that, and yet, somehow, we keep getting the same stale stuff from what feels like about 9 writers total.

    Great job, rock on.

  15. Thanks for pointing out the evidence of our disgust! We would just spit on you if we could figure out how to spit on someone virtually. (There’s probably an app for that.)

    I can’t imagine one single reason for you to hand WOOL over to someone else.

  16. I was pulled in by Wool, it is a great story and having it come out in installments and be able to watch on the blog has been great. I loved getting other people hooked as well. If you can get some $$ for future installments of other (non-silo) worlds or some media stuff happening I say go for it. I do hope, however that the Wool series remains the independent ebook phenomenon it has become. The story is great of course but the distribution model and social media work have been outstanding as well.

  17. Plus..a publishing house would want you to produce on their schedule, instead of you publishing what you want, when you want. They wouldn’t understand taking a little break from Wool & Molly to write something else. (Not that I am personally happy about a Wool break, because I’m not very patient, but I get it. I’m checking out your other works in the interim.)

    And I’m very much on board with the free books, or even the 99 cent books…I bought the first Wool, devoured it, and promptly purchased the next three (5 wasn’t out yet).

    Also, what idiot wants to change the name of Wool? Probably someone who hasn’t read the books. I like the name, and I liked the first cover design. There are enough books with covers of wasted landscapes and people in space suits and threatening skies. The cover being different was part of what enticed me to click over & check it out…

  18. So glad you aren’t part of the trad pack. Being indie has worked well for you and us readers too! YOU have the freedom to write whatever you want in the manner you want it; that may not be so with the other guys.

    Keep up the good work, my friend. Oh, I didn’t get the Plagiarist when it was free because I felt to guilty doing so. Will be buying it shortly. You deserve to be paid for your work. :)

  19. I’m halfway through Wool thanks to Boingboing – they are major tastemakers, and you got there because the work is amazing. These big companies are still desperately touting an outdated model. Their product is distribution, and we all have that at our fingers now. All they want is a piece of your pie.

  20. The results have been both comical and expected. One publisher feared the book was selling far too well for it to be a success with them. Their reasoning was that everyone who wanted to read Wool already had


    We heard that Darci Chan receievd the same sentiment (your “fad’s” run it’s course, you won’t sell at a higher price pt, etc) and I’m seriously begining to think it’s some new kind of “hard sell” tactic from the traditional side when it comes to approaching successful indies.

    From years in various sales jobs I can say that, while approaches and methods will vary, depending on product, one constant that’s universal, whether you’re recruiting for the military or selling timeshare, is to always establish and maintain a position of strength. You do this to generate and enforce the sense that the buyer need you..not the other way around.

    If publishing or production genuinely feel that way…why approach you?

    Please see these opening salvos for what they are: pre-emptive psyche pitches meant to prepare you for the inevitable, first round, lowball offers.

    But I’m sure you and your agent can handle that. Best wishes.

  21. Wool is the perfect name. I figured it could be because the wool had been pulled over their eyes. Those publishers are silly to want to change it. They should simply try to woo you into writing a future book for them. You’ve proven that you’re supernaturally prolific and talented. Of course, based on how the Legacy publishers treat authors, I think you might be better off trusting your readers to spread the word. Let your agent handle the movie deals. Wishing you the absolute best. You are an inspiration to all writers and a gift to readers.

    1. Thanks, Lara! And you give sound advice.

  22. This is just another clear sign that traditional publishers are not moviing with the time and has become out of touch with their readers. In less than six months I am sure somebody is going to be able to turn back and say “Told you so!” There reasoning and thinking makes no sense to me at all. But who am I? Just one fanatic reader who appreciates a good story when I see it. I am clearly not the only one…..

  23. Just stayed up way too late finishing the Wool omnibus edition on my kindle. I’ve been reading science fiction since I was a child, and cannot express how refreshing this series has been. Your writing reminds me of the sincere and boundless imaginations of the sci-fi writings during the 60’s and 70’s. Contained intense ideas that matter, are relevant to our lives today and tomorrow. Thank you, I am spreading the word to all who will listen… buy Wool.
    The self publishing model will take care of itself with books like this… Kindles / Ipad’s etc were just the spark.

    1. Thanks, Michael! And thanks for helping spread the word. I really appreciate it.

  24. Hi Hugh,
    I bought the wool omnibus last week, I liked it so much that after finishing it i bought ALL your books on amazon. That is what i love about e-reading,
    the adventure of finding unexpected writers you love. Forget about paper publishing, like cd’s it is on its way out. I will buy everything you publish and spread the word here in the netherlands!
    thanks for a great read!

    1. Thanks, Jasper! I had no idea I had a fan in the Netherlands! I’ll have to come do a book-signing. :D

      Much appreciated on spreading the word. It’s the only reason I’ve been able to treat this as a full-time job. :)

  25. What’s going on the the movies and TV deals? Personally, I would prefer a GOOD TV series–Wool is way too complex to be reduced down to 2 hours. :-)

    1. We’ve got a few offers. Still waiting to hear back from others. These things seem to be glacial in pace.

  26. I recently posted in a forum that several indie authors have presented me with irrefutable proof that I can no longer trust traditional publishers to be a filter of any quality for my reading.

    There have been many statements about the slushpile that has now descended upon us because anyone can publish, but I can truthfully say I find that a much smaller problem than being denied great works from talented authors because someone thought “the story was weird” or “Protagonists kept dying, which is not what readers want”.

    I’m sick of these cowards making reading choices for me because as far as I’m concerned they prove time and time again that they are not equipped for the job. I wonder if I’d even miss them if they were gone.

    1. Caleb, I feel your pain. I read a short story by Griffin Hayes recently called HIVE. He does something halfway through this zombie tale that writers just aren’t allowed to do. It gave me courage to press forward with my I, ZOMBIE idea. Without an outlet for these indie books, I never would have had these experiences as both a reader and a writer.

      To me, it’s no different than going to a bar and listening to a small-time band play. Or going to an open mic night at a comedy club. There’s humanity in the struggling indie, an unwashed and unfiltered rawness that makes you feel like you’ve *discovered* something rather than been *handed* something.

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