Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

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

Don’t Do as I Have Done

The Kill Zone is an awesome blog for readers and writers to check out. They’ve had a number of excellent stories recently. I try and get over there a few times a week. Somehow, I missed their Grafton coverage. It’s interesting, though, because they point out that Sue is wrong when it comes to authors like me but totally correct when it comes to hacks who write during NaNoWriMo and publish their books in December before they’re ready.

The only problem is: I was that very NaNoWriMo’er! Wools 2, 3, and 4 were written during NaNo 2011. And so: I am what Sue and others say to do. I am the supposed exception. And yet: I am also doing what they say nobody should be doing.

Read their coverage. After the break, you can check out the comment I left.

My comment:

It’s interesting that I’m supposed to be an exception and an outlier due to my success, and this same article (an excellent one, btw) cautions against publishing a NaNoWriMo book on December 1st.

 

The series that launched my career, Wool, has five parts. Parts 2, 3, and 4 were written during NaNoWriMo 2011. All three parts were published before the end of the year. Part 2 was published *in* November. *During* NaNoWriMo. The books have sold over 200,000 copies and hit the NYT and USA Today bestseller lists. Ridley Scott picked up the film rights and Random House is releasing a hardback in the UK in January. We’ve turned down 6 and 7 figure advances from major publishers here in the States.

 

The success of Wool largely hinged on my seeing the breakout of the first novelette and being able to satisfy demand with quality stories delivered swiftly. The delay encouraged by Grafton and the like would have destroyed my momentum.

 

I point this out to support those who have had success with NaNoWriMo and who enjoy writing and publishing on whatever schedule best fits their work ethic. Holding me up as an exemplar of taking one’s time and the NaNo’er as the other extreme is ironic, since I am that NaNo’er. :)

18 replies to “Don’t Do as I Have Done”

I have to post part of one commenter’s entry bc it made me laugh:

As with any Hegelian dialectic, a synthesis is emerging. Part of it is made up of the cautions that Sue Grafton has issued, another part by the new reality, another by the hard work still required of writers wherever they publish, and another part beer.

Also, in a recent G+ thread, an author berates me for responding to Sue’s outrageous attempt at clarifying her remarks. She says I’m “milking the 15 minutes of fame from my first blog post.”

Heh. As if I’m not outselling Sue Grafton every day this year. In print as well as digitally. Hell, I raised Sue’s profile with all this dead-horse-kicking. Most of my fans had never even heard of her. :D

I did enjoy her Kinsey Milhone series at the outset. However, decades have passed, and Kinsey is still stuck in the ’80s. Grafton is at NO risk of me paying publisher-set hardback pricing…for at least the last 4, I’ve picked them up at garage sales and what-not.

Kudos, I guess, to Grafton, for name recognition.

Bigger kudos to Hugh for continuing to push his readers beyond where they think they could go.

What I liked least about their piece was that it assumed people inclined to self publish would be inclined to write one book and expect to sell millions, then give up when it doesn’t.

I plan on writing a book a year. I plan to do this despite sales, which I bet will be small. I’m fine with that. Every sale will feel like a victory to me. I absolutely cannot wait to begin writing my second book. So far the outline, character profiles, and notes are in a whole class above my first book.

I’m not in this to get rich. I’m in it because I love writing. I’m going to publish my first book because I planned it for a year, wrote it as well as I could, and know it will meet the goals I set for it content-wise.

I don’t think I should get looked down upon for that.

Dude. You are going to be just fine. This one comment tells me that. You have the right attitude: write because you love it, not because you expect anything from it.

I can’t wait to read your stuff.

Seems these days that any mainstream author out to remind readers they exist feel the urge to weigh in on the pro/con (usually con side) of the self-publishing debate. I think Ali G. put it best in his faux interview on feminism when he asked: men and women, which one is better? The whole SP debate is sillier still because the genie’s out of the bottle, so wasting time arguing over which is better is pointless. Without a doubt, indie authors need to hesitate before hitting the publish button. A first, second and even third draft usually isn’t ready for public consumption. Most indie authors make up for lack of advertising with sheer quantity. And it makes a certain amount of sense. Most indie authors can’t financially afford to release a single book a year as mainstream authors do, especially if that book happens to bomb. Yes, Wool was produced during Nano month, and yet your work is still held to an incredibly high standard. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the challenge for indie authors isn’t lack of skill, but the patience required to hold a book back until all the pieces are in place.

I don’t think that’s just relegated to self publishing authors. Major writers like Stephen King could spend more time editing also. I don’t think King’s had an editor with the balls to tell him to cut unnessesary content in fifteen years. How many hacks with contracts with “real” publishers are out there? Some, and that’s within the glorious traditional publishing system.

I think it’s just more obvious these days that there are bad writers out there. People need to use the sample system to try books before buying them and review what they read to help inform other buyers. I know it’s not just that simple, but it’d be a start.

Just to be really clear, by no means did I intend to say King is a hack with my previous post. His old books are some of my favorite ever. I just find his more recent works ponderous and overly long.

I have written a middle-grade novel during the Camp NaNoWriMo session in August and am determined to publish it within the next few months. What is your advice Hugh and how should I go about approaching it? Are there things I should look out for or even think about before publishing?

I recommend 7-9 full passes through the work. Each time, you’ll find that you change fewer and fewer things. Tweak any sentence you catch yourself on. Read it aloud. Once you’re done, get at least 6 people to read it and give feedback. Incorporate this. Then do two more passes looking for typos (with someone else doing the same if you can swing it or afford it). At this point, you’re probably ready to push it out into the world. Or you can give it another read. ;)

The Wool bits published last november could only be written that quickly because of all the work and effort you put in developing as you wrote the Molly series (among other things). You had written, taken criticism and developed your talent well before writing Wool.

I actually agree with the tone of what she was saying. You need to develop the craft through practice, taking criticism and redrafting. Sue forgets that not all aspiring writers are lucky enough to have an editor, and certainly most are without editors who can make any comments beyond spelling and grammar errors. Self-published folks have to release editions that are junk with hopes that people will read and comment and help the author get better for their next work.

As an aspiring NaNoWriMo participant (first time), I am hoping to put together a [Crappy] First Draft (google Anne Lammot and replace crappy with the coursework for the gist of what I am talking about). Good books come from the re-writes, not the first version. However, without beta-readers, it is pretty dang tough to know what needs to be re-written. In my case, I haven’t done serious writing in over a decade and I know it will be terrible. The question is, after I put together a 50k terrible novel, what can I do to make it a good novel? Let it die, move on and draft something new and better?

Be sure to friend me this upcoming NaNo. Best of luck, man. It’s a wonderful motivator.

And you take that 50K draft and you keep revising it front to back until you love it. :)

Hi Hugh. I’d like to offer a comment, a confession and two clarifications.

Comment: Thanks for the shout out for Kill Zone. I’m glad you’re a regular reader!

Confession: I’m the guy who actually made the Hegel >>> beer comment, to my own post. Where did that come from? Inspiration, I suppose. I was typing quickly, too, something Hugh and I advocate.

Clarification: I hope no one gets the impression that I or anyone on Kill Zone uses, or sanctions the use of, the word “hack.” I NEVER use that word to describe another writer. It’s the H word as far as I’m concerned. It’s an elitist insult, usually coming from some writer who doesn’t like the success of someone writing in a mere “genre,” and finding success.

Clarification #2: You advice to Elijah is exactly the sort of thing we agree on. Dec. 1 is NOT the time to post your NaNo creation. You take it through the paces you have described. If you can do that by Dec. 15, more power to you. Just do it!

Thanks again for the good discussion of these crucial issue.

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