I have a confession to make: I’ve been a chump. When it comes to writing, I’ve been a major chump.
Webster says that a chump is someone who is foolish or easily deceived. That’s been me as a writer. For 90% of my life as a writer, I’ve been a chump. Time to come clean.
I’ve been thinking about this lately as I work on a few writing projects that will make me little to no money. One is a story that may never get published. The other project will hardly be read. I’ve been devoting a lot of time to both projects.
I’ve been thinking about this as I see more reports on how rare it is for self-published authors to make considerable income. I’ve been mulling it over while watching this thread go wild at KBoards, asking if KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) is chump change for chumps.
I’m here to tell you that KDP is a place for chumps.
I know because I’ve been one. Let me tell you my story:
The year was 1986. Having recently read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Ender’s Game, I decided to write a novel. I was eleven years old. I sat down in front of my father’s Apple IIe computer, and began pecking away. I wrote a story about an oaf who stumbles through a hole in his yard, discovers that the Earth is a spaceship, and begins playing chess with his robotic bedpan. Adams and Card would’ve been very much not-proud of my attempts.
Within weeks, I abandoned that novel.
Then I started another. This time, a rip-off of Tolkien. Elves, dwarves, mages, and warriors.
A abandoned that puppy as well.
For the next 23 years, I read voraciously. I dreamed of writing a novel. This was at the very top of any bucket list I would’ve made during that period, a bucket list that swung wildly from marrying Wonder Woman to spending a year living on the Great Wall of China. Writing a novel was always at the top. Because it was the thing I tried most often to do and failed at most consistently.
I could never write anything worth reading. I would never be good enough. I was wasting my time. It took too much effort, and for what? No one would want to read what I wrote, not even me. I could never make a living as a novelists. Those people had college degrees. They studied literature. They had MFAs. And so writing-a-novel sat on my bucket list right above sailing-around-the-world.
When I was 23, I tried to sail around the world. I didn’t get very far. I spent a year in the Bahamas, went through a couple bad storms, ran out of money, and started working on boats to earn enough to get by. I wrote a lot. Poetry. Short stories. First chapters of novels. I read several books a week. I knew by then that I’d never sail around the world, just as I knew I’d never write a novel.
In 2009, I was 34 years old. I know how young 34 is, believe me. But I felt like my chance at so many dreams had passed me by. I was living on land, domesticated by the love of my life, with a perfect dog, a tiny home, no debt, and time on my hand. Yes, I was young, but I’d given up on some of my dreams. And so when I sat down to write one day, it was simply to write a first chapter. It wasn’t to write a novel. Just a beginning. The story was called Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue.
Instead of a chapter, I wrote 50 pages.
Amber came home from work, and I showed her the printed pages, my hands still shaking from mania and from having stared at a computer screen for ten straight hours. I’d written over 10,000 words since she left the house. I demanded that she read. She humored me. An hour later, she asked for more. She asked what happened next.
I said, “I have no freaking clue.”
For the next six days, I wrote. I may have eaten a little. I may have slept a touch. But mostly, I wrote.
In seven days, I had a 70,000 word rough draft. An entire story. Beginning, middle, and end. With foreshadowing. Characters I cared about. A plot that made me weep and laugh. Something I was proud of.
Amber read it and loved it. I spent the next seven days revising. I added 30,000 words, wrote a different ending, brought one character back to life, killed another, and had a decent draft. We were in Charleston, visiting my mom and sister the day I wrote the last word on the new ending. On a Sunday afternoon, we went to dinner, and I stared at the USB memory stick sitting on the table with us. A novel I wrote was on that USB stick. We drank wine. My mom, sister, and Amber chatted and laughed. I stared numbly at this thing, sitting on the table, a scratch off my bucket list.
The five hour drive back to Boone was one I’ll never forget. I was a different person. Before that moment, I was a bibliophile vagabond. I was a sailor. A dog lover. A life partner. A decent son. A middling brother. A failed writer.
Now I was one less of these things. I felt alive. I knew that this was what I was meant to do: Write.
And so I started work on the sequel, Molly Fyde and the Land of Light. Meanwhile, I sent the entire Word document of my first novel to any takers. My cousin Lisa. Online friends. Strangers. Whoever would read the thing. I started a blog and considered uploading the novel in free installments. But the feedback kept coming in. My cousin Lisa said it was the best novel she’d read in ages. Could she send it to friends? Sure. An online friend (and professional editor) said it didn’t suck. That it didn’t suck a lot. That I should get it published.
So I googled how to get published. I spent a week learning about query letters. I went to the library and found a thick book of agents and publishers. I queried. I kept writing. I kept sending out copies of that draft to anyone who would read it.
Two small presses expressed interest in my pitch. I sent partial submissions, which led to full submissions, which led to offers. Tiny advances, but I didn’t care. Someone was going to edit my work and pay to have it printed. This was beyond bucket list. This was something else entirely. Another celebratory dinner. A contract signed. A book edited and released.
Any dreams of making a living as a writer were short lived. I’m not sure I even entertained such a fantasy. I knew it would be up to me to sell every copy of every book. I knew how little I would make, how few friends and family I had, and how few of these would dare to buy their nephew’s science fiction novel. I knew this as I signed the contract, as I went through the edits. I knew it as I wrote the sequel and started on book three.
I didn’t care.
The contract came for Molly Fyde and the Land of Light. I had a long conversation with Amber. I liked the writing more than the publishing. I enjoyed creating new worlds and new characters. I enjoyed sharing these stories with friends and family. I really enjoyed creating my own cover art, doing my own pagination and layouts, and contributing to my blog. When I wanted to move some text to the left five pixels, I wanted to do it on my computer, fiddle as much as I wanted in order to change how the story was delivered, not send emails back and forth with someone else, explaining my idea and getting a PDF in return. I just wanted to create stories, in their completed form, the entire book.
So I didn’t sign that contract. I bought the rights to my first novel back. In less time than it took to learn how to query, I learned how to publish my works on my own. Paperbacks and ebooks. It took me a weekend to learn how.
And so I wrote for the love of writing. I got a job in a bookstore. I wrote every morning before work; I wrote over my lunch hour; I wrote at night and on weekends.
I made my stories available. I was one of the early chumps who used KDP to upload my ebooks. I used a print on demand service for my paperbacks. For my birthday, Amber bought me a Kindle. I downloaded the first Molly Fyde book to the device and stared at it. And then, overcome with guilt over the price of the thing, I talked her into returning it.
I wrote and wrote. It was a hobby, in the dearest sense of the word. A passion. Something I would do if monthly fees were required. Something I would gladly pay to do.
Rather than play video games or watch TV with my spare time, I wrote. My father said I should spend more time promoting my existing novels rather than write more of them. My mother asked if Oprah knew I’d written a novel. I told my super-excited and proud parents that I’d be lucky to sell 5,000 copies of my works, total, if I wrote twenty novels over the next ten years.
That was my goal in 2009. Write two novels a year for the next ten years. Twenty novels, and then I’d see where I was.
It is almost six years since I started writing that first novel. I think I’ve written fourteen novels since then. In addition to the novels, I’ve written novellas, short stories, edited three anthologies, helped direct a graphic novel, and wrote a children’s book. All for the love of it. And the biggest cost to me was my time.
Six years spent writing, mostly while working a full-time job. For several novels, I spent nothing on the production. I did my own cover art, my own pagination, my own layouts, my own formatting. Friends and family helped with the editing. This was no different than my years as a painter, when I stretched my own canvases. Or my years as a photographer, where I had my own matting and framing workshop. I cut glass and mounted my work. I blended pulp and pressed my own paper. It was fun. I loved it.
But keep in mind that for over 20 years, I routinely gave up on writing. I started novels and abandoned them. Keep that in mind.
It wasn’t until 2009 that I started writing and loving it. A mere six years later, I have put a down payment on a sailboat. This will be my second boat. My first was the one I sailed to the Bahamas sixteen years ago. The one I lived on while in college. I spent five years living aboard that boat. I hope to spend the next five, at the very least, on my next boat.
This next boat is much nicer than my last one, and I owe that to my readers. I owe it to my writing. I owe it to the years I spent pursuing something that I love. I owe it mostly to KDP, CreateSpace, and ACX. These tools allowed me to share my stories with the world. There are many such tools available, but these three have introduced me to the vast majority of my readership and the vast majority of my earnings.
Now let’s get back to me being a chump.
But first, a disclaimer. Because the reports on earnings for self-publishers are right: Most people don’t have this level of success. Publishing stories like mine are the exception. Just like lottery winners are the exception.
But that’s a horrible analogy, a lottery. It’s one you see thrown around a lot, but it misses the point. Here’s a better analogy than a lottery: Imagine someone showing up to your house and giving you a fat check because of how many people read and enjoyed your Facebook posts. Or because a lot of people thought your front yard was beautiful. Or because your knitting or piano-playing were widely enjoyed.
Imagine this only happened to a few hundred people over the past five years. But now imagine that thousands of people are getting decent sized checks for their Facebook posts or Twitter feeds or forum contributions or hilarious emails to friends. Imagine that some entity was distributing more money to people like this than the 5 major publishers were distributing to all of their authors, combined.
This is how I look at my situation, and the situation of thousands of other writers. I’d be writing and making my stories available no matter what. Everyone reading this writes and entertains somewhere for free. But in my case and thousands of other cases like mine, KDP, Kobo, Apple, Barnes & Noble, CreateSpace, and ACX insist on paying. And paying more, and more often, than a publisher would. All while working at our pace, in full control, doing what we love.
Let’s forget for a moment most of the flaws in these self-selected surveys that are meant to dissuade us. Forget for a moment that this survey in particular was focused on our “most recent release,” and that many self-published authors taking the survey complained that their most recent release just came out a week or a month ago. They weren’t asked about their other twelve works, which continue to sell. No, for all the survey’s flaws, there is only one that matters, and it’s a flaw that shows up in practically every survey that looks at publishing income. It’s the flaw that made a chump out of me.
You see, the first poor assumption here is that all those self-published authors are in it for the money. And the second poor assumption is that the authors who get publishing contracts are the only ones who tried to get publishing contracts. Plenty of people have a dream to write and be published by a major publishing house, earnings be damned. 99% of these people fail. You never see them or their works. Their dreams are never counted.
This was me. For over twenty years, this was me. Dreaming of writing, but thinking my fate rested in the hands of others, terrified I wouldn’t be good enough, that I wouldn’t pass muster, that I’d never be allowed to chase that dream, and so I gave up with the first glimmer of doubt, the first stab of self-criticism.
Stories of rejection letters and piles of submissions threw gasoline on these doubts. Stories of those who tried and gave up. Even stories of tragic vindication like the publication history of A Confederacy of Dunces filled me with fear. Fear of failure. Fear of pointless struggles. Fear of being denied a chance.
KDP is for chumps. Because it’s one of the best places for chumps to gather and to stop being chumps. KDP is for chumps like restaurants are for the hungry. It’s a magnet for chumps, and as soon as you enter, you stop being one.
I was foolish for giving up on my writing. I didn’t have realistic hopes of making my stories available. It wasn’t until I started writing on forums and blogging and finding an audience through the free and open publishing miracle that is the internet, that I started to believe. And I stopped being a chump.
Going back to that thread on KBoards, I’m sorry that not everyone’s dream of vast riches comes true. There are a lot of people out there dreaming of getting rich quick, just as there always has been. But this wasn’t my dream. It’s never been my dream.
My dream was to write a novel. It’s been my dream since I was eleven years old. I’ve spent most of my writing life being a chump, because I couldn’t see what must be blindingly obvious to so many digital natives today: The only person who could deny me this dream was myself. I was the only thing standing in my way.
Maybe your dream is different. Maybe you want to be published by a major house. Maybe you want to get rich quick. I’d love to see the survey that gave us those odds. Because those dreams aren’t up to you. Only the writing is. And here’s where the gathering of chumps have an advantage that confuses the pundits.
You see, the same surveys have shown that the chances of earning a living are about equal between self-published authors and traditionally published authors. The chances are equally bad, that is. Very few earn a full-time living making art. But consider this: On one side of this comparison, you have a group of lottery winners who got lucky and scored that publishing contract. You have the 1% of winners. On the other side of the comparison, you have all the chumps who decided to stop being chumps and make their stories available to the world.
That’s right. For once, the 99% are doing just as well as the 1%. There are a lot of happy chumps out there, making art, connecting with colleagues and fans, getting a story out and working on the next, engaging with the entire process of storytelling, finding a passion and reveling in it, with everything that comes after a big fat bonus, however slim others want to make it out to be.
156 replies to “KDP is for Chumps”
Thanks, Hugh, for writing this response to that huge Kboards thread. I really value your perspective. I write romance, and the scale on my KDP graph changed today with an incredible new release that’s sold more than any other book has ever sold on its first day. I’m going to keep going.
Most people (everybody?) seem to forget that… if they ever did realize it: “the chances of earning a living are about equal between self-published authors and traditionally published authors.”
So you may as well do it as master of your own fate, instead of as merely a small cog in a very big impersonal machine.
I’ve had two inspirations in my life. David Foster Wallace telling me I could write and Hugh’s excellent argument on why to self-publish. I’m grateful to them both!
I’m glad I finally quit being a chump!
Preach it brother!
Your story brought tears to my eyes. Because it’s my story too. I’m driving a new car (when old one was falling apart) sleeping under a new roof (when old one leaked on our heads) and taking a month long road trip to see the National Parks, all thanks to KDP. Here’s to chumps and all the ways there are to succeed now!
I pinch myself daily to be living this dream, to have people reading my stories and loving them…and to make a living at it.
Thanks for the honest share.
and congratulations to you Toby! how wonderful for you to be living the dream — let me know if you would like to share your story on my SELF PUBLISHING ZONE website (http://www.selfpublishing.zone). I created the site to be a resources for authors to write, publish and market their books.
Love to read stories like yours, Toby. I feel inspired!
I was ready to be dissuaded from using KDP and you turned it on its head. I love you too much. xoxo
Oh, Hugh. You made me cry.
I’ve lived that mania. For about four years, I wrote my heart out, to the dismay of my husband. Then I got an agent. And I stopped writing. Because what if I got a publishing contract and had to change my first novel in the series and then change all the other five that followed? So I didn’t finish them.
Started other novels. Finished one, sent it to the agent. Placed a number of short stories (which I was free to sell anywhere, as specified in the contract I negotiated).The agent sold nothing, and after six years, we mutually agreed to end the contract.
Now I’m self-publishing. I dipped my toe in the water in 2013. Got serious this year, with my first novella series. I still have days and weeks when I can’t make myself write. But I started living the dream again, and even though I haven’t made back my investment into beautiful covers and formatting, I have hopes.
So thank you. Thank you for reminding me of that passion. And showing me what’s possible.
You just got me back.
You just got me both.
Still a chump here, as I have only published one Kindle work and it was my Dad’s autobiography. I did edit it, so I guess that is a start. But I still have to get myself into that mindset of writing during every free moment.
I have two aborted attempts at novels that were started well over 20 years ago that might be able to be dusted off, but I am not so sure I am still interested in writing fiction. Have (for gods’ sake) a cookbook started as well and am having a blast writing it but Hugh, you have really motivated me.
Wonderful post and I hope I can take the lesson to heart.
Thank you! I plan on publishing my first book in April and can’t wait to join the “chumps.”
I can’t tell you how many times people mention the money when I tell them I’m writing a book. It’s not about the money. It’s about the love of writing! If I can eventually support myself by doing what I love, it will be a bonus.
Great post. Your story has been and always will be my inspiration for going the self-publishing route. I didn’t even for one minute consider reaching out to agents for my book series. I read about your success and figured why not give it a try. The worst that could happen? My books would be published. Ha! When I first saw the title of your post, my stomach knotted up and I thought, “Oh, no. I’m a chump because I’m in KDP.” But turns out I’m a FORMER chump. What a relief. Keep on doing what you do. Thanks!
Wonderful blog. Thank you for all you do.
So far, my only writing regrets are:
1) The time and effort I put into querying (I got 2 requests, but ended up withdrawing them).
2) Not becoming a KDP chump sooner.
I haven’t made enough to quit my day job yet, but I think I’ve made more than I would have going traditional and my book is already out there being enjoyed by lots of readers.
Thank you for continuing to stoke the creative fires. I have weeks and (I’m ashamed to admit) even months fly by without writing a single word, then spend two days writing for 10 hours a day. I am finally reaching the tail end of my first book (see, I am optimistic) and beginning to feel the panic of “where do I go from here” set in. I have to make one final editing pass then start passing it out to friends and family so they can rip it to shreds and, hopefully, help me pinpoint the weak spots without destroying all of my confidence in the process.
Your posts always give me that little extra boost I need to keep going and not feel like I’m wasting my time. I’m in my 50s, so I guess I’m a late bloomer. But I have hope that this is only the beginning.
I Can Live With Chumpdom
We’ll never know the true extent of the broken hearts and dreams that follow in the wake of Big Publishing. It’s not their fault; they can’t publish everything, and everything isn’t publishable. But there’s a mythos beyond that, one that says that you’re only legitimate with that stamp of approval, a clique of so-called tastemakers that excludes just to preserve their own exclusivity. And that’s just sad.
The internet has opened a new world for everyone. For writers, it means you don’t have to please the gatekeepers, and you don’t even need mass appeal. You just need to get your work out there.
There’s a lot to agree with here. But consider this: Publishers COULD publish everything. There was nothing stopping Random House from developing an e-reader when they realized they were too beholden to brick and mortar stores. They could’ve sold direct to readers with an online site for both print and ebooks. They could’ve opened that portal to other publishers, gathering data on reading and purchasing habits (and collecting access to millions of email inboxes). They could’ve then opened that portal to all self-publishing comers and taken 30% of the revenue (and signed any writers who gained an audience to a traditional deal).
They could still do these things. Unfortunately, their business model is built on dropping anything that doesn’t work in the first week like a hot stone, while many tech startups operate by the philosophy of “fail faster.” When publishing pundits deride the latest experiment from Amazon as a failure, usually within the first six weeks or six months of release, I chuckle. Failing is learning. If publishers gave more authors second and third chances, they’d see how this works. And then maybe they’d learn to take more and bigger chances with their business models as well.
This. I’ve been involved in a tech start up and you must fail: it’s the quickest way to see what’s not working. In fact, VC’s ask about your failures to see if you’ve got grit.
So I mentally allowed myself to fail at writing.
I hit publish on KDP 4 months ago thanks to you, PG, Konrath and Eisler. I didn’t even attempt trad pub. My friends mostly said, ‘Huh, you can write. Not bad. Who knew? Keep doing what you’re doing.’ I lurk on Kboards and have learned heaps about the biz side. I browse writers blogs to learn more about the craft. I dreamt about making the 1% on my debut for a month, then realized the advantages of obscurity and building an audience over a life time. I read the reviews, especially the 3 star ones, and learn from the constructive criticism that folks took time to give me. I appreciate every single reader. Wait, I have readers!?! *I still can’t believe that last line*
The fear is gone. Now I wake up early every morning and write the stories I want to tell. Thank you, Hugh. Keep doing what you’re doing. – HN
You’ve really hit the nail on the head here. The cautious nature of traditional publishers makes them go with what they know, and with what works early. Declining market share has led them to even further caution rather than boldness. And having anchored themselves to one channel of distribution – brick bookstores – they’ve inhibited growth in others. It reminds me of the radio folks in the late 40s that were sure TV would never make it.
I join the “chump” club in May of 2017(after I get back from a year overseas). It reminds me of the groups of nerds(myself included) that discovered we didn’t need the jock dynamic. We could be cool in our own group.
Great analogy. Resonates with me. :)
The real sin of many in the print publishing crowd right now is not that they just haven’t welcomed change but that they’d like to exterminate the source of it completely.
Thank God people like yourself are standing in the way of that.
I followed a similar path as you, in that for twenty years I didn’t write fiction. I did do technical writing as a business analyst (still do) and it wasn’t until I was moved into a supervisory role and wasn’t writing at all that I realized something very vital was missing. My dream was to write and publish a book. I had several partially written stories and it took my daughter to ask if I could do anything what would it be. I am not making a lot, but I am making enough for my husband to be patient. A car payment or college tuition payment is nice, but I write because I love story telling and the biggest bonus is the fact my children aren’t afraid to reach for their dreams.
Same here. I wrote all through school, then stopped after college because I let the words of a few idiots shatter my confidence. I didn’t write for over twenty years, but started again a couple of years ago. I now have the rough drafts of three novels and three novellas done, and am on a couple of critique sites trying to get them polished up before I self-publish them. I had thought of sending out query letters – and I may still write one – but this post has me rethinking that. Everything involved in self-publishing just seems complicated.
I’m so glad that wrote this. I’ve also read your article about why writers should self-publish. I have been working on writing my first novel since November (NaNoWriMo 2014) and I’m half way through my second draft now, but I keep struggling with whether I should attempt the traditional publishing route or (what I really want to do) self publishing. You are the only voice on the internet that I consistently see encouraging people to self publish, and you have inspired me to go back to my original plan time and time again, after I’m utterly convinced that maybe I should just concede and do what everyone else keeps telling me to do.
If I’d lived my life that way up until now, I certainly wouldn’t be writing a book. Thank you for understanding!
Sarah Leann Young
I’m picturing a badge that says something like “Hugh Howey’s Chump Brigade.” I would wear that proudly.
Thanks, as ever, for the rallying cry and for continuing to counterbalance the forces that would have us believe that money is the only measure of our worth. More and more I think the challenge of our time is that we’re nearing the “end of work,” as Jeremy Rifkin called it, and approaching the Star Trek-y time when we’ll all spend our days trying to enrich ourselves and each other, but our world just hasn’t quite caught up.
As few people have read the things I’ve self-published (in part because of your example and encouragement), it’s still more than would have read them if I’d tried to publish them traditionally or, obviously, hadn’t published them at all.
You made me think of an article I read on Boing Boing recently called “Punk Games” (http://pocket.co/soGQL4). In it, they said:
“In 1976, an english fanzine called Sideburns published an illustration of three chords, captioned “This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band”.”
Hear hear, Hugh. Thanks again for being a leader for so many of us and for showing us some of the chords.
I’m one of those happy chumps. I don’t care about the money. I’m just happy that I can make my stories available and that I can keep on writing – that most of all.
I think it’s significant tgat you wrote for many years before you really hit your stride. The other thing many don’t realise is that it takes an average of 10 years (both for trad and self pubbed authors) to write anything close to a best seller. There’s a reason for that.
Anyone who let’s their happiness and success hinge entirely on a dream of vast riches *is* a chump. I have a good life and am able to write and share my stories. That’s all i need. When i first dreamed of being a writer i speculated on the possibilities of printing novels on a dot matrix. The avenues open to self publishing now are amazing and i am so grateful to live in a time where so much is possible. If i ever get rich off my writing that will be great. But i am also content to be happy with right now and see each little accomplishment as its own stellar success.
Thanks so much for being the trumpeter for literary art and preaching the good words. I was concerned for a moment that you were going down the ‘this is a waste of time’ street because on the playwrights’ chat this is rejection season and one writer facing health challenges and rejection really got me sad. So I thought ‘oh my gosh if Hugh Howey’ is depressed what can we do? Thank you for believing that in and of itself the act of telling a story is worthy and important and inspired. I appreciate your optimism and leadership. Compared to yesterday on the playwright chat this is sunlight breaking through.
Well said, Hugh. Read it to my husband.
I joined the chumps in 2011. After a series of failed fits and starts I had some minor success in 2013. I didn’t understand how to keep the success going (I’d hit the kindle top 100 in romance) and soon was back in the dumps.
Demoralized and thinking myself the ultimate chump – I stopped writing. In that time I’ve had a series of demoralizing regular jobs. Only to find myself unsuited to take the daily grind and humiliation.
So here I am back at writing again. Starting over like a NOOB even. I’ve learned something though.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a self-publisher or working at the local quick-e-mart – we’re all chumps. You just have to decide what level of chump you want to be.
Me I like the idea of having some control over my own destiny and rising by my own merits. So it’s back in for me and I’m all in this time.
– Thanks for the post Hugh.
Whilst I agree with everything you have said and love the works of yours I have read (The Shell Collector and Wool), unfortunately, as a reader, I find the vast majority of paid works I download to be littered with typos, continuity errors and very bad grammar. Your works are the gold standard exception rather than the rule.
I do understand that most self published authors cannot afford the luxury of an editor, but some of those littered with errors are top selling authors.
As much as I love reading, this factor of self published work does spoil immersion.
It’s early days. Won’t be long before grammar and spelling suggestions made by word processors gets the error rate down to nearly invisible levels. In fact, I’m shocked we don’t already have them. We can do realtime audio language translations and implant cameras in the blind to allow them to see, but we can’t automate typo removal? Confusing.
It was quite clearly evident that context within language is difficult for AI when Watson was not able to tell the difference between Harry Potter and Voldemort on Jeopardy. I know next to nothing about Harry Potter, but it is a trivial distinction for me and, hopefully, most humans.
Despite Markov’s proof that hidden states can be found by Bayesian network analysis, it seems that top-down (big data) analysis is a perverted tyranny of the majority system that can find no nuance. I would also say that context is precisely where translation programs have a tendency to make mistakes.
How many years ago was that? Watson’s accomplishments were miraculous at the time, and they’ve only worked to improve the machine. Grammar is very formulaic. We’ll see perfect grammar check in the next ten years.
By 2029 — if not sooner — a supercomputer will pass the Turing test. It’ll use those hidden hierarchical Markov models you mentioned to understand every word you say, and its cameras will read your facial microexpressions in real time with inhuman precision, reading your conscious and subconscious emotional reactions right off your face — it’ll practically be able to read your mind.
That computer will be able to carry on a full back-and-forth conversation with you on any topic you choose, showing you a video-realistic avatar complete with faux-human idiosyncracies, and you won’t be able to tell whether you’re talking to a machine or a real human being.
A few months, weeks, or even hours after it surpasses that milestone, it’ll be able to write novels of heartbreaking beauty, nightmare-inducing terror, pulse-slamming thrills, and fractally-intricate mystery puzzlers, perfectly tailored to your psychology.
I did a lot of research into current AI and near-future AI for a novel I wrote. And I managed to scare myself. Because what we used to think of as science fiction? It’s already pretty much science fact.
The scariest part of Machine Intelligence isn’t that it will soon be capable of doing anything we can. It’s that it might instead decide to do something else instead, and we aren’t smart enough to even begin to guess what that might be, let alone prevent it.
So write fast. ;)
I take it you read SUPERINTELLIGENCE, then. Fascinating book. A few others from recent years that I enjoyed were MOST HUMAN HUMAN and SMARTER THAN YOU THINK. Also: THE SECOND MACHINE AGE.
I agree that what you list here will be possible, probably in our lifetimes. I’d put the date at 2049, though. I’ll see it on my deathbed.
You appear to have an impressive technical background. It isn’t clear if you intended research for a book to matter in making your point. I hope not, because I’ve met plenty of engineers who couldn’t apply what they’d previously memorized and vomited, and plenty of researchers who didn’t comprehend what they’d read. You’re probably a smart guy that did a lot of quality research, but that doesn’t intrinsically make what you have to say any more valid.
I’d rather that you’d have addressed the glaring weaknesses in big data systems like Watson and Google that are awful at interpreting context. When there is serious discussion that contextual search will be achieved through human social networks rather than machine algorithms, it should give one reason to think that there isn’t an obvious way around the problem of the tyranny of popularity often rendering PageRank as useless. Maybe top down network analysis will get better along the current developmental lines they’re on, but I think they will require disruption by different algorithmic approaches that will be far more difficult to implement.
Personal computers will most likely have more processing power at their disposal than a human by 2029. But, I’m dubious that their software will function as well in inductive reasoning (bottom up analysis) as humans, mostly because the low hanging fruit of the deductive-big data-Bayesian network (top down analysis) is still being explored. Inductive reasoning is very good for generating models of systems and testing theories of what a hidden underlying system might look like. I think it’s probable that both of these approaches to reasoning will need to be well developed to achieve contextual understanding, and inductive reasoning has less research going on and is much harder to program.
I’m not arguing that computers won’t eventually get ahead of us in pretty much every way that involves the organizing and processing of information. I agree that they will continue to become breathtakingly fast in tasks they used to be inadequate for. However, the software systems will have to evolve to take advantage of all that processing power. The one thing we’ve seen in the computing industry is that the software is lagging the hardware quite miserably.
I wouldn’t count on living forever like Kurzweil thinks, but how long your expected lifespan will be is murky at best. Current expected lifespans apply only to people who are dying this year, not reliable predictions of how long we can expect to live. Really inexpensive gene sequencing and increasingly powerful computers will suddenly allow for unexpected breakthroughs because we currently have so little visibility into the individual context of disease and aging. If Paul is correct about the power of hidden Markov models, then those incomprehensibly intelligent computers will get to decide how long you live.
Enabity, when it comes to predicting the future your guess might be as good as mine. But I think you took my comment — which was meant to be half tongue-in-cheek — way too seriously. :)
Still, to focus on the way current software lags hardware misses the point. Software lags hardware precisely because it is presently bottlenecked by human coding skill and intuition — which will cease to be a limiting factor when software is instead being iteratively improved by the AI itself. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of viewing tomorrow’s rate of technology advancement through the lens of today’s current limitations.
SUPERINTELLIGENCE, MOST HUMAN HUMAN, and THE SECOND MACHINE AGE were wonderful reads for those interested in the subject. I’ll have to check out SMARTER THAN YOU THINK. And if you haven’t read Barrat’s OUR FINAL INVENTION, Drexler’s RADICAL ABUNDANCE, and Armstrong’s slightly-campy SMARTER THAN US, I recommend them.
Timelines are always hard to predict. It might well be 2049. Kurzweil, who popularized the 2029 date and who enabity alludes to above, has been in his previous predictions far more accurate than most. But the timing of tech breakthroughs is always unpredictable (and usually happen by accident when scientists or engineers are trying to solve something else.)
About it happening on your deathbed, though. Well, uh, about that… ;)
ENDING AGING, by Aubrey de Grey
WHEN I’M 164, by Ewing Duncan
More fun reading, if you haven’t already.
Sorry, left out a good one:
HOW TO CREATE A MIND, by Ray Kurzweil himself.
You are killing my TBR pile, man!
(Keep it up)
Coding is about organizational skill and comprehension, not processing power. Computers with better processing power but worse organizational skill than humans will not code themselves better than humans can. My point is that computers that are being held back by bad software will not magically generate better software than humans can. Once we manage to give them better organizational and comprehension skills than we have, clearly it will be game over for our relevance.
This will require an intellectual paradigm shift like the move from raw empirical trial and error in ancient technology to the integration of top down empiricism, with inductive philosophy and mathematics that produced the science movement. It will also require code that is durable and redundant, properties that we are terrible at producing.
Right now, the brute force approach of churning data through relatively simplistic algorithms that have been scaled up to handle large and sophisticated data sets is the most efficient means for solving problems. When we find out from experience what problems resist this approach, we will have a better idea as to how to proceed. Maybe I’m wrong and all of the walls will suddenly fall down ahead of us, but our non-linear universe has a tendency to stop self-feeding proliferation cold. If runaway proliferation of computers is in our future, why isn’t it in our past? It would take only about a million years for such a proliferation to completely occupy the Milky Way.
“If runaway proliferation of computers is in our future, why isn’t it in our past? It would take only about a million years for such a proliferation to completely occupy the Milky Way.”
I call that one the Ferminator Paradox, enabity. :)
(portmanteau of Fermi Paradox and… this guy.
And no, I don’t know the answer.
The answer is this: We are alone.
Paul – The facial recognition you speak about here and in one of your books actually exists, now. I’m aware of a startup–a friend of mine is on the board–that developed this for consumer product testing. I heard about some of the tests, and was blown away with the potential for future applications. Wish I could tell you more, but I expect you’ll be hearing something about this pretty soon.
Science Fiction has already predicted what the AI that passes the Turing Test will do. Disturbingly, the largest trend in those predictions is robots which make humans obsolete.
I Robot – Isaac Asimov – 1940 -1950
The Terminator – James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd – 1984
Pretty cool, that startup you mention — I’m sure it’s one of many soon-to-be competitors. And then there’s the parallel, better-funded R&D going on in the black world. :)
Some exceptional humans can already read involuntary human facial microexpressions with varying degrees of accuracy. But microexpression-reading and interpretation are, as you say, readily amenable to computer algorithms.
We’re headed into a future where your lies, your suppressed emotions, and your hidden intentions can easily be read off your naked face. Governments will have that capability first, but then — like every other truly revolutionary technology — it will soon find its way into the private sector, and into inexpensive commercial products. Moore’s Law will put face-reading capability into mobile phones, webcams, TV, or sunglasses) for near-trivial cost.
And then it will change the world.
Our children will inherit a different planet.
A world without lies.
As a kid, I loved Asimov’s “I, Robot” and its sequels. :)
And the Terminator, hokey time-travel stuff notwithstanding :)
But both Cameron and Asimov were ultimately optimists. Like Kurzweil, they saw the future of AI through rosy-colored glasses. Yep, even Cameron.
For a more serious look at the danger posed by artificial intelligence, take a look at the book that Hugh mentioned above:
Nick Bostrom’s SUPERINTELLIGENCE: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.
There’s a reason smart folks like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking consider emergent AI one of the greatest existential risks for humanity.
I’m convinced that AI has been around since the 90’s. The reason nothing major has happened is that they are just as angst ridden and messed up as regular people, so nobody notices them. And yes, some of them do write novels. The stories are usually Twilight fan fiction. You see the AI authors constantly whining on blogs that no one appreciates their work, thus they blend in with the rest of us.
A lot of self-published work does go through an editor. All the top indies I know use one (or more). And guess what? Typos (and missed words or wrong words) still happen. Same as in trad published books. It’s almost impossible to crush them all. :)
Thanks for the article, Hugh.
I see a lot of these in trad published books, but they seem to be given a pass because readers know it when through an editor and apparently are chalked up to the editor being human. With an indie, the assumption seems be that there’s no editor at all.
I had one for my last book, someone with newspaper and journalism experience as well, and I got at least one review about needing an editor (I think what they were talking about were artifacts from KDP converting from Word. It rammed words together in a few places).
The issue, IMO, comes when some are so up on getting published that they ignore the other, boring stuff(like editors). Even if a person only uses beta-readers, editing is crucial and distinguishes between the serious and the silly.
That said, even traditional works have these issues. I nearly pulled my hair out reading One Second After by William Fortschen…the number of times he used “could of” instead of “could’ve” drove me insane.
Inspirational as always—not to mention spot on! Now, if KDP, could only find a way to create more time, and sell it to authors so we could write, they’d really have something!
You are so right. My husband just published his seventh installment of a much longer novel series. Being a chump has paid nicely! At first, we joked that it was only going to be beer money, then ratcheted that up to some extras and then just paying the motorhome payment. Now, the money is making a nice difference in our lives (we are actually retired, so writing and publishing are surprisingly lucrative hobbies.) I hope to join the chump brigade sometime this summer, too, with the first of five novels that, if they hit a chord, will make me chocolate money, and who knows what else? (And heck, I’m on weight watchers, so my chocolate money has gone WAY down!)
I have always found your words to be wise and balanced and positive – so counter to a lot of the nonsense out there. I suspect there are many people who forget what they don’t have control over and what they DO have control over. In this case, it’s the writing, period. (Well, and yes, the publishing too now.) So keep fighting the good fight!
Always enjoy your posts, Hugh. Especially this one- it rings all too familiar and close to home. I wrote my first comic strip under the age of 10, then my first screenplay followed, then came my novels, rejections and Life. I walked away from my full time job in 2012 before I published my first book. A risk, but risk taker is my middle name. Lucky for me, I did very well and still am. I cannot thank my readers enough. People actually like to read the stories I spin. Almost 3 years later and it all still seems so surreal. Pinching has not worked. A writer friend suggested KDP to me two years before I started, but I was still blindly stuck in the traditional vortex at that time…Going on my own, my terms, etc. was the best thing ever. I agree with your post. We all find our way. A happy chump here. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you so much for your encouragement. I, too have written all of my life and dreamed about just being a writer. Yes, it took me a lot longer than it did you, but I finally left my paying, boring job and have spent the last year and a half writing two novels, resurrecting a children’s book I wrote for my daughters over 20 years ago, joining critique groups, blogging excessively and more. I’m not yet ready to publish any of it, but I’ve wondered whether to go traditional or self-publishing. After reading your post, I’m convinced that I will give KDP and some of the others a try. Because, really, what do I have to lose? I’m already doing what I love. Getting published, one way or another, is simply a bonus. And who knows, maybe someone will even buy one of my stories!
Thank you so much for expressing so eloquently what I’m sure many of us “former” chumps are feeling. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, but always for my own satisfaction. I simply did not believe that any publisher would ever care for any drivel that I wrote.
The internet and eBooks changed all that. As was stated earlier, it took away the gatekeepers and gave aspiring writers the keys to the kingdom. After that, it was up to us to use them as we saw fit.
I’m in my mid-fifties now and tomorrow is the last day of my “real” job. I’ve been a barber for twenty-three years and had myriad other jobs before that. But now, thanks to self-publishing, I’m taking the plunge and reaching for the brass ring.
I may crash and burn, but damn it, when you reach middle-age, how many times does the opportunity come around to do what you’ve always dreamed of doing, full-time? Not too often.
So I’m going for it. You said it much better than I ever could, but I’ll just add that, if we’re the chumps, then at least we’re all chumps together!
I’ve been a chump for a couple of years now and agree with you 100%. That said, as an author who just had his first book pirated I love your “Already downloaded it? No problem, pay for it here” button. That’s a stroke of genius.
I was worried you were about to denounce KDP as evil, then phew! The message ended with your usual upbeat positivity about the state of self-publishing, which is obviously an inspiration to zillions of us out here.
Eighteen years I spent writing novels and crossing fingers that somebody would wave a magic wand and make my publishing goals come true. Until I woke up and made them come true for myself. Self-actualization feels great! Chumps unite!
I received my very first Remittance Advice E-mail from KDP today and it’s so not about the money, it’s about seeing my stories and books come to life. I gave up on myself for a long time trying to be a perfectionist and making fear my best buddy. No longer.
Lovely post, thank you. You’re like Rosebud the sleigh reminding us it’s about the joy.
Awesome! Thanks Hugh, :)
Man, I just want to be able to keep writing for a living. As long as I make enough that this can be my life, I’m happy.
The continued debate about what sells better, indie or trad published books, is a ludicrous argument. What we should be asking and comparing is how many fantastic books never got to see the light of day just because some acquisitions editor “didn’t think it would sell.”
It’s not ludicrous if you’re a new author, holding a manuscript, and you aren’t sure what your options are.
True. And I am very glad there are author’s out there like you spreading the word, because it makes me sick to my stomach when I see new emerging authors taken advantage of and mislead.
I really needed to see this today, after struggling with my writing for the past few months and questioning whether it’s all been worth it. Thank you. Proud to be a chump!
Hugh, every time I climb out the window onto that ledge, you seem to be there with a cogent insight and, once again, talk me down. Thanks for being there, pal. Now back to scribblescribble.
Bravo, Hugh! I waded into that thread and regret it. Some people are just going to be negative no matter what. Negativity is contagious and causes self-doubt. I started writing a year after you, though I was quite a few years older. I’d been making up stories since I was a kid and finally put some on paper. I still have all the rejection letters. When I found KDP and CreateSpace, I ceased being a chump, too. Now, I live comfortably on my writing, having quit my day job ten months ago. I write every day, getting lost in the story.
Your story is inspiring, Wayne. Loved watching you take off.
I agree that a lot of self-published works are riddled with grammatical errors, but I’ve looked inside a whole range of trad-published novels recently, and have seen the same in them. Words missing, words with the wrong spelling (‘canon’ instead of ‘cannon’ in a top 100 novel -and yes, it was the artillery cannon).
Bearing in mind, a lot of these were in the ‘Look Inside’ on Amazon, which is supposed to be a show-case, and these were highly-vaunted top-of-the-range Big 5 novels. There are a lot of people self-publishing who do not pay attention to the important things, but the ones who are serious about it seem to be a match for the trad-publishers nowadays, IMHO.
Someone just bought one of the Simon & Schuster copies of WOOL, and it was missing 50 pages. 0_0
Oops! ’nuff said :)
Maybe they’re still restoring their servers :)
I really appreciate you writing this, Mr. Howey. I thought about this during the trip home.
I can relate…on many fronts.
I spent the first year of self publishing trying to figure out the system, how to fit into it, what I was doing wrong…everything felt wrong…I couldn’t figure out how all these other (high profile) Indie authors I kept hearing about were enjoying so much success? I’d tried so hard to create a great product…and yet I felt somehow, bad about the attempt, like somehow, I’d failed, like I was salmon swimming up the proverbial stream when it came to discoverability. I couldn’t figure it out. My fb new feed was inundated with stories of successful Indies, Indie one day, swept up off the self pub pedestal and into amazing six-figure traditional contract the next. It all seems so real, but somehow strangely, impossible.
Meanwhile, my books were what you’d consider a slow burn. Not selling gangbusters, but still, they were selling…slowly catching on modest fire…okay, sparking. Years ago, the publishing industry would be thrilled to have me as a writer. They’d take me on for chump change, publish my work, start a small fire under me, fan the flames, and watch me catch on fire, wearing big grins as it happened. The next book (series) I wrote would be better…and the one after that even better, until… Those days are over now. Today, the industry cares nothing about the slow burn author. All they want is instant success. One hit wonders are okay, as long as they payout, and then some. And then if they can’t do it again, “Thanks so much, hand shake, it’s been super working with you. Done.”
I used to hear, “We aren’t buying books, we’re buying into authors and their long term careers.” I’m not sure that’s ever said anymore. Today it’s all about writing the next block buster novel. (Give us the next Hunger Games!) And then, move one. Authors names are ever-change on today’s Big Box Store bookshelves.
I knew this, but still, as I watched traditionally pubbed friends whisked off to ALA and other envy-worthy publishing events, photos of their wonderfully attended signings plastered all over my Facebook feed, I couldn’t help but feel a little like a chump, again. Like somehow I’d failed my own dreams. I hadn’t hit the goals with my writing, I’d set out to achieve, originally. Did that mean I had given up? Then I’d remind myself about, “it’s been super working with you,” line, put my head down, shut of social media, and kept writing. My journey was different, but no less important, I was slowly coming to realize that. Pockets of fans were beginning to find me, slow but sure. I was getting the odd letter of praise. I loved hearing from readers. LOVED IT. (That will never get old. Readers are amazing people. AMAZING.) I was starting feeling more like an author, less like a chump. More like I wasn’t failing.
I had a new goal. I wanted to be one of these writers I’d heard about who were making a modest (comparatively to the Hugh Howey’s of the world) but solid enough income from my writing to replace the job I’d been run out of (telling the truth about being poisoned at my workplace, and sticking up for what was right) or at least half that income…okay- how about able to contribute to my family’s well-being again. I wanted to be productive member of society, creating art that I was passionate about, entertaining people with it. I wanted to connect with readers. I wanted to touch their hearts.
On a small scale, I was doing that.
By January 2015, one year in, I was feeling rather like a chump again. I hadn’t reached the benchmarks I’d set for myself, BUT the bottom line was…I was hooked. I couldn’t stop writing and publishing now if I wanted to. (I would miss designing covers, alone!) I resolved to myself at that point, whatever happened going forward, I wasn’t stopping. I loved to write. I loved telling stories. (I loved designing covers.) I loved the feeling I got when I cracked open a new box of CreateSpace books. Why would I stop doing what I loved?
The gig is still up on if I’ll be able to replace that income, (or even half of it) but whatever happens, I can say this…I was a chump, too. For 10 years, I submitted work and then waited to be chosen that one grain of sand that makes it through the traditional publishing hourglass. That’s ten years that could have been better spent publishing and connecting with cool readers. And rejoicing over the smell of freshly printed CreateSpace books pages with my name on them. :)
Sorry about the typos…on my phone… gack.
Boy, did this one ever resonate. Thank you.
And to think you also married your Wonder Woman… There’s not much left on that bucket list.
Thanks for this post. I have been following that thread over at KBoards. Wow. No matter what is said, it will not change the negativity of some.
This time last year, I was still in the query round robin. I can’t tell you how many letters I sent out, or rejections I got. Query Tracker has a record, I’m sure. I thought I was being foolish, wanting to publish, and wasting all my time working on a manuscript that no one was interested in.
Then, I read Wool. I am a nerd who always looks up the authors I enjoy, and that was my first introduction to self-publishing. I read (stalked) all the online info I could find about you, and how you’d turned your love into a career, and did it without defining success through the eyes of anyone else.
Fast forward to this year. I am self-publishing in under two months, and have a publication schedule laid out for the rest of the year. Had I not read Wool, and done my usual stalker routine, I would probably still be banging out query letters. For that alone, I am so grateful.
I’ll be a chump any day. I may not have the just-add-water success, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I alone determine how, when, and what I create and put out there. Thanks for continuing to champion that idea.
Congrats, Lisa! An early welcome to the world of the published.
What an amazing article. I stopped fire many years and finally picked it back up. I published two decades worth of poetry on KDP with the intent to clean my slate and do it the traditional way after. The thing is, I enjoyed every second of it…..even the shameless self marketing that fills my empty time slots, which are in short supply. You just reaffirmed that this is what I am meant to do…..and I will gladly remain “in the hole” to do it my way! I have sold less than one hands finger count and am already ready for more. Thank you for an inspiring article……truly.
Sometimes, no…MANY times, you post just the right thing that I needed to keep going with this. Well said, and thanks :) Time to open that .doc I haven’t looked at in too long.
Started a new one, and six hour and seven thousand words later posted it on Amazon as a short story. Thanks :)
I stumbled across your blog post from a link on Facebook and so glad I did. We have so much in common. I’m in Charlotte, my son is a freshman at college in Boone and in 2007 my husband and I bought a 38 foot catamaran and took our then 6 and 10 year old on a 4 1/2 year adventure. We met two families (who became good friends of ours) on St. Francis catamarans. And I wrote a book about our adventure and self published. Your article was great and I agree about writing for the love of writing. I didn’t even try to get my story published with a publishing firm because I really wanted to get the story out, my way, in the quickest time. The turn around from writing to publishing with major publishing firms is crazy, so self publishing works for me. Thanks for the confirmation, good luck with your travels and if you have time, I would love to meet with you and chat about cruising!
I would love that! And I’d like to read your book. Don’t be shy about sharing links. :)
I never can resist a good story. Here’s Carla’s book, and it’s a total 5-star smash! I’m linking to it here because that’s what we indie authors do…
I have a feeling you’re going to love this book, Hugh!
(P.S. I have no connection to this author and never heard about her until five minutes ago.)
Awesome. You rock.
Oh, I just don’t know if I want to do it anymore. The first flurry was fun, but Amazon just made me take everything down cuz of a copyright error and I have been plugging in USB sticks trying to find the right pages to fix and it is so hard to sit at that machine anymore. I think my initial mania has expired with a med change. I have some ideas percolating and one almost done necessity, but I am dragging. This article makes me feel like I am disappointing myself.
I don’t know if this will help you at all, but I go through some pretty steep highs and lows, and this helps me:
When you’re swimming out in the ocean, let’s say snorkeling over a reef, there’s a surge that washes back and forth. So as you’re swimming, sometimes this surge pushes you forward, and you feel like you’re flying. But then the surge recedes right in your face, and you kick and struggle and see by the reef that you’re going in reverse.
It can be frustrating as hell to feel yourself sliding back, going in reverse, feeling like all your kicking is for nothing.
But if you swim in a situation like this, there’s something you can try: Don’t panic. Don’t get frustrated. Just continue swimming with the same pace, no matter what the surge is doing. When it goes forward (your manic, happy phase), you’ll cover a lot of ground. When it slides back (your down phase), that same gentle swimming pace will minimize your lost ground.
Staying in place or even sliding back a little can be a huge win. Sometimes you’re just treading water, waiting for that next surge. When I feel like I can’t do anything right, or don’t want to get anything done, I just look at every small task and accomplishment as a bit of progress against the receding tide. Even if it’s just taking the trash out, or wiping down the refrigerator, or walking the dog — it’s all strokes keeping me in place. And another surge is coming.
In your next spare minute, maybe you could write a self-help book, Hugh. And if you’re not too busy, could you come and wipe down my refrigerator? Or just the trash is fine. I don’t have a dog. :-P
Structured procrastination (http://www.businessinsider.com/use-procrastination-to-get-things-done-2014-6). I was doing it without even knowing I was doing it.
Whatever you can do to silence the inner critic and get stuff done is a step in the right direction.
Thank you. I get that. Makes me feel even better about cleaning that bathroom. I am to used to it just happening. Now I need to try a little harder to make it happen. (You got that!)
I was at a writer’s conference this weekend, so I’m just catching up on my online reading and normally I wouldn’t comment on this post since it already happened for everybody else days ago. But that surge metaphor is one of the best things about writing and publishing I have ever read. Oh my God, I love that. I’m going to share it with as many people as I can. It’s nuggets like this that keep me coming back here week after week:)
I knew there was some wisdom I needed to find in this long, well-deserved list of comments. Thank you for this insight and beautiful imagery, Hugh.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
― Henry Ford
That quote pertains pretty well to self-publishing, I think.
Like Lizzie, I was a little worried how the Chump post started, but I remember your talk at AWP14 in Seattle and meeting you in person and realize that you were not going back. So I am a chump.
Like you I wrote and pitched for over 20+ and finally 4 years ago, took the jump for a manuscript that I could not sell, but every agent wanted to tell my their father’s story of being in the CCCs in the 1930 (I knew there was an audience for it) It won awards and has opened up a wonderful side writing life of speaking about the work of these young men in our parks and forests. This past year, I found a narrator on ACX and joined that part of getting the story out as only an indie could do. A prequel came out last April and has received very good reviews. Createspace and KDP has made it all possible. A third novel is in edits with a professional, held up only by the exciting task of helping a fellow writer launch her new Kindle World in just a few weeks. I’m a chump if there ever was one.
I will never grow tired of hearing stories like this. Congratulations. Inspirational.
I love this, it’s very inspiring. I recently (also at 34) finally wrote my first full length novel. I let a few friends read it, they really liked it. But I think you get it in your head that you are not good enough. That your friends and family only “loved” your story because they “love” you. This makes me feel better, it’s nice to know that other authors or potential authors have the same issues. It makes me want to self publish my story, so thank you.
Wow. Such an inspiring post.
Thanks for the post, as always. There are no guarantees, only love of the work and a desire to share yourself, as in all art forms. I have a novel (went live in September) and a short story (January) available, and the short story has had a hundred downloads in 6 weeks. Not huge numbers, not a get-rich-quick scheme, but connecting with a hundred strangers and a chance make their day a little better with something I created for the love of the work. The best wisdom is “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.” I’ll take my wisdom wherever I find it.
Thank you for reminding all of us what the true nature of writing is made of.
If you’d write the story no matter what, you are a true author.
Like most true authors, I write stories that I would enjoy reading. I’m still thrilled with each and every purchase by people that WANT to read my stories! I appreciate the freedom offered by KDP, Nook, Apple, and everyone else that welcomes independent authors.
And, you know something? If I’m a chump, I’m a chump. But I can’t ask for better company than my fellow authors.
And, yes, I ended the first sentence with a preposition.
I don’t care. ;)
Better a “chump” than a “never tried” is my motto. Like many, I’d been writing since I was a child (started getting serious around nine or so), always wanted to be a writer but never had the courage to submit anything. Many years passed, and as I was out of work and wondering what to do with my life during my middle-to-old-age I started looking up stuff about querying agents.
The best thing that ever happened to me was finding a link to Joe Konrath’s blog. Through him, I found out about this wonderful thing called self-publishing, and then other blogs and forums that showed me how to forge forward and get my work in front of readers.
I’m not making much money. I started in 2011, but there have been some major issues in my life that slowed me down, even to the point of not writing for a while. But I’m going to keep going. I have a lot of stories to tell, and I know people will want to read them. I’ve got sales reports that are encouraging, if not spectacular. I know I’m going to be making a living with my writing, with a goal of making a small living wage by the end of the year.
So, if people feel they aren’t being served by self-publishing, or that it’s some kind of scam, or that Amazon is evil (it’s a corporation, it probably is, but it’s been good to me), they can quit. Joe Nobody has volunteered to cover their six, and I’ve got my sniper position set up to take him out, leaving just me out there, publishing my books. mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha
I love your story, and thanks for sharing it. Mine is very similar. I began writing when I was eleven and didn’t finish my first novel until I was 40. I put my writing away as I worked the Evil Day Job and raised a couple of mostly non-evil spawn. Now I’ve published a novella, four novels, and have two more novels coming out this year.
It’s not the money. It’s not even the praise. Not for me, anyway. It’s that when I put on paper these stories that are pinging around in my head, people want to read them. Fans more or less patiently wait for my next release. What I write *matters* to people (granted, a rather small group of people, but still). With me, it’s more a matter of not being entirely insignificant in this great big world.
Thanks for not bashing KDP. It’s changed my life.
[…] it’s just harder to find time to write, but not impossible. I read a recent post by Hugh Howey, which looks like it’s about KDP and self publishing, but it’s really about persevering […]
This chump is about to put out his seventh novel. I’ve been told by friends that I would never clear $100 in a month, that I would be lucky if I sold 1,000 copies in my life, and that only 100 writers a year make enough from book sales to make a living.
I don’t hear as much of that anymore. And when I do hear someone urinating on my plans and goals, do you know what I do? I just keep writing.
Awesome. Congrats, Wilson!
Maybe KDP is for chumps. Maybe its time is over.
Maybe I shouldn’t worry about such silly things: KDP is the plan, asap.
In traditional publishing, if a vein is mined, it is mined out. Too many books in X category, and they run it into the ground and then stop publishing that category.
I like to think of self-publishing as sustainable mining.
I’m guessing you got as far as the headline.
Whether you realize it, or not, most of what you ‘blog’ is a great inspiration to/for the rest of us. Some words of encouragement; thoughts that become a mantra; hope when the right words are not forthcoming – and I thank you from the bottom of my keyboard! ! !
What you share about self-publishing is invaluable, at least to me, and your experience, knowledge & insights are absolutely awesome! I actually felt I was reading my own story just now, as I have also been writing ‘The Great American Novel’ since around 10 or 11 years old, but lacked any self-confidence beyond sending query letters and being rejected – again. Now, thanks to your motivational blogs, I finally had the courage to self-publish a short story at smashwords.com – at 65 years young – and am working on 2 full-length novels. Someday, I WILL get them out there . . . if only to know that I did it!
Self-publishing and e-books are here now and will only continue to grow – both in popularity and importance – as the ‘chumps’ gain wisdom.
Thank you – because you’re truly appreciated – whatever sea you’re sailing!
I really needed to read your post today, and I’m grateful I saw it while researching something else.
I’m halfway through my third short story that will tie into a series I’ve planned, with the first book’s release in June.
I’ve written stories all my life. At eight I wrote a mystery on seven pages of ruled lined notebook paper, front and back (yes, I remember how many pages) and remember how thrilled I felt when my big brother actually read it and said he liked it. In sixth grade, for a creative writing project, I wrote a mystery and remember the thrill I felt when my teacher wrote at the top of the cover page how much she liked it and what an imagination I have! In seventh grade I finally (!) understood what it meant to be in love and read romances and mysteries. In college a short story I penned won second place and was published in the university’s literary magazine. I stared at that publication for a very long time, just looking at my story, on bound, printed pages, thrilled that it was available for other people to read.
I’m past 50 now and I’ve still never had confidence in my ability to actually write fiction, much less make a living at it. I went into the journalism instead, a nice steady profession that everyone would understand and wouldn’t question when I told them what I did for a living. It’s been good to me, but has not had thrilling moments.
Now, all these years later, I was forced out of writing for the lifestyles department for the daily and I sit in an editor’s chair 12 and 15 hours, six days a week, in news, doing the work of three employees because of downsizing, and it has been slowly draining the essence from me. Through it all, there have been all these stories in my head that I’d like to reach in and pull out. What’s held me back? Fear.
A lot of it was fear of agents and publishers who surely would confirm my lack of talent. So I didn’t try. But a little more than a year ago, I discovered a post you’d written, Mr. Howey, and I’ve been researching self-publishing. Then I started writing again.I actually finished a first draft of a mystery/romance, thought it was horrible and put it away. I came back to it again and again, and in between, started on the short stories and on yet another novel.
When this third short story is completed, I will post it. My deadline is March 30. My deadline for the novel in this first series is May 30. Lord help me.
There’s plenty of trepidation but I reread encouraging posts like this one and from others who have leaped into this journey and I take heart. The replies here also are encouraging, and I thank everyone for responding because it feeds the fuel. I even feel stirrings of – can it be? – excitement that I’m finally grabbing this dream. Get-rich-quick dreams? No. Want-to-make-a-living-at-it dreams? Sure. But I’m just grateful I’ve found the courage to go for it.
Thanks again for your post. All the best in your continued success.
3 books into KDP, can’t say i am going to retire on the residuals, but I also haven’t promoted them and they sell every month.
I’ve written my entire life and my dream long ago was to write a book. Well, now I’ve done that, 3 times over. There are some days, most days actually, when my fingers cannot fly over the keyboard fast enough.
I get emails at least once week telling me my writing changed somebody’s life that day. It is not only an awesome experience to write, publish, but to know that out in the wilds of the internet, the little electronic bits I manipulated into words flew from my office to the world and somebody read them.
I like it. Hmm, where’s that understatement emoticon?
Thanks for this encouraging post. I picked up your Wool series before I’d ever heard about your success story and truly enjoyed your work. The inspiration from your journey is a bonus for writers like myself who want to control our own destinies. When you write for the love, there are no unpleasant surprises. It’s what we do regardless.
Always good to know I’m in good company with all my fellow chumps.
Wow, this one single topic is a gold mine in and of itself. It’s convinced me that a writer has to also be his own publisher, even if he has traditional publishing doing some of the functions. He still has to ride herd over a bunch of egos even bigger than his own.
Like many others have noted, my written output consists bits and bytes, chapters, story fragments, notes, etc. spinning around on several hard drives. My added problem is I accidentally stumbled into an unexpected gopher hole (are there any other kinds?) of another passion I suspected I always had, but never had a chance to try out until my involuntary retirement from my livelihood of the past 40 years gave me days where I could spend 23.5 hours doing whatever I damned well felt like.
My problem is I have been lucky in life, and had a strong love/hate relationship with my work, my old passion (writing), and my new one (which rates as only one step above bible thumping in our fundamentally-transformed country). In each case, once I get past my initial laziness, my OCD kicks in, and I will keep working until I notice I’m making more mistakes than progress.
So my first challenge is to balance my time between Passion One and Passion Two, and not use one as an excuse to switch tasks when I run into a rough spot, or run out of enthusiasm for an hour or so. When I’ve completed the first rough cut at Passion One, I then need some complete strangers to judge whether it merits the talents of others, to justify rewrite, re-edit, re-design of the original to be worthy of a complete stranger debating whether to risk 49 cents and some time out of his life, to read enough to form an opinion.
Anybody else out there juggling two Passions, both of which give great pleasure and sense of accomplishment, and easily capable of using 125% of my time?
Like many of the other commenters on this blog-post, I’m so glad I read this today. You are an inspiration to us all, Mr Howey. Today you have reminded me why I write. Yes, it would be grand to earn enough from my writing to live on, but that’s not why I write. So I am a chump as well, and grateful to share that KDP platform with others like me.
After a lifetime of being a wannabe, my first two novels were completed in my forties. I had no luck with traditional publishers, but hit my stride with my third novel when Penguin requested the full MS. They sat on it for a total of 11 months before rejecting it. They enjoyed my novel, they said, but didn’t see it appealing to a wide enough market. About two weeks later, I took the KDP route and haven’t looked back since.
It turns out that the Penguin powers were right – my novel hasn’t lit many fires. Neither have the two newer works that followed it onto KDP, but that’s okay because I am happy writing what I like to write. Thank you for this blog-post!
Hi all. Perfect timing, though I blanched at the title and felt a bubble bursting!
I’m 60. Last week I saw my first $1.86 income on KDP. The writing is a business ‘fable’ – fact mixed with a story – that sat on my hard drive since 2004.
KDP is a bit of a fiddle to learn – once – and we all know it has its moments, but my first work is out there and will be read and will make a difference – albeit perhaps a small one to some; many; or even just one, who knows?
Next up is the haphazard mess called my first two scribbled novels that I literally put together as adventures I was taking part in. What fun!
And now I’m going to get organised and become a little more professional too.
Thanks for this super article Hugh, which I read with initially not a little dread, but it turns out to parallel my own writing career. Now onwards and upwards,
I loved reading this. And as you are a true vet who’s built a thick skin, may I go another step?
1. KDP is great or it isn’t great depending on what each individual author gets out of it in terms of satisfaction or money or whatever it is that drives them to write.
2. Other avenues of publishing (vanity etc) are great or are not great depending on what each individual author gets out of them in terms of satisfaction or money or whatever it is that drives them to write.
3. Traditional publishing is great or it isn’t great depending….
The issue is – and here we go with things like http://authorearnings.com/ – is some people absolutely have a right to be a fanboy of Amazon or of trad or whatever because it’s been so good to them – but all they do is boil it down to MONEY.
Who would read authorearnings unless they are driven by the money aspect? Those reports, and the ones from the houses about their bestsellers, are tainting the real world experience.
There are so very many other things that are rewarding about our craft, and it doesn’t help at all when one side blisters the other (and trad has come at Amazon the same way authorearnings rips into trad).
There are a lot of people who love your work, I’m one, but I still don’t think it does any good to gloss over other rewards. If you’re in it for the money, well, best of luck, but how about school visits? Or working with the film side? Or giving back in some ways?
Anyway, I wish those kinds of earnings were reported too.
Thanks again for a compelling read.
I’ve blogged about this many times. One of them here: https://hughhowey.com/most-books-dont-sell/
AuthorEarnings.com isn’t about celebrating the craft-for-profit side of writing. It’s to show people that no matter the reason for WHY you write, the METHOD by which you publish will not determine your ability to make a career out of this. Your chances of earning a living are greater in the direction of more creative freedom, more liberty from the bounds of genre, more options on length, more determination of the frequency of publication.
That is, the fully creative side of publishing (not having to write to a publisher’s whims, where all they care about are profits), just so happens to also be the more profitable option.
Few would’ve suspected this before Data Guy came along. Now many people know and understand this.
I’ll also point out that more indies who try to get into bookstores manage to succeed than those who query agents with the hopes of getting into bookstores. We carried a lot of self-published authors at our bookstore. Probably 90% of those who came in and pitched themselves. Most indies never even try. My self-published books ended up in bookstores without even trying.
So take the 99% of authors who query and never get published, and compare that to the rate of indies who get their books in a bookstore, somewhere, and you find that another reason for going the traditional route makes no sense.
I’m not trying to bash publishers or those who sign with them, but I do want to point out that various reasons for going with a publisher (I won’t have to do any marketing, I’m more likely to get in a bookstore, I’ll make more money, I’ll have more time to just write whatever I want), do not match up with reality. Why wouldn’t aspiring writers want to know these things ahead of time? I wish I’d known.
And you do bring up another point, which is the freedom the indie has to step away from “The Formula.”
But you also brought up querying – I think you and I don’t agree on some things – but I bet we agree on that. The agent-gatekeeper system is publishing’s tragic flaw.
That’s not to bash the work of good, qualified agents, but the others and some of their antics can be a crippling obstacle to a lot of very good storytellers. And yes there are definite benefits for publishers, but on the front lines — there are some insane stories.
(Of course the author can’t tell them for fear of the backlash. Only the “cool-kid” agents get to snark about the queries they see.) (Which is entirely creepy, in my mind.)
Keep the peace HH.
Thank you for writing this – and I should thank whoever it was who posted this on Scribophile, which is how I found it. I had planned to self-pub, but then this last week thought maybe I should send out query letters for my first novel instead. Self-publishing just seemed too hard, on the technical side of things – I don’t know where to start, or how to figure out if it’s ready to publish. I have three novels and three novellas in a series so far, and more novellas started – I highly doubt any traditional publisher would allow an 80k novel followed by two 20k novellas, a 50k novel, and some more novellas before getting to a 40k novel.
I finished half of the 40k novel and wrote one of the 20k novels last month during a two week vacation. The money aspect, for me, is backwards from the get-rich-quick idea. I have a good paying job, but I hate it. All I want to do is write. I have my debts paid off, I’m building up my savings, and I’m working at paying off a cabin on land I own. If I can publish my books and eventually get to the point where I can at least make ends meet each month from that income, I’ll make take the leap of quitting my job and writing full time. That wouldn’t exactly be called being rich, but it sure would feel like it…
“KDP is for chumps. Because it’s one of the best places for chumps to gather and to stop being chumps. KDP is for chumps like restaurants are for the hungry. It’s a magnet for chumps, and as soon as you enter, you stop being one.”
Thanks for sharing your story, Hugh.
I agree that writing is an art, and it is hard to make money creating art. I also believe, as you do, that it is a better time than ever to be a writer. I don’t make much income from writing, barely enough to cover the cost of the covers and editing, though being able to create and share something that others can enjoy is a real privilege. Getting the occasional email from a fan makes it all worth it.
With KDP and other self publishing options, this is the best time in history to be the other 99% of authors. Even if you don’t sell much, you can have fans and make a small difference to the lives of others. In the past I would have been throwing my novel at the publishing houses and never see anything come of it. I am very grateful for the change in the marketplace.
I for one, will keep writing.
Another great post! I will be joining the Chumperatti around the middle of this year. :-)
[…] Hugh Howey, the author of “Sand” which I’m reading now, wrote a very motivational blog post for writers. It’s probably motivating for other people too, but it really touched me. I’ve read a lot of his blog, and he has a very heart-warming story mixed with a humble + honest outlook on his success. He started out as an unknown primarily self-published author on Amazon, and now makes something like over $100,000 per month from his books. The post can be found here: https://hughhowey.com/kdp-is-for-chumps/ […]
[…] KDP is for Chumps | Hugh Howey […]
This is so perfect. I’m proud to be a chump. I started out with the same expectations as you, telling my well-wishing friends and family, “Thanks… but I’ll be really lucky to sell maybe 300 copies. Ever. It’s mostly for fun.”
My first book has sold a sognificantly more than that. That “let’s just see what happens” book made it so I don’t have to find a Real Job, at least for now. And it’s all thanks to KDP. Does that mean I won a bit in the lottery? Maybe. All I know is that I never could have won if I didn’t write my own ticket. I’m pretty sure trad publishing wouldn’t have even sold me one. (I like your analogy FAR better than a lottery, though.)
And if sales tank on the next book, or the next series? I’m still going to write, still going to put my work out there, because I do this to entertain and to share my work with the world. Sure, I like the money. I hope it continues so I don’t have to get a day job. But I’m not in this to get rich.
Significantly, even. Oy.
[…] the comments of my recent KDP is for Chumps post, a reader named Enabity, the author Paul Draker, and myself, got to debating the chances of […]
Hey thanks Hugh,
Honestly I stopped going to KBoards sometime last year because it seemed like a downer. I’d read about everyone else’s success and failure and forget what I really enjoyed about writing.
Same goes for conventions, last year I went to a number where I was in the company of people, other writers, who’ve gotten their ticket punched. I’d come away feeling sort of beat up because I’d spend a long weekend comparing my writing to theirs solely on the number of readers we each had.
Writing and making my first book was hard, it didn’t come to me as easily as it did to you, it seems, but I enjoyed it every step of the way. I really loved working with a other people in a productive critique group. I loved working with an old Army buddy for the art work and once I figured out how to set type even that became a labor of love (although at first it was an intense pain, INTENSE!).
The critical element in all this for me is that the stories are fun to think up and then write, but I get the most from all this effort when other people read them and share with me what they think. Right now, like everyone else who hopes one day to buy a sail boat from their writing proceeds, I want to grow my audience. But I really don’t want to get there by turning writing into something I hate.
I’m one of those who is still struggling. I’ve got the cuts and scrapes and bruises. When I hear of someone else’s success, I wonder how much longer it will be before my audience finds me out there.
But with each success by another writer, my own success becomes closer. I haven’t given up. I won’t give up. I refuse to give up. The more good stories are out there, the more people will want to read. The more people want to read, the more they will look around to discover new stories. Thus, the more likely my audience will finally find me. The other day, I woman posted a note to me telling me she just read my book and how much she enjoyed it. Bit by bit, my audience is growing.
It takes years to become an overnight success. I had no illusions about that. It’s going to take more time and more books before I really start to see things happening. It means I have to keep wokring the part time jobs, avoid burning gas driving the car, and keep writing and working toward getting more stories out for readers to find and enjoy. This is where the overnight success comes from: dedication and working to produce a story that people want to enjoy.
When you look at ALL
the people who have self-published, you do see another statistic come into play.
Many of these people played out their dream to write a book, put it up there, and promptly walked away from it. My guess is, you could probably look at all those people and this group makes up a large percentage of the self-published books out there.
But the other statistic shows there are people who are taking their writing seriously. The ones who truly want to become authors and make a living with writing. They keep working at it. They keep pushing. They seriously have their work edited and proofed to ensure they have a quality product to present to the public. They don’t stop.
While Hugh may represent the 1% who made it out of all the people who put something out there to self publish, when you look at the 7% who work very hard at making a profession out of writing, suddenly that 1% becomes 14%. So, of those people who are continuously honing their craft and improve and produce, there is a much larger possibility of success.
And the more people want to read, the greater that chance of success becomes.
You nailed it right here. The people who put the time in have much greater odds than those who are just doing this for fun. Nothing wrong with either motivation. But the pundits who deride the chances of making it with self-publishing seem to be missing the fact that a good number of those who put the years and effort in, and don’t get discouraged, actually make a decent living. The number is in the thousands.
The chances of making it the traditional route are much smaller. Because rather than practice writing novels, and engaging with the market and readers, you are practicing writing query letters, and engaging with agents and publishers. You aren’t improving your craft so much as improving your pleading skills. Not to mention the number of manuscripts lost in drawers that would actually do well on the market.
People will grow frustrated and give up along both paths, but where’s the satisfaction of accomplishment along the query path? The loss there is far greater. And I imagine those who try that route give up before they write through to their potential.
What a great post. Nothing else to say but – bloody wonderful.
Thanks for making my day.
Amazing post, Hugh. Yeah, I proudly consider myself another “chump.”
We love your whole attitude about writing––& life in general. ;-)
author of Lustmord: Anatomy of a Serial Butcher;
Fifty Shades of Tinsel, et al
[…] Link to the rest at Hugh Howey […]
Whew Hugh, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop on this post. Alas you continue to show why you are such a voice of reason. There is so much negativity out there about KDP, and what cannot be done buy us chumps. I ignore them, because I see success stories all the time (aside from my own).
I know two authors who published within the past 30 days under pen names exclusively with KDP. They understand KDP is a tool, like others out there–it just happens to be the best tool for unknown authors. With no advertising, and not telling a soul about their “tests”, both books were found easily by readers and jumped up the charts. Disclaimer: both authors are full-time writers and take their craft very seriously, always trying to come up with something better for their readership and always investing in their final product. Both also study other best-sellers, how they’re packaged and written. One of the authors (who sold probably 40,000 books last year, his first year of writing) told me that he just wanted to see if his first series of book were a fluke. It wasn’t.
Pursuing our mutual passion for writing and becoming a chump as you espouse is actually quite easy nowadays because of the great tools out there, like KDP. What amazes me is that it is still possible today for no-named authors to sell a lot of books using these tools.
Thanks again Hugh!
Writing a story that someone else might like was the only thing I ever wanted to do; it took me half a lifetime to get there, but I put my work out and somebody actually paid for it. In fact, more than one somebody. Thank you, Hugh, for telling it like it is.
All hail the chumps! Thank you Hugh – I loved this.
Very inspiring! Thanks for this. Now, if I could get myself in gear and get the second book finished! One book does not make a series.
What a great post. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope to be a chump very soon now.
[…] of people talked about beginners last week, be it themselves like Hugh Howey, or more generic beginners, like Kris Rusch… I’m lucky because I started my writing […]
Thanks, Hugh, for this post. I started my own publishing company in 2012 (Elephant’s Bookshelf Press) because I wanted to help share not only my own writing but also some of the other wonderful writers I’ve met on my own journey into publishing. Sometimes I feel I’m not doing enough, because I need to actually work at my “real” job to support my family, but when I think of all the wonderful stories I’ve helped share over the past few years, I know I’m doing what I should be doing, even if it remains a sideline for several years. I’m publishing three books a year and loving the learning I experience.
Hi Mr Howey,
Great insight into KDP and self publishing. There is no pleasure greater than giving someone else the enjoyment of a great story. To see them smile, laugh, cry, hide behind tightly clenched fingers fearing the worst for their beloved character. It’s not for the riches that a writer writes, it’s for the pleasure in telling a story.
My journey towards self publishing has had the ups and downs, the fears, the failings. But when you know you can do it that’s all that matters.
I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I made stories for my kids every night at bedtime. My wife was the one who told me I needed to write a book. I laughed, “who me?” Who’ll read my work I thought! Well things happen for a reason my friend, and one day I had a bombshell dropped on me. The diagnosis of Cancer! Urgent Chemo required! I had to stop work! Now what? At this point I was a builder with a desire to write. An idea had been festering away for a few years maybe just maybe I thought. But who would see my work?
As I was waiting for my chemo treatment I picked up a magazine, an article talked about an ex-boat hand and man that use to work in a book shop. Yes that was you Hugh, the story was inspirational. At that point I know it was the right time to write my novel, so that’s exactly what I did. The Forgotten Mission, The Return came to life. I’d had the idea for this book a few years earlier. A great form of therapy too. Half way through, I had the wobble, the thought of what if nobody reads it, what if nobody likes it! Well things were ruff with the chemo but I dug deep and pressed on with my dream. I finished! Now what?
I joined the KDP club and self published, I did all my own work from designing the cover to creating the paperback on createspace, formatting and publishing. Wow what a feeling when your first copy sells and magically goes to it’s new home somewhere. This is my debut novel and I’m frantically writing the sequel as we speak. I’m now having the dilemma of do I stay self published or do I try for an agent and publisher? KDP is great don’t get me wrong and I love the fact that you are so in control but an agent or publisher opens though’s hard to reach doors. Your an inspiration to many Mr Howey take care.
[…] hero Hugh Howey revealed his long route to publishing in a blog post, “KDP Is For Chumps” this week. But the title is a little misleading. Responding to a […]
I like your story, Hugh! but let’s not forget to mention that unlike most authors you were picked from within amazon. How many times did you get Kindle Select 25’s and KDD? Even when KU came out in 2014, Wool was picked for the Select 25.
Amazon is a gate keeper whether people like to think of them that way or not. They keep pushing books that they like to everyone’s kindles and emails.
How many of your friends like, Jason Gurley, Mathew Mathers got helped from Amazon because they shared your same view of scifi?
KDP is a total corrupt system. They need to be taken down a notch.
This is complete rubbish. WOOL took off in October of 2010, by word of mouth. Amazon didn’t promote anything until after it had already hit the NYT bestseller list. My first big breaks (and they were breaks; luck plays a massive role) were mentions on Wired.com and Gizmodo.com.
Agents and Hollywood got in touch before I ever heard from Amazon or they ran any promos. I think my first KDD was the summer of 2011, after I’d already gotten offers from major publishers.
I’m sure you would love your narrative to be true, because conspiracies are more fun than reality, but you are simply wrong. There is a lot of unfairness to success in all the entertainment fields, but that unfairness is a product of luck, timing, and word-of-mouth. Any amplification Amazon and others do afterward is just that: amplification. No one can say what difference in the level of success that amplification makes, but I had quit my day job and was set for life before Amazon did what they do a great job of: Deliver more of what their customers enjoy to more of their customers.
Which is why the “taken down a notch” line really saddens me. It’s so off-base. Name a company that’s doing more for readers and writers today. There isn’t one.
Hugh..thank you so much for this fabulous post. What comes through is your absolute love of writing; your passion for writing; your motivation for writing. And obviously, you were born with some sort of a gift for writing. Some people, most people, will not be able to make a living as a writer, or a musician, or an artist. But should be stop doing what we love, what gives us joy, because of that. I think not. I think creative people need to have creative expression. In your case, you have found an audience who loves your work. The good news is that, as James Altucher has said, the gatekeepers have died and gone to gatekeeper heaven, and we are now free to take control of our own destiny as writers by self publishing our own work.
Ever since I was a child, I knew I would write books. So I am a published author and also a ghostwriter and I have to say one of the most exciting moments of my entire life was seeing my name in print on a published book I wrote.
I am an avid promoter of SELF PUBLISHING AS THE NEW PARADIGM, and have created a website to help authors write, self-publish and market their books at http://www.selfpublishing.zone.
I have featured you Hugh and other successful self-published authors, and the site provides news, info, and resources, including links to lots of articles. I also have a newsletter signup option as I continue to curate information about what is happening in the world of self publishing.
Last week I gave a presentation in Minneapolis titled “How to Self Publish Your Book in 60 Days or Less” and the audience was riveted to what I told them about what is happening in the publishing world.
So many people do not yet know about the opportunities for self-publishing and how to navigate the whole process. Actually, the SELF PUBLISHING REVOLUTION has just begun and this is actually very good news for individual freedom and individual creative expression.
I have no words. All I can say, and I say it sincerely, is thank you. I, for one, will keep writing.
This was indeed inspirational.
The timing on this is so perfect. I’ve wanted to write a novel since I was in grade school. It was always at the top of my bucket list just like yours. I started many, but finally finished one last December. I love that novel, not because I feel that it’s some sort of masterpiece, but it represents a dream that I made come true through my own blood, sweat and tears (speaking of which I’m tearing up just writing this, here on my iPhone on the train home from work).
Since I finished that first draft I’ve been revising and researching, editing and networking. Somewhere in the swirl of blog posts and tweets I forgot why I wrote that book in the first place. I’ve been so worried about how to publish it, who to pay to review it, how to set up a wordpress site, etc. I forgot that I absolutely loved writing about those characters and worlds. I forgot about the times my wife would have to shake me out of a trance because it was 7 am and I’d been writing for 13 hours and had to get ready for work. I forgot that I don’t care if I don’t sell a single copy, as long as I can share it and keep on writing more. Thank you for reminding me that I want to write to express my passion for the art, and not for the hope of a paycheck. I can get back to creating now.
First off sir, great post, as everyone agrees. And like a lot are saying, very timely for me. I am a children’s television writer of 25 years, and in that capacity, somewhat chumpish, in that, I’ve relied on the opinion of others, as to what happens to my stories. I’ve pitched a lot of series, and a lot of stories, many of which, one got the sense, were never even read. So I’m now about to self-publish, to which I’ve spent some time learning about marketing etc. Always something new to learn. I have a question – what is a K-Board? I see it mentioned in the comments – are those forums on Kindle/Amazon?
Great post as always, made even better by the inimitable Howey skill. I would write if I had to scratch out the words in dirt with a stick. I am a writer. It’s what I do. If KDP is for chumps, count me in.
Great story Hugh!
Without KDP, I wouldn’t have gotten this: “…This book is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I loved it. It has lots of action, romance, and Bobo. Dont miss this one.”
I know it sounds corny, but that’s better than money. KDP makes it easy for me to get my work out there and motivates me to keep trucking.