Luck and Lottery

I received a private message from a writer whom I greatly admire (and consider a friend) who is concerned about my rallying cry for people to self-publish. I understand how that message shines brighter than my caveats and warnings, so I want to devote an entire blog post to something you’ll see in practically every one of my advice and how-to and rah-rah posts. These caveats are even there in that big report that everyone’s talking about. Here we go:

Self-publishing is not a gold rush.

Success at writing requires, in addition to long hours and hard work, a lot of luck.

Check out my advice to aspiring writers, there on the left hand side of the front page. Check every interview I’ve ever given and any blog post where I mention what authors should expect. I’ve beaten this drum louder and longer than any other drum, including my love of self-publishing. I say it all the time. You have to write because you love it. You can’t expect to make a living at this. Luck is involved. Most won’t make it.

Do I have to keep saying it? It’s right there in the survey. Anyone with an advanced degree should be able to find it.My traditionally published friends have either forgotten how hard it was for them to get published, were among the few who had it happen rapidly, or got through the gates back when publishers took on more debut authors. Because what I hear from them sounds like this:

“Why would you suggest people self-publish when they can just do what I did? Put their books in bookstores?”

Because it isn’t that easy, and you all should know that. It gets harder every day. Meanwhile, the advantages of self-publishing increase every day. Print on demand and e-books means zero risk, zero warehousing, nearly zero production costs, nothing but an investment in time. In the three years it can take to land an agent, get a book deal, and see that book to market, you can write and self-publish six or ten quality novels. Or just one, if that’s what makes you happy.

There’s no guarantee you’ll get rich from self-publishing. There’s less guarantee you’ll get rich from querying agents. My contention is this: Most people will be happier getting their works out in the wild and moving on to the next project than they will reading rejection letters. We don’t see these stories. Those writers gave up and went back to their other lives. DBW’s survey doesn’t count the people who tried and didn’t make it. It’s like that option — failing at traditional publishing — doesn’t exist.

The dichotomy presented to aspiring writers by my trad-pubbed friends and the Shatzkins of the world is this: You can self publish with the unwashed masses, or you can have your book on an endcap or in the window of a Barnes & Noble. Choose.

That’s bullshit. I’m sorry, it just is. The real choice is that 99% of you can write a novel, pour your heart into it, and watch as every agent you query rejects the thing. And then you can give up. Feel like a failure. Walk away from your dream.

Or you can self-publish, have the pride of having done so, hold a copy of a physical book you wrote in your hands, see your e-book up on Amazon, get a sale or two, hear from a reader, and want to write more.

It isn’t about getting rich. It’s about having the opportunity to feel pride of accomplishment.

So why do I talk about money and earnings? Because the chance that you’ll get lucky and make a living at this is better if you self-publish. The freedom to write new and exciting stories, to price your work right, to give away copies, to earn 5.6 times the royalties, to change the cover if it isn’t working, to wait ten years for a story to take off, all of these improve your chances of winning the lottery.

Again, no guarantees. But 99% of the trad-route people will never sell a single novel. They’ll never get published. And if my agent’s stats on her slushpile are indicative, it’s more like 99.9% will fail. No one counts these people. This egregious error is why the DBW report will never say anything useful about the writing profession. Never. Impossible. Not a single useful fact will come from that survey. It’s worse than wrong, because it’s misleading. It ignores the 99% of people who try and give up.

When we look at sales data for the top 7,000 genre e-books, we are digging down into the midlist and doing it equally. Some of these books are ranked 50,000+ in the overall Kindle store. Keep in mind that these are daily snapshots. New books are coming into this fold all the time, and existing books are dropping out. We’re seeing the middle class of writing success. And what’s mind-blowingly-brilliant about this data is that it has already moved self-publishing into a position of equality.

Think about that. Self-publishing was the ghetto two years ago. Hell, two weeks ago. And now you have DBW saying that the earning potential between self-publishing and traditional publishing is about equal. Maybe there’s a slight edge to indies, but it’s only slight.

Awesome. Happy dance. Progress. Amazing.

Yes, the results of any writing study will show that it doesn’t pay well. It doesn’t. I have never said it did, or that it was easy, but guess what it has become? Easier. Much, much easier. And we’ve only been at this for a handful of years. In a handful of years, we’ve gone from vanity wannabes to sitting at the same table, eating from the same bread, and even taking (slightly) larger pieces.

Happy writing, everyone.

42 responses to “Luck and Lottery”

  1. I think it’s true you include these caveats in everything you write.

    Also, the thing you said that really made me see things differently was basically that writing is a hobby that costs less than most and might even make you money, if you’re lucky.

    I have an agent. A major publisher loved my book, but the marketing department said it was hard to classify and market. Then I went back to my agent with an idea for another book and I was told it wouldn’t sell to publishers because it wasn’t “epic” fantasy. Honestly, at this point, I feel like I need to write what really speaks to me–which may not be the “big” book a publisher wants.

    It would be great to hit it big as a self-publisher, but honestly, I’m thinking it’s better to get my well-written book out there, even if only two people end up reading it. You’re right–traditional publishing is a very discouraging journey, even for those of us who feel pretty confident that we’ve done good and interesting work.

  2. Hey, Hugh,

    I’m 100% with you on success requiring both tons of hard work and lots of luck.

    And I’m totally with you on self-publishing being extremely viable and *often* a better route than traditional publishing.

    But I’m not sold on it *always* being better.

    Why not, for instance, send out those query emails (no paper letters please), and see what sort of offers come back? If a good offer comes back, the writer has the certainty of an advance. They may still choose to go with the higher royalties and greater control of self-publishing. Or they may decide that having the advance guaranteed and having their book in traditional bookstores is a better option. But they’ll at least have two or more options to weigh against each other.

    Alternately, if no good offers come back from traditional publishers, or if a writer thinks they can do better with self-pub than anything but a GREAT offer, or if their risk tolerance is high, then our writer can go ahead and self publish. At most they’ve waited a few months. Most of which isn’t wasted, it’s time they can be writing their next book.

    Why does it have to be in either or?


    1. What is the advance but a pile of horrid royalties? You’re giving up ownership of your work for life + 70 years. And that advance is going to come in 2 or 3 chunks over the next year+. The book is going to be spine-out on a dwindling shelf for 3-6 months. And then the publisher will never care about it again.

      You won’t be able to discount it. To correct a mistake in it. To give away copies. To control the metadata. To even have a final say in cover art.

      You won’t be marketed or merchandised. Your emails will not go answered. If you say all of these things are untrue, then you’re talking about one of the top 1% of traditionally published authors, who are already part of the 1% of those who queried in the first place. Take that same sliver of self-published authors, grant them the same luck, and they’re doing better.

      Everything I’ve seen in the trenches supports this. The data does as well. I understand that you’ve had success with your route, and I think it’s deserved (you are an awesome human being as well as an awesome writer, and I love you), but no one can expect to get as lucky as you or I got. And the people being failed by the current system give up their dream when they crash into the gate, because they are told by the legacy crowd that they are failures if they self-publish. That’s the message. Just as damaging as telling kids they are failures if they don’t go to college. That stigma pervades a culture, and it hurts people.

      1. Well, you know I think you’re awesome and I love you too.

        Rejections hurt. I agree with you there. And one thing I love about what you’re doing is that it’s removing the stigma of self-publishing. Self-publishing is a choice, not a failure.

        In terms of the hybrid path: Hopefully with self-publishing now really coming into its own, new authors who decide to query can approach it with the knowledge that, even if they get 100% rejections (as opposed to say, 98% rejections, which was my number) they can still choose bring their books to market on their own.

        Either way, I’m happy for both authors and readers to have more options.


      2. I’m taking the plunge for exactly the reasons Hugh mentioned in this post and the blog. I could sit around all day modifying my query, sending it out to agents and then wait for months while they reply with a form letter. I have a hard time believing they are reading my work when they receive hundreds of queries a week. They say they do, but I have a hard time believing that they can take care of a huge client list and read all those queries. So it trickles down to some intern. I doubt an intern has the industry chops to know if my query letter is any better than the hundreds they receive.

        So I’m self-publishing and working my ass off on my platform. I want people to read my book and I want to write, there isn’t much a traditional publisher can offer me that I can’t do myself.

        Thanks for the best advice I’ve seen on this subject.

        My story is on my blog at

    2. Mez,

      I think the main point of Hugh’s message is that when a writer makes a decision to be self or trad published, they should at least do it with as much information as possible. If anything, I would think it is the trad/legacy publishers who seem to want to push the young author to make a decision one way or another. They play up the outdated thought that if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you must go the traditional route, and the sad thing is it still works. They don’t want you feeling like you have the option to query agents and publishers, and self publish. They want you to wait months or even years for them to decide if you book is worthy to be read by the public when it’s really the reader’s opinion that counts. They want you to believe that by submitting to them and letting them weed out the “bad” novels, they are letting you prove that you are a “good” writer when really they are not judging a book by its quality of writing at all, but by how marketable and ultimately profitable they think they can make it.

      I guess Hugh’s recent posts seem so anit-trad publishing and that you should choose the self published route because the data that is piling up is so damning. Self publishing is still not always going to be the right choice for everybody though, but you should be able to know what you are getting into before you dive in.

      1. I agree. The more data a writer has about what’s possible, the better.

        And all this information about the huge piece of the pie that indie and self-pub is taking is extremely helpful in that way. I think it’s been a service.

        My only input would be that, if one has the skin for it, and won’t take rejection as a judgement, that querying traditional publishers can also be a way of gathering data.

        As always, more options for readers and writers make me happy. And more encouragement for writers makes me extremely happy.

        All the best,

  3. Yes. Absolutely. Could not be more on board with you.

  4. What!?! I’m not guaranteed fame and fortune!?!?

    The only reason to write is for love. I know a bunch of traditionally published authors and the only thing worse than not being published in some cases is being traditionally published with a terrible contract that gives you pennies for your work and takes away all control. I have a friend who had to do top to bottom rewrites twice for two different editors. The second rewrite had to be completed in two weeks, and the final book published barely resembled what she intended. Readers gave it bad reviews because it felt rushed whereas the original was lovely. It had a better chance of finding readers if she’d self published the version that was her original vision.

    And I can’t tell you the number of authors who’ve had their series canceled, usually in an awkward place leaving their readers no resolution. Just because it’s the author’s name on the cover doesn’t mean the author had that much input. That’s the main reason I went indie. My books may not make me rich, but they’re mine. Every word is exactly the way I intended it to be read and when my cover wasn’t doing so hot, I changed it. I’m not putting my name on some editor’s idea of my story and when my series starts this summer, it will end where I feel it should end.

    Indie publishing probably isn’t for everyone, but I love it and I can’t wait to publish my next book and the one after that:)

  5. Dear Hugh,
    I’ve never posted anywhere before. Ever. But your zeal for self-publishing makes me want to shout with you. Ten years ago I wrote two books, sent them to agents, was rejected, and threw them away. 200,000 words that I have no record of because I knew that I just couldn’t take any more rejection. I didn’t have the stamina or the belief that what I was writing was any good.
    I self-published 1.5 years ago and now I have 7 ebooks, 3 POD, and 1 audio. I’ve had email from fans, reviews that made me cry because they were so wonderful, and I support my family wholly from my writing income.
    My husband and I are our own little business and we make our own covers, format our own books, and it costs less than $50 to publish a book. When people say that self-publishers take on the “risk” of publishing, I have no idea what they’re talking about. The only thing we are risking is our time, and I guess I could have spent those forty hours per week working for someone else.
    I have friends who are still in the waiting game. They’ve submitted to agents, have heard back from publishers, and maybe in 2-3 years they will have a book hit the shelves. Whereas I will have another 6-7 books out, a handful of audiobooks, and will have had more fun “working” than should really be legal.
    I’ll start shouting with you, Hugh. Self-publishing doesn’t have to be risky; and until you do it, you don’t realize how not scary it is. It’s fun; and you can give it a try with that manuscript that’s hidden in the back of your desk while you’re waiting for a publisher. It’s not either or.
    As for me, would I ever take a publishing deal? Maybe, but it would really only be to increase my exposure and I would really question if a publisher could do that. In the mean time, I feel like I’ve already won the lottery. I have the best job in the world.

    1. 1,000% yes. Congrats. You are the story of self-publishing.

  6. I really enjoyed your interview on the podcast last night. This post is equally enjoyable but hasn’t changed my opinion at all.

    I love self-publishing, so I’m already in the choir signing my heart out (sadly…off key)

    That being said, you’re right, it’s a long hard road. I’ve published five novels. I hope to add four more (minimum) this year. And then I’ll keep at it the next year.

    You said in the podcast that you originally envisioned writing 20 novels before you really started to worry about marketing and I thought that was interesting. It illustrates the point that there isn’t a shot clock on this deal. We can write, publish, market, or write, write, write, publish, market a bit, take a nap, market some more, write, publish, take a week and study algebra recreationally, and then write some more.

    In the end, if one is able to tell an interesting story, is willing to hire a professional editor and cover designer, and devote some time to understanding the marketing end, the readers are out there to be found.

    As I said, I’m committed to this journey, but I appreciate all the time you spend shouting from the rooftops about how great being and Indie is, because we all need some motivation now and again…even those of us in the choir.

    Thank you.

  7. “Do I have to keep saying it? It’s right there in the survey. Anyone with an advanced degree should be able to find it.

    WHOA, hey now, careful with the razor sharp snark! Someone could lose an eye.

    I say that cuz I thought it was hilarious.

    I was going to comment on the state of the rebuttals you’ve gotten but, considering their content, there’s really not much to say that’s already been offered elsewhere. In many places actually.

    But I did see Megan’s story and wanted to congratulate her! Working together with her hubby, putting out a hefty list of work and supporting the entire family with her sales. It’s simply beautiful.

    And I’ve noticed in the last few weeks (probably spurned from that big 8-way Legacy exchange) that these stories are absolutely coming out of the woodwork now. Much more than what seems normal.

    Expanding digital market? Post-holiday device sales? Planetary alignment? Dunno why.

    What I will venture to guess is that we may be nearing a critical mass in the change of “the dream” for the average writer. Sure, we’d all love to make $94mil like Patterson did last year, but I’ve always thought most knowledgeable writer’s recognize that as the big lottery dream and little else. Just being in “the club” was always the dream for most. It was for me and most other writer’s I’ve known over the years (decades).

    Anyone can hit the KDP button on an old draft from their hard drive along with a pic with some fonts. That’s never been the challenge. But it seems that being able to tell the world about your milestones, wickets hit, and success stories, however grand or humble, all from your own indie foxhole, has become the “new dream”. And writer’s are jumping at the chance to do so the instant they’re able to.

    I’m sorry…I got sidetracked. Weren’t we talking about Legacy pub something or other?

  8. Hugh,
    Thanks for making such an effort to help writers navigate this new world of publishing. In 1998, without any self publishing alternative, I made it a goal to get signed by a big NY agency. I thought, well, I may as well go after Grisham’s agent. Well, he finally signed me and we had some close calls on my novel, but no takers. I then wrote another novel, and same results. I put writing aside for years, focusing on my business and starting a family. When Amazon came on the scene, I eventually pulled out that first novel, edited it with fresh eyes, and published it myself in February of last year. The First Witness has now been on 4 best sellers lists for 53 weeks straight, as high as #1. I was stunned, as royalties began coming in. I then pulled out the rejection letters, many of which were very kind. I wanted to google the editors and agents and see where they were some 14 years later. Some were now novelists, with books appearing on Amazon far lower than mine. Some were retired, or fired, with all the changes in the industry. Amazingly, because I did not give up, I turned out to be the survivor amidst a sea of people who had rejected me. It was both sad and somehow motivating.

    I just finished another novel in a completely different genre from The First Witness. I am now faced with whether to publish it myself or go through the agent query process. I wrote my latest with the goal of a six or seven figure advance. Yes, a dream. But with the success of my current novel and all the hard earned lessons of pricing, marketing, editing, and other hands on publishing activities, I’m not sure what the best route is. I will probably make a decision within a couple weeks. One thing is for sure, you are right about telling people that it is not easy to write or publish novels. But that is one reason it is so gratifying to finally see ones work in print. All the people who were negative about my dreams are now proudly going along for the ride, telling their friends about their published family member. It’s been a long ride, but so rewarding. To see my novel out sell some of the most iconic writers in some countries or some best seller lists is really a trip. It made me really put more effort into the latest work.

    My advice…You have to write because you want to create something worthwhile. Something that people might read in a dozen or a hundred years. Don’t do it to pay this month’s bills. If it happens, great. But just write and re-write. Read other authors to see how much your writing can improve.

    Anyone who wants to be a writer should ask themselves this question: If you had all the money you could ever need, and didn’t have to work, what would you do with your time? If the answer is you would still try to write a better, more meaningful novel, then you have what it takes to be successful in this business. And that’s how I feel. I want to write big, high concept stories that I like. If others like them, great. But I’m the toughest critic, constantly questioning how to improve each sentence, and word. A writer must be obsessed with quality, and take some risks with structure and events/scenes. When I started writing years ago I thought more about a race to the finish line and word count. Now I struggle with “when is it good enough.” Perhaps you get this feeling too, when editing over and over. My feeling is you can go over a manuscript and enhance here and there forever. My latest, The Miracle Man, has been gone over so many times it’s hard for me to remember. But last week I decided it was time to kick it out if the nest, see if it will fly. It is strange when you’ve spent months or years with characters who have become like family. We shall see which road this work travels, traditional publishing or self or hybrid. Whatever the case, I’ll protect my “family.”

    Thanks for all your very helpful stats and advice. You are changing lives.


  9. Hugh, I’ve discovered that the harder I work, the luckier I get.

    1. This does seem to be the case. Sister Fortune favors the sleep-deprived.

      Cool. Needed a quip for Twitter today.

  10. I made a similar comment to a post on Jane Friedman’s blog yesterday. That contentious survey only included the failures from one side of the ledger. Ask what the thousands of rejected trad pub hopefuls think and you might have a clearer picture.

    I’ve been at this since 2010, making plenty of mistakes along the way, but hopefully learning from them. I’ve made enough this month so far to cover my mortgage payment. For me, that’s huge. Yes, luck is heavily involved. It is akin to a lottery.

    But at least by self-publishing I can buy a ticket.

  11. Hugh,

    You write, “In the three years it can take to land an agent, get a book deal, and see that book to market, you can write and self-publish six or ten quality novels. Or just one, if that’s what makes you happy”.

    And that, more than anything, is why I chose the self-publishing route, a point I’ve made in interviews over the last couple of years. Instead of convincing someone to let me be a writer, I just became a writer. Instead of allowing someone to let me put my work out in the marketplace, I just put my work out in the marketplace. And instead of getting the nod from a committee of Those Who Know Better to start building a readership, I went out, marketed myself, and allowed the readers to decide for themselves. Based on the strength of my reviews, they like what they see.

    I could have spent the better part of a decade convincing agents, publishers, etc to “let me be a writer”, but why should I? To me, it’s time wasted.

    I’d rather be writing and , furthermore, writing what I want to write and not what traditional publishing believes is “safe” to write. Besides, in this day and age, a debut author with a cleanly edited book, professionally formatted with a great cover and a bit of marketing behind it, has a similar chance at success than a debut author with a traditionally published book.

  12. The thing I’ve taken away after researching self publishing is that it’s a great choice for genre work. My YA Contemporary, on the other hand, doesn’t seem like the best fit.

    That said, I in no way fear self publishing. I’m totally prepared to do that if I have trouble getting picked up traditionally.

    I also don’t fear traditional publishing. I realize it probably won’t be the windfall some make it out to be, but I like working with people.

    I fear what genres do well in the self publishing sphere gets a bit lost in the argument over how much whoever is making under whatever model.

    If you have a scifi, romance, fantasy, paranormal romance, or dystopian, I say go for self publishing.

    If not, try trad, but prepare for self publishing as well.

    Being informed of the ins and outs of both models is terribly important. The last thing anyone should do is dive in without knowing about the pool you’re diving into.

  13. Slow.

    Traditional publishers are slow to market. That is the reason I chose to self-publish my upcoming book. I’m in control of “speed to market.”


    I don’t intend to make any best seller lists (which are losing value as time goes on), my books will be an opportunity to express ideas as I want to (with an editor’s help of course :) ).


    Traditional publishers take rights away from you, and the “non-compete” clauses are complete B.S.. I want to do whatever I want with my books, when I want to do it.


    The math just works in my favor, IF my book does turn out to be a success, economically it doesn’t make any mathematical sense whatsoever to work with a traditional publisher. Nothing they can say can dispute the math, as math does not change.


    The accountability for any results lies with me. I like that. I view this as an entrepreneurial pursuit, and I will treat it as such if necessary (see Intention above).

    Hugh’s data just supports this path, for ME. For other people, with different intentions, or who want to place some accountability on someone else’s shoulder, traditional might be the route to go. Who knows?

  14. […] Looks pretty great doesn’t it? In fact, it look so great that it’s going to cut self-publishing rhetoric off at its knees! And with how notoriously bad traditional contracts are, this is a good thing right? But even with all this data, Hugh Howey points out that it’s not a gold rush. […]

  15. […] make time to read Hugh’s latest blog post, Luck and the Lottery, on some well-meaning alarm about self-publishing’s allure. You can be happy about the […]

  16. I wrote a comment here and then it turned into a lot of words so I decided to spare you all and just post it on my blog instead… Feel free to delete this Hugh, it’s just shorter than what I was going to say. :)

  17. As always, thank you for another brilliant post.

    Years ago I sent out a bunch of query letters for a memoir I wanted to publish. I got about 55 rejections. At first it broke my heart and I wanted to quit writing. But after my pity party, I started researching self publishing. I was re-inspired and I wrote an entirely different type of book with self publishing in mind. Having control of my book fueled my desire to keep going. I’m pretty sure it could’ve received some interest from agents, but I didn’t even want to try reaching out. Why do that when getting my work into the world would be a sure thing?

    Three months post launch and I’ve already surpassed the “most self publishers won’t sell more than a hundred books” mark that some folks tend to believe – by A LOT.

    If i would have queried agents, I’d still be waiting around for someone to believe in my work (my friend who signed with an agent two years ago is still shopping for a publisher). There’s such satisfaction in believing in my work enough to take a leap of faith and do it on my own. I’m launching my next book in June. How is this not amazing?!

    You’re one of the people I researched and your story inspired me make this decision. And it’s the best one I’ve made in my writing career. People are reading my words! What a gift.

  18. Hugh,

    I think it can be truthfully framed this way.

    You can choose to have to win ONE lottery to TWO lotteries.

    Traditional publishing forces writers to win TWO lotteries in order to be successful (you could even argue three lotteries). First, you need to get the acceptance of an agent and then you have to get an editor to want to buy your book (lottery 1). And then you have to still compete in the marketplace (lottery 2).

    Self-publishers have one lottery to win.

    What are better changes, having to win one lottery or two?

    I think that even without all the hard data, common sense tells us the clear answer here. But traditional publishing believers claim that the first lottery doesn’t really exist and then they pretend that the second lottery is a foregone win if you have a well written book. They try to pretend that there’s no lottery at all!

    It’s silly and blind and I’m so glad you and others are out there putting the logic in their faces, because it’s absurd to argue that you’d rather try and win two lotteries just so you can have a shot at being Stephen King, rather than run a successful small business.

  19. One thing rarely acknowledged is the trap a writer can fall in after writing one book–you can spend years sending out queries, tweaking that same manuscript, tweaking that query letter (!) if you’re waiting for approval from the traditional publishing machine. If instead you step up and publish it, you then move on to the next book–good, bad, or indifferent, you’re likely to write new material and learn as you go.

    I wrote my first novel in 1992 and spent nearly TWENTY years trying to get published (I had agents, I had TV interest… I got so close) but never did.

    After self-publishing in 2011, I have thirteen books out. I’m selling and I’m making money. I have 5 star reviews and I have fans. And it’s all within my control.

  20. Thanks for all that you do, Hugh. It’s appreciated.

  21. Thank you for this post, Hugh. I took the self-publishing route for my MG/YA novel, The Hundred, after receiving numerous kind rejections from agents who compared me to Phillip Pullman and the like while then saying in the same breath that my book “wasn’t right for their list.” I have seen my book hit the #1 bestseller mark in its category, but I am hardly wallowing in cash. That said, I have been paid in pure gold in the form of a three-page handwritten letter from a child on the autism spectrum who was shaking in pure exhilaration after finishing my book, a note from a girl who was forced to read the book with the flashlight under her covers because her mother felt she was “losing track of reality” by reading too much fantasy, and a response from a 72-year-old man who “doesn’t read books” but was captivated by mine and could not stop reading. I think I win. Whether I make money or not (and maybe I do, somewhere down the road) is somewhat irrelevant, and there is some glory in that. By the way, I stumbled across WOOL some time ago and was hooked, utterly hooked. You win, too.

  22. Hi Jennifer, great to bump into a fellow MG writer on Hugh’s site. Since most of the indie world seems to be currently populated by the thriller / romance / science fiction / and fantasy genre writers, its hard to find the brave MG indie authors. I am still contemplating what route to take with my MG and would love to chat more with you about your experience. I am part of a group blog called Middle Grade Minded, maybe I could interview you there about your experiences. Thanks! Daniel

  23. Hugh,

    I’m just a reader but I have some advice…

    I’m sure you’ve mentioned this in your writing about self-publishing somewhere but I suggest:

    1. Remind writers that this luck can be “created”, it’s not like the lottery kind of luck.

    2. You need the entrepreneurial “stuff” to do self publishing. Entrepreneurs create luck.

    3. Understanding the differences in the business models of Trad vs Self would go a long way for those starting out so maybe you could do self publish a business model canvas to put on etc?. Charts and graphs and #’s are all good but the BM canvas uses words!

    Really enjoy your writing and wish you continued successes.

  24. Yes it’s a lottery and it takes luck, but it’s a lottery that not everyone can get into. Not everyone can write a novel we’re the lucky ones.

    I think you can increase your chance of winning with elbow grease and blood on the silo steps, but that’s just me. What do I know I’m a soon to be Debut Author who’s self-publishing.

    Micah Ackerman

  25. Mario Jannatpour Avatar

    Motivational post—thanks Hugh and congratulations on your success. I am very happy for you and it’s great to see someone do so well through self publishing. Three years ago I self published a non fiction book in my professional field. At that time I had no other choice but to self publish. I went through Createspace and KDP. My book has been selling very well in its category on Amazon.

    I wrote and published a second book this past year–a fiction, motivational/inspirational book. Harder to find a buying audience for this book but I am very happy I did it because the book is very personal to me and I am proud of what I accomplished.

    I plan on writing more in my spare time–I have a solid work in progress right now and my goal is have it published by late summer this year.

    I will continue to come back here to your blog for more inspiration. I am a long-time Konrath follower :) Thanks again and talk soon.

  26. […] Kazzie, for example, in Why Hugh Howey is Wrong. Sort Of., writes in response to Howey’s Luck and Lottery […]

  27. […] wisdom from Hugh Howey about self-publishing or indie publishing or whatever you want to call it: luck and lottery. And it’s not a gold […]

  28. “You can’t expect to make a living at this. Luck is involved. Most won’t make it.”

    Good god this sounds like what a quitter says. It is absolutely 100% false. If most won’t make it, that is because THEY THEMSELVES choose not to make. They CHOOSE not to manufacture their own luck. They choose to weed themselves out.

    Can’t expect to make a living? So you’re saying if I put out 4-5 techno-thrillers per year (let’s say for three years) that I “Can’t live” on the proceeds?

    So in other words, 15 novels (never mind all that one would learn in that time) is not going to matter too much in the profits dept.

    That doesn’t sound like Hugh Howey. That sounds like some English prof who doesn’t write for a living.

    1. I think hard work can overcome the odds. If you write 4-5 entertaining novels a year and stick with it, you’ll do well. But saying that everyone who does this will do well is dangerous. I think it’s safer to go in with lots of drive and no expectations. Just my opinion, of course.

  29. […] super-stardom.  Truth is, there is no magic bullet. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when Hugh Howey said as much on his blog the other day. A lot of publishing success is a combination of being in […]

  30. Excellent article, Hugh, because you do the math that so many ignore. I find the overall message very positive as I venture, just days away, from self-publishing. Wish me luck, since, as you say, that comes into play too. :-)

  31. I thought I’d provide an update to my posting here February 14th. Since then, I pursued two paths for my latest novel, The Miracle Man. I sent queries to a couple dozen agents, most very well known, including Hugh’s print agent (she responded but declined to read). I haven’t heard from nearly all I contacted via their instructions on their websites. So I decided to publish the work under my own imprint on Amazon. On the first day (March 1), The Miracle Man appeared on three best seller lists, at about 25,000 in the Kindle store. That’s in the top 1% of all Kindle books. Five days after publishing, The Miracle Man jumped up as high as 1,100, which was beyond my wildest dreams for the first week. That placed it in the top .1%, in sales, and I was astonished to see over 100 ebooks being purchased a day. I just saw the report from Amazon for these first three weeks. And for the first time I thought, Hey, I think I can make a really nice living if this keeps up. I’m obsessed with the numbers, tracking sales, forecasting out years, etc. I still believe I need a good agent, even with sales at these levels, since I don’t have relationships to sell foreign translation rights, or hardcover sales, etc.. But for now, I see six figure income, and a path toward broader success if I work hard and create more big stories.

    Even with this success, I don’t see any agents or publishers approaching me yet…even with six figure revenues, and world renown tech advisors helping on my novel, including Sir Ian Wilmut (cloned Dolly the Sheep). So I will keep on with my own path, which includes piquing the interest of several celebrities with production companies and interests in the subject matter in The Miracle Man (wildlife conservation, Africa, de-extinction, etc.).

    Perhaps I’ll be able to sell film rights myself. Who knows. One thing’s for sure, I won’t waste years waiting for someone else to sell my books, or read my query letters. And seeing those thousands of dollars in royalties come in like clockwork from around the world each month has made me a huge fan of Amazon. If an agent and/or big publisher can expand this success, great. If not, I’ll just keep writing the best books I can and retain rights until someone sees the value of working with me. Job one: write at least one book a year. Make it as good as you can. And get it out there, building your brand and audience.

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