My Advice to Aspiring Authors

Yes, that’s an ambitious title for a blog post. It might even be seen as egotistical (it feels egotistical to me). But I recently did an anniversary AMA on Reddit, and this question came up over and over again: “What advice would you give an author just starting out?” It was too big of a question to answer during the AMA (over 700 comments!), so I promised a blog post.

I’ll start by knocking the ego right out of the lungs of this thing and say that what works for one author may not work for another. I’ll also say that this is a massive topic and could easily lead to me writing a book. Not that I will. For both of these reasons, this blog post is going to ramble and often contradict itself. Such is my nature and the nature of the topic.

First off: If you want to become a writer in order to be rich and famous like me, that’s a bad idea. It isn’t why I started writing, and it isn’t why you should start writing. You should write because you love it. But I imagine you’ll want an audience (what artist doesn’t?) And so my advice is geared toward helping authors get to the end of their manuscript, polish it to perfection, and then gain the widest readership possible. This is the best you can hope for. I think it’s possible for every writer who gives it their all.

To begin with, you need to write. This seems axiomatic because it is. The only way to amass a pile of words into a book is to shovel some every single day. No days off. You have to form this habit; without it you are screwed. I’m going to assume everyone who keeps reading already has this down. If you don’t — you won’t make it. My best advice on how to form this habit is twofold: Get comfortable staring at a blank screen and not writing. This is a skill. If you can not write and avoid filling that time with distractions, you’ll get to the point where you start writing. Open your manuscript and just be with it.

Secondly, learn to write rough. Stop caring about spelling and sentence fragments and plot holes and grammar. Get the story down. Listen to the dialog and try to keep up with your fingers. Get to the end of your manuscript and THEN worry about the quality. If you can master the art of powering through to the end of your story, you are on your way.

When I finished my first novel, I was on a complete high. This is when you think your book is the shit and you wonder why Oprah hasn’t called. You’re gonna be rich!

This feeling lasted a few days. That’s when I started writing my next work. My father at the time wondered why I wasn’t spending all of my time promoting that first book. I told him I had my entire life to promote my works. I only had now to write. I stuck to that principle for years, writing and publishing several novels or short stories a year. I wrote a variety of genres and with a slew of styles and voices. 1st person, 3rd person, fiction, horror, sci-fi, novelettes, short stories. I also read a wide variety of works, but hardly ever in my genres. I read literary fiction and history, non-fiction and science. I try to read the newspaper every day.

My father now agrees with this approach and sees the value of having a dozen titles available. This is going to sound strange, but you are MUCH better off with your 10th work exploding than your 1st work. You’ll never have quiet time to crank out quality material ever again. And when your backlist matches the growth of your first breakout, you’ll do very well for yourself. Be patient. It’s been said by many others, but I’ll repeat it here: self-publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

Now would be a good time to explain the advantages of self-publishing over traditional publishing. When writers ask for advice, they are often asking how they should proceed with their completed manuscript. I’m going to explain why every author should begin their writing career self-publishing, even if their dream is to be with a large publisher. There’s a lot to say. Bear with me.

Your manuscript won’t change. This is the biggest logical fallacy I see in the self vs. trad debate. The idea seems to be that if you self-publish, somehow your work drops in quality. It’s the same work. The words won’t change because of perceived association with what else is out there. Querying an agent won’t make your manuscript better. Self-publishing won’t make it worse. It’s either a story that appeals to readers or it isn’t.

Know your gatekeepers. Appealing to readers is the endgame. They want story over prose, so concentrate on that (aim for both, but concentrate on story). Agents and slush-pile readers are often the opposite, which is why they bemoan the absence of literary fiction hits and cringe at the sale of Twilight, Dan Brown, and 50 Shades. You are writing for the reader, who is your ultimate gatekeeper. Get your work in front of them, even if it’s one at a time, one reader a month or year.

Publish ForeverWorking at a bookstore was a dream job but also a sad job. I saw how books sat spine-out on a shelf for six months, were returned, went out of print. That’s a narrow window in which to be discovered. If you self-publish, you will have the rest of your life (and your heirs’ lives) to make it. Your print-on-demand books will always be available. Your e-books will always be available. You can keep writing and promote later. You are building your backlist. Think about this for a moment: The self-pubbing revolution is in its infancy. The people writing and publishing today have had no time to be discovered. It’s a marathon.

Own your work. The chances of a book blowing up are slim whichever way you go. I would say the chances are minimally the same, and the odds may now be tilting in favor of self-published works. If you blow up, do you want to own your rights or have someone else own them? Do you want to be making 12.5% or 70%? Remember, the chances are that you’ll never have a mega-hit. Traditional publishing will not increase those odds. With the 6-month window, I’d say the odds are 1/100th what your work might do in 50 years self-published.

You are the Publicist. The reason you won’t blow up just because you got a traditional contract is that nobody will promote you. The first thing your publisher will explain is the need to form an author platform (I’d be shocked if anyone still gets publishing deals without already having a robust one). Houses have too many authors to promote all of them. They choose a select handful based on the excitement around a debut manuscript (rare) or the perennial bestsellers (more likely, but still rare). If you want to earn a living as a writer, which I’m assuming the people asking for my advice are, you are going to have to be more than a writer. You will be an entrepreneur and a publicist. Or you won’t make it.

Know the industry. I know things about publishing that my publishers don’t. Not everything. And I don’t know more than them (I learn from them every day). But by being a self-published author, I come into traditional publishing armed with experience that they don’t have. I understand algorithms and Amazon categories. I understand the importance of metadata. While at Digital Book World in January, I listened to publishing execs and marketing specialists speak excitedly about what we’ve been posting on Kindle Boards for over a year. I know what media mentions drive sales and which ones are merely for show, partly because I have realtime data that publishers don’t have. Partly because I don’t have biases from a media age that has long passed by. You want to be a writer for the art of it? Forget the industry. You want to earn a living? Study it.

I’m not the story. I’ve been hammering this point over and over, and people are finally starting to listen. The outliers are not the self-publishing story. It’s the midlisters. I’m begging Amazon to release a different set of stats than the ones currently bandied about. They advertise how many bestsellers and blockbusters they have. I’m dying to know how many people are making $100 a month, $300 a month, $500 a month. I wager there are thousands and thousands of writers making $1,000 a month. That’s the real story, not me. Stay tuned.

Be a pro. The writers who take this seriously are the ones making money. They do all the things above, but they do something more. They approach this like a little more than a hobby. It’s a second job, one that you can love and work hard at at the same time. Pros read up on grammar. They read books with an eye to what works and what doesn’t. They commune online at places like KindleBoard’s Writers’ Cafe. They set goals for how much they’ll publish in a year. Five years from now, these pros will have 10-20 works available. They only need to sell 250 – 500 books a month to earn a supplemental income. Ten books a day across twenty titles. That’s the longterm goal.

Network and be nice. I can’t stress this enough. Just being around other writers will inspire you to be a better writer. Join a writing group (in person is better. online if you must). Go to writing conferences. Go to writing camps. Take classes at your local university or community college. Join a forum or two. Participate in NaNoWriMo. And be nice to your fellow writer. Making it as an author isn’t easy. The last thing we need to do is make it harder on each other.

You are a start-up. I just participated in SXSW Interactive in Austin, a place where everyone is looking to start up the next great business. The next great business is you. I laugh when people bemoan the idea of spending $2,000 to self-publish a book. Personally, I didn’t spend a penny until I was already earning enough to quit my day job. But I don’t recommend this for everyone. Invest in your book with editing and great cover art. There are two ways to think about these expenses, and both methods make the costs seem trivial. In one, you are engaging in a hobby far cheaper than just about any other. Your neighbor will buy a camera, parachute, gaming PC, scuba gear that costs more than your book. Will their hobby ever make them a penny? Yours will.

The other way to look at it is from a business perspective. Name me another business you can start up with a total cost of two grand that will guarantee at least some earnings (your mom’s gonna buy a copy, right?) You are creating a product that never rots, never rusts, never expires. It is distributed worldwide by the largest retailer in the mulitverse. You control the price. Shipping is free and immediate. You can market it forever. Your margin is 70%. You’ll never need to write it again or spend another penny on it. For Pete’s sake, can it get any better?

The stigma is gone. Self-publishing is the beginning. For many, it will be the end. The moment the stigma disappeared among traditional publishers (i.e. they began signing already-published books to major deals) it meant the top-down approach to publishing flipped upside down. Think about it. Self-publishing used to mean the death of a book. Now, traditional publishing is the more likely death of a book. This is possibly the most important thing I’ll ever explain. Follow along.

The vast majority of books traditionally published never earn out their advance. They go out of print. They are now dead. This never happens to a self-published work. It can only go up, either in sales or by being picked up in a deal that you choose. The top-down approach is one where you leave options open. Self-publishing leaves all options open (it didn’t used to). Traditional publishing leaves almost no options open (this hasn’t changed). The day self-published bestsellers were mined for traditional deals, everything changed. Don’t trust people with old information who tell you otherwise. Those with the most experience in this business often have the worst advice. That’s not always true, of course, but the two do not correlate. Beware those who think they do.

More obvious advantages. Self-publishing pays 70% royalties for the rest of your life. Traditional publishing pays 12.5% for six months (how long you’ll be shelved or weakly promoted). Self-publishing pays monthly. Traditional publishing pays twice a year and after quite a bit of initial delay. If you own your material, you can give it away, a huge advantage in building readership. Traditional publishers won’t do this for fear of competing with their other products (other authors). It’s also why they won’t promote you beyond that six month window. You are now their competition. You don’t want that.

Again, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t team up with a publisher if you choose. But do it from a postion of power. Give your work a chance (years and decades) to be discovered. Enjoy a trickle of earnings in the meantime (how many hobbies are free to engage in and buy you a coffee now and then?) Publishers aren’t the enemy; their contracts are. I don’t want publishers to go away. I don’t see them as the enemy. They do some wonderful things, and I love the people I’ve met in the industry. Love them. But their contracts suck because there has never been a reason for them not to suck. That reason has sprouted in the past two years. That’s how young all of this is, how new. We are winning small victories over non-compete clauses. Scalzi recently beat back a Random House imprint and made some change. Bella Andre got a print-only deal from Harlequin. Colleen Hoover got the same deal as me from S&S. Real change is happening, which will alter this debate once again. That’s a great thing.

To sum up: The key to making it as a writer is to write a lot, write great stories, publish them yourself, spend more time writing, study the industry, act like a pro, network, be nice, invest in yourself and your craft, and be patient. If you can do all of these things, you’ll earn some money. Maybe enough to pay a bill every month. Maybe enough to get out of debt. Maybe enough to quit your job. Thousands of writers are doing this, and we are welcoming all comers with open arms.

(This is a published rough draft of my advice. I’m writing this on very little sleep, without giving it a second glance, and while on an exhausting book tour. I’ll revisit it and update it over time. Please comment with suggestions or advice.)

167 responses to “My Advice to Aspiring Authors”

  1. This is such fantastic advice. I’m on the verge of releasing my first, self-published novel, and everything you say here is extremely useful and inspiring. Seriously. I just want to give you a big old bear hug. :-)

  2. Peter Devries had it down when he said, “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”

  3. Great post. It really sums it up.

    I love how you’re always trying to bring the conversation back to self-published “midlisters.” Who doesn’t dream of being on the NYT Bestsellers list? But more fundamental than that is the dream to get paid for doing what you love.

    I’ve been self-published for less than a year and I’m making more than I do at my full-time job (which is really a sad commentary on how little I make). Next month that job is going part-time because it no longer makes financial sense to go there 40 hours a week. I have two books out and because of my readers I get to stay home and write and pay the bills. How freaking crazy is that?! It would have never happened if it weren’t for self-publishing.

    I admire you, and what you’re doing for the industry is great. You deserve all the success you’ve gotten. Thanks for the advice; you’re always so down to earth and practical. Can’t wait to get out to a bookstore this weekend and see Wool on the shelves.

    1. Wow Caethes. Seriously awesome. So pleased for you.

      I have been banging away and am about 45,000 words into a novel. Honestly, in the last week I have majorly gone off the boil and am not sure what comes next ( a downside in a novel!).

      Have to say I found your comment inspiring. Having already published two
      non-fiction titles on Amazon and having them NOT set the world on fire (or even really lit it!) I must admit to feeling a little disillusioned with the whole self-publishing game.

      The truth is you can put in lots of work and have absolutely NOTHING happen.

      But this post and your reply reminded me of what its all about.

      Namely chilling the fuck out, forgetting about the future and filling the blank page with words on a consistent basis.

      The future will take care of itself if I do my part for long enough. I know that logically, but its hard to remember that sometimes when my mind is as blank as a blank thing with a dash of blankness added in for good measure.

      It is however good to know that some people do actually sell some decent amounts of books at some stage though!

  4. Thank you so much for this post! It’s honestly exactly what I needed to hear (read) right now. You’re a great example to anyone out there aspiring to do something they truly love.

    Thanks for being you, Hugh!

  5. Thanks, Hugh!
    It’s good to hear solid, business like advice from a writer who practices what he preaches. I’ve been working on my own backlist and almost completely ignoring marketing. I do the occasional freebie on Amazon, but that pretty much covers it.
    I’m not holding my breath about the big A releasing numbers on the midlisters (auto correct tried to change midlisters to molesters – good thing I caught that). Maybe you should set up a poll on your blog? A simple set of ranges with radio buttons to click would be easy to respond to and I think you would get a pretty good sample from the indie crowd. On any given month, I range from two hundred bucks to being able to cover the mortgage but I could easily project a simple average.

  6. Being in the mindset of wanting to become a published author myself, this entry is great. I have read similar thoughts over the years. Hearing it once again helps drive it home.

    I have been practicing my ‘staring at a blank screen’ skill set, and I think I have it perfected!

    Thanks for the inspirational post!

  7. Your father “at the time”? Tell me how you do that.

    1. How do you plot?
    2. What about self-publishing non-English material?

    1. I’m working on my first novel. I’ve been writing all my life, but mostly humourous non-fiction, so writing something long, complex and cohesive is new for me. I’d love to hear more about how you outline or flesh out your work. You keep citing your love for Stephen King’s On Writing. To me, that book’s advice came off as “just write, don’t plan, it’ll be great”. I’m sure that works for some, not so much for me.

    I’ve found I have to plan A LOT before actually writing the end product, building plot in a list of story events, rearranging and doing notes. Then I continue by writing a mockup of the story, as if I would talk someone through the whole story. No Shakespeare or enthusiasm, just the hard facts of the story. This of course tells me where the story drags or what should’ve happened in advance, thus affecting the list of story events. Parallel to this, for the sake of actually doing some writing, I “test write” some of story events, to see what works, and to get a glimpse of what the finished work will be like. It might sound tedious, but to me it’s a structural approach where I don’t have to write a full first draft for then to reconsider basic plot points. I can turn a lot of my story upside down in one sitting without the hassle of a rewrite everytime. Of course, I’m yet far from done, so I can’t tell if it’s a sensible way of doing a novel, but so far, the book has become significantly better every time I’ve altered the overall storyline. Now all I have to do is to actually write the damn thing (and, well, add in all the test-writes).

    2. I also have a question regarding self-publishing. I see where you’re coming from, and you’re self-publishing for all the right reasons. My book won’t be in English, though, I’m writing in my mother tongue, Norwegian. Anything else would make for a trite read, even if it narrows down the list of potential readers quite dramatically. In addition, Norway, while generally being in the forefront of anything involving the use of gadgets, has yet to embrace e-books and e-readers. Of course, there are Kindle users such as myself, reading English stuff bought off Amazon, but Norwegian e-books are few and far between. It’s probably possible to upload books in any language to Amazon, but that would reach just a fraction of what in a global sense already is a tiny group of people, so the question remains: What would you recommend me to do, once the book is done?

    Sorry about all the words. I love to write, even if it’s on an iPad.

    1. I assume his father “at the time” means his father changed his mind later when he realized Hugh was right.

  8. Some humble self-publishing additions from my experience so far:

    Your books won’t announce themselves. Amazon does not shelve your ebook on a display for passers by to see once you have uploaded it for the Kindle. The world will not know your book exists until YOU tell shout it out from the mountaintop.

    If you want to have your work read, you need to find where the readers for your genre are and tell them about your book, individually if you have to. Each and every reader you find is a wonderful thing. Not for the two dollar and something cents in royalties, but for their voice. You want them to enjoy the experience of reading your book, and this assumes you have done your very best to write an enjoyable, clean, and professional (appearing) book.

    To gain their voice you must tickle that nerve. Once you have, and it may not happen, as Hugh says, until the 10th book or more. On the eve of releasing my third book I can see this now, and I am not saying that I am there–though for a few precious first readers I am. I made something they enjoyed. Their gift to me is their voice.

    They may take the time to write a favorable review. They may post about your book on their blog or facebook page, or to their reading group. They may tell some personal friends about your book, some may even put a copy in their friends hands for you–or lead them to a point of sale for your work. That is what gets you read. This is the start of your network.

    Treat these readers well, be accessible to them. Ask them if they would like to beta or alpha read for your next book, but make sure you tell them to pull no punches.

    Spend a few minutes of your day looking for more of these readers. Don’t spam for them in any forum. Make one announcement for your book on any given forum that allows you to do so, follow their guidelines to the letter. If it is allowed, be sure to make working links in your announcement that take readers directly to a point of purchase for your book. Once you have made your announcement, introduce yourself–most all of these forums have a place to do this as well. Mention a few of your favorite books (not your own) and authors you enjoy (Hello HUGH!). Do not, under any circumstances, start plugging your work. You are there to engage with these people. Some will be readers, some will be other authors doing what you are doing.

    1. Solid advice. I think people are already starting to tune out the “I wrote a book, here’s a link, please buy it” posts. Much more effective to immerse yourself in a community relevant to your book’s content, and then let the book speak for itself.

    2. I just don’t know that this is true. I recently published my 3rd book (1st novel length) and didn’t tell a soul. I had sold about 70 titles total of all my other words (2 novella sized books and 4 short stories). I sold 400+ copies in 2 weeks. I still haven’t told a soul my pseudonym and I don’t plan to. I think this advice is okay if you want to spend your time at it, but I think Amazon does get your books found and I wouldn’t ever want to push my work on anyone. Readers find books at the places they go to buy books. I found books at bookstores when I was younger, and then on Amazon myself. That’s what regular readers do, search for books. Then they tell the not-so-regular readers all the good stuff to go looking for.

  9. Thank you for this great advice. One thing woke me up: your comment that you have only now to write, and you can promote later. I have six small titles in a children’s niche on Amazon Kindle. And I have ideas for about a dozen more stories. But I have been so focused on marketing my little collection of books, that I have shoved my writing to the back burner. I blog, and comment and review, etc. but I’ve stopped telling my stories! So I know what I need to get back to. Thanks, Hugh!

  10. Thanks for the lengthy post, Hugh. Great information here. The bit about mid-listers making small income is especially worthy of attention. I’ve seen it called a “middle class” for writers, where once there was only obscurity or mega-stardom.

    For the sake of edification, I’m an indie writer with one title under the belt, which brings in about $30-50 a month.

    To that end, I wonder if I could float an idea by you?

    I know you’ve written in the past that one of the factors you feel helped to make Wool such a success was the fact that multiple works with the same title could crop up together on Amazon lists, and thereby cascade sales into one another.

    I wonder if it would possible to take an opposite approach: writing a number of books in various genres which stand alone, but which each lay the groundwork for a new series? Similar to the way in which a TV studio might order a block of pilot episodes. And then whichever book achieved the most success, the author would run with.

    I know the real answer to this question is “try it and see” — but with your experience, I wonder if you have a gut feeling one way or the other, as to how an approach like this might pan out?

      1. As a reader, I don’t like the idea of having a bunch of pilot books written to see which one will be picked up. At least if I knew about the scheme, I would be reluctant to buy any of those – don’t want open ends that are waiting to be tied up somewhere else, and it never happens. (And so I’m still waiting for C.J. Cherryh to write a couple more Alliance novels, but that’s a different story…)

        As for promoting series, I just remembered Scalzi writing about why he put Old Man’s War into the Humble Bundle last year – “[.. it] is the first book in a series, and many of the people getting OMW in their bundles haven’t read it before. If they read it and like it, the additional books in the series are going to get bought and I get full freight on those, and otherwise it raises my profile as a writer.” (

        1. Maybe you could write a whole bunch of novels and release them at once. Turn it into a big publicity thing.

          “The five-book bloc — five original novels for five dollars. Decide my next series!”

    1. Lindsay Buroker says this is how she started. She wrote two books and the one that did better, she continued. You can read about it on her blog.

      1. Listen to the readers, right? Good for her. Awesome stuff.

    2. Brandon, I’ll be experimenting with something similar; writing short stories in a variety of genres and settings and then moving into novels. I intend to write everything eventually, but getting some insight into what readers might be more interested in might help (assuming their interest falls into the same groove I’m feeling).

      This is one of the very exciting things about self-publishing–the ability to experiment with anything.

    3. I think it’s a very interesting idea with a great “reality TV” feel — the “decide my next series” contest thing, but it sure sounds like a lot of work! It’s taken me years to get my first novel to the point where I can almost publish it — YEARS. I can’t imagine how long it’d take to write five of them just with the hopes that ONE would go somewhere so I can let the rest wither and die. ….or maybe they wouldn’t wither and die, they’d probably sell really well in the short term on that premise I guess…. still sounds like a decade of preparation to me!

  11. I really appreciate your honesty and forthrightness. It must be exhilarating and sort of scary to be on the cutting edge of a mass-industry change. As a young writer, it’s been tough to suss out which way to leap, but advice like yours is incredibly helpful.
    Just downloaded the Wool Omnibus last week; really enjoying it!

  12. So how do I market myself if I want to be the center fielder for the Yankees? Go become a .400 hitter somewhere and the Yankees will find you. Same with writing. Write a good book. They’ll find you eventually.
    Congrats, Hugh. You have tremendous talent and deserve all the attention you receive.

  13. Fabulous post, Hugh, with so much eye-opening information! Your enthusiasm, humility, and willingness to help fellow writers is just tremendous.

    You said, “The chances of a book blowing up are slim whichever way you go. I would say the chances are minimally the same, and the odds may not be tilting in favor of self-published works.” Did you mean the odds may NOW be tilting in favor of self-published works?

    Your fresh view of this industry combined with your dramatic success allows you a rare perspective, and the truths that you are putting out there for writers, readers, and those who’ve been in the industry for decades are powerful.

    P.S. Bugged B&N for WOOL on 3/12, and it was on home-delivery only. My husband went to another store today (3/14) and they are now ordering them for the store. They’ve gotten several calls. I’m off to Target to get one…

    Please make sure to get some rest as you continue with your whirlwind WOOL tour. Your fans care about you.

    1. Thanks, Patrice!

      Yes, I meant that the odds are tilting toward self-pubbed works.

      Great news about B&N. I think they are finally getting their act together.

  14. What a helpful post for new writers looking to find their way in this crazy new world of e-publishing. When I started writing my first book a year ago, I still had no idea about this revolution. I was all set to write my book, drum up a query letter, try to find an agent, and then pray they could sell it to a publisher. It wasn’t until I stumbled across Hugh Howey (who was this guy with 5 books in the top ten?) that I discovered the possibility of self-pubbing on Amazon. What a relief this was! This knowledge instantly lit a fire under my @ss and I churned out the novel in 7 months.

    I decided to learn as much about the KDP publication process as I could by releasing a short story into the world and was stunned when people actually started reading my book! What a humbling experience it is knowing complete strangers are reading and *hopefully* enjoying something you wrote. craaaazy. That fire became a blaze and now I need to keep going in order to feed this wild new addiction. Writing is a drug, and people like Hugh are the enablers. Thanks for the awesome trip!

    1. Dude. I dropped your name today on Chicago Tonight, a PBS show. It airs next Thursday @ 7:00.

      1. Oh man. Give me one more week! ;)

        1. Didn’t mean to shoehorn in! lol. Cool news, Wes!

  15. Great post. I’ve written several novels that I have yet to publish because I’m still working on the business plan for it, a large portion of which is having enough titles to come out quickly. Plus, I want to get back to the mainland, which is still a couple of years away. Still, it’s good to see this advice, a good deal of which I’m already doing. The rest are things that I will look to implement shortly.

  16. Thanks for this great advice. I read the article about your deal with S&S with a lot of interest. I’ve traditionally published 13 books and now am starting to fill in the cracks with indie works… things have been going better than expected. I’ve recently had publishers approach “me” with paperback deals for my kindle books, a first for me. Haven’t come to any agreements yet. I think your advice about treating writing as a business is something I hold fast to. Pay that money for a great cover and professional editing, it will make a big difference and bring professionalism to self-publishing. I’m also a freelance editor, but I always hire one of my editors to work on my books because I want them to be competitive with what’s out there.

  17. Great advice, Hugh.

    After my first book was released, Oprah was calling me the next day and I was all like, “Leave me alone, Oprah!” Eventually I had to file a restraining order. It was ridiculous.

    1. Lol! And great idea offering free review copies on your website. Has anyone taken advantage (in a bad way I mean)?

      1. It hasn’t been a problem yet. If it ever got to the point where it seemed out of hand, I would just remove the offer. But at this point I’ll give away as many free copies in exchange for reviews as I can. If anything, it will hopefully build up the audience for later books, and I won’t need to give them away hand over fist :)

  18. Great advice! I’m happy to know my partners and I of The Pantheon Collective are doing most of what you detailed here, especially having patience. :-)

  19. “Secondly, learn to write rough. Stop caring about spelling and sentence fragments and plot holes and grammar. Get the story down. Listen to the dialog and try to keep up with your fingers. Get to the end of your manuscript and THEN worry about the quality.”

    As someone who’se written all their life but but never managed to really finished anything worth showing, even to mom, I think this advice is gold!

    Now if only my short stories will stop mutating into 3-5 book series. :-s

    Also, I’m finding all the talk about the fanfic, and how you endorse it, interesting. If anyone wants to try it out I would suggest starting sooner rather than later.

    There’s only so many Silo’s left and I bet they’re going fast!

  20. Absolutely yes! Even before I had decided to take the leap into self publishing, I had been reading and studying and watching the treads online. Meanwhile, I was furiously writing after a decade-long hiatus from fiction. After much research, I taught myself how to format, create a cover, upload, etc, and thank goodness I already had my part-time art business and an online social network in place. Everything you’ve said is so true! It’s all about having an audience and a long-term plan as you build your library of work.

    I never cared about being rich or famous; I just wanted my work to be appreciated by readers outside my friends and family. And now I can have that and maybe a few nickels to rub together too!

  21. Thanks for an awesome article, Hugh. Timely, indeed. I’ve re-blogged this, if that is okay with you. I called your advice a standard operating procedure for an updated world of publishing. It just made sense given all the changes now facing us. Thanks gain, and good luck with your tour.

    1. Absolutely. My advice is free. Which is just about what it’s worth.

  22. I love the fact that you recognize this as a start up, because I realized you need to think like a publisher, which is the business side of it. So for a data point I just released my first children’s book in January. Between the softcover and the Kindle I earned a little over $200 in January. In three weeks, I made $200 off of one book.. three weeks, one book, first time publisher.
    You better believe a sequel is coming in April. With two more right behind it. Sometime in summer.
    I shake my head when I hear writers bemoan the business side of this.
    I agree that writing the next work is utmost importance, but I think some marketing helped my cause, people seemed to rally around the book on Facebook and that seemed to have gotten the ball rolling. But yes, supplementing your income is very doable when you approach this professionally.

    1. Wow. That’s incredible. Perhaps I’m understating the potential of indie publishing! Keep it up, man.

  23. Thanks so much for writing this. I’ve got two self pubbed books out right now and I really appreciate your insight and advice. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us.

  24. Great and generous advice.

    So glad you changed that “not” to “now”, especially since I self pubbed my first novel a few months ago. Readers are giving me their precious time and enjoying. Oh, what a feeling!

    You’ve also convinced me to not hold back. Next one will come out late this year, and a third early next year. Thanks much.

  25. Michael Cairns Avatar

    Hi Hugh,
    Great post, thanks.
    I was especially heartened by your comments about the marathon! My first work went live on smash words and my website two weeks ago and this was a timely reminder of my needing to be patient!
    It was also nice to read yet another successful author speaking of the importance of writing, constantly. My New Years resolution, of writing every day, has so far been met and keeps me positive and moving forward through the less fun editing, formatting and assorted other pleasures of self-pubbing.
    As I delve deeper into the world of writing I’m becoming more interested in the different levels of planning people do, particularly as I tend to pants-it most of the time. If you don’t mine me asking, what degree of planning do you do before or during a novel?
    Thanks again

  26. Hugh – Great blog. You’re advice is right on target.

    Christine Kersey

  27. Hugh,

    I’m one of those $1000 a month mid-listers. I’ve been self-publishing since December of 2011, and have released 7 novelettes and 3 collections (a collection of 3, a collection of 4, and a collection of all 7). I’m trying to transition to longer works, and have finished the draft of my first novel.

    I’ve found all your tips here to be applicable. I love networking with other authors; I learned a lot paneling with you and other writers at Chicon7 last year, and I’m attending C2E2 as an industry professional this year. I’ve got all my work in paperback through Createspace, and I’m working on getting audiobooks produced through ACX.

    I’m at the point where this, writing, pays my rent and utilities. Thanks to the economy this is the sole source of my income. Learning the discipline to write every day has been the most difficult part of the process, though the last few weeks I’ve gotten my productivity way up, and I’m writing 6000 words+ a day. I’m shooting for 10k, but we’ll see how it goes.

    1. You are the story, Michael. Congratulations. This really makes me happy.

    2. Holy crap, man! 6000 a day?! After about 1500 I have smoke coming out of my ears. Good on you, you’re a machine!

  28. Two pieces of advice that I keep trying to hammer home.

    “…Appealing to readers is the endgame. They want story over prose, so concentrate on that (aim for both, but concentrate on story). Agents and slush-pile readers are often the opposite, which is why they bemoan the absence of literary fiction hits and cringe at the sale of Twilight, Dan Brown, and 50 Shades. You are writing for the reader, who is your ultimate gatekeeper…”

    “…Secondly, learn to write rough. Stop caring about spelling and sentence fragments and plot holes and grammar. Get the story down. Listen to the dialog and try to keep up with your fingers. Get to the end of your manuscript and THEN worry about the quality. If you can master the art of powering through to the end of your story, you are on your way…”

    BTW: loved Wool. Shift is next up on my TBR.

    Reach around and give yourself a pat on the back. And big thanks for helping out those following along in your tracks. (and all us little guys hanging out on the kindleboard)

  29. Really great advice, Hugh. I’ve been following your story on the SFWA boards and elsewhere.

    One thought on the post–your comments about the royalties, etc. sound like they’re primarily from the Amazon standpoint. Would it be worthwhile to add in some thoughts as to the ability to sell books on your website, and what options there might be should Amazon decide to change their rates and so forth.

    I’m spreading this article far and wide; more writers and potential writers need to see this.

  30. Huge props Hugh. I think you’re pretty special. I haven’t finished yet because this is super long, but I agree with everything I’ve read so far. I just wonder if there is a typo in the sentence ‘tip the scales in the favor of self-pubbing” Was that supposed to say now, rather than not? It changes the meaning 180deg so I thought it was worth asking. Thanks for putting out some of the most honest reflections on self-pubbing that I have seen.

  31. Since I stumbled upon you, I have found your experience to be invaluably insightful. I also find articles like this one to be both encouraging and validating of my direction toward self-publishing. And I am a long time believer that writers, write.

    Thanks so much,

  32. B.D. Hainsworth Avatar
    B.D. Hainsworth

    Thank’s for the advice, as I’m trying to finish editing my first novel before I send it to a professional Editor.

    However, one issue that could probably use a new disruptive model, is discovery. With the explosion of self-published books, which I agree is in it’s infancy, I think there has to be some better way to find the books I want to read.

    Type Science Fiction in Amazon and there are 10,000 books to choose from. How do I find the few I might like? Almost all the lists at Amazon and Goodreads all contain the same titles in pretty much the same order? Is the selection of good titles that few? Surely there must be a few gems out in the self-published masses. Is the only way to find them blind, random luck? Or just wait until there’s enough critical mass to bring a title to the general public’s attention.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but hopefully one of us will come up with a brilliant idea that will solve that little problem.

    Wait, I just thought of an idea. Maybe you can suggest to Amazon that all the reviewers who have purchased and reviewed a KDP book that hit’s 10,000 downloads, gets a free download of any self-published book on Amazon. That would encourage people to purchase Amazon self-published books. It would encourage people to write reviews on Amazon. It would improve discovery of new KDP titles, and increase the likelihood of discovering a ‘bestseller’. And it would increase the awareness of Amazon’s publishing business. How can they lose? :) It’s not like the prize is big enough to bother gaming the system, plus Amazon would do a simple check to verify the reviewer actually bought that title and wrote more than a three word review. Pretty simple.

    Anyway, good luck.

  33. Wise words:
    “You can keep writing and promote later”

    But how to write with moderation?
    I get up at 4.00 in the morning without setting an alarm and if my husband didn’t force feed me I’d be a more than skinny rat by now… Once I forgot to pick up my youngest kid from school – bad mummy!

    Promoting ruins that total immersion for me, so your advice is more than welcome. Thanks Hugh!

    Isn’t all creativity a sort of obsessive disorder turned into something positive?
    sunny greetings from Southern Spain
    DC Gallin

  34. Sorry Hugh, I gave a non existing website address: this is the real link I don’t know if you can moderate that into my previous post in case you publish it? xx

  35. So much here to agree with. It’s nice seeing someone who “gets it.” The self-publishers already know much of this…in some ways it’s the traditionally published authors who are caught in a system and afraid to consider other possibilities. I think some of them are continuing with traditional publishing because it’s what they dreamed of for so long, that they can’t take a minute to evaluate that there may be a better alternative.

  36. Fantastic advice. Thank you very much for sharing your experience. I will share this in the group I created on Facebook for people writing their first book. I’m sure it will be useful..

  37. Writing every day. Excellent advice, Hugh. I’m now doing it, even if it’s 100 words.

    You continue to be my hero, man.

  38. 2 words: Thank you!

  39. Thank you so much for the post…and for being awesome:) I bookmarked the interview with HuffPost and I listen to the interview you did with Self pub podcast quite a bit. Stalk much?:) No, not a stalker. I use these things to inspire myself when I’m in a writing funk (if you’re not making any money yet, it’s good to have these things).
    I was very excited to hear about your success. Congratulations! You do deserve it.
    I know you said you wrote parts 2-4 (or is it 2-5) Nano style, but I was wondering if you could give a little more detail. Did you do an outline first, and if so, how long did that take before you jumped into writing it? How many beta readers did you have to help with finding story and structure issues? You did an exceptional job with this story for it to be written so quickly.

    Sorry for all the questions. This whole ordeal was just fascinating to me:) Hope all is well

  40. Thank you for this post, and thanks to everyone else who put in their helpful advice. It’s always encouraging to read the experiences of others when it comes to writing and publishing.

  41. Hi Hugh,

    Great, bang on advice, as always. I haven’t read through the comments, but I can’t think of anything to add. Well, I might add this: Don’t waste time comparing your success or lack thereof to other writers. Some people write great books and are in the ‘process’ of being discovered. Others hit the lottery with a single book. There often isn’t any rhyme or reason to it. I absolutely agree that hitting it big with a large backlist is so much better. Every author should read this. Thanks for taking the time.

    Griffin Hayes

  42. Thanks for the encouragement, Hugh! Because that’s what we need, guys like you coming back to the old neighborhood and showing us the reality of making it happen. I got my formal writing education back in the late 90s and so it’s hard to convince myself that anyone can make a living (not necessarily rich and famous, just not cluthcing white-knuckled to a day job) without appeasing the Great Publishing Gods. A lot of good sacrifices have been made on that altar with no results. Thank you for showing us a better way to reach our goals.

  43. Writer Terrance Leon Austin Avatar
    Writer Terrance Leon Austin


  44. Great article Hugh. It reminds me that no matter how much I’ve scoured the subject looking for tips and tricks on the publishing process, there’s always one more thing I haven’t explored. KindleBoards, here I come. :-)

  45. I’m an animator (and graphic novel artist) rather than a writer. I was referred to here from an animation forum. Still, this article holds completely true and sums up what I have been trying to tell aspiring film makers for years! What you wrote is exactly how it worked for me.

    It began as a trickle. As I continued to build my catalog, things improved. Now I have, after 6 or 7 years, a livable income and can do MY WORK rather than work for a studio or corporation. I also get invited, expenses paid, to travel (around the world) and speak a lot, which is another perk. If you factored in the actual cost of that stuff, it starts to seem really huge! I may not make 1/3rd what I did working in Hollywood, but my life is 300X better!

    1. So awesome. I love hearing stories like this. Congrats, man!

  46. Excellent advice/suggestions, some of which I’ve already implemented–because I didn’t know any better. It was great to see that my “experiment” in self-publishing is supported by your suggestions. I plan to follow the rest of your comments every day that I’m not writing my next book.

  47. Thank you! Lots of work to be done.

  48. Hi, I would like to know how many short stories you released, was it per month or per week. Also, how did you balance – writing, reading and marketing? How much time did you set per day for each?

    1. I released the 5 WOOL books about one every 3 weeks. I’ve been writing 3 novels a year for the past 4 years. Very little time spent marketing, most of it spent writing.

  49. Great advice Hugh, and thank you for taking the time to write it down for all of us. After I completed my novel, I tried the traditional route. I not successful, and it was discouraging to the point where I almost gave up. I needed an editor because I’d never written fiction before. Then I got lucky with the editor I found liked my story so much he offered to publish it as a ebook. There is no formal contract, just an electronic handshake in which the publisher gets the ebook and audio rights for two years. I retain print rights and will likely go through Create Space for a print version of my book. Publishing meant I got proofreading, Smashwords formatting, a website (though I paid for hosting) and some electronic promotion. I paid for editing. Proceeds from sales are split 70/30 – I get the 70%. I do see some non-traditional ebook publishers like my publisher starting to take hold. Some of us don’t want to struggle with the technical aspects of getting our masterpieces ready for prime time. I enlisted the help of a friend who’s a talented professional designer for a cover, for example, and after waiting a month had nothing to show for it except a lot of time spent talking about it in emails or over coffee. Now that I’m more familiar with the process, I might completely self publish my next book, but I might not. So far, I’m happy with the deal I made.

  50. […] on his site: “Self-Publishing Is the Future — and Great for Writers“, “Hugh Howey’s Advice for Aspiring Writers” and Robert’s own “Tales of Woe from Traditionally Published […]

  51. […] post that sparked this discussion is a little old, but literary agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg Tweeted about it last week and it got me […]

  52. […] taken to organize and promote your work on the internet is time taken away from finishing new work. A wise man has already talked about this balancing act, and his choice to spend more time getting a body of work available than promoting the heck out of […]

  53. Hi I have got 1 or 2 short fictions published. I would really like to submit short stories, do you know of any ezines that accept new writers? I was linked to this post by my writing group, and am in process of trying to selfpublish so this article is very relevant.

    Advice how to get cover image? Someone is making ebook for me, getting isbn but i don’t know how to get free cover image. Hope to get a reply. Thank you

  54. Glad I found this blogpost. I should be writing and not commenting.

  55. This is the most sensible, most clearly written advice to the aspiring writer I’ve read.

  56. […] excuses. I ran across this a few days ago: Now I’m sure that I’d need scientific notation to enumerate all the ‘advice to […]

  57. Hugh has hit the nail right on the head. My big challenge isn’t in the writing or the editing. It’s finding the money for pro marketing images. Yet there is no guarantee that good images would sell any more books, in fact I sold more books with the previous images. The number of new authors will inevitably drown our voices as the list of titles doubles, and then doubles again about every eighteen months…egotistical as it may sound, this is where I ought to be. I’ve worked for free so far and nothing has really changed.

  58. Beautiful… I only read the first couple paragraphs but your writing style is beautiful. The way the words fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, its as if the sentences were families. I might not know who you are but I know that your natural writing style is a gift.

  59. Thanks for this article. After floating around the great query mill for far too long, I decided to listen to my writing professor and look into Kindle publishing with a vengeance. This is great advice and a good launch point for my understanding of the industry.

  60. You could not have explained SP’ng any better if you had racked up 20 hours of sleep, Hugh! Loved it!

    …Never rots, never rusts, never expires. So true! I keep saying that we SP’rs are still on the cusp of something mega big. The ones that do approach writing as the business that it is, will be successful. Study, apply, and write, write write. The more books (product) you have available, the better. I have learned (and still learning) the entire process from writing, to formatting, to uploading, to promoting, to cover creation. Nobody will pull the “Wool” over my eyes. ;)

    However, as a recovering perfectionist, I know that I need to heed your advice to write furiously all the way to the end, not worrying about the grammar, punctuation, or holes in the story. Just get through it. The momentum is, I believe, what a lot of writers lack.

    Thanks for the encouragement! And keep cranking out those bestsellers!

  61. I think that the most valuable piece of advice for every aspiring author to understand is to keep on writing and write every single day.
    Another important point that I feel a lot of people are missing, is self publishing is a business. And it has to be treated as such.
    I never thought that building up the backlist first before you start promoting was so darn important. I can really see the sense in this.

  62. This is some excellent advice!

    I’ve got the writing thing down, doing between ten to twenty thousand words a day of solid world building and writing. The rest of the day is spent editing.

    The thing that I don’t have down is whole promoting my own stuff and the networking thing, and that’s the reality I’m trying to grapple with right now.

    I would call myself an aspiring author, as I’m sure many are who read this, and it is a good thing that I decided to check out your blog!

    Thanks for taking the time to write all of this out!

  63. […] packaging, materials, inspection, and on and on. I’m slowly getting to understand what Mr. Howey meant when he said that those who treat self-publishing as a business are succeeding at […]

  64. Thank you for this. I recently self-published … have been so down on myself for doing so and not seeking harder for a publisher/agent. You have encouraged me. Blessed by you …

  65. “You are creating a product that never rots, never rusts, never expires. It is distributed worldwide by the largest retailer in the mulitverse.”

    I wrote six thriller novels last year, and they are no more eternal now than they were ten years ago. I’m always amazed when Konrath (or you) trots this line out. Konrath says ebooks are forever. It seems you are saying the same. You’re both wrong.

    What happened to Betamax? Divx? Discman? Napster? MySpace? Limewire?

    They’re GONE.

    So will it be with ebooks someday. Formats die off due to all sorts of reasons. Amazon won’t be around forever any more than MySpace was. Neither will Facebook, Google, LinkedIn. That’s right, they will disappear from the “multiverse”, replaced by something else that might be totally different than ebooks. Trends are like that.

    World War III? It can happen. How many wars were there in the 20th century? What do you think will happen to Amazon if that happens? Your ebooks? Think about it. Nothing is immortal on this planet except death.

    I plan to write six more novels in 2014, but I’m not for a minute going to think they will be “out there” forever. They are always taken down by one force or another. Mountains fall just as surely as sand castles.

    1. I’ll dust them off my hard drive (or one of a dozen places I back up my works) and publish them in a few hours on whatever the current distribution network is.

  66. Great post. It’s so good to know that self publishing can work. I’m sure there are plenty of us out there who have spent years/decades writing on and off, but never with enough oomph due to the thought that we would never see our work in the shelves. Now the shelves sit in everyone’s pockets everyday and self publishing is turning the whole game on its head! It’s certainly given me renewed enthusiasm. I’ve got stories to tell. Even if only one person reads them and loves them I’d be happy. The thought of actually being able to live off it, not necessarily as a best seller, just as a seller! That’s damn exciting. Now I’ve just got to crack the writing everyday. But bare with me while I go walk my excuse of a dog!

  67. […] it because he said it was ok.  I also like Hugh Howey’s advice, so I’m providing the link if you’d like to check it out.  These writers both have blogs, and will even respond to […]

  68. […] He also recently did a Reddit AMA, with a follow-up blog post with advice for writers. […]

  69. […] * Hugh Howey. I was just told about him as well. Here’s his advice. […]

  70. Thanks for the encouragement. Many of my critique partners have gone to self-publishing or small presses. It’s good to know the opportunities available.

  71. Mario Jannatpour Avatar

    Great information!! Best advice for me now is to keep writing when I have time. Write, write, write. I found a groove this past year–I just need to keep writing.

    I have been in sales all my professional life and writing is very similar. Results are the name of the game. Nothing happens in sales until you make the call, work the deal, and close! To be a successful writer nothing happens until you write and produce quality work. Setting goals for production is key. Get in front of the keyboard, put your manuscript up on your screen. I love that!!!!

    Thanks so much.


  72. […] The meaning behind his words I’ve encountered many times from many other authors but for some reason the way he put it seemed to resonate with what I needed to hear. This is part of what he said, (the full post can be found here): […]

  73. Hi Hugh

    Thanks for this great advice, it has really helped me. In particular, the part about learning to write rough: it doubled my productivity as I had a tendency to edit-as-you-go. Even though I had heard the advice before, albeit differently worded, your direction has really swung home.

    Thanks again.


  74. Hugh,

    Not to sound like a broken record but thank you for the excellent advice! Then again, I don’t think you mind hearing it over and over again. :)

    I’ve been writing for a couple years now, off and on. Nothing published and nothing really ‘complete’ yet, but I I’m getting there. What you said about powering through the story and not stopping or pausing to finalize each few pages is key, at least for me. I think that was the mistake I was making. I would have many thoughts about new plot lines but then would lose them as I got bogged down in fine tuning what I had already written.

    I’m 44,000 words into a novel that I’ve been working on for the past year or so. Like all new writers, I think it’s pretty good but the readers will be the true judges.

    I read about your success last year in the Wall Street Journal and it really inspired me to continue forward and finish what I started. Thanks again for sharing what you’ve learned!

  75. […] to making you feel even better (it’s old news, but still worth mentioning): Click here to check this awesome post by self-publishing rock star Hugh Howey. This guy makes 70% royalties on his sales, and he has sold more than one million books in a really […]

  76. “Secondly, learn to write rough. Stop caring about spelling and sentence fragments and plot holes and grammar.”

    This part – right here. I’m slowly learning this part and it is G R E A T. I feel very accomplished because simply writing without editing “in the moment” means you can write more.

    I’m finding my own process, technique and even if it’s a bit chaotic, apparently this is how I do it. I have stopped worrying about other people’s process or if I’m doing it the wrong way. I don’t think there is a wrong way to write stories.

  77. […] Here’s a link to the enitre article “My Advice to Aspiring Authors”  - […]

  78. […] here I am, back in front of the computer. I read a great article about writing and self-publishing (yeah, still has a sting to it, doesn’t it?) by Hugh Howey. […]

  79. I am typing and revising a “novel” spanning over 2200 manuscript pages. I happened across this article this morning and it could not have come at a better time. The advice here is priceless. I went the traditional route for several years writing poetry. Many poems published, but ezines are a fragile thing and little remains. The point about “them” being in control I think is very important. It is why, now that I’m switching to fiction, I decided to go the self-publishing route. The advice you have given, Hugh, is going to help me formulate a big-picture strategy for long term success. Even if only as a mid-lister. :) Thanks for posting this.

  80. Thanks, Hugh. I became an engineer 20 years ago because it was a respectable job. It still is. I provide, live well, and have only been through one two-month stint of unemployment. I tell my kids now to never trade security for whatever it is they’re driven to do. I don’t regret any of my decisions, that’s a waste of energy. All I can do is look forward. It’s people like you who inspire me to never give up the dream. Maybe I’ll die without the “blow up” book, or even sell enough to fund my next writer’s conference, but I can never regret giving it my all. God bless, my friend. And I hope you get disgustingly rich.

  81. great goods from you, i actually like what you’ve acquired here. good job!

  82. This is wonderful, compact advice. I’m not sure I’ve got the long term, multi-work perspective yet. My first novel, a dystopia in which food-borne bacteria takes over, debuts next month. I’m wondering about the balancing act, something you don’t address here. I’m discovering the need to be publicist and publisher as well as writer, but that means understanding not only the many algorithms and keywords, but having web-site building skills and a tireless willingness to learn new areas of the business and, and, and–all while keeping at the writing. That takes courage and an ability to balance many things at once. I’m not the cowardly lion and I can carry several books and a cup of joe at the same time, but the constant learning when I get home at night from a rewarding but exhausting job is, well, frankly, exhausting. I can do any one of these things and take pride in it, but doing all of it is enervating. You speak of the long approach and I appreciate that, but I’m not sure how to accomplish it when I’m standing in the midst of the forest and the horizon is obscured.

  83. I still come back to this almost a year later anytime I stop banging keys and need a kick in the pants to get started again. Nice work and thank you.

  84. Hugh Howey is the MAN. I feel totally pumped after reading this. Thanks for your advice!!

  85. Wow!!!
    Some fantastic advice! I am sending this to all the new (and not new) writers I know and sending it out to my Meetup group! If you ever want to speak in San Diego – have I got an audience (one that buys books!) for you! We schedule our talks at Upstart Crow bookstore (they order the books, or rep them directly for you), or we have bigger outdoor talks at Balboa Park and help you carry your books from your car (or pick you up from the airport and schlep you around). Come and see us!!! I can also introduce you to some other folks who can have you at their bookstores and org talks. You rock, Hugh!!! Can’t wait until you get that book (on how to do what you’ve done) out!

  86. Thanks, Hugh. Awesome advice. I’m about to publish my 7th book on Amazon and hope to never get over the thrill that someone out there is reading my stuff. Sure, I’d love to make bigger royalties but I’ll always write, no matter what. It’s in my blood. :)

  87. Great post, Hugh!
    I am one of those invisible, unknown authors who is sitting at the desk and writing every day.
    Amazon sends me a commission every month (some months, Amazon Germany and Amazon U.K. also send me cheques!) and I use the hundreds of dollars to pay the bills while I continue to write and build my library. Each month the cheques get bigger, and my list of work grows.

    Only a few years ago, I would have made zero dollars while sending out query letters to hundreds of slush piles….

    It’s a great time to be an author.

  88. Hey there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this wehsite before but afdter reading through
    some of thhe post I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be
    bookmarking and checking back frequently!

  89. Hugh,

    You’re a Godsend. I’ve just completed a 65,000 word 230 page non -fiction, a generational story millions lived. The last thirteen months of nights and evenings has been one of the most enjoyable, inspiring times in my life.

    OK, you’ve made a believer out of me. Now, Mr. Letterman, your Top Ten self promotion ideas once published? And got a good editor referral for a pop culture music book?

    Thanks for the engagement. Soon!

    Michael Macari
    Stamford, CT


  91. Hugh,
    Great advice. I’ve written a few practical, nonfiction ebooks and published them on Amazon; the popular one’s brought in a steady $200-$300/month for about two years. I’ve learned a lot.

    Now, I’m teetering on the brink of committing to finishing a novel (20k down, 60k to go)–and while I’ve learned a lot about self-publishing the past few years, fiction seems to be its own animal. I notice you advise new authors to “build a backlist”, but this isn’t exactly how you broke out. Wool did it for you, and I’d guess it’s still the majority of the “pie” for you.

    So, two questions: (1) at what point in writing Wool did you bring in beta readers–and where did you find them? I’m likely in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, like you. And (2) you started self-publishing Wool in the short form–would you recommend this for new self-publishers?

  92. […] repeat it here: self-publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.” Better yet, here’s the whole article- which has become legendary. That makes a lot of sense. That’s where the money is – in the […]

  93. Excellent advice: write every day & learn to write rough. I have MANY unfinished works of 5,000 – 65,000 words — mostly because I was crafting details instead of “writing rough.” But kept at it. Six days a week 5-7am before my day job.

    Finally I hit on the idea that I =really= loved — a fictionalized account of a genetic disease and how I dealt with it as a teenager. I was inspired by my teenage son who acquired the same disease. I see his struggles — feel his pain. If only HE gets it, my work will be a success.

    I got the basic story down, filled in, 10 months and 95,000 words later, I’m ready to edit the first draft. Plan of action: finish the first draft, give it to readers, go on vacation and work on one of my unfinished novels. When I get back from vacation – hit the edits hard and fast. And move forward.

    And yes, writing and editing on vacation is not as much work as it keeps me sane!

    Thanks Hugh!

  94. gabriel alexander Avatar
    gabriel alexander

    Hello, mr. Howey. I’m from Romania. I just finished reading Wool. It’s amazing. Congrats and keep up the good work. I do have a question, though: how do you get paid when you publish online? I’d really apreciate your answer. Thank you.

  95. Well, Hugh. I read the buzz a couple of years ago. Thought, Wool, okay. What does it mean? Bought the book, followed your story, and bam – published my first book on Amazon yesterday (only for Kindle but it’s a start). I have three more in the pipe and love the fact that I no longer wait, chewing my nails, for agents and publishers to reply with the gut-wrenching no, no, no. And, yes, it’s up there for life and I can edit and publicize whenever I want. What a liberation. And it’s all down to your example my man. Can’t wait for the Wool movie (fingers crossed). If you have any time at all (how can you, you’re so busy!) drop me a line and I’ll send you the link for my book so you can take a glance and share in my fun.

  96. Guest Commenter Avatar
    Guest Commenter

    I’d certainly be fine with the writing part, even the technical formatting stuff. I’m not good at all with math, however, and will probably never understand things like SEO and metrics and all that Moneyball/Nate Silver/ProBlogger stuff.

    But the one thing that really scares me — and I mean renders me trembling, incontinent, and sucking my thumb in the fetal position — is promotion. Not in the sense of the boilerplate static billboard variety. The “authentic,” real-you, “Hi I’m Bill W. and I’m a book-oholic” type of “promotion.” The “new” kind of promotion that leaves the author vulnerable because s/he can’t just fade into the background, and neither can s/he be a fictional shell of his/her “authentic” self. I would rather my book speak for itself and the “real me” be a nonentity. Passive voice, as in “This book was written” rather than “J. Doe wrote this book” (person-centric rather than “product”-centric). I don’t really like myself very much. I like my ideas and my stories but don’t really like the person who’s writing them. I doubt other people will either, and I don’t want to have to suffer the blows of having to find out. That said, I still want to be able to push product off the digital (or brick-and-mortar) shelves. I just don’t want to have to do it by having to venture outside my comfort zone and not be such a Howard Hughes-level wallflower. (It’d be easier, I gather, if I had his level of money…)

    Therefore, I’d actually be more comfortable with a set-it-and-forget-it automated algorithm, or an extroverted intermediary with far more expertise and confidence in this matter, because it would mean I don’t have to actually talk to people (online or off). I’m terrified of them! Plus, if, as you said, writing/publishing is to be approached like a business, why must it be a Swiss Army one-(wo)man operation and not a team of specialists? I see, for example, that you didn’t design this website. A company called Outthink markets it for you, and an artist named James Akers did the visuals. You provide the content here, but it’s not 100% you, and that’s perfectly OK in my book. Why is it so important for readers to “get to know” the author? If I can avoid this somehow, how much would a halfway-decent PR outfit set me back — in other words, a buffer between the reclusive, socially petrified author and the merciless masses at the Twitter Colosseum?

  97. […] Hugh C Howey – My Advice To Aspiring Writers […]

  98. Since I started writing my first novel years ago, and since I finished it last year I have been studying up on the publishing industry. Of course that studying led me to Hugh Howey.

    You can find plenty of places supporting the idea of self publishing. It’s the route I will most likely go because I like the idea of controlling all creative aspects of my book. Plus, just google Tor contracts. Tor is THE sci/fi publisher. As many of you probably already know, Tor is part of an international conglomerate. Being part of an international conglomerate myself I know how those companies work. There will be no personal interaction, no nurturing relationship.

    Everything I read about traditional publishing reinforces the idea that I should just go it alone. Be my own publisher.

    Thanks for the advice.

  99. […] again to the good story, rather than trying to write what one thinks will snag an editor. (As Hugh Howey has stated many times, the gate keepers are the readers. As it should […]

  100. Barbara Pyett Avatar

    Really enjoyed reading your article as it appeared on a fellow blogger’s site, just when I needed this advice. So, thank you very much for sharing this information. Wishing you every success. Barbara Pyett

  101. Honesty is always a refreshing communication. This article draft, Hugh, that you’ve written is an honest piece of writing that is going to help a lot of writers win.

    Well done, man!

  102. Inspiring post – thank you!

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  104. Hello everyone, it’s my first visit at this site, and
    article is really fruitful in support of me,
    keep up posting these types of articles.

  105. […] Hugh Howey is another one. Some are people with longevity in the publishing world, while others are newcomers with recent success. […]

  106. […] To read more Hugh Howey’s article ‘My Advice for Aspiring Authors’, click here. […]

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  109. […] Hugh has already done a fabulous job of addressing many of the commonly asked questions in his post ‘My Advice to Aspiring Authors’. It would be beneficial to all of us if we manage to take this exchange beyond those […]

  110. […] 3) Now Hugh Howey is like a household name for Indie Writers. He is definitely an example of someone that set his mind to it and did it. In this article he gives some advice for aspiring authors. […]

  111. Great advice – constant promotion is eating into my writing time. I think it’s time to step back & reevaluate how I am approaching self-publushing.

  112. […] contracts!” (Howey tells me he blogs about that “all the time” and cites this post of his. You can decide for yourself what you think, but it seems to me that he is saying “only sign […]

  113. What a wonderful, inspiring article. Thank you!

    “Know your gatekeepers” was a needed reminder.

    “The stigma is gone” was revealing and welcome.


  114. […] and good advice ferom someone who has gone that route. Another excellent site is Hugh Lowey’s […]

  115. Wow..your article is exactly what I needed at the exact moment in time!!

    Today I once again learned that I might lose my job, for the third time, due to my sick days. See, I have a auto-immune syndrome that makes me get every Tom, Dick, and Harry cold or flu. I’m not sick enough to get help but just sick often enough to get fired. When I went to pick up my 24 yr old daughter from college I was feeling low and wallowing in self pity. As I vent to her, my absolutely, beautiful Aspie daughter said the most outstanding thing to me that in all my years no one had ever really asked, “Well mom, it’s not the end of the world so stop acting like it. You may not money but you have your family and your alive. You need to work from home so you can stop getting everyone’s germs..,” then she paused and said, “So, what is the one thing you have always wanted to do for a job and never did it and you could work from home at?” . As I sat in traffic I closed my eyes and I it hit me…I have ALWAYS wanted to be a writer. I have ALWAYS had a story in me I want to tell…and I cant believe it never occurred to me to think about it before. I looked at her and told her I want to be a writer, and of course she says, ” Then just do that, see how easy that was. You were all stressed out and all you had to do is think about what you really wanted to do.” ….from the mouth of babes!

    So I have spent the last 4 hrs reading and researching where to start, how to make money at it, publishing options, and on and on. It is a little overwhelming to a newbie. Then I came across your name and site from a Angela Booth blog, and clicked your article..well it just suddenly made everything make sense. So here I go on my new journey with your printed out page on my mirror to use as my daily steps into a totally unknown area.

    Sorry soooo long, but just wanted to let you know that what you had to say here really helped me. If I can help just one person with my advice or writings some day the same way I will have truly succeeded.

  116. framed and hung on my wall, make this 70 pages and sell it as a book “Hugh Howey”, on writing”. Ten pages of your story, of your decision to try amazon, of your success, and 60 pages of advice to get us of our asses.

  117. Great article, Hugh. Would it be ok to reblog/post this on my website (with link-backs etc of course)?

  118. A very inspiring and encouraging article. It’s scary jumping off that cliff, but this corrects that perspective and makes us think about self-publishing as an unprecedented opportunity. Thank you!

  119. Thanks, Hugh! Love your work. I just finished my 4th book, The IRIS Algorithm. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I’ve been doing what you recommend in this article … write first, publish later. I made no attempt to publish the first three books (a trilogy) other than attend a major writers conference, go through agent speed dating, and collecting a few form rejection letters. I was too busy working on my 4th book to care. Now I’m ready to publish, starting with my 4th book, and have 3 books in backlog!

    Keep up the great work!


  120. […] you’re serious about becoming a full-time author, you need to develop a catalog. Even Hugh Howey had several books out before Wool went wild. Starting out, the best thing you can do is put your nose back to the grindstone and […]

  121. Wow! Thanks for the wonderful advice, Hugh! In all honesty, this is the first time I’ve visited your blog.

    I have to admit, when I searched “products for aspiring authors” in order to find some other things to slap onto my Christmas list, I was not expecting to find an article that would actually unlock the key to tell me what I want to do with my future. I’m a freshman in high school now, and I remember wanting to become an author since I began middle school. Yet, no matter how I looked at the business and how traditional publishing worked, I would always find myself shaking my head and wondering something like “How in the world will I enter this field?” or “There’s no way I can make a living out of this in the beginning of my career, right out of college.” After reading this, I think I understand and know better what I want and should do. :)

    I’ve began writing a novel, as well. My writing process is slightly different from what most people say I should do, though. After making a PowerPoint filled with a detailed plot, I’m someone who will begin typing the rough and feel like they need to fix everything they notice is wrong or don’t like. For me, staring at a piece of paper and writing everything, then typing it all later on, is so much easier and much more natural. I know it’s quite the opposite for majority of people, but for me keeping a composition notebook is incredibly easy and accessible anytime during the day. If I have spare time in science or study hall, I have a notebook to simply open and write in! Typically, I’d save writing in my notebooks for free time at school (which is little to none), but now I think I’ll be writing a lot more when I get home and finish whatever work I have to do!

    I just have a question to ask:
    1) Which subjects in school should I really focus in? I already try to absorb myself in English and History, take minor notes every-now-and-then in science (Did you know cutting your eye is one of the most painful injuries you can experience? Oh, what we learn in there!), listen intently in my Biomedical Sciences class, and make sure I pay attention in French and Mythology. My school has a creative writing class next year that I am for sure jumping into, but, otherwise, I’m unsure of what else I should study.

    Once again, thank you for the much appreciated advice! It has certainly helped me a lot! :)

  122. […] like to equal but opposite forces; try to do them both at once and your work will grind to a halt. Hugh Howey, the mega-bestselling author of Wool, tells writers to worry polishing the language only after […]

  123. […] like to equal but opposite forces; try to do them both at once and your work will grind to a halt. Hugh Howey, the mega-bestselling author of Wool, tells writers to worry polishing the language only after […]

  124. […] like to equal but opposite forces; try to do them both at once and your work will grind to a halt. Hugh Howey, the mega-bestselling author of Wool, tells writers to worry polishing the language only after […]

  125. Great advice, needed all of it. I’ve edged away from self-publishing in paperback for a long time because of money and fear of feeling like I failed at something I love, and now I’ve decided to bite the bullet and do it. But my doubt is regarding another book that I wrote when i was about six years younger than now. I want to get it out there because too much has gone into it. But its awfully similar to other works of the genre so I’m terrified that that could turn out to be bad for me. Have you ever been through this? Or anyone else? Do tell.

  126. […] together with other authors to publish and sell a book. I’m not the only one who thinks the traditional publishing houses are not altogether necessary for writers; the sales figures say that readers increasingly don’t think traditional publishing houses […]

  127. Your post is one of the most encouraging articles I have ever read.

    I am an aspiring writer. I love writing and I want to share my stories with the world. As I am writing and researching, I have set my eyes on self-publishing and promoting over the traditional route.

    This morning, as I am exploring the self-publishing realm, my foot snagged onto discouragement. This hole only consisted of two things: an article, and a guest-user named Ace:

    The graphs appear to alienate writers who are self-published or just starting out, and because of this, I have edited the ‘aspiring’ tag on my Twitter to ‘Unpublished.’ Do you believe this move was right on my part?

    I read further, and I noticed your testimony. Your part of the article makes sense, and this is why I have come to you for advice. This post makes me feel much better about my choice to self-publish when my novel is polished and ready to present with the world.

    In all, I have three questions for you:

    a.) Do you believe the guest-user, Ace, has a valid point in his comment?
    b.) How has self-publishing helped you as a whole?
    c.) With the authors who have naysayers on self-publishing (myself included, I have many), how do you block them out?

    Thank you so much for releasing this post, and I hope to hear from you soon.

  128. […] We also spend a certain amount of time talking about slush piles and how to break out of them. Here’s a story illustrating how hard that can be to do. In light of that, some useful advice from Hugh Howey. […]

  129. […] traditional publishing industry to rights for years, and his blog is extremely useful. Check out his post on giving advice to aspiring authors if you don’t believe […]

  130. […] telly. Stop consuming other people’s output. Get up early. Write. Write. WRITE. As Hugh Howey says, when you get well-known for your work, you won’t have as much time to write. So do it now. […]

  131. […] To read more Hugh Howey’s article ‘My Advice for Aspiring Authors’, click here. […]

  132. […] Howey’s blog. The man, himself. His story is an incredible one and his advice to aspiring authors changed the game for […]

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