On Tuesday, July 30th, it will be two years to the day that I uploaded the first Wool story. It didn’t feel like a momentous occasion at the time. In fact, I’d forgotten the exact date. It took Amazon to remind me. Looking back, it almost feels impossible that Wool went up a mere two years ago. So much has happened since then.
The first two months of that time, very little happened. Or maybe the signs were there, and I just wasn’t cognizant of them. August and September probably saw a hundred sales between them, which should have raised an eyebrow. I just remember October being the aberrational month. I spent all of October writing Molly Fyde and the Darkness Deep, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to finish before NaNoWriMo began. At the same time, I was watching reviews pile up for Wool. A dozen or so over a week. It took months to get a dozen reviews on other books. All of them were glowing. By the end of October, I knew something was up.
I stayed up until midnight on October 31st of 2011. I remember posting on Facebook that I was close to 1,000 sales for the month. ONE THOUSAND! It would never happen again, I was certain. Sitting on 980-something with a handful of returns, I begged for a few more sales. It had nothing to do with gaining readers at that point, just an irrational love of round numbers. Before midnight, I took a screen capture of my KDP dashboard with the 1,018 sales, which got me over a thousand even with the returns factored in. I went to sleep exhausted, confident that I’d just witnessed the apex of my career, and dreaming of the sequels I would write the next morning in lieu of the NaNo novel I had planned.
1,018 sales at 99 cents apiece amounted to $356.30. Imagine having the best month of your artistic career, and it comes to what you make in a week shelving books for $10 an hour. No part of me considered putting in my notice at work. None. No part of me thought I’d ever pay my bills with my writing. None. All I could think about was that I had over a thousand readers, and many of them were writing reviews and emails begging for the next entry. On November 1st, my NaNoWriMo.org page updated, I started writing and outlining the rest of the series.
As part of NaNo, I volunteered at my public library to sit and write with the youth NaNo’ers. It was my second year doing this, and I got as much out of it as they did. In 2011, NaNo went a little weird for me. I was writing three individual pieces, and I had the first one — Wool 2 — in rough draft by the end of the first week. I write better in the morning and revise better at night, so I took to writing Wool 3 before work and during my lunch break. At night, I revised Wool 2. By the end of November, Wool 2 was edited and complete, and Wool 3 only needed a pass for typos. Wool 4 was in complete draft and ready for editing. I’d written 60,000 words and completed another NaNo. But what was crazy was that I had also published in the month of November.
Most NaNoWriMo books are ready for consumption the following year, if then. During the month of November, I watched the sales for Wool rocket along. Remember that month in October that I would never again approach? I sold 3,000 copies of Wool in November. The demand for more was growing. In the middle of all of this, I went to Colorado to spend Thanksgiving with my father. Amber came along, and a good friend of mine joined us. This friend is the author among us. He has two books with Harper Collins, and is a freaking genius. He knew that I wrote and self-published, and thought it was cute. I told him about the sudden rise in sales in October and the little books I was writing. There was more of him pinching my cheek and telling me how cute I am. I begged him to read the work, and he informed me that friends shouldn’t do that. I saw his point.
Back in Boone, NC, I went to the NaNo Wrap Party at the library. A late night of pizza and writing to get to the 50,000 word goal, it was also a launch party for Wool 2. How surreal. While moving among these young writers and listening to their dreams, we were able to refresh my KDP page and watch thousands of people gobble down a book that just went live that morning. A book I’d started just four weeks earlier. A NaNoWriMo book shot up to the top of the science fiction bestseller list, and it was still the month of November. I doubt that had happened before or that it’ll happen again. It was just crazy timing all-around.
December came, and my record month of November saw another tripling. 10,000 copies of Wool. Thousands of copies of Wool 2. And Wool 3 went live on December 4th. It took most of the month to make Wool 4 ready, as it was the size of a novella on its own. It hit right before Christmas. At this time, I still didn’t dream of writing for a living. I saw that I would earn a few thousand dollars from my writing, money that I never dreamed of, but that was it. On Christmas morning, I was sitting on the exact couch I’m sitting on now here at my mother’s place in West Jefferson, and I opened up a blank document and typed “Wool 5”. The end was near.
The truth was that my journey had barely begun. Wool 5 came out in January, and a reader asked if I would combine the books into one to make downloading them easier. I created the Wool Omnibus and threw a yellow fallout shelter symbol on the cover that looked horrible to me and would later become a collectible. I didn’t think many people would buy this edition. Why not start with the 99 cent book and see if you wanted to go further? And then I watched as the five individual books slid down the rankings and the Omnibus rose up above them.
For a couple of months, maybe three or four, the five Wool books were obnoxious on Amazon. They sat at the top of the Science Fiction > Anthology chart, taking up the top five spots. This is where I hung out, taking screen captures. Meanwhile, the same titles crept up the general Science Fiction chart. Soon, they were in spots 2-6. They eventually took over the top spot as well. But it was the Omnibus that was about to do something remarkable. It began climbing the overall Amazon bestseller charts.
Twice, the book flirted with the top 100. It cracked it once for e-books, but not among all books. I took a shot of it at #101 before it began to slide back and settle around #120. By this time, I had put in my two week notice at work. I’d begun receiving calls from agents and people in Hollywood. BBC America wanted the rights for a TV show. I declined representation from two agents before Kristin Nelson talked sense into me. The Wool Omnibus cracked the top 100, and I probably did a dance. Not sure if I recorded it. Every milestone was a sign that it was all going to end at any moment now. Tomorrow. Next week. Just enjoy every hour while it’s here. I can always get another day job, I told myself. I was writing First Shift and tracking sales with a mix of glee and the grimace of a man who expects imminent collision. But things kept going up and up.
Boing Boing was one of the first major media mentions. There had been a few bloggers and dozens of reviewers, but this was big enough to pin the needle. Wool Omnibus shot into the top 50 on all of Amazon. I sold more books in a day than I had in that month of October the year before, and this was at $4.99 (I would later raise the price a dollar due to complaints from readers that my books were too cheap!)
The next splash came that summer from Gizmodo. I had recently signed a deal with Random House UK, and they’d put together a brilliant trailer for the book. The editor in chief at Giz was a huge fan of Wool, and he used the trailer as an excuse to pimp the book. The Omnibus went into the top 10 on all of Amazon and cracked the New York Times bestseller chart. There were more media mentions. A dozen foreign deals. The low 6-figure offers from US publishers back in March were now in the mid-to-high 6-figures.
I released I, Zombie and Second Shift in the second half of the year. I wrote Third Shift for NaNoWriMo in November. At this time, I had landed an impossible deal with Simon & Schuster that not only allowed me to retain the digital rights and all worldwide rights, it was a print-only deal that would revert even those rights after a set period of time. It was everything we’d ever dreamed of. All it took was walking away from a few 7-figure deals, which was both easier than you’d imagine and as hard as you’d expect. (Yeah, a powerful mix of emotions).
The year anniversary of Wool came with a ton going on. Amber and I moved to Florida. She took a new job much closer to her parents. We were wrestling with a new house and a new home; I was traveling as much as I had while captaining yachts; and every day was another foreign deal or something major to negotiate with Kristin. Somehow, I was still writing every day. Including Wool 5 — which at 50,000+ words is as long as Catcher in the Rye, Frankenstein, or To Kill a Mockingbird — I wrote five full novels in 2012. I also wrote two short stories, both of which were picked up by publications that require editorial review. We sold a house, bought another one, moved 12 hours away, and spent holidays with family. In July, I made Wool permanently free to celebrate this first anniversary. A year later, and I just a few hours ago sent the files for Dust to both my e-book formatter and Createspace. The series is done. It’s been a wild two years.
What next? I wish I could say I was taking a break, but I’m not. I’ll be gone more than I’ll be home between now and Christmas. Six countries to visit for book releases, five domestic trips for various functions, a Molly Fyde book to finish and publish, another NaNoWriMo to contemplate, and a new series to crack open. After this year, though, I’m going to take it easy. Slow down. Relax a bit. Hey, it’s right at a year since the last time I said that!
41 replies to “Two Years Ago . . .”
Incredible. It’s funny how your book has wormed it’s way into my families scifi psyche. Me and my son had such a long late night conversation that I’ll never forget that started talking about you’re book.
Btw I was watching this video and while it’s mostly interesting because it’s a lake at the north pole! It also looks like the north pole has a silo! Two of them, cause we are watching one from the other!
And I first saw both of them on boingboing.
Thanks for taking us along for that fabulous publishing ride. What an astonishing series of events, marked by both the awesomeness of the initial short story, your tremendous imagination in following it up with the other Wool books, and… naturally… a bit of good luck and timing.
And through it all, you have continued to be humble, accessible, and full of new ideas.
Naturally, I need to add my thanks. Your generosity in opening the Wooliverse to other writers has led to my own success in selling, in July alone, 2,289 copies of books in my Karma series. Plus, there were 67 borrows, and 2,576 free copies downloaded of the first story, “The Sky Used to be Blue.”
You have blazed a trail, Hugh Howey. Thank you.
Wow, Patrice! Mega congrats. But please take the credit; you only sell like that when you write something compelling. Massively proud of and happy for you.
I agree with Hugh and let me say I’ve LOVED your series. I’m just finishing #4 and wow, compelling stuff. I have to admit I wondered what became of Donald’s wife, knowing only from Shift a few details about her after the silos were originally occupied. You’ve really enhanced the Wooliverse with your stories.
Thank you SO much, Jason! I wrote the Karma series because I wondered myself… a little thread dangling from the Wool… whatever happened to Karma?
I’m just now focusing on how to end it with the fifth book in the series. I’ve had a grand time writing these, but I have to say that the responsibility is major! One doesn’t want to drag down the Silo franchise…
I can’t wait to put the whole set together. Here are my title possibilities… what would you vote for?
Karma of the Silo
I’d love to hear what you think!
That makes my day, Hugh.
It has been a crazy two years and it has been so much fun to read about all of your experiences. I knew, when I read the first Wool book, that you were going to be very successful. I could not be happier for you. Has JH read your books yet or is he still claiming friends shouldn’t do that?
He caved that Thanksgiving. He’s very proud of me, and I love and respect him like few others.
I have the same question as Wendy. Did your friend ever read one of your books? I find that story very “cute” and endearing.
You are an inspiration to indie writers, Hugh! That’s an incredible recap!
He did. He really enjoyed it. He was one of the authors who blurbed it for the S&S release.
How did I not remember that? Of course he did. I read that blurb.
I did buy both Wool and Shift after you cleared it up for me as to which order to read them in. I much enjoyed both of them and am looking forward to Dust.
A couple of books I read a long way back that I thought you might find interesting both have elements not entirely dissimilar to the concept of the silos are “The Big Wheel” by William Rollo (though almost all of it is in space, there are some mentions of some places not entirely unlike the silos) and Corpse by Mick Farren which does end up in a bunker, once again not unlike a silo.
I freaking love reading success stories like this. You definitely deserve it, Hugh. You write great stories. So enjoy every minute of it.
I really want to do my own spin off fan fiction of Wool but I’m kind of apprehensive, since I think the original work is pretty amazing. Since reading it a few months back I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I have such a strong urge to see that story continue, to kind of exist in that world a little longer and explore it for myself, so to speak. I know that sounds weird, but it has really changed the way I think about the world I live in. So we’ll see.
Thanks for this fastreading trip about your last 2 years. But there are dozens of more coming years out there to give us something to read… so start today! Pleaaaase… ^^
Welcome to Germany in autumn,,!
It’s been really fun watching your career. I agree with Patrice that it is great you have remained humble through your rise to fame.
Imagine if WOOL had been traditionally published from the get-go. It would have been available for sale right about… now. Instead, you had full control and were able to present it to your readers from Day One. Deepest thanks for being such an inspiration and for creating such a magnificent world for your fans. I am a fan girl and proud of it.
That’s crazy to think about. One of the offers we had from a major publisher entailed taking the book OFF OF SALE for nearly a year. This was recently done with THE MARTIAN, another indie book with a lot of buzz. Hopefully it hits strong when it comes back out.
Awesome story. That’s what happens when you write magic. :D
Here’s to Christmas 2013 being awesome, and 2014 having even more surprises in store!
I can’t begin to thank you, not only for what you’ve done, but for letting us share the journey along with you. The struggles of an independent author and the successes we’ve seen you achieve give us all hope. For me personally, it inspired me to finally put off writing the book I was going to write “someday” and now I’m here with three works for sale in the Kindle store, including one set in your WOOLiverse. As I plod along on the stories I want to tell next, I just want to congratulate you and thank you,
Thanks, Will. And congrats on getting your work out there. I find that publishing frees me to write more.
Inspiring. Thanks for showing the way, Hugh. We all have our own paths, but having your example out there (along with your awesome stories) really helps put some humanity into the world of publishing and of books that hasn’t been there before and helps make this whole adventure more fun. I know you must be incredibly happy with your success, but I also believe that you are just as pleased that people are reading your work, and that is a sentiment that comes across clearly from your interviews and all the channels you have set up to interact with your fans. I think the best thing you have done is to build a community where it feels like we all get to come along for the ride, and I just wanted to say thanks. Anyway, better get back to writing. Happy anniversary, and enjoy your life!
Thanks, Mike. Happy writing, man!
Wow, what a journey in this short amount of time.
Congratulations for all your accomplishments, I hope you’ll continue creating success and stories that blow people away around the globe !
I also luv how inspirational you are – sending hope and passion to many aspiring indie authors.
May the odds be ever in your favor ;)
Thank you, Hugh, for sharing this amazing journey. I discovered Wool and your blog while you were writing I, Zombie. At the time I had the rough draft of my own first book written, but the querying and publishing process looked scary as hell to me. Here you were, showing us in intimitate detail another way of doing things. I could circumvent my fears and focus on writing the best story I could. That lifted such a huge weight of my shoulders.
You have been an awesome inspiration, teacher, and role model for me and many others. I thank you for that. My little fantasy trilogy exists, and it is just the beginning.
Great write up! I echo the others when they say thanks for allowing us to write in your world. It’s been a fascinating journey in itself, I can’t imagine how you must feel seeing your stories continue to touch readers imaginations two years after release. Can. Not. Wait. for DUST :)
My question is… how on Earth did you write and edit a 254 word novel in a month (WOOL 5)? Even writing my fastest, it took me about 6 weeks to write and edit The Diver, and that was only 23,000 words. Writing and releasing a book twice that length in two weeks less time boggles my mind.
The first MOLLY FYDE book, which I think is a damn fine story, was written in 7 days. 100,000 words.
I can be a bit nutty behind the keyboard at times. Though I’ve never replicated that first book.
[…] Two Years Ago . . . | Hugh Howey […]
I am a young writer (trying to be anyway) and I would like to hear how you go about writing your books. Do you make a detailed plan and know what will happen throughout the course of the book, or do you just write as you go along? Your books have so many details in it with surprising twists and there are clues littered about that I wonder how you plan it all out. I know you wrote Wool 1 as a stand alone but did you have an idea how you would develop the story later. For example, in Wool 1 did you know the suits were engineered to fail or did you come up with this when you were writing the later books?
And the same goes for Molly Fyde, did you know how the whole saga ends before even writing the first book?!
Sorry for the long post, and this is only a tiny percentage of the questions I have!
Thank you!!! Mia
I map things out, but in the case of WOOL, I didn’t plan past the first book. I had to come up with the rest of the story based on what I’d already written. It was a huge challenge.
I do allow my story to change if the characters insist hard enough, but I have to know where they are heading. I don’t like to amble along.
Thanks for the summary. You’re an inspiration Hugh. I took a pile of rough notes and sketches over the last two years and have now written a 20k word kids book. Sure I have to finish editing it and do the illustrations but seeing how you’ve handled Wool have me the push I needed. You’ve raised a few people (I don’t mean undead), Its great to see David is taking edit work and I’ll be getting a sample off to him later in august. Swing by my blog and check out what you’ve helped inspire (click on my username).
You deserve all of the accolades you are getting, Hugh. Congratulations on an amazing story, literally!
You’ve inspired me to remove the “aspiring” in front of “author” on my Twitter profile :) I’ll also be publishing the first two books of my fantasy fiction series in August and September; something I wouldn’t have been so charged up about (have written like a fiend over the past month) if not for you.
Big props for the David G referral post as well… we have just started working together!
Congrat Hugh! Your story is inspiring. I have a book started with about 8 chapters in process with a full time job and family responsibilities. Finding the time is hard and takes dedication. I don’t anticipate your type of success, but I do aspire to being one of those “working writers” you write about so often who earn some repetitive income through self publishing. I hope to build a portfolio and grow readership over time.
Keep writing and I’ll keep reading! I do need to keep writing as well.
Huge congrats Hugh! (say that ten times fast!)
What I would love to see is a way for every new author out there who counts you as a MAJOR inspiration to either start writing or actually publish their already written work. Fan fiction or regular, I’m certain it’s dozens, but I would bet it might crack a hundred without hesitation if they can all catch wind of it.
For what it’s worth, Halfway Home is still my favorite story and the first book I have ever bought signed, but Wool is okay too!
Every time I see you comment about not expecting your success I am baffled. I have read a good chunk of you books by now and have to say I have been thoroughly impressed by each one. You have a unique ability to bring both a good story and excellent writing skills to the table at the same time. In my opinion there are legendary writers (won’t name them for fear of backlash) that couldn’t do that. Can’t wait for Dust…
Just finished Wool a few minutes ago. Loved it. Thanks for giving me such a good read. I’m getting ready to download Wool 2. I feel like I’ve come to a party late. Everyone is having a good time and I am having to play catch up. Don’t worry about it though, I’ll enjoy the journey. Also enjoyed reading about your last two years. Way to go! I cheer your success.
Don’t worry dude, most of us wish we were you….reading it all for the first time again!
Thanks for sharing the story behind the Wool series. I read it just after the stories were collected into the Wool Omnibus, and it was the best 6 bucks I ever spent on an ebook. As a General Manager for a major retail bookseller, I was excited when we finally received a shipment of the physical book in my store, and ever since I’ve been hand selling copies every time I help a customer in our Science Fiction section. I’ve gotten 3 members of my staff to read the book as well! Of course, they all love it. It’s always fun to be there when a talented author earns national recognition, and I’m glad you were able to break through. Looking forward to your newest.
Congrats Hugh — To this day, I think my favorite part of the story is the fact that instead of basking in the success of Wool 1, you not only sat back down to keep writing, but you put the afterburners on, too. That’s a hell of a lot of really good writing. Great work and all the success is beyond well earned.
A belated Happy Anniversary Hugh,
and a sincere Thank You for the hours of reading pleasure you have gifted to us fans.
(I knew I shoulda brung a gift!)