23rd Jun2014

Interview with Hugh Howey

by Lloyd Paige


Hugh Howey is the author of a number of books, although we know him best for Wool and the Silo Series. After his well deserved success he still has the enthusiasm to write and with the digital age of reading upon us, he’s already made his mark. I had a ‘sea’ of questions that I wanted to ask him and this is what happened.

1. I understand that you had the idea of Wool a few years before you started writing it. How were you able to keep the idea ‘alive’ during that time?

It wasn’t a constant process. The idea was pushed to the back of my thoughts. I would mull the story over now and then, but it was really just the idea of the main plot that stuck with me. What it required was me finding the time to devote myself to the story.

2. Making a living as writer is not an easy thing to do, how can those who hope to do so achieve the right balance between being realistic and holding onto their dreams?

Great question! I wrote a blog piece about this. One piece of advice we don’t hear enough from artists is to live a simple life with as few needs and costs as possible. Making a living as an artist is difficult. Very few who set out to achieve this will. But it helps if the cost of that living is as low as possible. I found living in a very small house and having few bills and demands on my wallet and time gave me an important advantage.

3. When did you realize that you could write?

The first time I learned I could write well, it was after writing my dad a letter on Father’s Day. I think I was 15 at the time. His response to that letter, and my stepmother’s response, showed me that I could express my thoughts and feelings in a way that impacted others deeply. It was a powerful lesson.

You can’t write a novel in a day.”

4. Do you think that a writer can put an accurate time frame on how long a story might take them to write and edit?

Absolutely. Writers will generally take however long they give themselves to write and complete a novel. If they give themselves five years, they’ll procrastinate for most of that time, and then finish the manuscript near (usually after) the deadline.

If they give themselves two months, they’ll write the work in that span of time. There are minimal requirements of time of course. You can’t write a novel in a day. But I think it’s better to push ourselves than to give ourselves room to avoid the hard work of setting down words.

5. As a former yacht captain you’ve had experience of sailing. Of late, sea films have been well received like Tom Hanks’ Captain Phillips and Robert Redford’s All is Lost. What is it about the sea that can be so captivating?

It’s the last frontier. The sea is a barren world in some ways and a bounty in others. It can be both calm and capricious. It can be beautiful and deadly. Going to sea is a lot like journeying to outer space. It tests our intellectual, physical, and spiritual limits. At sea, I have felt the most alive and also the nearest to death.

Fighting for that contract taught me how nearly impossible it would be to attain.”

6. What’s your idea of bliss, parachuting out of a plane and landing on a remote island with a compass and a few days supplies, or sitting on a beach with a cute dog and creating a new story on your laptop?

The latter! Both sound fun, but the dog wins me over.

7. When you negotiated a deal to retain Wool’s ebook rights what did you make of the public’s reaction to it?

I was surprised by how many people seemed to appreciate the historic nature of the deal. Fighting for that contract taught me how nearly impossible it would be to attain. Most people in the industry seemed to understand and respect this as well. The response that saddened me was to see publishers circle their wagons and not offer more deals like this. That part was upsetting.

8. On the subject of rights, in your opinion how important is it for an author to retain theirs and why?

For me personally, it’s absolutely crucial to maintain the rights that we can exercise the best and to sell the rights that others can utilize the best. My German language rights are not very useful to me. My English language audio book rights are extremely valuable. I have to weigh every decision based on how I can wield those rights. For digital rights, this represents an infinite supply of a product that I can sell and profit from for the rest of my life. I would never sell those cheaply. I think many authors don’t value these rights appropriately.

9. Which book in the ‘Silo Series’ threw up the most challenges for you as the author?

The last book, for sure. Wrapping up a popular series is always difficult. And I had to do very bad things to my characters. That’s never easy. It was also painful to leave the series and walk away. As a reader, I would love to continue playing in this world to see what happens next.

10. What do you think the big screen adaptation of Wool will be like, especially with someone like Sir Ridley Scott directing?

My expectation is that it’ll never happen. I have zero hope of a film ever being made.

More and more writers are finding success by going straight to the readers.”

11. Normally an author’s involvement in the production of a movie is limited but do you think that it should be given that the author initially created the characters and the story?

I don’t care to have any involvement with the film adaptation. I would only get in the way and lessen the chance of the project going forward. I trust the people involved to produce a great work. The book will always be the book. The film will be something else, and it won’t change what I wrote.

12. The 2014 London Book Fair saw a huge rise in the attendance of its self-publishing seminars this year. Attitudes seem to be changing towards self publishing, why did you think that is?

The stigma is disappearing. More and more writers are finding success by going straight to the readers. There’s an outpouring of new voices, a freedom of expression, the feeling that we are in charge of our creative careers. It’s an exciting time to be a writer, and you see that at every book conference and book fair.

13. You’re passionate about information and data. What are the aim and objectives of the Author Earnings site that you’re behind?

I want to understand this industry as much as possible. As a reader, a writer, a bookseller, and a publisher. We can’t make decisions without sound data. The data that’s out there is piecemeal. Most of what we see from pundits ignores self-publishing altogether. And talk about digital ignores the number of print books now sold online. We overvalue publishers and bookstores, and this causes authors to devalue their manuscripts. My hope is that AuthorEarnings.com will empower authors to demand fairer contracts.

14. How important is it for authors to have accessible data with regard to their books?

It’s crucial. It helps us to know who is buying our books. What other books do they buy? Do they finish our works? If not, where do they stop reading? What do they think about the price? Do they write reviews? All of this is helpful.

15. The escalator clause is an interesting issue and one you dislike, what is the alternative?

I’ve used that term incorrectly in the past. I don’t mind escalator clauses, which see higher royalties for a larger number of books sold. It’s the “Most Favored Nation” clause that is a problem. This is the clause that guarantees existing authors that their royalties will match the highest royalty given in the future. Which effectively prevents publishers from offering higher royalties. This harms new authors and rewards only those who get enormous advances. It’s not a good system.

16. Finally, what can you fans expect next from you?

I’m working on the next anthology with John Joseph Adams. I’m working on a children’s picture book. And I’m working on a couple of non-writing projects that I’m very excited about.

You can find more of Hugh’s stories at hughhowey.com/books.


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