No Better Promotion Than Writing, says novelist Hugh Howey


Can I have a moment to read the paper?

You can call him a hybrid author, but he prefers indy-author, and while agents and publishers still have a role to play above and beyond self-publishing, he’s the one behind the scenes who’s peddling that bike. That was one of just many things Hugh Howey, American author of Dust, Wool and a slew of other books had to say today at a luncheon / interview. The event was hosted at Kobo HQ in Toronto and the interview conducted by Mark Lefebvre, Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations at Kobo Writing Life. As a member of Kobo Writing Life, I had the unique opportunity to attend the event, that, and I was one of 50 attendees that RSVP’d in time.

Sitting on a small stage with Mark, Hugh was exactly as I imagined: affable, warm and funny. He was at ease in front of the small audience, his vivid blue eyes highlighted by his lightly tanned skin and pale blue shirt. Mark directed the questions, inquiring about Hugh’s early days as a writer and successes as an author, which perhaps surprising to some audience members, were almost 20 years in the making.

Hugh tells us how he wrote his very first novel at twelve, a rip-off of Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. He was often in trouble at school – reading books under his desk, daydreaming and even fibbing to teachers. Like so many aspiring writers, he’d begin writing a novel, just to leave it unfinished.

Hugh had a range of odd jobs over the years: book seller and book critic, roofer, a/v installer and even a boating career. That’s where he met his wife, who beckoned him to shore and became a champion of his writing and eventually his editor too. But this burning desire to be a writer never left him, and when he determined that he would complete a manuscript and give himself ten years to build a writing career, that’s when it all began to happen.

Hugh describes that all of that frustration that was built up over the years, came flooding out of him at once, giving him a 79,000 word manuscript and after fleshing it out some more, had a 100,000 word novel. His wife and mother were completely on board with him, becoming his first readers and eventually his editors.

By the way Hugh speaks of his family, it sounds like they have been nothing but loving and supportive. Friends and family did pressure him to be with a big publisher, but he wasn’t as comfortable with all that.

Hugh tells us, that while meeting with a smaller publisher to sign his first book deal, he felt sick to his stomach and even to this day he can remember that feeling of handing over that control. While that arrangement was a positive one in the end, Hugh states that he was a high maintenance client, wanting some creative control over fonts ad covers, even offering to do the work himself.

In one funny anecdote, he describes how upon visiting his home town, his father wanted to arrange book signings at the local Starbucks, his father’s measure of success perhaps being that Hugh could be a millionaire from his writing. That wasn’t as important to Hugh, who measured his own success from the fans and setting a personal goal of 5000 sales and writing two books a year for the next ten years. He just wanted to write.

When Mark asks Hugh what his favourite book is, he tells us Izombie, a cathartic work that blends the themes loss of free will and the 911 event. On Amazon he has this warning: Not fit for human consumption. Hugh tells Mark that he prefers complex and darker characters.

Hugh can only ponder on the future of publishing; perhaps a celebration of the union between writers and readers. Publishers are not his concern, although he has made some key recommendations to their future success. Whether they heed his advice is of no concern to him. His priority is the author followed closely by the readers, for without authors we can have no readers. His future would also celebrate the editors, beta-readers, cover artists, audio-book narrators and all of the other talented individuals, maybe even becoming house hold names in their own right.

What my favourite part of the entire interview was Hugh explaining how he became known amongst his many fans. He had been “writing in obscurity” for years when as a student, word started to spread around college campus that he was a writer. He never said, “Hey, I’m a writer!” but preferred, “Hey, I’m writing.” So when someone would find out that he wrote books, they were curious as to why he never told them and that peaked their interest. Social media and marketing holds little interest to him except as a way to speak to fans and in his own words he says, “There is no better promotion than writing.”

At the end of the interview and Q & A, Hugh met with writers and audience members. I was fortunate enough to have a quick chat with him before he was escorted away by an anxious P.R. person. I hope he enjoys his visit to Toronto and comes back soon.

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