Episode # 35 – Don’t Look to the Outliers with Hugh Howey

In Full time writing, Mindset, Series Writing by Simon Whistler18 Comments


Given that Hugh is just a bit well known he’s told his story on many blogs, podcasts, and his own site. With that in mind, we basically skip over his journey to success and get into the things that are important to him today. In this Hugh Howey interview I talk to him about his S&S deal in retrospect, where he sees the future going for his work and life, what it’s like to work with foreign publishers, and why he is no happier today than when he was an unknown author.



Amazon Profile

Hugh’s Website


Hugh Howey Interview with Wired (a great intro)


Rocking Book Covers – Mentioned in the intro by me. My friend Adrijus got his cover in The Times and Wall Street Journal when Russell Blake was featured!

Deep Blood Kettle – One of Hugh’s dabbling’s.

Text Expander – A tool for typing something short to replace it with a longer bit of text.

Gmail shortcuts – Reduce the time you spend in your inbox!

Huffington Post article we talked about on the show

Searching for Sugarman – A documentary about a musician who had no idea he was famous.

Show notes:


Hugh is confident that each year he is going to complete several books so he also gives himself to dabble in many things at once. Sometimes writing one book, sometimes another, sometimes a short story. He doesn’t recommend this for those starting out though – just get the book done!

The S&S Deal in Retrospect

Just before the interview Hugh had posted on KBoards that he wouldn’t take the deal that he had been given again, which most indie authors regarded as a great deal. He wanted the deal to get his book into stores, but readers were going to book stores and demanding the book, which brought it into the store anyway.

He felt that getting the book to stores though print on demand that way would have been a more interesting experiment. He questions whether you really need a publisher to get into physical stores and whether his print success is really down to that deal.

The deal did bring him interest from major media outlet although he doesn’t think that exposure led to actually selling many books. He found that mentions on significant blogs and tech websites brought more sales than features in traditional media.

Traditional in the Future?

Hugh has spoken with other authors who have done hybrid authors and they have said that “their goal in the future is not to do another deal with a hybrid authors.” With financial success he knows that he can deal directly with his readers in the future and doesn’t have to do what the publisher wants.

Traditional Deal for a Writer?

Questions to ask yourself: Do you think this is the last thing you will write? Can you write another book? Do you want to see your book in stores or do you want to have something you can promote ten or twenty years from now and earn sustained income from?

Taking a deal can work for some people, if you don’t want to write more than one book a year.

Don’t think that the publisher will prevent your need for an author platform, even with Hugh’s sales they were still asking what his platform was like.

Most important, get a lot of opinions, do the research and work out what is best for you.
Look to the Midlist

Hugh actively turns the attention away from himself when people say he is the model for self publishing. He is not. He is an outlying success and many people believe that is where they will go but that is not the reality. The reality is the people who are making a few hundred dollars a month from a book, that is a success, and that is the more likely path.

Read a lot, write a lot, be dedicated and Hugh says that most authors will see earnings coming in each month. You don’t need to sell thousands of copies to make this happen because the royalties are so good – there has never been a better time in history to make money from being a writer.

Time and Expectations

Take the long view and realize there is no such thing as an overnight success. Hugh gave himself 10 years to make it work as an author, he says he was very lucky that it only took 3.
One of the biggest pressures he feels is the expectation of another book in the series. Readers are expecting something good and you need to deliver, especially knowing that 100k people are going to read that sentance.

Foreign Rights

Once you are big enough to have people asking for your work in another language, you’re probably big enough to get someone to do it for you. Hugh is happy to sell his rights for foreign publication, it’d be too much for him to work out and he’d rather be writing.


When Hugh was working a job he was balancing that with writing. These days he balances it with email, social media, and various other commitments around writing. He has recently cut this back as it was getting out of control and has an auto email go out to people who email him giving a reason why he might not respond.

What does he miss?

Some of the happiest times of Hugh’s life before he was a bestselling author and he knew this at the time. You’ll probably always be the same level of happiness (win the lottery or lose a limb) eventually you’ll return to the same level of happy – lots and lots of science to back that up. Don’t think when you are going to be a bestseller you’ll be happy.


“There is a luxury with earning enough on your own sales that you don’t have to make decisions on money … when you are at the point where you are being courted by a major publisher you can’t be bought”

“Living frugally is one of the best things an author can do to prepare for their career”

“I spend a lot more time thinking I am a hack than any kind of worthy writer”

“’My best months are long behind me’ and I’ve been saying that for two years now, that I’ll never have a day this good again, and that is not pessimism it is appreciation”


Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at simon@rockingselfpublishing.com

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Simon WhistlerEpisode # 35 – Don’t Look to the Outliers with Hugh Howey
  • R.M. Prioleau

    Hugh has got to be one of the most nicest and humble people ever. So much great advice to take away from this episode. Thank you, Simon and Hugh for a wonderful interview.

    • SimonRSP

      Sure thing, Hugh was a great guest, and nicest person on the internet perhaps!?

      • Carl Sinclair

        other than me, I agree ; )

        • disqus_IEdgLGcTVF

          No, though I wallow in obscurity, I’m the nicest!

          • SimonRSP

            Oh no! What have I done!

  • Hey Simon,

    Awesome podcast! Thank you and Hugh Howey. It ended up getting very deep in a zen-like way. Sweet! 🙂

    I picked up some great tips, and Hugh is such a great person, very inspiring and motivational. Rock on.

    • SimonRSP

      Yeah, I really loved the way the interview went, especially towards the end. I think that idea of constant level of happiness is super important. Thanks for the comment :).

  • Carl Sinclair

    Looking forward to it Simon. Enjoyed talking to Hugh myself the other week and I like your show a lot.

    • SimonRSP

      Awesome, listening now! Ha, yours is way more up to date… I gotta start recording interviews super far in advance ;). Love it.

  • disqus_IEdgLGcTVF

    As one for whom internet marketing is not a walk in the park, this interview has been heartening! It proves that we can just write and the success genies may still find us. I have to say, that learning to market is like walking through a minefield. There are so many of these gold-seekers out there wanting to waste your time with their tried and true ways to game the system. Everything has to go at top speed with these people. Just the thought of Indie publishing at top speed wears me out. It caused me to actually release my first novel before I should have–and do a free promo before I should have—because I was thinking—I have to go fast or—or—-or—–what?
    Luckily my book was digitally published so I have given it another polish much to its betterment.
    I do wonder–based on this interview–if sci-fi dystopian is so popular because of the geek blogs. It sounds like tech bloggers and people who aren’t necessarily in the author space, will flog this stuff. E-books being web-based publishing, there’s probably a lot of those venues.
    Its a good insight for any genre, though, to find bloggers in your niche that are creating products other than books that might be interested what you have on offer and would enjoy helping out.
    Thanks Simon and Hugh! It was super!
    Alyne de Winter

    • SimonRSP

      Hi Alyne, Thanks for the insightful comment :).

      It was interesting to hear that Hugh was seeing more books sales from blogs and website rather than major publications.

      I think today that there are so many web communities out there that if you have a novel with a certain theme you’ll be able to find a non-writing community who’ll be interested in it. Joe Nobody in ep 5 has an interesting take on this. That’s marketing that could be interesting/enjoyable, rather than chasing the latest advertising program that may, or may not, be effective.

      A lot of really successful authors I have interviewed on the show are either fast movers or effective marketers (ep 25 good example of the former and ep 7 and 17 good examples of the latter). That’s not to say that you can’t hit one out of the park without speed and/or effective marketing, but I think there is a pretty strong correlation between those who do and those who have financial success with a novel (or several novels).

      Thanks, Simon

      • disqus_IEdgLGcTVF

        I’ll check those podcasts out. I may have heard them, but they always bear listening to again.
        I have an author friend who wrote one really good book and markets in constantly. I really like her and her book so I looked up her page. The books raking in way over a million! So all that marketing hasn’t done the trick—for her anyway.
        I read Susan Kaye Quinn’s Indie Author’s Survival Guide–great book! and saw that she had a full series out before she had any success. Plus, I am finding most of these authors have been out long before me—I’ve been self publishing just over one year. So it gives perspective.
        You might get Susan on by the way….

        • SimonRSP

          I’m guessing you might have meant ‘ranking’ rather than ‘raking’ ;). Otherwise she is doing some seriously effective marketing!! :p

          Thanks for the tip, Susan would be a great guest!

          • disqus_IEdgLGcTVF

            Eesh! raNking!

  • Melissa AuClair

    Really enjoyed this interview. I love Hugh’s down to earth attitude, his practical view points on finances and writers, and his happy-pessimistic outlook. Another wonderful interview and one that will get a repeat listen 🙂

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks Melissa!

      “his happy-pessimistic outlook”

      This has to have been my favorite part of the interview. Such a great outlook!

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