In late 2011 I joined the Kboards, an online forum that had become a hotbed of information for indie authors trying to make inroads in selling digital books. At the time, Amanda Hocking’s books were just about to hit brick-and-mortar stores, and everyone was abuzz with what was possible. Getting a traditional deal from indie sales was considered the pinnacle of success.
Fifteen months later, the world has turned upside down again. Many of the Kboarders I am friends with have turned DOWN traditional deals, raking in tens of thousands of dollars a month they know they couldn’t get from old-school publishers. Stories about rights grabs and bad contracts have made everyone skittish, and only a handful of literary agents have the indie seal of approval for truly caring about independent rights.
Into the mix comes Hugh Howey, the newest indie hero, about to start his US hardcover and paperback book tour after securing a landmark deal — after turning down dozens of publishers who wanted his digital rights, he signed a paper-only deal with Simon and Schuster.
Hugh is waking up in Austin today, and last night he met with my Austin Java writing group for a little down time before his US book tour gets grueling. He’s speaking at SXSW on Sunday and will launch his hardcover edition of Wool on Monday at BookPeople at 7 p.m.
It’s always a treat to meet in person someone you’ve only known online. Hugh got on my radar right away, as his little short story had just taken off and he was writing serial sequels as fast as he could in December 2011. As one of the personalities on the forum that other writers could appreciate and laugh with, his hilarious videos for milestones reminded us not to take the journey too seriously, including dancing in clown fish slippers when he hit 100 reviews in February 2012.
The 100-review landmark seems funny now that he has over 5000, but many of us watching Hugh’s rapid ascent were thrilled. If anyone could join the ranks of John Locke and Amanda Hocking and still come back to tell us about the highs and lows of the journey, Hugh could.
As he completed Wool and created an omnibus edition, he ordered paper copies of his new work I, Zombie. Live streaming video showed him opening boxes and signing the copies (sometimes in blood!) Hugh knew how to work a crowd, and his fan base went from appreciative to increasingly intense and ready to buy anything he offered up.
His journey hits an apex today as he is featured in the Wall Street Journal. When we talked last night over decaf, he said he kept thinking everything would slow down, but the sales and invitations and new heights just keep coming. He’d just gotten back to the States from Europe, and after a few weeks on the US tour, heads to Australia (where super fan and fellow KBoarder David Adams is anxious to meet him too!) No doubt if the film rights snapped up by Ridley Scott become an actual movie, Hugh will find himself on another wild ride.
If I’ve learned anything from my friendships on the KBoards, it’s how easily energy created in the digital world can translate to real life. Meeting someone like Hugh, whose journey I had followed for so long, and with whom I’d had numerous posting and commenting conversations with, was just an extension of the fun and sharing that happen in online communities.
And for those of us publishing digital books, Hugh is paving the way for our next journey — navigating from ebooks and pure independent control to one where we rely, at least in part, on publishers for the packaging and distribution of paper copies of our work. Hugh has paved the way, and it’s up to the rest of us to stand our ground for better rights and royalties. Because when it’s done right, when it’s done the way Hugh has managed to do it, we really are in control of our own destinies.