In this piece I’m offering excerpts from an interview with Jupiter, Florida’s, Hugh Howey, who’s had substantial success by selling his WOLL Sci-Fi series in a digital format for $.99 per volume. To get an idea of how well regarded Mr. Howey is with Amazon, the firm’s vice president of publishing says his sales numbers are equal to that of Tolkien, Martin, and Bradbury. Now, it has to be understood that none of these authors’ books sell for $.99, but I believe that most people would agree that to compete in the volume-of-copies-sold category with THE HOBBIT is quite an accomplishment.
From the perspective of his timeline for success, Mr. Howey says the inspiration for his first story came during the tragedy of 9/11. His path to writing his first book seven years later is another story in itself, but the short of it is that he found himself working in a bookstore in Boone, North Carolina, where he realized that very few authors who “signed” at his store actually made a living from writing. He was quick to figure out that a $50,000 advance (which I might add is high for an average author’s advance, especially if the person is new or a midlister) didn’t go very far after paying agent fees, taxes, and author’s expenses associated with book promotion.
He published his first successful e-book in the WOLL series on Amazon in July 2011, and pitched it via his blog. It was a novella at 12,000 words, and he priced it at the aforementioned $.99. For three months, nothing happened; then, in October, he sold 1,000 books. He wrote the next segment of his storyline and published in on Amazon the next month. By the first of the year he was raking in $200 a day. WOLL was ultimately published by a U.K. house and became a bestseller in England–and it’s now sold in 32 countries.
He was eventually offered a deal by Big 6 imprints, but he turned them down because they all demanded e-book rights–and he was making $100,000 a month from his Amazon sales. Now that is a WOW number, and it definitely deserves the capital letters. Here’s an interesting side-note: Simon & Schuster agreed to sign the book for print only, and it has done reasonably well but not great. Howey has his opinion why, feeling that the e-book sales have eliminated many potential print buyers who would’ve otherwise paid a higher price. I’m of the opinion that the higher price is the bugbear–regardless of the publication medium. If he’d priced his initial public e-book offering at $7.95, for example, I’m not convinced he would’ve sold 200 copies to this day.
There’s a moral here. And it’s one I’ve been harping on for several years, which is to offer that first book as inexpensively as possible and provide free giveaways to the widest possible audience. Freebees will provide publicity, and when a writer is starting out, word-of-mouth is more critical than ever. To another aspect of this, paying customers aren’t going to complain about spending a buck for a book (it also makes a novella-size work a nonissue, which is another subject altogether), and readers are apt to sample something at this price point even at a stranger’s request, which is also something not to lose sight of.
I mentioned in a recent Newsletter of mine that the Hugh Howey article points out what I’ve mentioned previously, and it’s that some genres have more rabid fans than others. Romance is a no-brainer, but Sci-Fi as well as Fantasy also fits into the realm of fan fervor (read “frenzy,” ha ha.) Find the right vehicle and big things can happen. Ask Meyer or Hocking, and Erika Leonard in particular, since she wrote GREY using TWILIGHT via “Fan Fiction” as a template, which brings me to mention Fanfiction.net and its benefit as a “staging point,” as I’ve heard it referred to by many successful writers. But if you want to write the next HARRY POTTER, be prepared for some competition, since as of June of 2013 there were 644,000 eager souls vying for entrance into Hogwarts via fanfiction.net.