We all want to be Hugh Howey when we grow up. Howey is a folk hero to those of us who dip our toes in the waters of self-publishing.
After publishing Wool with a small press, Howey self-published his post-apocalyptic sci-fi series on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, where it found a huge audience. The following year, Howey sold the film rights for Wool to 20th Century Fox, and inked a print distribution deal with Simon and Schuster. Howey reportedly turned down a seven-figure offer in favor of a mid-six figure sum in return for maintaining e-book rights.
Howey is one of the most successful self-published authors of all time, along with Amanda Hocking and mother/daughter Elf On The Shelf authors Carol Aebersold and daughter Chanda Bell. How did Howey do it? What’s the secret to his success?
His first step was writing a damn good story. Howey’s got storytelling chops, with cool characters to root for, evil villains to boo, and enough intellectual meat and moral fiber to leave readers feeling full.
Wool’s characters are likeable, believable, and keep the story moving. They walk the classic tightrope of all action heroes, from the stars of swashbuckling radio serials to the survivors of The Walking Dead. They fight on, even when hope no longer makes sense.
Despite its warm and fuzzy title, Wool ventures into some dark and dangerous territory. There are all kinds of political overtones, undertones, and sub-tones at work in Wool. It’s a classic class battle of the haves and have-nots, but here the currency is knowledge. The haves are in on the big secret of the silo(s) and the have-nots are kept in the dark about their own existence.
Spoiler alert! One of Howey’s well-drawn secondary characters spills the beans about halfway through.
“We are the seeds,” he said. “This is a silo. They put us here for the bad times.”
He also points out that seeds left alone for too long tend to rot, and Lord of the Flies-type hijinks inevitably ensues. Mankind’s war-like nature is on full display in Wool.
They all knew, instinctively, how to build implements of pain. It was something even shadows knew how to do at a young age, knowledge somehow dredged up from the brutal depths of their imagination, this ability to deal harm to one another.
This is a story about political power, intrigue, and grassroots revolts. Within Wool’s compelling story structure there are meditations on:
Metal would snap if you could wiggle it even a little bit, if you did it long enough. She had felt the heat of weakened steel countless times while bending it over and over until it broke
There’s fear that small pockets of survivors might be holed up elsewhere around the globe. Operation Fifty is completely pointless if anyone else survives. The population has to be homogenous…
Life under totalitarian rule
They put us in this game, a game where breaking the rules means we all die, every single one of us. But living by those rules, obeying them, means we all suffer.
Wool reminds me of E.M. Forster’s classic The Machine Stops, but then a lot of good dystopian science fiction does. We are all becoming more and more like Forster’s underground society of hive-dwelling, WiFi-sucking hermits every day.
At least I am.