By the time my father called to tell me about this great new scifi writer he discovered, a guy called Hui Hau (my dad doesn't really speak English), I was already putting the finishing touches on Mindguard. Even though my work was complete, I wasn't in a very good place, mentally. I had finished Mindguard and, in front of me, lay not the lovely freedom of sharing my work with the world, but a long, frustrating and potentially fruitless journey of querying agents and waiting for them to reply. I had done that before and I didn't enjoy it at all (especially since all of the answers were a resounding "nope!").
And even if I did find an agent,…then what? She’d immediately secure a publishing deal for a six-figure advance and a contract that would offer me complete creative control (as opposed to having the editors order me to change Sheldon’s name to Buck Hammers) and the movie rights would shortly follow, right? Well.. probably not. I was aware of that, and it was really depressing.
Anyway, as I was reaching the end of my final draft, I spent a long time reading, cleansing the literary palate so to speak. On my dad’s insistence, I decided to give this Hui Hau guy a chance. After all, I had never read a scifi novel written by a Chinese author.
“And, you know, the guy self-published his work,” my dad said, handing me Wool. “Now he’s world-famous and a big movie studio bought the rights to the book.”
The novel was great, I quite enjoyed it. What really captivated me, however, was the author’s story. Not the “self-published-Cinderella-made-a-million-dollars” part (ok, that too, a little), but the part where he became the master of his own career and refused to compromise. The part where he didn't have to beg agent after agent to even take a look at his first ten pages but, instead, put his whole work out and let the readers decide for themselves. No changing the title because it sounds weird (I’m pretty sure a traditional publisher would never have gone with Wool), no changing the main character’s name from Holston to John Armstrong or something. No changing the end for whatever reason.
After spending more than a year working on Mindguard , this concept of "creative control" really appealed to me. I could think of nothing more horrible than having an editor tell me “Sheldon? No good. People will think of The Big Bang Theory. We’ll rename him Jack. That’s a good, solid name!” That would have been made much worse by the fact that I've never even seen an episode of that show.
After finishing Wool, I went on to read everything I could find on Hugh Howey’s life and, subsequently, on self-publishing. I studied (and continue to study) the industry. I created my own cover, just the way I liked it. I dedicated the novel to my wonderful wife.
And I published it!
Everything that happens after that moment is inspired and influenced, in part, by Hugh Howey.
Just to test the waters, I did send a query out to an agent. Her answer was:
Thank you so much for sending [us] your query. We'd like to apologize for the impersonal nature of this standard rejection letter. On average, we receive nearly 500 email query letters a week and despite that, we do read each and every query letter carefully. Unfortunately, this project is not right for us. Because this business is so subjective and opinions vary widely, we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one "yes" to find the right match.
Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.
Please don’t think this is meant as a criticism of literary agents. I fully understand their situation, how they are flooded with query letters just like mine on a monthly basis and how, after choosing one client, they have to naturally dedicate much of their time and attention to that person instead of the countless others who are trying to land their services. This agent was even nice enough to answer my query, many don’t do that. I’m just trying to paint a picture of what might have been in store for me.
Instead, I published the novel, people are reading it, giving me (so far) very good feedback, including the reviews I mentioned in my previous post. Tomorrow, Mindguard is in line for Scifi365.net’s Book of the Week. It’s an amazing honor for me and it makes me incredibly happy. All in less than a month.
Having said that, none of this would have happened without Hugh Howey’s influence. He’s like the Patron Saint of Self-Publishing. The day I first picked up Wool, was the day the path of my publishing career would change.
As I was cleaning up my office yesterday I found an old issue of Writer’s Digest lying around. A friend of mine had sent it to me sometime last year, but I never got around to reading it. Here is a photo of the cover:
I wonder if reading this article back then would have had the same impact on my career. It probably would have made me anxious to self-publish and I might have rushed through the second half of the novel. It’s a good thing everything happened when it did. Still, it’s cool to know that this man was a presence in my life even before I had heard of him, watching over my publishing career like the patron saint that he is.
All I can say is: Thank you, Hui!