Hugh Howey and “Artisan Authors”

I was browsing in Chapters last week and one of the staff suggested Wool, a print collection of post-apocalyptic novellas by Hugh Howey. I had never heard of Howey before, but the staff member made the book sound interesting, so I decided to read the first chapter. Howey managed to hook me instantly, and so now his collection is at the top of my “To Buy” list.

Afterward, I decided to look up some information about Howey, and stumbled across an article from The Daily Mail, which I’ve linked below:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-2299920/Fifty-Shades-Grey-successor-How-follow-Wool-author-Hugh-Howeys-success-ebook-market.html

The article declares that Wool is the new successor to Fifty Shades of Grey as an ebook-to-print phenomenon. Similar to E.L. James, Howey apparently started out publishing his books electronically and gained a following through self-promotion on the Internet. That eventually led to enough popularity that he was approached by a publisher that wanted to convert his novellas into print, after which Wool quickly became a New York Times bestseller.

The above article also says that Wool is part of the “vanguard of a new wave of self-published novels” and that “the signs are encouraging” for anyone who wants to be the next James or Howey. These statements reminded me of an article that I was discussing with Kevin Kvas a while back, which argued that self-published authors were the “artisans” of the writing world, who will apparently outlast the mainstream publishing industry. That article, by Damien Walter, can be found here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2013/jan/25/piracy-yesterdays-worry-artisan-authors

I think, however, that what Howey has experienced proves that even in today’s digital world, being vetted by the professional publishing houses is still necessary to demonstrate a book’s true success. Anyone can write a novel – but not everyone can write a good novel, and there needs to be a system in place to evaluate a book’s quality. Internet popularity is one way for this evaluation to occur, similar to the number of hits a video gets on Youtube. But just like Justin Bieber, the ultimate vindication for an Internet sensation is to be picked up by the mainstream industry.

And, contrary to Walter’s argument that the old publishing houses are dinosaurs nearing extinction, companies like Random House and Tor have recognized the money that can be made from authors on the Internet. This is why Howey was offered the chance to see his novellas in print, and why I’m sure that we’ll see other excellent work go through the same conversion. So in the end, the role of the publishing industry in vetting authors still stands, and is adapting to the 21st century.

My belief is that authors should definitely pursue Internet popularity because that’s where most people look for new ideas and creative geniuses in today’s world. But don’t discount Random House and the rest. Even when a Chapters you can physically walk into is a thing of the past, having your work accepted by a big publisher will still be the ultimate mark of success.

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