First, Wool doesn’t need another review. The award winning sci-fi series has transcended the membrane between indie and traditional publishing and become a sensation. Secondly, (gulp, ugly confession time) I thought Wool had always been a traditional publication, and didn’t know it started as an indie short story.
The Wool phenomenon began as a brief tale about a post-apocalyptic underground colony, and one man trying to reunite with his exiled wife on the surface. To do this, he must follow her into exile. Essentially, he must ask for a death sentence. That’s
basically the plot. Since its release its spawned sequels, fan fiction, and an omnibus edition from Random House. Wool is now a universe of its own.
Wool is well written, so let’s take that as a given. There are legions of well-written books in the indie-sphere, most of which languish with anemic sales. Well-written indie lit does not always equate to successful indie lit. Besides good writing, what are some lessons Hugh Howey can teach us about successful indie lit?
Lesson One: Good characters are everything. Wool opens with a man walking up a flight of stairs...to his death. And yet the world around him in the silo apparently doesn’t care. Boom! The reader is instantly invested. Some may say the real lesson here is to have a
good “hook”. Hooks need bait, and smartly crafted characters are the best bait of all. In the first few paragraphs, the weight, internal conflict and remorse this man carries in his heart while climbing those spiral stairs instantly drew me in.
Lesson Two: Keep the plot simple. Wool’s plot essentially boils down to the protagonist trying to leave the underground silo in the hopes of finding his wife. The outside is bad, and will kill you in minutes. That’s the plot, but it’s plenty for Howey to hang lots of conflict and tension. From one end to another, Wool is a lesson in simplicity.
Well-crafted characters and simplicity dovetail into Lesson Three: Keep the appeal as broad as possible. Wool is accessible to readers in all genres, and most age groups. Almost anyone can relate to it. It’s science fiction, but not hardcore science fiction. It’s
dystopian without even bothering to explain why this world is dystopian. In an era of a thousand niche genres, sub-genres, and sub-sub-genres, Wool casts a wide net.
In Wool’s case, I believe these three factors combined to prime the pump for this story’s ultimate indie success. Sound characters, simple plot, and broad appeal empowered readers to quickly communicate to one another across social media their love for this story. For example, I detailed the plot for you in only 44 words. How many of indie authors out there can explain their plots in only 44 words? In the digital age, Wool is
the ideal story.
These are the three big lessons I gleaned from a little short story that spawned a big indie phenomenon. Indie authors often hear they should always be reading in order to become better writers. Agreed, but if we wish to evolve into successful indie authors, we must also ask ourselves why some books skyrocket and others don’t.