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The best-selling novelist you've never heard of

A man browses through books at the Cecil H. Green on the Stanford University Campus.

Image of Wool
Author: Hugh Howey
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)
Binding: Paperback, 528 pages

For decades, musicians and filmmakers have marketed themselves as 'indie', initially in an effort to break away from the too-dominant industries that picked and chose stars, not always based on talent. Later, the label 'indie' became a marker of status and style, regardless of whether an artist was independent from a record label or movie studio.

And while some writers have always been 'indie', publishing everything from pamphlets to zines, to blogs, the book world has long been centered on publishing a book with a major publishing house.

But talk to novelist Hugh Howey, and he'll tell you the era of the mass market paperback is over. Howey said it's sexy to be an 'indie' author.

"You have access to readers all over the world now, through their digital devices. So rather than finding success through a bookstore, I found success through bathrooms and living rooms," Howey said.

Howey has been pushing out books on his own for years now, self-publishing ebooks and allowing fans to purchase print-on-demand editions.

And now, success has come in the form of his latest sci-fi novel, "Wool." Out since January 2012, it's sold over half a million editions, and eventually reached the New York Times bestseller list.

That's when calls started rolling in from major publishing houses. Having worked in bookstores much of his adult life, Howey was pleased at the idea of a print edition, but insisted he would not give up digital rights to "Wool." As it stands, he keeps 70 percent of royalties on ebook editions.

"Most of my months are six figure months, so that's what I would have been giving up to sign a deal and handing over those earnings to a publisher. And I was never willing to do that," said Howey.

After rejecting a dozen publishers, Simon & Schuster approached Howey with the deal he had been told was impossible: print-only, while he retained digital rights.

And he insisted his isn't a one-in-a-million story. Other self published authors are inking print-only publishing deals. And many more are making a living wage -- or more -- without a brand name.

"It's changed everything," Howey said. "I have the complete freedom to ignore the finances, to have that be a just a part of the decision instead of the overriding decision."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of Wool
Author: Hugh Howey
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)
Binding: Paperback, 528 pages

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