The story of how Hugh Howey’s dystopian novel “Wool” earned the author seven figures before it even had a publisher is so compelling that’s it’s surpassed only by the plot contained in the book itself.
The book started as a short story the author penned in three weeks in 2011 and sold as an e-book on Amazon for 99 cents.
When readers begged for more, Howey wrote four more installments that, together, form a fast, exciting novel.
The five-part “Wool Omnibus Edition,” had already sold half a million copies and was the top-rated book on Amazon for 2012 when the publishers came knocking.
Howey turned down several seven-figure offers before signing a rare print-only deal with Simon & Schuster last year.
Other publishers refused to relinquish digital rights; some even wanted to change the book’s title.
But Howey, who was making $120,000 a month on his own according to a Wall Street Journal article, found it easy to hold out for the right offer.
Simon & Schuster released the book in print in March. The paperback and hardcover editions ($15 and $26, respectively) are now in the unusual position of competing directly with Howey’s digital version ($5.99).
But no one seems to be complaining; “Wool” is now No. 13 on the New York Times combined e-book and print bestseller list and No. 9 on the e-book-only list.
It’s also now part of a trilogy, The Silo Series. The next book, “Shift,” is already out; the third book, “Dust,” comes out Aug. 17.
The reason “Wool” has been so successful is clear: it has an engaging, plot-driven story that seems to appeal to both women and men. (At least it was that way for me and my husband, who recommended it.)
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic future, where the only people left exist within a 144-story underground silo. They live their whole lives within the walls of the silo; it is their entire universe.
Naturally, the society’s structure is designed to be tightly controlled and self-sustaining.
Food is grown on the farm levels, but certain things, like paper and clothing, are difficult to produce and quite rare.
Couples who want to have children must enter a lottery to do so, and even then they must wait for someone else to die. (The dead are put back into the earth, feeding the crops.)
The only view people of the silo have of the outside world comes from a few cameras on the outside of the structure. Over time, the toxic air makes the lenses grimy, obscuring the sight of the barren landscape.
They send those who break the law — or ask to be let out - outside to their deaths, but first they ask them to clean the cameras with wool pads. Why those doomed actually do the cleaning is a mystery.
But eventually, some people begin to suspect that the image from the cameras is being manipulated.
They wonder whether someone is trying to keep them inside for reasons other than toxic air.
Thus begins a fascinating story of conspiracy, upheaval and war in the search for the truth.
The story is told in an unusual way (I can’t say how; no spoilers!) through three different main characters, which gives readers various perspectives and keeps them guessing.
Howey’s prose is not heavy or overly descriptive but neither is it strictly utilitarian. Howey manages to describe some advanced mechanical and/or scientific scenes to this mechanically-challenged reader in an accessible way.
Finally, because it was written as five separate but related short stories, each section of the book contains its own plot twists, climax and resolution, which keeps things interesting as the story builds to an even grander finale.
Maybe that’s why my husband and I found it so much fun to read.
He tore through this book and then recommended it to me. As soon as I picked it up, I read it straight through to the end.
Word is “Alien” producer Ridley Scott got the movie rights for the story.
We can’t wait to see how this terrific story plays out on screen.
Megan Moser is The Mercury’s news editor and a Manhattan resident.