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What I’ve Learned from Stephen King and Hugh Howey

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

This week’s blog post highlights lessons I’ve learned from Stephen King and Hugh Howey, plus examples from some authors I follow regularly on my website. The lessons and examples could help aspiring authors, and even some established authors, because they go beyond the information I post frequently from book marketing pros.

King and Howey and I have nothing in common, but I’ve learned three important lessons by following their careers:

1. One way to reach more readers is to share your work for free or almost free. In 1982, eight years after success in publishing Carrie, King put some material from an unfinished novel into a chapbook and sent it to acquaintances as a Christmas gift. In 1983 and 1985, he used free chapbooks again to distribute more material from the unfinished novel. In 2000, he offered downloadable installments of the unfinished novel on his website and attracted more than 500,000 downloads at $1 each.

2. Self-publishing is a great way to break through the barriers erected by traditional publishers. In July of 2011, Hugh Howey self-published his short story Wool as a 99-cent eBook novella with 60 pages, which he expanded into a five-part series over six months. By July of 2012, he was earning $150,000 a month from the self-published series. Why wait for months or years while agents and publishers are deciding whether to bring a book to market?

3. Newsletters and blogs build connections and can help boost sales even for big-time authors. King continues to use a newsletter to promote his work and you can see his latest promotion in his December 2021 newsletter. Howey doesn’t have a regular newsletter, but his blog has helped him connect with thousands of faithful fans.

Why am I telling you all this? Because many other authors could benefit from all three lessons, especially new authors.

During the past year, two aspiring authors I know have been reluctant to embrace the lessons from King and Howey. One is delaying pitching a trilogy fiction project to agents until finishing all three books. One has spent years writing a novel and is hoping that a traditional publisher will want it someday.


Delaying and hoping for the best can result in a slow death for publishing dreams. Like King and Howey, you need people to start reading what you write and liking it and telling others about it. One option is writing and posting free snippets in a blog or on a platform like Substack or Medium. Other options include publishing short eBook chapbooks or novellas for free or at 99-cents to test reader reaction. And now, Amazon has launched Kindle Vella to attract and promote more new authors.


Another author I know has three successful financial books published by a traditional publisher. He decided to hire a hybrid publisher for a new book set for release in January of 2022, and I believe he will have a successful launch. I keep urging him to develop a newsletter to connect with people who hear about his new book from news media or through podcasts and interviews, and to follow up directly month after month. After all, even with traditional publishers and great success, King still uses a newsletter (managed by his publisher) and Howey still blogs (occasionally).

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Personal perspectives: Back in 2014, I discovered that King used free electronic chapbooks to promote his early work. Eureka!!

Right away, I formatted one of my unpublished short stories about family Christmas traditions as an electronic chapbook and published it on Amazon in December of 2014. Since then, I’ve offered it free a few times during the holiday season. Every time, it has attracted dozens of downloads from people who have never heard about me or my writing. (It’s FREE Dec. 11-15 and you can click here to see it on Amazon.


If you click to “look inside” the Kindle version, you’ll see that I designed the little book as a sort of primer as an example of how indie authors can use Kindle chapbooks with under 20 pages to promote our work. The key feature was including a link in the back of the chapbook to help promote continuing sales of my aging 2011 paperback. It works for me.


Re pricing: I understand that not every writer is willing to give away their work for free or as 99-cent promo specials. But some indie authors I follow, including Jinx Schwartz and John Scherber, have frequent one-day freebies or 99-cent specials for their backlist Kindle titles. Schwartz says she has given away hundreds of thousands of free Kindle titles during the past decade while becoming a best-selling author recognized by USA Today. You can click on their names above to go to their Amazon author pages and follow them for alerts about their future promos.


Re self-publishing: Nine of the authors I follow on my website are successful indie authors who self-publish books. It works for them, and some have become quite successful in genres such as thrillers, action, crime, mysteries, and even history. At least three have sold rights for movies, documentaries, or adaptations as TV series.

Re newsletters and blogs: Developing and maintaining newsletters and blogs can build a loyal fan base to supplement social media. Three of the indie authors I follow -- Carmen Amato, D.V. Berkom, and Joel R. Dennstedt -- write impressive newsletters and use them to communicate directly with followers. Indie author Carol J. Michel has an award-winning blog about gardening with more than 2,500 posts in 17 years and has attracted a following of thousands.


For years, I relied on social media to promote my handful of books online. Sometimes, that worked well enough, but my backlist of books is aging. Now, I have this blog and a newsletter to connect with followers. I’m hoping my new focus can connect with more people by sharing information and insights about promoting Kindle books.

Next year, I plan to publish a couple more chapbooks on Amazon and offer frequent freebies for them. Why not?


P.S. If you like the content in my weekly blog posts, click on the icons below to share with others. And if you sign up for the monthly newsletter titled “Cats and Dogs and Books” I’ll send you the ARC of an award-winning anthology I edited and published. It’s a good example of how indie authors can join forces to promote their work. Just use the subscriber form at the bottom of any page on my website.


Let’s get connected!

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