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Tom Tangney
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Book publishers swarmed all over him but Howey refused to sell away his digital rights. He turned down a number of million-dollar offers until Simon and Schuster finally agreed to his terms. (MyNorthwest.com Photo/Alyssa Kleven)

College dropout becomes self-made best selling author, with a little help from Amazon

Half a million people read one man's novel before it ever even made it into print.

A year and a half ago, college dropout Hugh Howey was making $10 an hour filling shelves at a bookstore. Today it's a completely different story.

"Yeah, I'm making enough that I'm setting up retirement and I don't have a day job anymore and my wife and I don't have any debts. We're just very comfortable because of this," says Howey.

Howey is being a little too modest. He's a millionaire a couple times over and - according to The Wall Street Journal - pulling $120,000 a month, thanks to a quiet revolution he's unexpectedly leading.

It all started with a 40-page post-apocalyptic short story called "Wool," that he posted online.

"I had it on Amazon, so you could read it on your phone or anything that had a Kindle app, you could read it on. Or a Kindle of device, but you could read it on computer. It's difficult to read a 300-page novel on your cell phone. But this was only 40 pages."

And those 40 pages came cheap - just 99 cents.

The low risk paid off. He sold a thousand copies within three months. A second installment of what was now turning into a novel sold 3,000 copies in one month. Two more sections sold 10,000 copies and when he posted the fifth and final installment and began selling the entire 5-part novel for $5.99, he sold 23,000 copies in the first month. Sales have only skyrocketed since: 500,000 copies and counting.

And remember, the book had yet to be published in print.

Book publishers swarmed all over him but Howey refused to sell away his digital rights. He turned down a number of million-dollar offers until Simon & Schuster finally agreed to his terms.

"It's the smartest thing I've ever done. For me, I make 70 percent of the retail price. If I'd done this traditionally - it'd be 12.5 percent. It's a huge difference. So many authors are watching this and congratulating me and hoping that this becomes a trend," says Howey.

The physical book hasn't even been in circulation for a week and already it's on bestseller lists. And so, has the print edition hurt his digital sales at all? Not at all. In fact just the opposite. All this publicity for the book helps raise the profile of the cheaper e-book version. And now that famed director Ridley Scott has bought the film rights to "Wool," the sales and profit potential seems limitless.

Howey admits he's living a dream and happily credits Amazon for making much of it possible.

"I kept making a comparison to Gutenberg, because I think not since then have we opened up publishing to make it affordable an accessible to so many people with zero outlay of cash. You no longer have to spend thousands of dollars to get a book made."

Oh, and one last thing, he got a nice memento recently from what may be his last real job ever, that old bookstore.

"The bookstore sent me a picture of "Wool" sitting on their best seller shelf that I used to dust."

Tom Tangney, KIRO Radio Host, Film & Media Critic
Tom Tangney is the co-host of The Tom and Curley Show on KIRO Radio and resident enthusiast of...everything. As the film and media critic on the Morning News on KIRO Radio, he espouses his love for books, movies, TV, art, pop culture, politics, sports, and Husky football.
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By day, you can hear Tom on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, and by night, he sits in the dark, making snide comments about what he sees on the silver screen.

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