It’s been a weird, wild couple of months. I started off on the first of November with the decision that I was going to take a break from my other work and write some books. I’ve been threatening for 10 years to stop letting myself be abused by the overwhelming flood of sociopaths and wild beasts in the “religious” sector. I was tired of getting attacked by really, really bad people we’d only fed and clothed and tried to help. The year 2012 was a long, horrible mind-siege of personal attacks, pettiness, and general abuse. So in November I decided to follow up on my threats. I decided to quit trying to help abusers and sociopaths. Instead I would work for my family and myself awhile. I decided I was going to write some books.
It started with Hurricane Sandy. Some of you know the story, but my old high-school friend Chris Awalt decided to go on a cool little, shocking, frightening, walking tour of NYC after the storm. He wrote about it on Facebook and posted pictures and spoke poetically about the damage and the things he saw. I had long wanted to get back to writing in The Last Pilgrims universe, and I had decided to do a prequel series of books that described and defined the collapse that would eventuate, 20 years later, in the world of The Last Pilgrims.
Everything came together. After seeing the pictures of Sandy, my mind began to churn and I contacted Chris with a wild idea. I wanted to have his experiences for a new book, and I also needed someone on the ground in that area because I wanted the book to be as real as possible. I wanted to use real locations and real events, and make it so that if someone read the book from New York City or upstate or anywhere else, they would recognize the place and know that the locations were real and tangible. Chris agreed to write the WICK series with me, and I was excited to get writing again. While the ideas were thrown around and while we were writing, I put together a few collections of topical writings that I had done on The Beard and The Headcovering for our local fellowship, and Stewart Stonger helped me put those together into two small books which we published via Kindle Direct and Createspace.
Chris and I worked hard, and we had a pretty good plan and a great story and an ideal way of working together. By around mid-December we had the story pretty well shaped up and we went into editing and all of the other stuff that has to be done. In the meanwhile, we were mapping out WICK 2. The edits for WICK were going back and forth, and sometimes… because of obligations and stuff to do with the storm and life… it would take Chris several days to get back to me with edits and rewrites. During that time I was doing some regular short story reading (aloud) with my family, and we had gotten into reading a lot of Jack Finney stories. I decided that I would write a short time-travel story for my children, and that story widened and broadened and lengthened into Futurity. I wrote it in a few weeks and I enjoyed doing it. As a lark, I decided to throw Futurity up on Kindle as well. Now, I am not a Sci-Fi writer, and I don’t even read Sci-Fi. I read Dune when I was young, and I loved Douglass Adams, but I was not into Sci-Fi at all.
Earlier in 2012 I had seen this WOOL book that had some outrageous number of reviews and downloads as a self-published title. Well, I loved the first little short story and then read the rest of the WOOL series in the Omnibus edition. I loved it. I didn’t consider it Sci-Fi. I just thought it was a great story. Those of you who have been following my writing for any length of time know that I read Russian Literature and Classics. I am a Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn guy. But I loved WOOL, and I thought (and I think) that Hugh Howey writes literature. I’m not saying that to suck up to Hugh Howey at all, I really think that his writing has a classic feel to it and it’s just good. I don’t think everything has to be put in a cubbyhole.
All that is just to say that I am the farthest thing from a sci-fi guy as you can get. But when I had people reading Futurity, they were all saying “this is great Sci-Fi.” Everyone was calling it Sci-Fi. So that is the category I put it in, and when it hit Kindle it just sort of took off. WICK was doing fantastic (we had only a short sample in December, but in January we sold almost 600 copies of WICK just on the Kindle.) WICK was on the bestseller charts in all of its categories, and in the top 20 too. Futurity soon was on the charts as well. I was floored. This isn’t Hugh Howey success, believe me. I wasn’t shaking the publishing world. There were no interviews, no New York Times bestseller lists for me. There were no agents or publishers offering me big money deals. But from basically nothing, and with very little experience writing fiction, and absolutely no experience in any categories like science-fiction, I suddenly had two books on the Hot New Releases lists and leading in many of its categories.
Around that time, I did a free giveaway for three days for Futurity. It went moderately well. I think I gave away around 1,700 copies in the three days. That was with no real attempt to let anyone know about it, and with a book I’d written in a couple of weeks just for my children.
Ok, now is when it starts to thicken a little. Chris and I were working on WICK 2 and I wanted to have it done by the end of January so that we could get it out by the middle of February. I was still stunned by the success, and I saw things building and I wanted to strike while the iron was hot. Well, just as I was busy and scrambling to keep up with my hectic writing schedule, I heard about this thing called #NaNoWriWee. I knew all about #NaNoWriMo, which is a movement that tries to help authors be motivated enough to write a complete 50,000 word novel in a month (the month of November.) Well, as a lark, Kernel Magazine in England had put out a challenge that they called #NaNoWriWee. They would challenge writers to write a novel or novelette in only 30 hours! It sounded like it was write up my alley. On a good day I could easily do 12,000 words, so I figured I could do a long short story or novelette in 30 hours.
I was pondering what kind of book I wanted to write for #NaNoWriWee and I just had a flash of inspiration that I wanted to poke fun at writing, at the publishing industry, at self-publishing, etc. and at the same time I wanted to show how a regular Joe—albeit one that is a phenomenally good writer—might make it big someday as a writer, despite all of barriers and hindrances that exist out there to keep the average Joe down. Hugh Howey’s story was a perfect example of what I wanted to highlight. So I had the idea to write a comedy-zombie-satire that would take the very fact of #NaNoWriWee and all of the outrageous assumptions that are entailed in it. I would just throw all of these thoughts I was having about writing and the industry into a bag and shake it up and make fun of all of it. The result was #NaNoWri War Z: Hugh Howey Must Die!, which I actually wrote in fewer than 20 real writing hours on the weekend of January 26-27.
Before the weekend stared, I emailed Hugh Howey and asked his permission to include him as a character in the book. I had this funny thought in my head of Hugh Howey running from zombies who only ate good writers, and how they would walk right by some of the “mainstream” hacks, but would be obsessed with eating Hugh Howey. With the phrase “Hugh Howey Must Die” in it, I figured I’d better ask him his permission, and let him know that it was all in good fun. I wouldn’t have done it without his permission, and I figured he’d never get my email, and if he did get it, he’d never email me back, and if he did email me back he’d think I was a whack-job and tell me no.
Well, I was shocked to get an email back from Hugh almost immediately (I call him Hugh… we’re that close… not really, that was a lie, I don’t know why I said that,) and he said that he thought the idea sounded hilarious and that I should do it with his blessing. AWESOME!!
So now I’m telling my family that HUGH FREAKING HOWEY has emailed me! My life was in this really surreal zone. So the weekend went swimmingly and I wrote the book, and during the weekend I had our friend Kate from Croatia do this hilarious book cover for the book and before the 30 hour time-limit was even over, I’d emailed the book to Hugh Howey. Again, I didn’t expect to hear from him, and I certainly didn’t expect him to read the book at all.
Well, he not only read it, but he posted this awesome review of the book:
“When Michael Bunker got in touch with me and inquired about including me in a story he was working on, I assumed he was on drugs or suffering from lack of sleep. It turns out these things would come later. He was about to embark on a writing mission that makes my yearly habit of writing 50,000 words each November seem downright sane by comparison. He and others were setting out to write novellas in a single weekend. 30 hours. Recognizing the task as both foolish and unwise, I gave it my complete blessing. It wasn't long before the finished work landed in my inbox. I gave it a skim. I laughed out loud. I stopped writing and gave it a read. I loved every single bit of it. I think you will, too. This doesn't mean I condone violence against authors. Not all of them. My next work will now be delayed by three and a half hours due to this devious little romp. Send hate mail to Michael Bunker, not me. I've got enough worries dealing with damn zombies. ~ Hugh Howey, author of the New York Times Bestselling WOOL Omnibus”
In an email to me, Hugh told me that I was “a fantastic writer.” Now, maybe he says that to all the girls, and he is probably one who is very encouraging to up and coming writers, but still…
Anyway, the weekend was over and I’d thrown NNWWZ up on Kindle as well… all except for in the UK. The “prize” for winning #NaNoWriWee was supposed to be a contract with HarperCollinsUK. I assumed that I had almost exactly a 0% probability of being picked up for publication with my little zombie satire, so I went ahead and published the book everywhere but in the UK, just in case. Well, lo-and-behold this little book started marching up the charts as well. Wow! Again, I was floored. My goal now is to have sold 1,000 copies of #NaNoWriWar Z: Hugh Howey Must Die! Before HarperCollins UK officially rejects the book for publication. That would be the absolute cherry on the top of the irony that oozes in and around the making of the book. I thought that if Hugh would mention it on his Facebook or blog, we’d have a good start at it. And guess what? He did! Well, not on his blog. That would have been awesome. But still, he mentioned it on Facebook and BAM, up the charts it went. It’s still doing well, and the reviews are fantastic.
So, Chris and I finished WICK 2 and it was, in every way, quantifiably better than WICK1, so we were very excited to launch it as well. In the meantime, starting last Friday, we put WICK 1 up for free for a few days to build interest in WICK 2 and the series. I expected we’d give away a few thousand. I dreamed of giving away 10,000. I hoped that we’d hit #1 in our categories on the free kindle list. There are over half a million titles available for free on the Kindle, so I didn’t expect too much. Privately, Chris and I fantasized that the book might… might… get into the top 100 on Amazon.com.
Well, once again, our expectations were shattered… in a good way. As of this writing we have had 18,000 WICK books downloaded. At one point on Saturday, for an extended time, WICKs were being downloaded at a rate of one every 3 seconds! We went to #11 on the overall Top 100 books on the Free Kindle bestsellers list. We were #1 in Sci-Fi and a few other lists. At the same time, WICK 2 and my other books started to really move as well. All very exciting, let me tell you.
And during this time, I had reached some personal milestones. One of the big achievements for an indie writer is to have a 1,000 e-book month. I was shooting for that in January. With three days in the month, I hit the 1,000 mark. Hugh Howey actually congratulated me. I ended the month with 1,129 sales on KDP. So this month, February, I set the goal of selling 50 e-books a day. That would result in 1,400+ book sales on Kindle. Well, it started out great. My first few days, I hit 50 per day. Then it was 60 per day for a few days. Then one day I sold 91! I’d heard writers talking about the coveted 100 e-book day, but I hadn’t really expected it to happen. But after the 91 book day, it seemed like it could. Then the days were like – 85, 73, 94, 76, 83… and then, Friday night, I hit 99. I was up until midnight hitting refresh, but it stopped at 99. On Saturday, I was hopeful, and things started well. I hit 100 at about 7:30 p.m., and I was glad not to have to stay up until midnight again! Ended the night at 122 sales for the day.
Now there are bigger numbers in my sights. I don’t know what to expect, and I’d not be surprised to see it all collapse back down to almost nothing. It’s been fun. But I’m thinking of a 2,000 e-book month, and then who knows? I hit 1,000 e-book sales this month on the 15th, and there hasn’t been a slowdown.
It’s been a crazy few months. Not Hugh Howey crazy, but for me… pretty wild. Now I’m thinking I might start writing an actual Sci-Fi story.
Chris and I are hard at work with WICK 3: Exodus. If current results are predictive of future interest, we might have a hit series on our hands. I’m looking forward to writing the rest of the series.
All of this is, of course, if the Lord wills it.
I hope you will all stay tuned as the story develops. It should be fun to see what happens next.