Wool author Hugh Howey, who has emerged in recent years as one of the poster boys for self-publishing, discussed his career path, and the perks of bring a hybrid author, at a panel on the Wednesday of the London Book Fair.

The panel had the mouthful-of-a-title: "Eating the Cake, Too: The New Breed of 'Hybrid' Authors Have the Best of Both Worlds." Speaking with Diego Marano, U.K. manager of Kobo Writing Life, Howey began by noting that he should not be held up as an example of your average self-published author.

As someone who has become a major bestseller--making money from self-publishing and, now, through deals with traditional houses--Howey admitted that he is, by all standards, an outlier in the self-publishing landscape. Nonetheless, he believes in the power of self-publishing as a way for writers to connect with readers, become part of a community and, finally, hone their craft.

Noting that he spent a decade writing before he began making any money from his work, Howey warned against other authors seeking, or expecting, "short cuts" in their careers. The hybrid model, Howey said, allows an author to "feel out [their] market," find their readers and, ultimately, get the traditional publishers to come calling.

Howey also expounded on the value of 'free,' saying that an author with no following can most easily gain fans by giving their work away. (Howey is, incidentally, one of a number of authors doing a promotion with Kobo Writing Life at the fair, in which he is giving away a selection of his books.)

For Howey, "free" is a term "so many wrong things are said about." He defended the notion that giving away content is an essential way for unknown authors to find their readers. Combating the strongly-held belief by many in publishing that giving away content devalues it, Howey said: "What devalues literature is having good books go un-read."

So how does an author looking for an audience, giving away his content, make money? Howey believes the key is in backlist. He said he felt that, no matter how an author is published, the key for them is to keep writing. And, the advantage to being an unknown, he feels, is that it gives you time to write. "Use your anonymity wisely," he advised. "And hope it's your 10th book that takes off, so you have a backlist."

Claiming that he feels the term 'hybrid author' is reductive because he considers himself simply an author, regardless of how he chooses to publish, Howey said he ultimately hopes self-publishing does not perpetuate a "blockbuster model" where you have a few authors at the top, and the rest at the bottom. The self-publishing market, he hopes, will become one in which a variety of authors can find their audience--many of them niche--and make some money, if not get rich, from their writing.