The latest self-publishing sensation may be the next hot book franchise to go to the big screen. The North Carolina man behind the ''Wool'' series tells us how it all began

By Stephan Lee
Updated May 25, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

Hugh Howey’s dystopian series Wool is being dubbed ”the sci-fi version of Fifty Shades of Grey,” the best-selling erotic novel by E L James — but that’s not exactly an apt comparison. ”I’m just waiting for the really bad reviews to come in from disappointed soccer moms who pick up Wool and find absolutely nothing titillating about it,” says Howey, 36.

The parallel makes sense only in that both series were self-published and slowly gathered online fans before finding out-of-nowhere mainstream attention. After years working as a yacht captain, bookstore clerk, and roofer, Howey posted the first installment of Wool — a heady 12,000-word parable about the last people on earth, who live in protective bunkers called silos — in Amazon’s Kindle Store last July. ”This is the bizarre thing,” Howey says. ”I didn’t do any promoting, but it just started selling and readers were asking for more and more.”

The grassroots success caught the attention of Hollywood lit agent Kassie Evashevski, who sent Wool to her A-list film contacts. It eventually landed with Twentieth Century Fox, which partnered with director-producer Ridley Scott and screenwriter Steven Zaillian. ”They’re the top two people I would pick if you gave me the entire lineup,” says Howey.

Now the author is courting six-figure offers from major publishers. ”Four months ago, I was shelving books and dreaming of something like this,” says Howey. ”I pinch myself every day.”