Porter here, to introduce a special post written for us by Hugh Howey in our “Inside Publishing” series. In my Friday piece, Sir Hugh and the Snail, I wrote about how Howey’s career has surprised some observers because he embraces not only self-publishing but also traditional publishing contracts.
I believe there are those in my own country who want to blaze new trails and forge new partnerships, and I welcome that. — Hugh Howey
Howey has just re-signed with Random House UK’s Century imprint, to publish his new novel, Sand — the same folks led by Jack Fogg who published his Wool trilogy in London. These contracts are for print and digital, even as he self-publishes those works in the States. And with more than 30 such foreign publishers, Howey has said that overseas houses are “nimble and creative…They get putting the reader first.”
On Friday, Writer Unboxed’s rich comment-conversation produced some excellent questions along the lines of, “Wonder what Hugh would say a publishing deal looks like when it’s right?” What makes the driving force behind the new AuthorEarnings.com initiative so outspoken in his enthusiasm for these partnerships with publishers?
So I asked Howey at 10:20 p.m. if he’d consider giving us a few thoughts on it. He sent the piece to me at 7:43 the next morning. (When we say the outliers work hard for their success…right?) The text is his. I added visuals. Thanks, Hugh.
“Whatever It Takes To Reach Readers”
When my editor rolled over in his bed, I could feel the entire caravan sway on its axles. A tiny gas heater sputtered and tried to keep the cold at bay, but it was March in Wales and the ground was covered in frost.
We were at The Weekender, a science fiction convention held every year on those caravan-studded fairgrounds three hours by train north of London. Random House UK had sprung for a deluxe caravan, which came with two bedrooms. But I didn’t doubt that my editor would’ve bunked up with me if the accommodations required it. That’s Jack Fogg for you.
I first heard about Jack from Jenny Meyer, my overseas literary agent. She said one editor in particular was pestering her about Wool at the London Book Fair. He kept cornering her to ask about the book. I liked him already.
But it was in the gator-infested and broiling Florida backcountry that I knew we were meant to partner up. My wife had just taken a new job in Palm Beach County. We were down looking at houses in May of 2012, and the UK auction for Wool was in full swing.
To pitch their proposal to me, Random House UK had created a custom website for me to log into. With turtles and peacocks outside, my wife and I sat in a rental car with the AC blasting and shared my laptop. Up came a montage of employees at Random House UK who had read Wool and loved it.
At the end, Jack Fogg came on and shared accounts of people who weren’t even supposed to be reading the work snagging copies from his office. He said people were losing sleep. While my wife and I waited to hear if we got the house we wanted, I waited and hoped that another auction would go my way.
It did. And the same enthusiasm and creativity I saw in that pitch was displayed throughout the release of Wool in the UK.
From a proof set created by Jennifer Doyle that should’ve won an award for industrial design, to cover art from Jason Smith, who read the book and then begged his boss to be assigned to the project, the release went better than I could have imagined. All the specific marketing plans were nailed. There were no empty promises unfulfilled. And the editorial process made the work better. I was flown over for a book tour and was swept up in the hurricane that is my publicist, Natalie Higgins.
From the very beginning, my agent Kristin Nelson and I saw signing with Random House UK as a way to experimentally partner with a major publisher.
It wasn’t the people in publishing that my agent and I were trying to change; the people were magnificent. Without exception, they love books, love readers, and want to play matchmaker by the millions. Sometimes, they just aren’t allowed to. — Hugh Howey
We had turned down offers from publishers in New York, where ideas like changing the title and taking the e-book off the market seemed not to be in the readers’ best interest. Overseas, I was working with people who wanted to experiment, be bold and creative, and win readers over any way possible.
In France, Actes Sud was launching a new science fiction imprint under direction from Manuel Tricotreux.
In Germany, Thomas Tebbe was giving away the entire first part of Wool in print! The story could be found in those card racks in hotels.
In Spain, the purchase of a copy of Wool from one bookstore came with a free yellow hazard suit.
In Taiwan, the editor devised an elegant translation that followed Wool with Dust, both of which went on to be #1 bestsellers.
Back in the UK, Random House was producing a gorgeous hardback using paper-on-board, which kept the price under 10 pounds.
I saw similar creativity in the US. I met an editor at a major New York publisher who fought to get the kind of publishing deal I was interested in. We were dying to work together, but there were rules in place that couldn’t be broken for any project, even with the potential for both sides to do well and for the reader to benefit. It wasn’t the people in publishing that my agent and I were trying to change; the people were magnificent. Without exception, they love books, love readers, and want to play matchmaker by the millions. Sometimes, they just aren’t allowed to.
Simon & Schuster…When it came time to do another deal with the same terms, the answer from higher up was that these were no longer valid options. What looked like a turning point was merely a place to be turned back. — Hugh Howey
In the US, a handful of courageous and creative people at Simon & Schuster put together a print-only deal that brought Wool to more bookstores and more readers. They also agreed to a simultaneous hardback and paperback release, something I’d wished publishers would do in my time as a bookseller. Both editions hit their respective NYT lists upon release, and readers appreciated the choice of formats, proving that this was feasible. But when it came time to do another deal with the same terms, the answer from higher up was that these were no longer valid options. What looked like a turning point was merely a place to be turned back.
It’s not from lack of trying. The people I’ve worked with in publishing houses want to do whatever it takes to reach readers.
I spent more than half of last year on the road, meeting with and touring with these people. I consider them friends. They want to unleash their creativity in order to grow their readerships. In many places, they are allowed to do this, and I love working with them as partners. I think the same will be true in the US. I see publishers trying new things here as well. I think when the people of publishing are set free, and the rules that keep them bound are loosened, they’ll find an army of writers eager to team up with them. And readers will be the beneficiaries.
There is no one right path for publishing a book. But there are paths that I wouldn’t want to walk down.
There are paths that lead away from readers rather than toward them.
There are paths snarled with brambles that will hang up an author and not allow them the freedom to turn back and try another way.
There are paths that serve no one, and some of these are the most trodden.
I’m not a publishing expert, but I’ve walked my fair share of trails and have tried numerous paths.
Where I find they make sense, I’m happy to explore and am glad for the company.
Much of this has been overseas, where I’ve partnered with over 30 publishers and have gotten to know many of them personally. I believe there are those in my own country who want to blaze new trails and forge new partnerships, and I welcome that.
Porter again, here to chase Howey’s insights with a couple of questions for the WU community. Picking up on his last line, do you agree that it has seemed harder for some US houses to “blaze new trails?” And if so, care to guess how soon we could see more such “new partnerships” Stateside? What would you like to see a publisher bring to your next release?