Posted on January 14, 2014 in Archive

How Hugh Howey would revolutionise publishing, Part 1


Hugh Howey is currently a man in demand. Don’t worry, he isn’t wanted for murder, or anything nefarious like that – he’s gained a lot of publicity for his recent article, “Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge”. So much so, in fact, that he has been invited to speak at European publisher Klopotek’s annual conference about the thoughts that went into his article. So now I’ll bet you’re wondering – what the heck is this article about?

“Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge” is basically Howey’s musings and ideas that he would put into action if, for whatever reason, he was suddenly in charge of a major publishing house (he randomly picked HarperCollins). Some of these ideas are quite interesting, and ones that I would probably put into action myself if I was in charge of a major publishing house (it’s quite a fun scenario to imagine if you’re into this sort of stuff).

So here I present to you, in bold, Hugh Howey’s new rules for “New HarperCollins”, verbatim. My thoughts (you must be delirious if you thought I wouldn’t want to interject with my own opinions on these), are of course, beneath each title.

1. The first thing I would do would be the most important, and that would be to form a community among my stable of HarperCollins authors.
Some smaller publishers, or offshoots of the larger publishers, are already doing this; it’s a fairly established thing that authors appreciate, and are good at, giving other authors advice and support. In fact, many self-published authors do this as well. It only makes sense to create a forum for authors to do this on, that also would have the watchful eye of their publisher to mine for feedback and information.

2. Related to the above, I would henceforth require that my publicity department spend at least an hour a day on the popular self-published forums.
Publicists might actually be able to discuss the book they are promoting more than the short excerpt or blurb they are given to memorise. Getting to know an author might make them feel more appreciated, which will keep in handy when we get to number 10.

3. Every format, as soon as it’s available.
I cannot agree with this enough. Why are publishers sitting on books for months on end to fit into their fall schedules? If it will make you money now, release it! Even if the only format you release is the ebook, that can be a great indication of what paper- and hard-back sales will be like, when the printing press catches up. Howey partially attributes the success of his novel ‘Wool’ to the fact that the ebook came out before the print versions.

Liquid State - Hugh Howey

This was the first picture that came to mind when I started reading Howey’s article – he’s a bit of a rebel with all these new-fangled ideas.

4. Related to this, we are bringing back the mass market paperback.
To seem appealing to all ends of the purchasing spectrum is important to Howey, as is keeping up print sales numbers – he would banish the dust jacket and make the mass market paperback a thing again, that are simultaneously cheaper, more accessible and more functional as a book.

5. Hardbacks come with free ebooks.
Bundling just makes sense, with the patterns of the current consumer. People aren’t always able to tote around their cherished hardback book, so an ebook can provide convenience to the everyday commuter. Just like some people feel that a Sunday should be spent in an armchair, poring over a print book. This point gives way to a more interesting edict by Howey, however: he wants to completely get rid of DRM software. He doesn’t care if you share your ebook with one friend or ten; so long as you enjoy the book you’ve got in front of you, and continue to buy other books by New HarperCollins.

6. We are tearing up the escalator clauses.
This is a scary little clause that I didn’t know about – the majority of publishers will point-blank refuse to award the author anything more than 25% of the net profit on a digital sale, because these escalator clauses state that any other author would also automatically earn a higher percentage. This would probably cause publishers a bit of money trouble, if they had to start handing out sweets to all the kids in the playground. Essentially, they are unfairly trapping authors into only earning a certain amount. If that is honestly the best amount that an author can expect to earn, then so be it. But every author and their expected earning is different, and so every contract should be negotiated differently.

We’ll be putting the second half of Howey’s ideas into a second blog, because it seems I just have too many thoughts to contain it all in just one blog. Overall though, there seems to be a theme forming – Howey is obviously concerned with improving the consumer and author experience, and making the publisher’s process one that is more centred around both of the aforementioned links in the chain.