Posted on January 16, 2014 in Archive

How Hugh Howey would revolutionise publishing, Part 2


So now we move onto Part Two of Hugh Howey’s “Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge” article. Hold onto your hats!

7. Hey, non-compete clauses. You’re history.
While this is a nice idea, I can think of potential problems for authors and publishers. It would be nice for authors to have more freedom to publish content when they want and with who they want, but I can imagine authors being tricky and using the lack of non-compete clauses to abuse this and have contracts with multiple publishing houses. Your expanded universe could potentially get lost in a wave of fan fiction.

8. Same with release schedules.
Howey reasons that having foreknowledge of a book being the first in a series means that publishers should wait until the majority of the series is underway to ‘published’ status. This makes sense if you want to keep reader’s engaged by having short intervals between releases; often readers will lose interest in a series if there is too long a gap between instalments. Sometimes, however, that simply isn’t possible for some authors – if the publishers had waited to publish Harry Potter until at least the fifth book had been completed, the series would not have been the light of day until 2005, eight years behind schedule. So I guess publishers would have to become extremely selective with their editorial picks.

9. They’re [sales representatives] gone. 
Again, this is a concept already discussed at length in the digital publishing community – the idea of selling directly to the bookstore or through online outlets. This will definitely slow down the whole process of releasing a book if bookstores only order smaller quantities of everything without the assurance of sales, which again, will mess up the idea of number 8 – is it just me, or do some of these points contradict each other when considered a little more closely?

10. Finite terms of license.
While I agree that publishers should not be clutching onto contracts, claiming that they own a book forever and ever because you hastily signed on the dotted line many years ago, neither should they be handing over what would surely be thousand’s of dollars of work to you because your contract is up. Howey wants New HarperCollins to hand everything (any edits, rights, artwork, you name it) over to the authors after a limited contract of five years. He hopes that these authors will feel so loved by their publisher that they won’t hesitate to resign with New HarperCollins. Viewing authors as a publishing partner is nice, but that might not be profitable – what if New HarperCollins was to spend a significant amount on getting this book ready for the world, only to have the author walk away with the whole package and make a mint with another publisher after 5 years? If this was a viable option, I would only hand back the rights and the polished, completed manuscript – that is all that the author brought to the contract, anyway. Maybe that’s harsh. I’m not sure.

Liquid State - Hugh Howey

None of this pageantry will be found in the New HarperCollins location of… uh, somewhere other than New York.

11. No more advertising.
Howey wants to forget about advertising and push all available resources into editors and acquiring new titles, and make readers the only reviewers of books. That’s nice, but sometimes advertising actually has a purpose. How will readers learn about books through word-of-mouth if the first mouth never reads it, because it sits unloved in a dusty bookstore corner shelf?

12. Goodbye, New York City.
Again, here Howey seems very focussed on trimming all the extra fat so that he can hire an extra thousand editors and work on getting new manuscripts to print. There also seems to be a hint (okay, a pretty big hint) of eschewing the big publisher lifestyle in favour of getting stuff done.

13. Monthly payments and speedy sales data.
Paying out royalties every month and allowing authors to have access to their own sales data is an idea that sounds like it came from an author who is frustrated at the information and finances available to them. As an author, of course Howey wants to make the publishing industry an easier place for authors to thrive in.

So as we can see, Hugh Howey is very concerned with the rights of authors and about getting more authors on the market – which makes sense, considering he is both a traditionally-published and self-published author. And judging from the amount of publicity he’s gained, other authors feel the same. I wonder how the big publishers feel about these hypothetical changes, and whether they would be willing to implement changes that would only result in more positive outcomes for authors….